Saturday, May 28, 2005

Top 100 Albums

I've decided to post a list of my Top 100 Albums of All Time. Why? Because I apparently have far too much time available to sit around on my ass seriously considering whether I prefer Interpol to Galaxie 500, or if it's too soon to tell. Most people wouldn't bother to take more than 1 minute to comtemplate this question. Most people, in fact, would immediately ask "What the fuck is a Galaxie 500" were they ever to contemplate this question.

And just for clarity, this is not the Top 100 Best Albums ever. This is my personal Top 100 Favorite Albums ever. It's not the ones I've listened to the most over my lifetime, or the most influential, or the ones I have the deepest personal connection with. They're just my 100 favorite albums. In roughly the order in which I favor them (though obviously, the rankings would change over time, as I get tired of some albums and discover new things I like about others).

So I'm not going to feel bad if your favorite band didn't make the cut, or for having bands that aren't hip to like that I like anyway. I mean, obviously your favorite band wasn't going to make the list. Because your favorite band sucks.

So, yes, Dave Matthews Band is on there because even though they're extremely cheesy now and no longer have the hipster seal of approval, "Under the Table and Dreaming" is still a kickass record. And no, Frank Zappa isn't on the list, and neither is Captain Beefheart because that shit, for all its audacity and technical brilliance, is basically unlistenable as far as I'm concerned. And Tom Waits and Elvis Costello and Joni Mitchell aren't on there just to piss you off.

It was a really really hard list to compile. Way more hard than I thought it would be when I set out to do it. First off, I came up with WAY more than 100 albums, even though I assumed I'd have to struggle just to make it to 100. Secondly, it's super difficult to choose between two really different bands and albums that you like. I mean, are the Meat Puppets better than Wilco? Does Cream rock harder than Marvin Gaye? This was especially true when two albums wind up next to each other on the list...Can I really say that I prefer Radiohead's "OK Computer" to Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home"? I give the Oxford boys the superior position on the list, but I'm not so sure...

Not to mention that I'm totally sick of some of these albums, and wouldn't want to actually listen to them right now. Even the #1 album on the list has been sort of played out for me at this point...I can go for months between listens. But I wanted to be fair to my overall tastes, and not just what I'm listening to right this moment.

Other self-imposed rules I should mention...There are no soundtracks, or any albums with multiple contributors from that matter (unless they were all in the same band at the same time). There are no best-ofs. There are no live albums, except for the second half of Neil Young's "Rust Never Sleeps," but even if you left only the first half, it would still be worth including.

And to prevent the thing from getting too repetitive, I will admit to trimming some worthwhile discographies. I have a bunch of Beatles albums, but every Beatles album, at least from "Rubber Soul" on, is better than just about every other album ever, so it wouldn't be as interesting a list. I also kind of feel bad about shortchanging guys like Paul Simon and The Stones and Stevie Wonder, who produced tons of good music but only get one mention on the list. But what can you do?

Oh, and there is no jazz or classical, because I don't listen to that stuff and putting it on the list would be a lame attempt to class up the blog.

Okay, so here we go, in reverse order...

My Favorite 100 Albums of All Time

100. Bad Religion - "Recipie for Hate"
99. Grandaddy - "Under the Western Freeway"
98. Deltron 3030 - "Deltron 3030"
97. The Eels - "Electro-Shock Blues"
96. Dismemberment Plan - "Emergency and I"
95. The Decemberists - "Castaways and Cutouts"
94. Ben Folds Five - "Whatever and Ever Amen"

93. Nirvana - "Nevermind"
92. The Strokes - "Is This It?"
91. Arcade Fire - "Funeral"

90. The Shins - "Chutes Too Narrow"
89. Stereolab - "Emperor Tomato Ketchup"
88. Sebadoh - "Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock"
87. Galaxie 500 - "On Fire"
86. Phish - "Picture of Nectar"
85. Songs: Ohia - "Magnolia Electric Company"
84. Soul Coughing - "Ruby Vroom"
83. The Fiery Furnaces - "Gallowbird's Bark"
82. Sonic Youth - "Daydream Nation"
81. Oingo Boingo - "Dead Man's Party"

80. Love - "Forever Changes"
79. Rusted Root - "When I Woke"
78. The Who - "Tommy"
77. Liz Phair - "Exile in Guyville"
76. Pulp - "Different Class"
75. A Tribe Called Quest - "Low End Theory"
74. Dave Matthews Band - "Under the Table and Dreaming"
73. The Velvet Underground - "VU"
72. Interpol - "Turn On the Bright Lights"
71. Television - "Marquee Moon"

70. Paul Simon - "Graceland"
69. Elliott Smith - "Figure 8"
68. The Rolling Stones - "Let It Bleed"
67. The Ramones - "Rocket to Russia"
66. Talking Heads - "Fear of Music"
65. Radiohead - "Kid A"
64. Frank Black - "Teenager of the Year"
63. Wilco - "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"
62. Belle and Sebastian - "If You're Feeling Sinister"
61. Dinosaur Jr. - "You're Living All Over Me"

60. Meat Puppets - "II"
59. Ween - "Chocolate and Cheese"
58. Sebadoh - "Bakesale"
57. Modest Mouse - "The Lonesome Crowded West"
56. Pavement - "Brighten the Corners"
55. Weezer - "Pinkerton"
54. Built to Spill - "Keep It Like a Secret"
53. Blur - "Parklife"
52. Pearl Jam - "Vs."
51. Guided by Voices - "Bee Thousand"

50. The Flaming Lips - "Soft Bulletin"
49. Heatmiser - "Mic City Sons"
48. Olivia Tremor Control - "Dusk at Cubist Castle"
47. Phish - "Rift"
46. Marvin Gaye - "What's Going On"
45. Cream - "Disraeli Gears"
44. Soul Coughing - "Irresistable Bliss"
43. Van Morrison - "Astral Weeks"
42. The Smiths - "The Smiths"
41. Pearl Jam - "Ten"

40. The Pixies - "Surfer Rosa"
39. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere"
38. Beck - "Midnite Vultures"
37. The Doors - "Morrison Hotel"
36. John Lennon - "Plastic Ono Band"
35. Michael Jackson - "Thriller"
34. Led Zeppelin - "III"
33. The Beach Boys - "Pet Sounds"
32. Beastie Boys - "Paul's Boutique"
31. Stevie Wonder - "Talking Book"

30. Grateful Dead - "American Beauty"
29. The Velvet Underground - "The Velvet Underground and Nico"
28. Neutral Milk Hotel - "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"
27. The Ramones - "The Ramones"
26. Pink Floyd - "Wish You Were Here"
25. Neil Young - "After the Gold Rush"
24. Pavement - "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain"
23. Radiohead - "The Bends"
22. The Who - "Who's Next"
21. The Pixies - "Doolittle"

20. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - "Rust Never Sleeps"
19. The Velvet Underground - "Loaded"
18. David Bowie - "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust"
17. Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Are You Experienced?"
16. The Beatles - "Magical Mystery Tour"
15. The Smiths - "The Queen is Dead"
14. Led Zeppelin - "IV"
13. Beck - "Odelay"
12. Grateful Dead - "Workingman's Dead"
11. Bob Dylan - "Bringing It All Back Home"

10. Radiohead - "OK Computer"
09. Talking Heads - "Remain in Light"
08. The Beatles - "Revolver"
07. David Bowie - "Hunky Dory"
06. Bob Dylan - "Highway 61 Revisited"
05. David Bowie - "Station to Station"
04. The Beatles - "White Album"
03. Bob Dylan - "Blonde on Blonde"
02. The Beatles - "Abbey Road"

01. Pink Floyd - "Dark Side of the Moon"

The Interpreter

Sydney Pollack's been making pretty good movies (with the occasional really good movie) for a long time now. So, let's face it, the guy knows what he's doing. Before he went really astray in the 90's, and produced such forgettable piffle as Random Hearts and Sabrina, his films always had, at the very least, a sturdy foundation of professionalism and taste. What they lack in ingenuity and dazzle, they make up for in reliability and sound craftsmanship.

The Interpreter is a satisfying and well-made political thriller of this style. It's unexciting, and frequently predictable, but it's also handsome, occasionally sharp and it does contain a few terrifically suspenseful, first-rate sequences. Though I can't say I loved the film, or will likely ever feel the need to revisit its modest pleasures, it's still Pollack's best work since Out of Africa in 1985, and a decidedly above-average mainstream entertainment.

The movie would come off far better if Pollack didn't make some rudimentary mistakes. His film has two protagonists: one is a UN interpreter from the fictional African nation of Matobo (Nicole Kidman), the other a hard-boiled, no-nonsense Secret Service agent (Sean Penn). I think Pollack intends to explore these character's duality - they are drawn to one another even though they represent opposite perspectives. But the device of cutting between these two perspectives really undercuts all of the suspense Pollack needs to build in the film's first half.

To explain, I need to give you a bit more of the story. Kidman's African emigre, Silvia, has overheard two men on the floor of the UN after hours discussing a plot to kill a visiting African dignitary from her home country. Penn's Secret Service agent, Keller, at first doubts the veracity of her story - after all, how likely is it that two men would be discussing such a plan in the UN itself when coincidentally a woman who speaks their obscure African dialect is in the translation booth and can hear them perfectly?

The problem is, we have seen Silvia in the translation booth actually overhearing this conversation. So we know it has really happened (unless Pollack is pulling some sort of false-flashback Usual Suspects trick, though this really isn't that kind of movie). That basically invalidates the entire first 30 minutes of the movie. How are we supposed to invest in Keller's investigation when we know from minute one that it's misguided?

Pollack shortchanges his suspense plotting throughout the entire film in this manner. In a later sequence, Silvia turns on the shower in order to fool Keller's surveillance team, allowing her to sneak out. Then, we see an assassin enter Silvia's apartment intending to kill her. He unloads a few rounds into the shower before Keller gets the drop on him and takes him out. Keller then opens the shower door and discovers...that Silvia's not in there.

But we already knew that, so the moment carries no surprise. Why on Earth does Pollack include that shot of Kidman turning on the shower and then skulking away? If he had just left that shot out, he might have a chance at actually fooling someone.

I'm genuinely befuddled, because in all other ways, the movie is astutely directed. Cinematographer Darius Khondji does really impeccable work here (he's also responsible for the David Fincher's Seven and Panic Room, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's visionary Delicatessen and City of Lost Children.) And, as I said, everything is just so confidently shot and edited. There's a visual sophistication and a grace in the storytelling that you only get with seasoned, veteran directors.

Let me give you one example, a truly wonderful sequence reminiscent of Pollack's best film (at least, best film that I've seen), Three Days of the Condor. Silvia walks down a dark street to her home. She hears footsteps behind her. She turns around - there's a man walking quickly, keeping up with her but not passing her. She moves faster, eventually breaking into a run.

We zoom back and see that there is, in fact, a man following her. Then he hears a voice in his earpiece, telling him not to tail Silvia so close. So it's okay, he's a Secret Service agent, just watching over her.

Then, when we think the sequence is over, we quickly pan to another figure in a parked car across the street. It's an assassin who's been lying in wait the entire time.

That's just great stuff right there, a classic reversal. You get nervous, you calm down, and then, BOOM, you're nervous again. When will Pollack make a whole movie that's as good as that scene?

This is the first movie ever permitted to shoot inside the halls of the U.N., so it carries with it something of an undue sense of decorum and solemnity. It's filled with finely-sketched little details designed to enhance the accuracy. Even the fake African dialect spoken by Kidman and her countrymen was created specifically for the film. But in the end, this seriousness and focus serves an unworthy story, a potboiler designed around a pretty silly conspiracy that, once revealed, doesn't hold together particularly well.

Spreading Santorum

Folks, it's Braffy time again. So far, we've nominated two very special, very horrible people for the First Annual Worst Person Alive Award, presented in part by Crushed by Inertia, Pepsi, Taco Bell, Chevron and Deluxe Post-Production Services of Burbank, California. Let me tell you...this ceremony is going to be something else. Cedric the Entertainer's gonna be hosting, Rod Stewart and Insane Clown Posse are gonna rock out, and I've even got Debbie Allen working on an interpretive dance number. It's really gonna be a special night.

But you can't have a big, glitzy, possibly fictitious awards ceremony without nominees, right? So who's joining Antonio Esfandiari and Tana Goertz in the finals? You guessed it...Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Here's a photo of him laughing at a rabbi.

At first, I considered not permitting any politicians into the contest. I just assume they're all horrible people, particularly those on the right-wing side of the aisle, so why even bother highlighting their specific horribleness? I mean, I could go through the voting records of every person in the Senate right now, Democrat and Republican, and find something loathsome.

But Little Ricky Santorum takes it so much further than voting incorrectly on every major issue. He's possibly the most outspoken ignoramus in America. No one who knows less feels the need to pontificate publicly more than the Indistinguished Gentleman from Pennsylvania.

There's far, far, far too much idiocy in Santorum's background to deal with in this brief nomination column. Most people tell me my blog posts are too long anyway. So I'll just stick to a few key statements by Rick that lets you know where he's coming from.

First, let's deal with the headline of this post. I'll begin at the beginning, with Texas' ridiculous sodomy law. So, the Supreme Court was hearing the case of Lawrence v. Texas, which questioned the constitutionality of a law against the private, consensual practice of sodomy. (As has been noted by approximately 100 billion other blogs, the dictionary definition of sodomy includes a lot of activities that law-abiding straight people engage in regularly, like blowjobs and donkey-punching.)

And even though he's just a Senator, with no real say on the matter, Santorum felt the need to express his support for the Texas law banning private, consensual mouth-to-genital or mouth-to-anus contact.

