Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thoughts on the new TV Season

Ok, I know this is long overdue. I was giving it time to put forward a thoughtful analysis of new and returning shows and how well it was all working for me. Then I got to working on the new book and a short story I’m getting ready for a submission to an anthology project and decided to manufacture the previous excuse for my procrastination, and we got this instead. Anyway, here goes. Night by night, starting with Mondays.

Chuck. No surprise here, we are in love with Chuck. I think the basic premise is a little goofy. I mean, seriously, his value is that he has all the government’s knowledge in his head? How long, given how swiftly things move in geopolitics, is any of it even going to be current? But the charm of the writing and the performances make this easily ignorable. I love the premise, stated elsewhere, that he basically has Jack Bauer and Sidney Bristow working with him. That MUST be intentional. Plus, it’s a Josh Schwartz show, so you know it has good music.

Heroes. No surprise here that I still love this show. It’s meandered and spawled, which is both good and bad. I am actually a little bored with the Hiro in the past storyline at this point and the life/death twins are really doing nothing for me. And the whole Mo-and-Matt as Molly’s two dad’s thing? They’ve GOT to know what that looks like, right? I mean, if they don’t that’s just sad…I don’t really think they’re going there, and it’s just playing with HoYay subtext, but still … it’s pretty funny. And if they ARE going there? Rock on, it’s about time we all just got over it. This show’s writing is still cringeworthy at times, but Noah Bennet is still the best TV Dad of all time, so … I’m still in.

Journeyman. No so much still in on this one. I gave it four episodes. It was good, but that was it. Just good. Not great. And I hated to delete it from the season pass list, but I don’t have time to watch shows I kind of like but don’t love. I Mean Moon Bloodgood is impossibly hot and should be on any producer’s short list to play Wonder Woman (listening, guys?) but this show…meh. This is in spite of the fact that a time-traveling reporter should be the most awesome character ever.

Reaper. This is, basically, Chuck meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love this one. It needs to sharpen up a bit and develop its mythology, but it’s only four episodes in, so it has time. A lot of reviewers have started criticizing the fact that it’s still basically the same show from the pilot, but I think it’s wise to establish the routine early on, and then start tweaking it when everyone’s invested. I haven’t found any episode boring yet. They might need to tweak the Andi character, though. I think she’s ok, but the chemistery with the main character is a little off. I don’t know. Just not feeling it yet … they either need to ring her in on the team as an ally or dump the character altogether.

Pushing Daisies. I was not disappointed. It is incredible. The whole goofy narrated fairy-tale device, which it took me a few episodes to get in the groove of, establishes a perfect tone, and by the time Olive was taking a face plant into the wall in the second episode trying to spy on Ned and Chuck, I was in deep infatuation, and by the time Ned uttered the most romantic words ever (I’m going to go see if I have any shrink wrap) at the end of the third, it was full-on love. Seriously, Emerson knitting rifle-cozies (even this must have been stolen from Brian K. Vaughn)? Priceless.

Bionic Woman. I came for the Sackoff. I stayed for the luscious Ryan. And then was out when I realized that was the only good thing about it. Although Sackoff’s “Shhh….adults are talking” was worth sticking to, at least, the third episode. But then I was out. Another, it’s good, but not great dropped show.

Life. I made it fifteen minutes into the pilot episode. It just wasn’t for me. It’s probably genius, but … I have enough “quirky detectives solving mysteries” in my life with Monk and Psych, thank you.

Survivor: China. I really have nothing to say, which is sad. My wife loves this, so I’m still watching, but … whatever. I think this show has run its course, and needs another great season to rise to the top again. It’s all in the casting, really, and this bunch is just bland. And depressingly whitebread.

Ugly Betty. Still awesome, andgave us the best line so far of the new season: “I’m black, you’re Mexican, let’s not talk around this like a couple of dull white people! Not much else to say, though I’d seen the Santos-twist coming and was prepared for it.

Friday Night Lights. By all rights, this is not a show for me. It is 1) about football and b) a teen drama. But I am so in love with this show that I have forgotten all laws of logic in listing! Seriously – I discovered it online over the summer and foun the most complex love and hate them at the same time characters. That’s its strength. It’s people are messy, and even the character I hate the most (That would be Lyla – smug little princess cheerleader whose world falls apart) make me feel for them. I have also become a serious Landry-Tyra shipper, which … I’m an almost middle aged male. How did this happen? It’s probably become my new Veronica Mars, brilliant, beloved show always on the verge of cancellation. Figures. There’s nothing better than a lost cause, is there?

