Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Simpsons v. the E.P.A.

Whether you love or hate it, the Simpsons seem to be here to stay. The longest running animated series in America, The Simpsons' brand has been successfully leveraged into a billion dollar merchandising industry, and now, a movie. No matter what issues the show has tackled, it has always done so with the a distinctive satirical parody. But what, some may ask, do they say about the issues? That's at least the message communicated by the above video. Criticizing The Simpsons for its equal-opportunity mocking, it specifically focuses on how the Simpsons do "green," a timely topic given the events of The Simpsons Movie. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie face down the E.P.A. in their feature-length hijinks to save Lake Springfield, themselves, and their friends. Groening used the same formula for the film as he does for many of the show's episodes: Homer messes up turning his friends and family against him and eventually has to redeem himself through some crazy action. If you're a Simpsons fan, you won't be disappointed: The Simpsons Movie is more of the same hilarity only bigger, better, and in surround sound.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Album Review: Ms. Led, Shake Yourself Awake

Ms. Led, is not, as their name might imply, an all-female Led Zeppelin cover band. Lesli Wood (vocals, guitar, piano), Peg Wood (guitar), Matt Menovcik (bass), and Steph Hasselman (drums) compare their sound to Ted Leo & The Pharmacists and Elastica, while griping that "lazy journalists just like to think of every 'girl' band they've ever heard of." So what I'm about to say next will probably really piss them off. (I apologize in advance.) If you take the best qualities of The Gits, Storm Large, Blondie, Tsunami Bomb, Patti Smith, Juliana Hatfield, and The Go-Gos, add a pound of politics and a cup of feminism, then filter all of that through the Northwest Indie Rock sieve, you would end up with Ms. Led.

Shake Yourself Awake, Ms. Led's 4th album was released this June after a two-year writing/recording period. According to the band's bio, "the album is [Lesli's] most personal work, inspired by her own challenges and her battle with Multiple Sclerosis, while maintaining an active career in music and completing law school." If that's not enough to inspire you on its own, wait until you hear the album!

Lesli Wood's voice is agile and beautiful. It moves through growling anger to surprising fragility from one song to another, never losing its intensity. Starting off with "New Agenda," Lesli states that "we are overdue for revolution," and expresses her desire to "hear the people say NO MORE." "Up To the Old Tricks" is the catchiest song on the album, with a syncopated bounce reminiscent of 60's power pop.

"Have It All" is all about female empowerment and, fittingly, Lesli channels Mia Zapata's growling vocals. "Willing to Stay" is my favorite and most confusing song on the album (what is it about?! SOMEONE TELL ME!), but "Somewhere on 101" has my favorite lyrics: "Hesitation's evidence of gravity." "There's No Room for You Here" is the only melodic, spacey protest song on the album, and "Because Light is a Woman" is an angsty, pain-ripping-through-the-vocal-chords (ala Storm) ballad, after which "Fools" closes down the album with bitter-sweet solemnity. Steph's drums and Matt's bass back up the show-stealing guitar riffs with consistent, efficient rhythm and over everything swoops Lesli's pissed-off but lulling vociferation.

Trust me, you'll love it.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Harry Potter and the Best Ending Evar

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

(The Weasley twins are the hawtest)

I didn't get in to the whole Harry Potter craze until I got books 1-5 from my then-roommate and proceeded to read them all in a week. It was the perfect time to fall in love with them. The best two books still hadn't come out, but I got to read all of the other ones right after another, which was a whole lot of fun. Now the series is over and I'd be totally bummed out if I wasn't so fucking satisfied with the way it ended.

Deathly Hallows did an amazing job at tying together everything you've ever known about J.K. Rowling's universe and the characters who inhabit it. Sure, she killed off more of my favorites than I expected (where are all the redshirts in the hp-verse?), but it certainly was effective. Plus, her ending's subversion of the self-sacrifice motif (by having Harry's partial possession by Voldemort act as a shield against his death) blew my mind.

I'll miss not being able to look forward to the continued adventures of Harry & Co., but if Rowling can move on, I guess I can too.... eventually.

Here are some parts that really made me happy ...

Best moment: When Harry & Dumbledore talk at a Matrix-esque King's Cross Station

Runner-up: When Harry goes to let Voldemort kill him, surrounded by the ghosts of his parents and friends

2nd Runner-up: When Neville slaughters Nagini

These parts made me sad ...

Worst moment: When Ron abandons Hermione and Harry

Runner-up: When Fred dies during the last battle against Voldemort

2nd Runner-up: When Dobby dies

What did you think?
Did seeing Harry happy and living a normal wizarding life satisfy you?

Or did you kind of hope that he had died?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nothing New Under the Sun: The Age of Conversation

Perhaps it's because I approached The Age of Conversation expecting a vaguely academic, insightful collection of essays, but I was very disappointed with this Big-On-the-Internets book. I certainly wasn't expecting Chicken Soup for the Blogger's Soul.

If you're not big on the marketing, communications, or meta-Web 2.0 blog groups, it's possible you may not have heard of this book, which is being hailed as completely revolutionary because it was written by 100 different authors in collaboration. And while some of these authors seem to be intelligent, thoughtful people overall, the one-page essays all read the same way: advising upon the use of or praising the power of blogging while failing to contribute much more to the conversation.