Here's Santorum talking to the Associated Press back in 2003:

We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does.

Nice. Obviously, there's no difference between having consensual oral sex and having incestuous sex, or sex wtih a dog. Clearly. Also, isn't it weird that he has the "right to adultery" in there? Because it kind of undermines his point. I mean, adultery is legal still, right? You can't go to jail for cheating on your wife, unless she's pregnant and after you cheat on her, you kill her and dump her body and the body of her unborn child off your fishing boat in the middle of the night while pretending that she's been kidnapped.

But anyway...Here's where it goes from typical ignorant Senator crap to Braffy-nomination-worthy ranting:

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.

Even the AP reporter at this point kind of freaks out. I mean, this guy is a US Senator who has now equated two adult guys having sex to a guy having sex with an animal. Maybe he misunderstood their usage of the term "bear." I mean, what other explanation could there be? This guy isn't really going public with his case against blowjobs, is he?

Beyond that level of stupidity, the guy's argument just makes no rational sense at all. It doesn't stand up to the least bit of scrutiny. We allow infertile couples to marry. And couples who are too old to have children. We allow couples to marry and then have sex outside the marriage (unless swinging has suddenly become illegal and no one remembered to tell Sting). And if a young, fertile couple gets married and then decides not to have kids, we don't judge them harshly, as if they have done something wrong. And, of course, many gay couples whom we haven't allowed to legally marry already co-habitate and raise children.

In response to such lunacy, columnist and noted sodomite Dan Savage set up a website called Spreading Santorum, with the intent of creating an alternate definition for the word "santorum." Instead of simply being the name of a US Senator, it now also means "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex."

Okay, so Santorum is an anti-gay bigot who wants the government to be able to dictate appropriate boudoir behavior to each and every American. Look at him in that picture up there...The guy is a total nerd. You want him telling you how to fuck? He wants to uphold a law against wet, sloppy hummers!

But is he the worst person alive, you're probably asking...I mean, he's up against Antonio "Rocks and Rings" Esfandiari...that's some heavy competition, man.

Let me direct your attention to something a bit more recent. Say, this week. Santorum's presenting a bill to limit the capacity of the National Weather Service. He says that it's meant to streamline the Service to provide emergency information faster and more efficiently. But in reality, he's trying to get the governmental agency to stop moving in on the turf of a private company, AccuWeather Inc.

And the CEO of AccuWeather Inc. has just donated $2000 extra to Senator Rick this past week. Hmmm....that's weird. Some people might almost call it a coincidence.

"I don't think there's any coincidence between the two," Santorum said. "It's just that I happened to have a fundraiser in the town he was in."

Actually, Rick, you're arguing that there is a coincidence between the two. I happened to have a fundraiser in the same town as this guy who wanted to donate $2000 to me, but the two circumstances were unrelated. Coincidence! What Rick means is that there's no deeper meaning behind this action, and that it is only a coincidence. But Rick is...what's the word again...oh yeah, a liar!

Combined, Joel Myers and his brother, Barry Myers, AccuWeather's executive vice president, have donated more than $11,000 to Santorum and the Republican Party since 2003, according to FEC filings compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine, a campaign finance tracking group.

Yeah, nothing fishy there. He just pockets $11K from a company and then immediately (and I mean immediately!) turns around and rules against a public organization that does the exact same thing. Just remember what Rick's not a coincidence.

I'll close with this delightful tidbit, courtesy of Daily Kos. Some quick background: On March 1, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) made a reference to Hitler in a speech about the nuclear option.

Here's Ricky Santorum's response to Sen. Byrd:

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., asked Byrd to retract his comments, stating they "lessen the credibility of the senator and the decorum of the Senate."

Okay, fair enough. Now here's a quote from Santorum just two weeks ago on the floor of the Senate discussing the Democratic Senators intent to fillibuster GWB's judicial nominations:

It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 "I'm in Paris. how dare you invade me. How dare you bomb my city? It's mine." This is no more the rule of the Senate than it was the rule of the Senate before not to filibuster.

Why, it's almost like he took a strongly worded position publicly and then specifically violated that position, also publicly, less than 2 months later, when discussing the exact same issue. Now I'm not calling Santorum a hypocrite. Well, okay, I am...but the larger point here is that he's a total fucking moron. I mean, who would do something like that. It would be like me logging on to Crushed by Inertia tomorrow morning and writing a fluff piece about the greatness of Zach Braff, or about the amazing legacy George Bush will leave behind him in the White House, or about how poop jokes aren't funny. Your first thought wouldn't be, "Hey, Lons is kind of a hypocrite." It would be "What an ass!"

Or, in this case, perhaps, "Wow, this guy is just about the worst person alive."

Will it be Rick Santorum? Only time will tell. I can't help but notice that there hasn't been a single nomination yet from anyone other than myself, which I suppose is discouraging. But the Braffys (Braffies?) must go on! Look for more nominations in the coming days as we get ready for the big show!

Thursday, May 26, 2005


This is the second review I've posted for movie out of Warner's recent Confidential Classics box set. The first was I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, which you can read here, if you like. The two films have a good deal in common - they take contemporary social problems in the 1930's and turn them into tragic melodramas.

In Chain Gang, an out of work drifter played by Paul Muni finds himself railroaded by corrupt Southern lawmen into an oppressive chain gang. In Fritz Lang's 1936 film Fury, Spencer Tracy plays a man whose life is threatened by a lynch mob after he's mistakenly arrested for a kidnapping. The films share a grim outlook, though Fury unfolds with a bit more optimism, but Lang's film lacks the entertainment value, the pure pulp joy of Chain Gang. It's an ambitious film, and a well-meaning one, with some terrific black and white cinematography and another graceful, well-pitched turn by Tracy, but it's hampered by some awkward plotting and stumbles badly in the third act.

Like Muni's out of work protagonist in Chain Gang, Tracy's Joe Wilson is an unbelievably kind soul who faces constant and unceasing hardship out there in the cruel world. These are not escapist films that transported their Depression-era audiences to another time or place, where things are simpler. They left that to movies like Wizard of Oz. Fury is the kind of movie that takes a long, pained look at America's Heartland and leaves essentialy disgusted by what it has found.

Tracy must first convince his hoodlum brothers to leave the Mafia and start up their own business. He's trying to raise money to marry his long-time sweetheart, Katherine (Sylvia Sidney), and he needs their help. Once the cash has been earned, he buys a car and heads out to California for his nuptials. But he's sidelined along the way in a small town, where the sheriff arrests him on a kidnapping charge with highly dubious evidence. Soon enough, a bumbling deputy played by the inimitable Walter Brennan blabs to the townsfolk that a kidnapping suspect's being held in the town jail.

So, they do what anyone would do in that situation...and burn the jail down with Joe inside.