America’s Most Smartest Model. The greatest unintentional comedy of all time (well, unintentional on the part of its participants. The producers? You are mean, mean people and I love every one of you). If you haven’t seen it, watch it NOW. Mandy Lynne alone is worth it all.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hope Springs Geekternal

It’s almost time for the new TV season to start, and not that I think anyone is really listening, but I thought I would post some things I’m hoping for this year …

Heroes to be more consistent in quality

This was one of my favorite shows last year, but had a maddening tendency to have great dialogue and writing in one episode, and horrible, cheese-tastic crap coming out of people’s mouths the next. Granted, most of the truly groan-worthy stuff (see:Peter’s whining, Claire’s whining, Nikki’s … wait, maybe there’s a trend here) came early in the season and things did consistently improve. This year I want them to start out knowkcing it out of the park and keep it going. Please? Maybe the ability to inspire good writing could be someone’s super-power? Hey, I am willing to relocate.

Survivor: China to have another ethnically diverse cast.

After many, many season’s of mostly white Americans slumming it in various dirty spots around the world, last year’s two iterations of this show, which I Had thought was almost hopelessly overdone, gave us contestants who were from a great variety of races and cultures. Sure, they introduced this concept with that vile “Hey! It’s a race war!” setup, but that was actually the beginning to what I feel was the best season ever. Last year’s promo said nothing about a diverse cast, so we may be back to a bunch of Abercrombie ready wannabe actor/models working in bars and that will just be stupid, and I may be out at that point. Ok, I’ll probably still watch, but complain about it. And blog, obviously.

Pushing Daisies to be incredible.

I really want to love this show. It’s from the same people who made Wonderfalls, which is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Yes, It’s behind Firely and Galactica and Veronica Mars, but ahead of Buffy. It’s stars Wonderfalls’ witty, laconic, Lee Pace. Its show-runner was a co-creator (I think) of Wonderfalls and was a writer on Heroes.

It’s about a guy who discovers at a young age that he can bring dead people back to life by touching them. He soon finds out, however, that if he touches them again they will go back to being dead. Worse yet, if he doesn’t put them back in the grave, someone else will die. He uses his gift to help solve murder mysteries until his childhood love in murdered on a cruise ship, and he brings her back to life, and lets her stay that way, knowing what will happen if he ever touches her again. It’s been described as a “forensic Fairy Tale” and sounds like it’s right up my ally.

The reviews are mostly positive, but a few have said it can get lost in its ownpreciousness. I hope its wonderful, and a big hit. With my luck, I’ll fall in love and it will be canceled by the third episode (see also: Drive).

Bionic Woman to be really bad.

Ok, this is mean-spirited, but I simply don’t have time for another show, and this one doesn’t look very good, even despite the presence of Katee Sackhoff. The major thing that is bothering me in this revamp is what they’ve done to the main character. Lindsay Wagner’s Jamie Sommers was a tennis pro, adventure junkie injured in a sky-diving accident. She was already a woman of action, which made her a perfect candidate for the experiment. In the new version, Michelle Ryan’s (who I do have to admit is amazingly hot, so its at least got that going for it. See also: Michelle Ryan in Jekyll) character is a bartender injured in a car accident whose boyfriend just happens to work for the project. This seems like a giant step backward.

However, I will feel obligated to want to watch it if it is good. So I hope its bad. I don’t need it cancelled because if it occupies the schedule something else good won’t go there and I’ll still be free.

I make no claim that this makes any sense.

The Amazing Race to come back at some point

If any reality show needs to have a bajillion iterations, it’s this one. Each season is a new voyage through the world, with a variety of interesting characters along for the ride. It’s not starting again this fall, though. I guess it’s being filmed, and held for mid-season. I just hope that’s true and we haven’t seen the stealth cancellation of this show. Honestly, I sort of hope each Survivor is going to be the last. Not so with the Race. Please, though, no more model/bartenders. They make for really vile winners (see: Eric and Danielle, Freddy and Kendra…)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

More inspiration for the new school year

Because the last post got too big for Blogger....these are not by me, unfortunately. They're from, which has a lot more.

Inspiration for the new school year

What I learned on my Vegas Vacation

Sacramento airport has really crappy security.

We had already been through the screening and x-ray process, and were sitting at the gate, waiting to board the plane. My wife was fishing for something in her carry-on bag when she said “What the---? I forgot I had this in here” and she showed me a big pair of blue-handled scissors, which were definitely on the forbidden list.

We didn’t want to take them on the plane, of course, but we didn’t want to be scene throwing them away, either, just in case anyone thought we were depositing them for someone else to pick up later. We thought about handing them to one of the security guards, but that seemed … risky, somehow. Yes, we were paranoid. So, she took the old newspaper someone had left in the seat beside me, surreptitiously wrapped the scissors in it, and then nonchalantly dropped them in the trash can next to her seat.

Not five minutes later, the custodian came by to empty the trash can. We just sat there, hoping he wouldn’t notice the scissors. Sure enough, the first thing he does is pick them up off the top of the pile and place them in a special pocket on the side of his cart. He looked around, then moved on. We were sure he was taking them somewhere, and a few minutes later a guard with a dog came by, sniffing the air.