There are phrases that promise insight, but ultimately I think I'd take fewer authors and more actual content. One essay, "About Conversation," by Gianandrea Facchini is composed of 286 words, 96 of which are quotes from famous orators. That's 33% full of thoroughly un-novel content. While this is the exception rather than the rule, it is somewhat contemplative of how I feel the Age of Conversation's content is lacking.

But, to me, the worst aspect is the smarmy tone of some authors' whose essays are laced with silly and occasionally self-congratulatory comments about themselves and their peers. It all reads too much like the back cover of a high school cheerleader's yearbook: sweet, vaguely amusing, but essentially useless.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

May and her Anti-Automobile Agenda

More than half provoked by the recent car-related death of the mom of one of the sweetest, geekiest girls I've ever met, this blog is dedicated to my hatred of cars. However, I'm not going to list off a bunch of reasons you may or not agree with. I'm also not going to try and convince you to stop driving a car (although SUVs are a different matter). What I will do is explain my top 5 reasons why I do not like cars.

1) They encourage unsustainable lifestyles
With the daily use of cars major changes occurred in the average American's lifestyle. Add plastics to the mix and you've got a recipe for disposables that lead us right where we are today: facing down the biggest crisis mankind's ever been aware of. We have too much waste, too little food, too little oxygen, too few plants, and very little time. There are a lot of easy choices that anyone could make any day of the week to deal with this problem, even in small ways. Our indoctrination into a way of life powered by instant mobility and instant gratification is one that cars make possible, even though it's obviously not good for us.

2) Car-related fatalities are excessive
According to the 1999 National Transportation Safety Board's Report to Congress:

Each year highway accidents take tens of thousands of lives and cost the Nation billions of dollars in lost productivity and property damage. In 1999, approximately 41,611 people were killed and 3,200,000 were injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. The human and economic costs are staggering, costing about $137 billion in medical costs and property damage losses. That equates to about $375 million each day lost on highway crashes.
$375 million every single day! Even if you don't care about the deaths of strangers (which is hard to do [see reason 3 below]), think of all the money in taxes it is costing you EVERY DAY to support a system "driven" on automobiles.

3) Cars are driven by people
While a lot has been said -- some even intelligently -- about the Grand Theft Auto franchise, I find the players' fascination with reckless driving to be the most telling. I don't mean to imply that GTA encourages bad driving. It does, however, bring up a pertinent point about how drivers interact with one another. The violence inherent in GTA never really bothers anyone because no one cares about the death of a non-person. Unfortunately, this lack of concern stretches into RL too, and has been since long before the PS2 was ever even a gleam in a programmer's eye.

One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic. - Joseph Stalin
Unfortunately, Stalin had it right. But it's not just the deaths of strangers that don't matter to us, it's also pretty much everything else about them. All other drivers are outside our Monkeysphere and there's very little one can do to change that. No one driver will ever car about safety for others like s/he should, which means people will continue to do stupid and dangerous things and die or cause the deaths of others. If driving continues to be treated as something we're entitled to rather than a responsibility it will be mishandled and accidents will happen.

4) More wheels = less walking
Think just a minute about the green spaces around you. Is there a park nearby? Do you have a backyard? For several years I lived in places where it made no sense to go outdoors to be in nature because everything was so over developed. When people can't even find a place to sit beneath a tree for a while undisturbed by others, I think that's a problem. And, granted, I don't think everyone shares my joy of sitting around in the woods, but green spaces do more for us than you'd think... Including the increasing property values and drawing new business/tourism, which is good for everyone in the community.

Plus, let's once again face the obvious: Americans (generally speaking) are fatties. Did anyone else see Les Triplettes de Belleville? There's a reason why Europeans think we are so gross. (Take a look at the "typical American audience" featured in this video if you don't know what I'm talking about.) When people choose to drive a few blocks instead of walking because it's "easier," that's a problem. When people have to drive without even the option of alternate transportation, that's a problem. When everything depends on a machine that we can't run unless we destroy other nations, that's a problem. Which leads me to my final point...

5) Cars use oil
3,633 American troops, and a minimum of 67,945 Iraqi civilians have died since Congress rolled over and let Bush declare war in Iraq. While you can debate the pros and cons til your eyes fall out, it won't change the fact that we're in Iraq for the oil. And if you are driving a car then you are supporting the war. It's that simple. Is driving your car really worth buying into the death and destruction that we are leveling against an entire nation?

And remember:

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen! Good night!


India elected its first female president and I am freaking out! How amazing that not only was a woman elected, but an old woman who has the entire experience of a lifetime at her back. Mama Patil ain't gonna take no shit. Plus, it's cool how she's got the whole Yoda-mystic-thing going on. This is the Age of Aquarius, after all:

'The Age of Aquarius is interpreted as the water of life pouring upon the people (the Kundalini), of the Spirit, of the Holy Ghost, in sign of harmony between the human microcosm and the divine macrocosm, of really attained "unio mystica" (Yoga.)'

Patil is the 13th President of India and the 41st female president evar. Think this will have any bearing on Hillary's campaign? Will she be the 42nd female president? Is the glass ceiling actually dissolving? Let's hope so.