This happens at about the 40 minute mark, and it, obviously, atlers the course for the rest of the movie. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that Joe survives the fire (though he injures his arm somehow), but that he can't reveal to the world that he's alive. So the remainder of the film follows the murder trail for the 22 people indicted for participating in the lynch mob.

The movie never really recovers from the loss of Tracy. By sidelining the star (and the film's most charismatic, likable character), the film loses its focus, and even though the scenes featuring Walter Abel as a confident district attorney are well-composed, they aren't particularly captivating. Lang clearly has a lot to say about the nature of mob violence, and about the inherent alienation and loneliness that goes along with the quest for revenge, but his film is hamstrung by excessive lawyering and courtroom material.

So if some of the life of the movie seeps out during the second half, there's still plenty going on in Fury of note.

For one thing, there's a strong undercurrent of mysogeny here that I found interesting. In one sequence, a group of women are chatting and spreading mistruths about the kidnapping suspect, and Lang cuts briefly to a shot of clucking hens. As you can see in the image posted above, the initial blaze is set by a blonde woman with a maniacal look in her eye. And Joe's girlfriend Katherine exhibits little in the way of personality or bravery - she exists only to love Joe, to cook for him, and to faint whenever it appears he may be in trouble.

He hasn't told her he's still alive after the fire, and even though she gets clues in just about every other scene, it takes her the entire running time to catch on that Joey may not be dead. I mean, the fact that he may be alive is even being discussed in the trial she attends every day, and she never once doubts for a moment that he has expired. I mean...what gives?

I mentioned the cinematography above, but I'm going to bring it up one more time because it's so impressive. I love the extreme lighting effects in black and white films, which can't really be replicated in color. Fury is overloaded with wonderfully rich, expressive and foreboding shots, and the actual mob scene itself is a master class in editing. The action is paced perfectly, and when Joe's terrier Rainbow leaps through the bars to say goodbye to her master, it's really a tremendous moment.

So, some good and some bad. Fury is an engaging and iconic movie, that's for sure, and I like how you're never quite sure exactly where the story is going. But I can't say I found the experience altogether satisfying. I wanted more of an exploration of Joe's psychology. In the first half, he's this happy-go-lucky simpleton who wants nothing more than to marry his best girl and settle down. In the second half, he's become a twisted creep, hiding out from the world and obsessed with revenge. That transformation is given almost no screen time, so that we can get a bunch of speechifying. Um, great. Way to go, Fritz.

So, yeah, it's no M or Metropolis, but hey, what is?

Iraqi Memorial Day

There is no such thing, but over at Daily Kos, they've highlighted the names of about 100 Iraqis killed by American bombs or soldiers since this war began. It's an incredibly troubling, gruesome read, but it's fairly essential to get some perspective on this horrific misadventure. I mean, I like to have fun with the president, posting ridiculous photos of him in stupid hats or making confused, monkey faces...but he's not funny. He's insane, sinister and he must be stopped. The blood of these Iraqis isn't just on his hands, it's filling up several entire rooms and elevators in the West Wing, Shining-style.

Again, before you click this link or read some of the excerpts below, I must warn you...We're doing really really really horrible things to Iraqis, and it's extremely difficult to read about. But, hey, you don't hear this stuff on Fox News.

At least 14, and probably more than 20, people were killed on 26 March 2003, when two missiles from a U.S. aircraft hit an apartment building and a row of shops on Abu Taleb Street in the poor Baghdad neighborhood of al-Shaab.

The dead included Ta'ar (last name unknown), 26, and Sermed Draoudi, 21

The [apartment] building's manager, Hishem Danoon, ran to the doorway as soon as he heard the massive explosion. "I found Ta'ar in pieces over there," he told me. His head was blown off. "That's his hand." A group of young men and a woman took me into the street and there, a scene from any horror film, was Ta'ar's hand, cut off at the wrist, his four fingers and thumb grasping a piece of iron roofing. His young colleague, Sermed, died the same instant. His brains lay piled a few feet away, a pale red and gray mess behind a burnt car.

Did I mention that Daily Kos has photos? I'd post them here, but I'd say it's a bit beyond the Crushed by Inerta gross-out quotient (and let's not forget, I posed a photo of Tara Reid's Frankenstein boob the other day, so it's a fairly high quotient).

Here's one more, just to give you an idea of what this feature is all about:

Assad Hussein was an infantryman in the Iraqi Army. He was a Shia Muslim, whose family lived in a corrugated iron shack in the sprawling Baghdad slum of Sadr City. He was shy and quiet, and enjoyed reading and playing soccer.

Assad was conscripted into the Iraqi Army when he turned 18. As the U.S. invasion approached, he could not afford to pay the bribes that would have kept him out of the frontline. He was killed by a U.S. cluster bomb while serving in Kirkuk.

It's very humaniizng to hear stories like this. These aren't crazed maniacal religious fanatics who are dying en masse. It doesn't sound like Assad Hussein hated America or Christianity or common decency with every fiber of his being. He sounds like an unfortunate, soft-spoken guy who wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why did he have to die? What did America gain by killing Assad Hussein?

This is the problem with the "no blood for oil" concept, for me. We didn't even get oil in exchange for Assad's blood. I mean, if we genuinely were killing people in large numbers just to get their oil, I'd oppose it, but at least it's a clear position. "Killing Iraqis and taking their oil is the solution to all of Ameirca's problems...I'm George Bush, and I approve this message."

But we get nothing in exchange for this. There's no rhyme or reason here whatsoever. We maybe kind of theorized in a half-assed way that they might have WMD, they didn't, and now we have to hang out and spend billions of dollars cleaning up our leadership's stupid mistake and murdering Iraqis by the thousands. IT'S A MADHOUSE!

Deep in the Heart of Texas

So, I got a phone call the other day from a friend who lives in the troubled little town of Waxahachie, Texas. You see, there was a minor scandal in the town that day (Friday), set off by the publication of the high school yearbook. (Go Cherokees!) Rather than by name, an African-American girl, in the National Honor Society mind you, was identified in a caption as, simply, "black girl."

Wow. I mean, that's racist. I sometimes think that some things which are widely considered to be racist, like my including the n-word in a recitation of an old Richard Pryor routine or something, are not actually racist. But that is really really racist.

So racist, in fact, that the tidbit is now floating rapidly around the blogosphere. Here's Boozhy providing his readers with a link to a republication of the article, and here's Andrew Sullivan pointing readers to Boozhy. Nothing like a horribly offensive faux pas to put your shitkicker Texas town on the map!

Oh, and by the by, how did the high school officials who oversaw the production of the yearbook explain this little accident?

"It was a very poor choice to use as a placeholder for a student's name that was not known at the time," district spokesman Candace Ahlfinger said Saturday. "It was not meant maliciously nor was it meant to be printed.