Kate was certain the dog had smelled the scissors and was now looking for the person that had left them there. Again, we did nothing but sit there and try not to be noticed. Either it was a coincidence, or the bomb-sniffing dog was just as bad at his job as the x-ray screeners, because we were not discovered, and boarded the plane without further incident.

Later, she found a huge bottle of lotion, one that far exceeded the 3-ounce limit, that she had been allowed to carry on the plane. So, we know that we shouldn’t trust Sac Airport security to keep anyone safe. Also, that my wife needs to be more careful when she packs.

Don’t talk to strangers.

I’m from the Midwest. I was raised to be polite. When people say hi to me, I usually at least say hi back. It’s not that I like people. I just don’t want to be rude. Of course, in Vegas, or probably in any big city, anyone who talks to you just wants to sell you something. Like the nice lady offering an afternoon looking at time shares, or the gentlemen handing out credit cards. I’ve learned my lesson now, and I don’t even need my wife to pull me away by the arm with a “keep walking” and an eye roll anymore.

The Treasure Island pirate show is no longer family friendly.

It was my wife’s idea to go see this, honestly, she had wonderful memories of watching the swashbuckling pirate show, which ended with the ship actually sinking in the moat. Imagine my surprise when the Victoria’s Secret models walked out and starting dry humping the mast of the ship. And then the Chippendales arrived, dressed like pirates, and … um … a lot of buckles got swashed, we’ll say. There was even some freaky cirque de soleil reject hopping around dressed like a parrot. It was very weird. The ship still sank, I will say that much. Just remember, I was only there because my wife wanted to go.

Las Vegas does not want your quarters.

We didn’t come to Vegas to gamble. We came to see Spamalot! No, really, that’s why were were there, just like our trip two years ago when we went to see Mamma Mia. What? But, like last time, we brought our collection of quarters to play the slots a little bit. Last time, we turned $40 worth of quarters into about $150. This time, we couldn’t find any slot machines that even took quarters. These were even the quarter slots. We’d gone back to Caesar’s, which was where we’d won the money last time. The machines only took bills and, of course, credit cards. So we spent about $30 in tens and ended up winning $25.25, so we didn’t win anything, but we didn’t lose much either. We looked all around Caesar’s and didn’t find a single machine that took coins. We found a couple in treasure island, but only a couple. They did, obligingly, let us waste all of our quarters in them so we at least did not have to carry them around anymore.

Las Vegas Airport has really good security.

No, we did not try to smuggle scissors or hand lotion onto the plane again. This time, it was the magnetic boards we’d bought for the kids as FAO Schwartz. They had to run my backpack through the scanner several times before they finally pulled me to the side to inspect it because they couldn’t see through it.

Turns out the magnets were blocking the sensors, so the security agent took them out and inspected them, and then had to know where we’d gotten them because she wanted them for her own kids. They are really cool. They’re magnets boards with little illustrated tiles marking various chores the kids are supposed to do around the house with a weekly chart, where they can put reward magnets. Not that my kids have been transformed into house-cleaning dynamos, but my son now at least brushes his teeth without argument. It’s a victory, and I’ll take it.

Spamalot! Was really good, bye the way. But how can you not love a musical that includes both a song called “I’m not dead yet,” and a bovine trebuchet.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


My grandfather was a Titan. he was a creature out of myth and legend, and every time one of us grandkinds were in his presences, it was like being in the presence of a deity. I honestly believed, when I was four years old, that he was the one whose fleet of planes I rode on to come to California every summer to visit him, and it was he who kept the skies clear so that my parents adn I would have a safe passage. I also believed, because he told me it was true, that chocalate milk came from brown cows, but this post is not abou disillusionment.

He's gone now. He died Saturday, February 17th at 3:50 p.m. I would say that it was after a long struggle with cancer, but the struggle wasn't all that long, actually. He was diagnosed in September, went through a few months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, found out that the cancer was going to be untreatable, and then he suffered a fairly rapid decline. The last week he was mostly unconscious, the morphine keeping him out of pain as one by one his bodily sytems failed. He didn't want to linger. He didn't want to be paralyzed once the spinal cancer broke his back. He didn't want to be a burden.

He was born into poverty in Westwood, Oklahoma, moved with the westward migration to California logging country, started his family there before beginning his own business in the bay area. He built roads. That's what he did with his life. He left a tangible path behind him, as well as three children, ten grandchildren, and seventeen (and counting) great-grandchildren. He worked too damn hard his entire life, but in the end he was a success, mostly through sheer force of will. He began in poverty but he ended his life in affluence, solely through his own efforts. He loved music. He played the guitar. He knew every song Merle Haggard ever wrote, and would perform them in his living room with his best friend, John.

He wasn't perfect. He made mistakes. Some of them huge. But he owned up to them and made them right. He found faith in the latter half of his life, but once he found it he took it seriously. His role in his church was as the head usher, which he expanded to become something like the official host and greeter to anyone who attented First Baptist church in Cottonwood.

I owe him for many things, not the least of which is, of course, my life. He paid for my first year of college. It was his love of Northern California which caused him to retire here, and then, introduced it to me, and I fell in love with it too. He provided a place for me to run to when I needed a change in my life, offering me a home and a connection to family. He helped me buy my first house.

He had a way of seeing through the world's bullshit, mostly because he was a great BS'er himself, as he was proud to tell anyone who'd listen. And then he'd prove it. He was gragrious, and loved people, and if there was anyone my grandfather had no use for, you could be assured that there wasn't much use for that person at all. You could argue with him and tease him, and give his own nature back to him and he'd love you for it, and sometimes he'd even admit when he was wrong and you had a point. In his later years, he even came to be able tyo admit when he didn't know something. The times when we were really annoyed with him, though, was whn we knew he was right and we didn't want to admit it. This happened a lot.

He loved kids. You never had to beg him to babysit, he just loved having them around. He got energy from them, enjoyed their spirit and their adoration. And they did adore him. The picture I have posted is from last halloween. Already sick, he could not resist dressing up in his Superman costume (complete with Willie Nelson hair), simply to delight my son, who had dressed as Superman himself.

When it came time for the end, the Hospice nurse told my family that he was not the kind of man who could leave with us all watching him, so we all went into the otehr part of the house after saying our goodbyes. Then, within ten minutes, my grandmother holding his hand, he left us. My grandmother told us that he squeezed her hand thre times and smiled. He'd told my mother that he was ready to go, partly because he wanted to see my brother, Jeremy again. I got the chance to tell him that I loved him and that he'd always been my hero. He told me that he was glad we'd always been "buddies" and that I was to take care of Sarah and Drew for him.

And now he is gone, and the world doesn't feel like the same place. It's as if Atlas himself is no longer holding up the world. The way he lived, though, he taught all of us to hold up the world for ourselves.

So that's what we're going to do.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Goodbye, Molly Ivins

This is not written by me, but I thought it was worth posting. While I wait for one of my heroes to pass, it's worth noting the passing of another. At one point in my life, I wanted to be this woman when I grew up.

Best-selling author and columnist Molly Ivins, the sharp-witted liberal who skewered the political establishment and referred to President Bush as “Shrub,” died Wednesday after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 62.

Molly's wisdom:

• The first rule of holes: when you’re in one, stop digging.

• What you need is sustained outrage…there’s far too much unthinking respect given to authority.

• Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous.

• The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion.

• Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.

• There are two kinds of humor.One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.

• I believe that ignorance is the root of all evil. And that no one knows the truth.

• You can’t ignore politics, no matter how much you’d like to.

• It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.

• What stuns me most about contemporary politics is not even that the system has been so badly corrupted by money. It is that so few people get the connection between their lives and what the bozos do in Washington and our state capitols.
Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don’t much care for.

• I believe in practicing prudence at least once every two or three years.

• I still believe in Hope - mostly because there’s no such place as Fingers Crossed, Arkansas.

• One function of the income gap is that the people at the top of the heap have a hard time even seeing those at the bottom. They practically need a telescope. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt probably didn’t waste a lot of time thinking about the people who built their pyramids, either. OK, so it’s not that bad yet — but it’s getting that bad.

• It’s like, duh. Just when you thought there wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties, the Republicans go and prove you’re wrong.

• In the real world, there are only two ways to deal with corporate misbehavior: One is through government regulation and the other is by taking them to court. What has happened over 20 years of free-market proselytizing is that we have dangerously weakened both forms of restraint, first through the craze for “deregulation” and second through endless rounds of “tort reform,” all of which have the effect of cutting off citizens’ access to the courts. By legally bribing politicians with campaign contributions, the corporations have bought themselves immunity from lawsuits on many levels.

• Any nation that can survive what we have lately in the way of government, is on the high road to permanent glory.

• I am not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We’d turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don’t ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Confluence of Events

The book is done. 217,000 words. 534 actual book pages. A year and a half of my life. And it is done.

Well, the rough draft, anyway.

And at the same time, my grandfather is, to put it bluntly, dying. He's at the end of his fight with lung, liver, and spinal cancer. He can no longer use his feet, there's a rattle in his breath, and his liver has shut down, sending toxins to his brain so that most of the time he doesn't know what's going on.

In October, when the diagnosis came down, he was a relatively robust 74, and still even had his full head of dark hair. Now he is this. It happened so fast.

He's at home. Hospice is helping my Mom take care of him. We're told he has between 2 days and 2 weeks left.

It's strange how things come together sometimes.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The AIAC Awards: TV 2006

ok, finally done. And with the only real category I am probably qualified to talk about, because I watch so damn much of it, TV! Sorry. Anyway, I had some ambitious plans for this entry, but have novel fatigue has forced me to decide just to name my top 5 shoes and call it a day. Or an entry, whatever.