Yeah...kind of a poor choice...I mean, not the worst imaginable choice...They could have gone with "Dumb Ugly Unknown Negro #1" as a caption or something, I guess. Or just identified everyone by racial stereotypes, so that the chess club caption would read something like "three heebs, a couple of slopes and some Russian immigrant's mongoloid son with a unibrow." Or, you know, something like that.

Now, see, there are probably some of you out there who think that last paragraph itself was racist. I did, for example, type the word "negro" which is not as bad as the other n word that I'm not going to type...but it's still pretty bad. And even though I'm allowed to use "heeb," "slope" may have been pushing it. But I'll say that the whole point of the joke was to point out the abhorrent racism of others, in a satirical fashion, so I should be permitted a little leeway.

And now, if you want to feel bad for finding anything about this item amusing, here's a quote from the "black girl" in question, Miss Shadoyia Jones:

On Monday, Shadoyia Jones spoke with Channel 4 reporter Jeff Crilley about her feelings."Yes, it's very hard dealing with it," said Shadoyia, who the station reported is ranked No. 17 in her class.

"Because with it, along comes disappointment and embarrassment. It feels like all my hard work and accomplishments went unknown."

By her yearbook photo, which was identified correctly, Shadoyia is noted as a member of the National Honor Roll all four years of her high school career, as a member of Who's Who for three years, a member of the Interact club for two years, and as a past member of the Cherokee Charmers organization.

Man, racism sucks. This girl is going to think about this every time she opens up her high school yearbook. Which, if she's anything like me, will be one time post-graduation, for about two and a half minutes, until she remembers that she's not really in too many of the photos anyway, and that she basically hated 99% of her high school classmates.

Darth Hater

Jonathan V. Last is the online editor of The Weekly Standard, and one of the worst movie reviewers in the history of online publishing. This guy makes Harry Knowles look like the love child of William Faulkner and Pauline Kael. His knowledge of film history, clearly, is limited to what's featured in the 1-6 am timeslot on Cinemax.

I base this on one single review, his currently running piece on George Lucas' epic Revenge of the Sith (far more reasonably reviewed here). How bad is Last's Star Wars piece? Here's the first sentence:

It is now safe to declare the Star Wars prequels a failure. Whatever their merits as films, the three panels of George Lucas's new triptych, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith have failed to add permanently to the Star Wars mythology.

Personally, I think it's a bit soon to declare that Revenge of the Sith has failed to permanently add anything to the Star Wars mythology, considering that it has been in theaters a week. Does Last have some sort of magical time device that allows him to determine the cultural value of Sith in 10 years? And if so, why doesn't he use this flux capacitor to see what's happening in the future politically, so his magazine would stop being so wrong about every fucking thing.

I mean, was he so busy checking on Bel Organa's Q rating in the year 2045, he didn't bother to check up on that Iraqi mission his magazine was so gung ho about in 2003?

And it's not like Revenge of the Sith wants for additions to the concept of Star Wars. There are literally dozens of new ideas tossed out in the film, from Anakin Skywalker's true origins to the nature of the Sith/Jedi struggle to the Jedi discovery of immortality through the Force.

The only iconic figure to emerge from the prequels is Darth Maul, the horned, red-faced Sith who had barely any dialogue and was dead by the end of Phantom Menace. But at least we'll remember him.

Again, Last just pulls this stuff out of nowhere. The only iconic figure is Darth Maul? Who even gives a shit about Darth Maul any more? Did he even see the new movie?

You can judge the size of the prequels' cultural footprint by studying the merchandising. For instance, when Cingular began hawking its Star Wars tie-ins recently, they used characters from the original Star Wars movies--Chewbacca, Vader, Storm Troopers--not characters from Revenge of the Sith.

Oh, I guess not.

Because if he had, he would realize that Chewbacca and Vader are both prominantly featured, and that those are Clone Troopers.

Now, I may realize I'm coming off like a massive geek correcting all of this guy's errors, but the fact is...these are a lot of errors. This article basically represents all that irritates me about film criticism. This guy's not trying to take on Sith as a movie at all. He just wants to snipe at it, to try and pick it apart to score points off of it and make us think he's too hip for the room. But coming up with lame, inaccurate statements to tear down what is so clearly a satisfying summer movie just makes you look kind of petty and sad.

And when you're an editor of The Weekly Standard looking petty and sad, you automatically classify for Crushed by Inertia blog time.

The Phantom Menace wasn't as bad you think. Buried inside its 133 minutes is a great movie dying to be born. Cut out Jar-Jar, the sea-monster chase, midichlorians, the pod race, and most of young Anakin Skywalker's lines and you have a dramatically interesting story.

Okay, see, I kind of agree with that first sentence. The Phantom Menace wasn't as bad as I remembered it. In fact, I found Menace kind of surprisingly watchable and Clones kind of surprisingly unwatchable. But that second sentence is just ridiculous.

The least interesting part of Phantom Menace is the story, which is awkward, half-formed and never clear. What sells the movie are the eye-popping visuals and action scenes, including the pod race. Making Last's edits would leave you with about 2 hours of trade negotiations and then a battle at the end.

He then proceeds to mess up the story of Phantom Menace beyond all comprehension.

Qui-Gon Jinn, a well-meaning Jedi master, finds a boy whom he believes will fulfill a prophecy to save the galaxy. He is, of course, wrong: Anakin Skywalker is fated to bring death and doom. The Jedi council realizes this and instructs Qui-Gon not to teach Anakin the ways of the Jedi.

Nope, nope, nope. Again, I might come off here like a super-nerd, but this guy cared enough to review these movies and he can't even get the story right. Who is he to complain that Lucas didn't do enough to expand the mythology, when he's clearly not bothering to pay attention to the mythology?

I would get into it here, but that could ruin some of the plot of Sith for people who haven't seen it multiple times already like me. Cause, you know, I'm really really cool.

But anyway, don't listen to Jon Last, cause he didn't really follow Phantom Menace too well. Maybe it was a little too fast-paced for him. He should probably start with something easier, like Son of the Mask or Are We There Yet? and build up to a Star Wars film. (And maybe, one far-off day, he'll be ready for Herbie the Love Bug).

He proceeds to praise Lucas' direction of Menace for a while (what can I's a schizophrenic review...) but then he closes out this section with a befuddling sentence:

This moment is so nimbly directed that for a moment you might suspect that it's Steven Spielberg behind the camera.

What? As if George Lucas isn't capable of nimbly directing a moment in a Star Wars movie? He has made a few classic films, not just Star Wars but American Graffiti and THX, after all). And is Spielberg known for his nimble direction? What is nimble direction?

So, yeah, the guy opens with a full html page bashing the shit out of George Lucas, the Star Wars prequels and everything involved in them. Remember that first sentence...he opens the entire review saying that Lucas' entire prequel project has been a total wash, a failure, a waste of time. And here's the last sentence of the review:

Sith and the other prequels will, happily, soon be forgotten.

Okay, that's really dumb, because it's obviously not true. The prequels will be long remembered, particularly considering they're the basis for a popular ongoing series of video games and will be the subject of an upcoming TV show.