Anyway, here are my top 5 shows of the years. And Jennie, I am sorry, but Jericho did not make the cut. I hope you can live with the disapointment :P

5. Ugly Betty

Yes, Ugly Betty. Seriously. And I know that I mentioned earlier it needed a new time slot in order for me to watch it, but that was before discovering the full episodes on Awesome! It started out as a whim, something fun to watch while I was folding laundry in the bedroom. (Yes, I fold laundry, because I am the perfect man. I cook too. sort of) and it soon became an addiction. I even forced My Name is Earl off the TiVo and consigned myself to watching the Office online to make room, so my wife and I can watch it together. I realize that loving this show means I will have to give up my Y chromosome, or at the very least promise the Guy union that I will watch an equal number of hours of the Ultimate Fighter (which is its own type of soap opera) but it's worth it. So, why do I love it so much? It is SO over the top and unrealistic, but it's characters are so funny and lovable and bitchy, and it has a heroine that you cannot help but root for. Seriously, if you're watching this show and you're not rooting for Betty, there's something wrong with you. This is the show that proves ugly is beautiful, and there's nothing wrong with that.

4. 30 Rock
I really don't have much to say about this show except that is it sick and twisted and wrong and demented as all true works of genius are. Plus, Tina Fey is every geek's ultimate dream girl, or should be.

3. Heroes.

Yes, I'm writing about Heroes, again, some more. As before, it continues to intrigue me, it shows true promise that its writers really have thought about things ahead of time, and Hiro is the ultimate geek-tastic Avenger, Peter Petrelli the quintesential self-destructive kid on the Heroes journey, and I have a thing for strippers with multiple personality disorder, espeially the kind that can rip me limb from limb. What? I'm a guy.

2. Veronica Mars.

Sun-drenched noir, starring the world's smartest college student and her awesome dad. The series moved to college this year, and the season-long mystery format became a series of linked arcs, but it remains the most brilliantly written (its a tie! see below) show on television, so of course, it's struggling in the ratings and may not see a fourth season. Which would be a shame, because there's a lot of life in these characters and this setting. Seriously, people, watch this show!

1. Battlestar Galactica

What if the world ended, but you didn't. What if you survived armageddon, summoned fourth the will to start again on a new world, only to have the destroyers come again and this time instead of breaking down your body, they broke down your soul instead. That's what happened this year on this, one of the most frak-tastic shows of all time. The new Caprica arc jumped things forward, advancing the conflict between the survivors and the cylons, drawing uncomfortable parallels between both the holocaust and the Iraq War. This is a show that does not run away from how messy life is. There's an old adage for writers: create characters people like and/or identify with, put them up a tree, and then throw rocks at them. Well, executive producer Ron Moore had some incredibly big rocks this year, but still, they keep moving, they keep running, and somehow manage to see one more day. Without losing hope, which is the most miraculous thing of all. This is another show too brilliant for its time, and rumors circulate about its cancellation, so I live in hope of two more years to complete the story. So Say We All!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The AIAC Awards: Music 2006

ok. This is probably the one topic I am the least qualified to talk about. I would just copy Phil's write-up about music on his blog and post it here (properly attributed, of course) if not for the fact that I am not cool enough to have actually heard of any of those people. So, I am just going to talk about my two favorite albums from last year, and then my favorite ten songs that I downloaded.

Because this was the year my entire approach to buying and enjoying music changed. This was the year of the ipod (yes, cue angellic music). Seriously, has there been a more important development in the music industry (industry, not art) that the proliferation of mp3 players ad legal downloading? No longer do you have to buy an entire album for the one cool song you heard. That said, there are some artists I love so much that I did download entire albums, or albums who had enough I liked I felt same buying them. For the record, here is that list: Jars of Clay, Good Monsters; Snow Patrol, Eyes Open; Jewel, Goodbye Alice in Wonderland; Indigo Girls, Despite our Differences; and Shawn Colvin, These Four Walls. There were a couple of e.p.s in there too, but I'm not counting them as full albums. For the record, I enjoyed all of these albums, there wasn't really a dud in the bunch, but two of them stood out from the rest.

Despite our Differences by The Indigo Girls.

How is it that two southern lesbians can write such truthful songs about love and God and Politics that they actual seem to be writing my inner monologue? These girls tell the truth about life, and they tell it beautifully. There is also in their music an acceptance of people, of loved ones, and even of their enemies that they can, even while they ask for what they want, understand how people are just people, and not every person is capable of truth, or love, or faithfulness, and on a basic level, that is ok. We are who we are.

You run/that's all you've ever done/that's all you know to do/I can't hold that against you
You flee/cause you're born to be free/and if you go, I'll understand/but you better get out while you can

They get political, as always. Pendulum Swinger laments the current state of things, while looking for more representation for women in positions of power in ever place in society.

What we get from you war-walk/the ticker of the nation breaking down like a bad clock/I want the pendulum to swing again/till all your mighty mandate was just spitting in the wind

Their music, unlike in past albums, notably All that We let in, avoids the morose. Nearly every track on this album has a nice drum-bass going on that moves it along. Some of the lyrics are sad, but the music is gorgeous, even on such songs as "Last Tears."

If we're a drop in the bucket/with just enough science to keep from saying "fuck it!"/Until the last drop of sun burns a sweet light/plenty of revolutions left to try to get this thing right...

I hope they're right, and I hope they're around for every one of them.

Good Monsters by Jars of Clay

All the Good Monsters open their eyes/to see the waste and where the home fires rise/and all the people shouting "why? why? why?"/do you know what you are/do you know what you are?

It us probably a surprise to no one that I am drawn to the apocalyptic imagery in this song. But more than that, it asks the question that I think is the most important. Do you know who you are? Answering that question, since we are all of us monsters in one way or another, is the first step in some of us becoming good monsters.

The song Light gives heat tempts the invocation of my "you lose it when you cue the children's choir" rule, but since the song is about Africa, and the way white christians often go in to "help" the natives with a condescending "we'll save you" attitude, and the choir in question is the African Children's Choir, it gets away with it. The song is gorgeous, and its message much needed.

Catch the rain in empty hands/save the children from their lands/wash the darkness from tehir skins/heroes from the west/we don't know you, but we know best/but this is not a test/you treat me like I'm blind/setting fires around the houses on a hill/but light gives heat/you segregate my mind/burning crosses from your fields/but light gives heat

The band, former teen wunderkinds now in their early thirties (like some other people who will remain nameless but who have blogs), write honestly about love and marriage in the songs Water under the bridge and Mirrors and Smoke.

I do not love you the way I did when we met/There are secrets and arguments we haven't finished yet/But it's only that grace has outlived our regrets/we're still here/maybe we can stay till the last drop of water flows under the bridge

There are times meant for breaking/and words to ignore/and we've bent to our souls/when our skin is at war/and if leaving were freedom/we'd both walk right out of that door/but we can stay/till the last drop of water flows under the bridge

and the years roll by/and you hold my hand/while the shdows stretch over the land ...crumble and fall in my arms and we'll struggle to hold on/ waters they rise and the carry our hopes and our dreams away, but we can stay ...

This is my album of the year, and is the best album of Jars of Clay's already long career.

and now, my top-ten songs of the year. They had to be from this year, not older songs that I discovered:

10. The Guy that says goodbye to you is out of his mind by Griffin House
you don't need to change/a thing about you, Babe/I'm telling you, from where I sit, you're one of a kind/relationships, I don't know why, they never work out/they make you cry/but the guy that says goodbye to you is out of his mind

9. Gotta have you by The Weepies
grey/quiet and tired and mean/looking at worry and seeing/tried to make you mad at me/over the phone/red/eyes and fires and signs/I'm taken by a nursery rhyme/I want to make a ray of sunshine/and never leave home/no amount of coffee, no amount of cryin'/no amount of whiskey/no amount of whine/nothing else will do/I gotta have you.

8. Good Monsters by Jars of Clay

7. Hate Me by Blue October
I've got to block out thoughts of you so I don't lose my head/they're crawling like a cockroach leaving babies in my bed/dropping little reels of tape/to remind me that I'm alone/playing movies in my head that make a porno feel like home

6. Here Comes Now by Jakob Dylan
meet me out in the open sky/a perfect storm is on the rise/beyond the city moving/it is planned/something comes from a strange land/the trail of dust on the building tops/it's everything you've wanted....Here comes now/ready or not/the future comes round/much sooner than you thought/here comes now.

5. Tuff Kid by Shawn Colvin
My mama had me, but she didn't get me/I think I broke her at the age of five/My daddy hit me/but he couldn't quit me/we taught each other how to feel alive ...

4. I Believe in love by the Indigo Girls
I want to say that underneath it all you are my friend/and the way that I feel for you/I'll never fall that way again/I still believe despite our differences/what we have's enough/and I believe in you/and I believe in love.

3. Light Gives Heat by Jars of Clay

2. Hands Open by Snow Patrol

It's hard to argue when/you won't stop making sense/but my tongue just misbehaves/and keeps digging my own grave

with my hands open/and my eyes open/I just keep hoping/that your heart opens

Why would I sabotage/the best thing that I've got/well, it makes it easier/to know exactly what I want....

It's not as easy as wearing it all to be right/gotta be more than hope when it's right/I want to hear you laugh like you really mean it/collapse onto me tired with joy ...