He also has some silly complaints about the plotting of the third episode:

We are led to believe that the prime motivation for Anakin is a series of nightmares about his wife dying during childbirth. In a universe where interstellar travel is the norm, this seems an irrational and uncompelling fear.

What? This paragraph is utterly incomprehensible. Who decided to publish this article? (Oh, that's right, Jonathan V. Last, because he's the online editor...duh...)

What does interstellar travel have to do with an irrational fear of losing ones wife? Just because large spacecraft can travel the distance from Couruscant to Geonosis in a matter of hours, no one dies before their time? Does anyone else think maybe Mr. Last was just looking for things to complain about, out of an irrational fear of appearing enthusiastic about something that doesn't involve an upper-class tax cut?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Warlock opens and closes like just about every other Western in history. At the beginning, a the peaceful town of Warlock is overrun by wild, reckless cowboys, who flaunt their hatred of authority by riding through the city streets on horseback, shooting pistols into the air. In the end, a solitary, heroic stranger rides off into the sunset, his duty completed.

In between, the movie gets surprisingly heady and complicated. For the first half hour, I kept waiting for the movie to find its footing, to bring something unique to the table, and by the end I found myself wondering how in the hell they were going to resolve this monster of a plot. Warlock does gather momentum as it goes, and builds to a surprisingly sober, thoughtful conclusion. It's certainly not the generic formula Western its high-concept premise and star casting would indicate.

The aforementioned bandits, led by the villainous Abe McQuown (Tom Drake) and his right-hand man, the sarcastic Curley (a pre-Trek DeForrest Kelley), don't actually seem to have any horrible crimes in store for Warlock. Mostly, they like to ride around and fire their pistols in the air. In fact, for the first 20 minutes or so, you keep waiting for some malfeasance to develop. It never does, though. These guys, known as the San Pedro Cowboys, aren't really horrible guys. They're more obnoxious than anything else.

But that can't keep one of their number, the upright Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark), from becoming disgusted with their drunken shenanigans. He's the first to offer a compromise when the citizens of Warlock hire a marshall to watch over their beleaguered town. He's Clay Bleisdell (Henry Fonda), a legendary gunman with a no-nonsense style of law enforcement. Along with his traveling companion, gambler Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), he maintains one simple rule:

If he bans you from Warlock for any reason, and you show up there anyway, he reserves the right to shoot you dead.

This ultimatum, along with some similarly complicated interpersonal conflicts, drives the majority of the plot. Eventually, Gannon's brother (recently deceased ex-Riddler Frank Gorshin) runs afoul of Bleisdell's policy, setting Widmark and Fonda against one another in a kind of psychological shoot out that runs behind all of the other, more immediate events of the film.

As I said, it's a complicated movie, and sometimes it gets a bit over-extended and ambitious for its own good. For example, Morgan and Bleisdell have a very peculiar relationship that requires a good deal of exposition to explain to the audience once the main plot gets moving. In brief, Morgan has become fascinated, if not obsessed, with Bleisdell, and has caused some problems in the past by acting perhaps overzealously on his behalf. When the past catches up with Morgan, it causes something of a psychological meltdown, forcing Bleisdell to choose between his devotion to his lifelong friend and his desire for law and order in Warlock.

With all this going on, and Gannon's continuing clashes with the San Pedro boys, and a variety of romantic sub-plots, and the impending showdown between Gannon and Bleisdell, Warlock is stuffed to the gills with incident, conflict and drama. Most of it works swimmingly, aided by terrific, intense performances from Fonda, Widmark, Quinn, Kelley and Dorothy Malone as the scheming, vengeful Lily Dollar.

The movie's often discussed in terms of its socio-political outlook. It was made in 1959 by the brilliant Edward Dmytryk (who also made Murder My Sweet, one of the all-time great film noirs), a lifelong leftist who, despite his foreign-sounding name, was born in San Francisco. Dmytryk, in the early 50's, was one of the so-called "Hollywood Ten" who, when questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee, refused to name names and thus became unhirable in Hollywood.

After doing some jail time (really! for attending Communist Party meetings during WWII!), Dmytryk eventually relented and testified before the committee. By 1959, when he made Warlock, his reputation had been permanently tainted, although he worked sporadically until the 1970's.

So, clearly, McCarthyism and all these issues were probably much on his mind during these years, and some of that does leak into Warlock. Although its messages could be applied to nearly any interpersonal conflict, there is some Cold War ideology hiding in the corners of the screenplay. Its story essentially concerns a town with a major worry - bandits from outside want to come in and disrupt their way of life.

But instead of handling the problem themselves, they hire an outside surrogate, a bandit-hunter, to come and solve the problem for them. As it turns out, this surrogate creates a bigger problem than existed before, becoming both a catalyst for violence and a personal disruption to the community's moral sensibility.

So it's not hard to extract some larger meaning from this allegorical tale. Fonda's outside gunslinger could be taken as a McCarthyite, a Commie hunter so secure in the sanctity of his mission that nothing else, even basic decency and morality, can interrupt him in the application of his craft.

But what's interesting is how nuanced and sensitive a consideration of these issues Dmytryk had crafted. This is not the firebrand screed of a victim, Dmytryk using his camera to indict Americans for their witchhunt of a few years past. It's a consideration of these ideas from all sides, an attempt to dissect the meaning and fruitfulness of things like loyalty, morality, justice and trust to the survival of a community.

And watching the drama play out against the stunning Utah landscapes, beautifully realized in Cinemascope and captured vividly on the nice (if not perfect) print available on the newly-released DVD, is a real treat. Warlock is a difficult film, and it's not neccessarily the most exciting western of its era, but it's a rewarding and brooding look at a lot of the same issues covered in HBO's similarly-fascinating "Deadwood" - a fringe mining town searching for a soul in the midst of violent, chaotic conflict.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Series of Unfortunate Costumes

This is why you go to a site like Gorilla Mask. To find sites exactly like this one. I'm speaking, of course, about the Parade of Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes, a website that genuinely delivers what it promises. Dozens and dozens of photos of nerds and weirdos dressed up like their favorite characters from George Lucas' Sextet? Epic collection of six films. There you go.

Okay, Jimmy, just show us on the action figure where the bad man touched you...

Few people know that, once Han abandoned him to marry Princess Leia, a despondant Chewie became hooked on Grape Kool Aid laced with PCP. Perhaps ongoing PCP addiction can explain why he doesn't remember the Jedi or Yoda or any of the shit he saw in Episode III by the time Episode IV rolls around.

"Unfortunate" doesn't even begin to do this photo justice. I will admit, the ladies love a guy dressed up as a gay golden robot. I know from experience.

This is Jedi Master Steve. He's the main IT and Networking guy down at the Jedi Temple. What, you think all those holographic communication projectors work by themselves?