1. Half-assed by Ani DiFranco

You start tripping/and I start slipping away/I was taught to zip it/when I got nothing nice to say/and down in the texas of my heart/driving really bug truck down a dirt road/my love is scrunching up it features/through really big eyes, big lips, big nose

show me a moment that is mine/its beauty blinding and unsurpassed/made me resent every moment that went by/and left me so downhearted 'cause I felt it so half-assed

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Things I'm looking forward to in 2007

Taking a break from the AIAC awards for as minute. As in any new year, we have plans. I mean the collective we. My school. My family. The world. These are the things that are being planned that I'm actually looking forward to. I realize by posting these, I am tempting a karmic pre-emptive strike on them almost as stupidly as if I found myself in a horror movie telling the much more attractive main character how I plan to go home, marry my girl, open up that coffee/book shop I always wanted to, just as soon as we kill that fucking monster/undead slasher/alien. so be it.

The February break trip to San Antonio. Just me and Kate. no kids.(believe me, you don't want to spend any time with those two on an airplane). No real reason, we just want a fun trip, and to spend time, you know, together, as a couple, without having to break up slap-fights and referee toy/seat/blanket/TV-sharing. And don't ask "why San Antonio?" Because it's there, ok?
The rest of Season 1 of Heroes. This show has gotten seriously under my skin. Lost? What is this Lost you speak of? (Sorry, Phil.) And I demand to see Hiro and the Dinosaur now! And bring me Christopher Eccleston as the Invisible Man!

Finishing the fucking book. Yes, that is its official name now. And if I continue to meet my deadlines, and the plot doesn't balloon out of control (yes, again. does this story really need to be 500 pages? apparently) I will be done February 10th. I content myself with the knowledge that on February 10th I can just type "and then everybody died" and end it one way or the other.

Spider-Man 3! Does this one really require an explanation? Seriously ...

Continuing to design and starting the plans to build our new house. Yes, it's next to the in-laws. Yes, this frightens me. I'll cope. At least there will be goats to "accidentally" release to trim down the front lawn.
Watching my daughter go through first Communion. As a fairly recent Catholic, it's great having this opportunity to revisit some of my lessons from RCIA back in 2000. And it's great watching her learn about her faith and learn to take it seriously.

Learning about life as an American in the Netherlands from Tuppence's blogs. Of course, mitigated by the fact that we now have to find a new realtor.

Furthering my plan to turn my son into a geek! He has recently, against his mother's wishes, developed a power-rangers obsession and refuses to take off his spider-man boots, even when he sleeps. I couldn't be more proud.

Starting my next fucking novel. Because I never learn ... and this one's even bigger and more epic. Sigh ...

Friday, January 05, 2007

The AIAC Awards: Books 2006

btw, it's pronounced IKE. My wife doesn't agree, but it's my blog, so there. The IKE awards.

anyway, I wish I has read more this year, but I'm going to go ahead and put up my picks for book anyway. Most of these were published before last year, but I at least read them last year, and they were in recent release when I did, so I'm still counting it. Here goes (as if anyone cares):

3. Blue Shoes and Happiness/Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith.

The latest installments in Smith's two "mystery" series, one set in Botswana, one set in Edinburgh. I say "mystery" because these might technically qualify as those, but the mysteries are not the point here. They're not even particularly mysterious. What they do so well is gently reveal the worlds of the main characters, and present characters that form a community based on a comman sense of morality. These are very life-affirming books, as much about forgiveness as they are about catching people doing wrong things, whether they are dishonest doctors, meddling advice columnists, or self-absorbed wanna-be wine connosoirs. No murders here, just people trying to do the best they can to get along.

2. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Ok, there are some murders here. Big ones. Presidential murders. This is the most hysterical book about Presidential assassinations ever published, I feel safe in saying, even though I have not read widely in the field. Sarah Vowell, historian, blogger, This American Life contributor and the voice of Violet Parr in The Incredibles. chronicles her travels visiting various historical sites associated with the assasinations of Lincoln, McKinley, And Garfield (the president, not the cat. Don't worry, Kim, the fat orange cat is not dead. sadly). Part travelogue, part biography, part rumination on presidential history, part contemplation on the relationship between assassination and memorial sainthood, every part of it is deep and funny, a difficult combination to pull off well.

1. Perdido Street Station/The Scar by China Mieville

I could not choose between the two of these, nor would I want to. In these two books China Mieville introduces a world that is hard to define. Is it fantasy? Science fiction? Arguments can be made for either, but it is all brilliant. Brilliant and dark, not a place I would want to live, but a place I am a better person for having gotten to know. The city of New Crobuzon, where strange creatures live together and even stranger alchemies take place beyond closed doors, and mad scientists unleash their creations on the world and in the process become Gods and Devils all at once. And the city of Armada, that floats with the waves, providing haven for transformed exiles wishing to find for themselves something of a humanity that has been beaten out of them. BOth books involves a quest, the first two destroy a nest of murderous psychis moths, and the second to cross the great dead ocean and find the scar in creation, from where energies can be released that might transform the world. Both novels really defy simple descrpition(obviously) and theose The Scar takes place after Perdido Street Station and involves a character connected to the main hero, it is not a direct sequel.

And with these books, Mieville becomes an author whose work I will seek out and absorb. His writing is so good, it's a joy just to read. He has another book out set in this world, and it will probably be my favorite book I read this year as well.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The AIAC Awards: Movies 2006

Ok, back to stupid stuff. I always like to pretend I'm a critic,and have decided to institute the AIAC Awards on this blog, which I'm sure will be coveted after for years to come. So, here's the first installment of the AIAC (As If Anyone Cares) awards. First up, movies. Books, TV, and music will follow. And yes, I realize I am not actually qualified for this. But I was an English major and we're used to writing papers and pretending our opinions mean something.

I have not seem very many movies in the theatre because unless it's animated or has some type of talking animal or another we usually don't get to the movies to see them. But that hasn't stopped me from assembling my list of the best movies of 2006. I'm only choosing three this time, because choosing 5 would put an inordinate percentage of the movies I actually saw on the list.

3. Happy Feet

This one is on the list despite the fact that I actually missed the last ten minutes of it because my son was getting a little restless. It wasn't that he didn't like it. He's just ... like that. Anyway, this one received the ire of the baptists for many reasons, so I was, therefore, predisposed to like it on that basis alone. So, basically the child of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe just wants to dance. Only, he's a penguin and he's the type of penguin that mates for life by matching its song to the song of a penguin of the opposite sex, and finding their rhythms blending together. But this penguin CANNOT sing, he dances instead, so he goes on an epic quest throughout Antarctica to find himself, to win his love, and to eventually save the continent from the human oil despoilers. There's also a valuable message in here, both about environmentalism and also about how we treat people who are born differently from everyone else, including those whose differences are found in the mating process (this is the part that pissed off the Baptists. Because ... in a children's movie? How dare people preach acceptance to children! It's an outrage! Oh, come on, Baptists, I kid because I love. Actually, not really. Except for you, Jennie! And possibly Kim! And my parents! )

This movie does have, as a very mixed blessing, Robin Williams as the voice of not one, but two saucy latin penguins, and the most gorgeous animation ever produced for film. And it takes a cuddly sea otter and shows it for the vicious predator is actually it. It's preachiness does get overwhelming at times, especially in the ending, which I missed, but see this one. And no, the lead penguin is not gay. It's a metaphor.

2. Superman Returns

Yes, I finally saw it. And I wished I had seen it in the theaters because the first time i saw it was on our little computer monitor in the bedroom and with the non-visibility and the strings and the sleeping child on my lap, I must confess I went to sleep. Like, a lot. And at first I blamed the movie, but then watched it again and realized that no, it wasn't the movie. And yes, It is probably too long, and bit ponderous, and Brandon Routh is not ... quite ... right somehow, as Superman. It's not the performance, he just looks too young, I guess, but the movie really works for me. Especially as I had recently re-viewed Superman 2, which is this actually a direct sequel to. It takes those first Superman movies, so wonderfully campy, and updates them, and you get to see the tragedy of Superman having finally gotten what he wants, Lois, and having had it taken away, and taken so far away that she doesn't even remember what happened. Hence the kid, who was confusing for a lot of people.

This kid could have been the most annoying part of the movie. I was actually not a fan of this plot development when I first heard about it, but in the movie, the kid works. Mostly, I think, because it provides a reason for Lois not to just go running into Superman's arms. And the actor who played the kid was really good. I usually don't say this about kid actors, but he hit all the right notes. I still wonder how that math works out for the kid to be the age he is, but I am also good at fanwanking, so it's not that much of a problem. Kate instructs me that I am good at constructing bridges so that the massive trucks don't fall into the plot holes. It's a gift.

But it was a good Superman movie. It looks beautiful and there's a lot of emotional heft there.

1. Stranger than Fiction

The ultimate meta movie about the relationship between writers and their characters. It has Will Ferrell, which is usually an for me, but it also has Emma Thompson. And the trailer did its job of honestly showing me what kind of movie it was. (most of the audience I was with did not pay enough attention and had expected another Talledega Nights. They were annoying.) But the story of Harold Krick and the author who created him, and who is suffering writer's block because she can't find the right way to kill him off, mostly because she doesn't want to, is a hysterical metafiction detailing the relationship between art and humanity. And the performances of Ferrell and Thompson seem totally flip-flopped in their relationship to their regular filmic personas. Thompson is manic, panicked, and over the top and Ferrell is quiet and restrained. And all the characters are named after famous scientists, for some reason, which I sure was a level of commentary I was not getting. It made me feel smart to notice that. Actually, It made me feel smart to understand it when my wife pointed it out to me.

It's a sweet little romance as well, as sweet as it can get between a boring, lumpy IRS agent and a tattooed, angry-grrrl baker, but I will never look at flour in the same way again. (I mean -- who knew there was more than one kind?)