I hope this guy's aware that the trench leads directly to a reactor system, and a direct hit could trigger a chain reaction...oh, you get the idea.

Seriously, I could keep going with this stuff all night, but you can just go to the site yourself and make up your own silly captions. I mean, they won't be as funny as mine, obviously, but do your best.

Satan Never Sleeps

I felt tired all day today at work, so upon arriving home at 5:30, I took a little nap. And I'm not the kind of person that's always having interesting dreams I want to share with others. In fact, I'm usually bored by discussions of dreams. I think overall people tend to place too much importance on them, imagining that buried somewhere in their dreams is the secret to happiness or meaning in life or something, when really it's just your subconscious' warped, messed up re-enactment of the shit that was on your mind that day.

But today, I had a really weird dream. So weird, I felt the need to share.

When the dream begins, I'm on an airplane headed for Jerusalem. No one actually says anything about going to the Middle East, but I just know that's the destination. This is odd for two reasons:

(1) I have never been to Israel, nor do I have any desire to go. (2) In my dreams, at least the ones I remember, I'm almost always traveling somewhere. I never ever have dreams where I'm at home, in LA, doing familiar activities. Usually, I'm on vacation in Las Vegas or New York in my dreams. I have no idea why. I've been to both of these cities within the past few years, so perhaps they just made a strong impression on me.

Okay, back to the dream. We land in the Holy Land, and the first person I see is my friend Tim. Tim currently lives in Chicago, and I haven't seen him face-to-face in well over a year, but in the dream I don't think it's odd that he's meeting me at an airport terminal in Jerusalem. I guess we'd made pre-arrangements to meet there.

Tim and I then get into his car, and I'm suddenly aware of what I'm doing in Jerusalem. I'd like to here stress that I have not doctored this dream or embellished it for dramatic/comic effect. I really did just dream this stuff just now before typing these words. I realize (or, in the reality of the dream, remember) that Tim and I have flown to Jerusalem in order to end worldwide Christianity.

Yeah. For real. I'm trying to destroy a major world religion in the dream.

Tim and I arrive at a massive stone cross in the middle of the desert. (Again, I swear, this is going to sound made up and bizarre, but it's not. Well, it totally is made up, but while I was sleeping, which confers on it a kind of shadowy, peculiar mystery that we don't afford waking fiction.)

We start to beat upon and destroy the cross. I can visualize an image of my stabbing it with something sharp (maybe another stone). Eventually, it spurts blood (honest!) at Tim and I, but that only increases our focus and anger. Soon enough, the thing is decimated, I'm covered in blood, and then I woke up feeling kind of nauseated.

Okay. Wow. So, if you read the blog, you're probably aware that I'm not massive fan of organized religion. Particularly the overwhelmingly self-righteous, narrow brand of organized religion that's, like, so totally hot right now. But I'm not really a bad guy. I don't want to destroy people's fragile systems of belief. I don't hate Christianity or Christians, I just object to its encroachment on my civil liberties.

I think. Judging from this dream, I'm actually enraged by Christianity, such that I want to bludgeon its major iconic symbol into dust.

You know what thought did occur to me? If this were a movie, and I'm just an ordinary guy who is suddenly having dreams where I destroy crosses whilst covered in blood, the conclusion would be obvious: I'm possessed by a demon. A demon that plans to use my human body to undermine God's design.

I don't think I'm actually possessed. My head hasn't spun around and, though I feel a bit nauseated, as I said, I have yet to projectile vomit pea soup across the room. Maybe I was, for whatever reason, thinking about Satanism before going to sleep, so that demonic thoughts kind of worked themselves into my dream narrative. I'm not sure. But if I start speaking Carpathian or developing a passionate interest in Santeria, I'll be sure to let you all know.

That's My Bush!

From Editor & Publisher Magazine:

President Bush's approval rating has plunged to the lowest level of any president since World War II at this point in his second term, the Gallup Organization reported today.

All other presidents who served a second term had approval ratings well above 50% in the March following their election, Gallup reported.

Bush's current rating is 45%. The next lowest was Reagan with 56% in March 1985.

I have to say, despite the absolute crap job Chimpy actually does, I'm still surprised. I mean, Americans have had 5 years now to adjust to this moron's gross incompetence and, let's face it, utter lunacy.

Why the change of heart all of the sudden? Terri Schiavo finally kicks the bucket and the fillibuster gets to stick around, and all of the sudden you right-wing wackos are abandoning your golden boy?

I'm just saying the GW game plan doesn't seem to have changed much since his re-election:

  • Defending pointless, tragic foreign war? Check.
  • Pushing through legislation to cripple the poor while pretending to stand up for the common man? Check.
  • Promoting rich friends to influential government positions? Triple check.
  • Photo ops in ridiculous hats?

  • Um, check.

So, latest Gallup pollees, where the hell have you been? You're just discovering that this guy is a dirtbag?

I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad you've finally caught up. But come on...try to follow the national discourse a little better next time. This is important stuff.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Shanks for the Memories

What better way to start a Monday than with an article about members of Bobby Brown's entourage being stabbed?

Two members of singer Bobby Brown's entourage were hospitalized for treatment of knife wounds after a fight at a restaurant early Monday, police said.

Brown, who has a history of drug and alcohol arrests, was apparently not involved, authorities said.

You mean, the dudes in Bobby's posse, who rely on Bobby Brown as a mealticket didn't implicate him in any crime in any way? I'm shocked.

Brown was at Justin's Restaurant and Bar performing during a weekly open microphone event when the people he arrived with got into a fight. Two members of Brown's group were either cut or stabbed, police detective D.L. Dixon said. The cause of the altercation was not immediately known.

Wait, wait, wait...He was performing during a weekly open microphone event? At a bar and grill in Atlanta? Bobby Brown? Why didn't he just join back up with those other New Edition guys and tour again or something. We all know he and Whitney could use some extra cash.

Seriously, Bobby Brown's doing open mic nights. That's embarrassing, wow. I mean, I've done some open mic nights in LA (comedy, not hip hop, although now that I think about it...) and it's not exactly like Oscar Night at Morton's in there. You're more likely to see a homeless junkie ranting about C.H.U.D. in the sewers than, say, Missy Elliott at one of those things.

"There was a lot of music and talking going on," Dixon said. "It could have been something as simple as a bump, you know, somebody bumped into each other."

Justin's Restaurant and Bar is owned by rapper and producer Sean "P. Diddy" Combs.

It could have been a bump. You know, you bump into some guy, he gets in your face, you repeatedly stab him with the knife you've conveniently brought with you to the local bar's open mic night...Happens to me all the time.

And this bar's owned by The Diddy? Man, P Diddles, let's get your boy Bobby some real work, what do you say? You're gonna give some of those psycho "Making the Band" broads their own album, and not the guy who sang "Cool It Now"? Come on!

So, anyway, Bobby's posse will likely be fine. Everything worked out! And I'm sure Bobby Brown will return to his peaceful, quiet, non-volitile life and never be heard from again.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

This Is Not At All Funny

It's hard to decide sometimes whether to blog serious or blog funny. As you may have noticed, I usually opt to blog funny. I'll find an article and then goof on it in a (hopefully) amusing way, either to satirize the subject, or because the whole thing is so bizarre that it's impossible to treat seriously.

But there are times I feel my overall tone is inappropriate to the stuff I'm writing about. Like, if I find a picture of George Bush making a dumb face, we can all agree that's funny and entirely appropriate. In fact, let's take a look at just such a picture right now.

That's comedy the whole country can get behind!

But what about when there's a story that's incredibly weird and outrageous, but the ramifications of the story are deadly serious? Is it appropriate to joke about one outrageous facet of a tragedy while still acknowledging the overall tragic nature of the situation?

Let's find out. The subject: the rapid spread of AIDS in Kenya. Not funny, unless you're a total psychopath. Deadly serious. Here are some unbelievable but true statistics:

2 million people in Kenya have HIV. That's out of an entire nation of 30 million. Think about that. That's 6.5% of all Kenyans. (Thanks, Steve.) 1.5 million people in Kenya have already died of AIDS. And that's just one country. 2.3 million Africans died of AIDS last year alone. 2.3 million. AIDS has killed 10 times more Africans than every 20th century African armed conflict combined. You think the World Trade Center was bad? You think the tsunami was bad? You think the Iraq War has been bad?

Well, you're right. All that stuff sucked. But the AIDS epidemic in Africa sucks way more than 1000 times worse!

Okay, so we all agree. It's really really horrible that so many Africans have AIDS and that the international community has done so little to respond to the crisis.

So, here's my problem. I have here an article about one of the reasons for Kenya's massive problem with HIV infection. Apparently, there's an age-old African custom that says if a man is feeling ill, he should have sex with a virgin, and this will cure his pains and heath problems.

That's probably the worst advice in the history of medicine. I mean, leeches, blood-letting, various questionable herbs and roots, invasive anaesthesia-free surgery, leaky silicone breast implants...There have been a lot of stupid Western medical theories over the years. But I don't think anyone has ever come up with a concept worse than telling really sick people to go foist themselves on nubile young virgins.

See? I'm doing it already! This story is really really serious. I don't mean to make light of it. But, come on! It's so hard!

Nassir hesitantly admits he slept with a nine-year-old girl because the clan elders in Isiolo, 200 km northeast of Kenyan capital Nairobi, said it would rid him of frequent bouts of illness brought on by HIV.

"I was given a girl of nine years to sleep with for a week," Nassir said. "I took pity on her but if it wasn't for this disease I wouldn't have slept with her...I had to do what the elders had said."

Oh...Oh my lord...This is the worst article I've ever read in my life.

Although he paid 15,000 shillings ($195.9) and his mother gave up two goats for the purging ceremony, Nassir still gets ill once in a while and goes for treatment in a clinic run by a local charity whose Swahili name Pepo La Tumaini Jangwani, means Wind of Hope in the Arid Land.

After the ceremony, which includes gouging out a goat's heart while it is still alive, the people of the village engage in a sexual orgy intended to help a son or brother cleanse himself.

Nassir said he'll get tested at the end of the year to see if he has been cured.

Say what you will about these Africans, but their religion sounds way more fun than ours. What do Jews do when someone gets sick? They get together, eat a lot of incredibly disgusting foods that include liver and have long Yiddish names and discuss how Maury from down the street wrecked his car near the racetrack because he's such a meshugah.

What they don't do is remove beating goat's hearts and throw orgies. Although if you've ever seen a large Jewish family gathering, the lack of frequent orgies can only be considered a good thing.

Khadija Omar Rama, the founder of the Tumaini charity said that despite the fact that up to 800 Kenyans die every day from AIDS, communities like Isiolo continue to embrace traditional practices which actively help to spread AIDS.

Another ancient custom permits men of the same generation to have indiscriminate and unprotected sex with the wives of their peers. A spear propped by the door of a man's house means that someone else from his age group is in bed with his wife.

"None of us is jealous about someone else sleeping with our wives because we all do it," said Nassir, who says he has slept with the wives of many men, even though he suspects he has HIV.

Ummm....let's just keep moving down the article...

Many women who suspect their husbands are infected with AIDS or HIV have been turning to sufis, women healers, to put off their husband's advances.

Traditionally, a woman seeking to join an elder council or tribal leadership is required to stop having sex and will ask a sufi to her bedroom to discourage her husband. In such circumstances the husband eventually gives up.

But women who choose to use a sufi are not permitted to ever have sex again and they are killed if caught in the act.

This is some crazy shit. So, a woman can get out of having to have sex with her AIDS-addled husband only if she joins some weird cult and has a woman preist come to her tent to put off her husband's advances? That's a really complicated system. Seems like someone should just get these gals some of those self-defense classes where they teach you to kick the guy in the padded suit in the balls. We could be saving millions of lives here.

Okay, that felt good. I'm done, I'm done. Seriously, though, this is incredibly sad, but I'm wondering what we can actually do about it. I mean, education is so important to show people the proper ways to keep themselves and their communities healthy, but why would these people trust American advice over the customs they've passed down through the generations?

I mean, if some African guy came over here and said the reason there's so much gun violence in America is some shit that's in the Bible, would we believe him? Probably not. We'd probably sentence him to the death penalty if he had the poor judgement to make this statement in Texas. Or at the very least, Zell Miller would challenge him to a duel.

Headline News

This is a pretty amazing story, but it has perhaps the most stupid headline of any news article I've ever seen.

Man Who Kept Mom in Freezer Had History of Odd Behavior

Hmm, that would be one way to say it. Yet another, more accurate, way would be "Man Who Kept Mom in Freezer Had History of Odd Behavior That Continued Into the Present." Or how about the even simpler "Odd Man Kept Mom In Freezer". Or even "Man Kept Mom in Freezer," because I'm gonna read that and basically assume he was odd. In fact, it would be more newsworthy if a sane man kept his mom in a freezer.

The behavior they proceed to list is pretty odd, but nothing's nearly as odd as the mom-freezer thing.

As a teenager, Philip Schuth was teased mercilessly by the other kids because his mother still walked him to school. As an adult, he lived with his mother, cut his backyard with a scythe, and once bought $150 worth of Spam in a single grocery store outing.

See, all that stuff is mildly odd, but in the cute, eccentric way some people are just peculiar. Nothing along the lines of dead parents in the icebox.

Investigators found the freezer — with a 200-to-300-pound block of ice inside it — at the end of an all-night standoff at Schuth's home.

The standoff began Friday when a 10-year-old boy told his father that Schuth had hit him and the family confronted Schuth at his home. Schuth pulled a gun and opened fire, according to authorities. The father was hit three times but was not seriously hurt.

That's actually the strangest bit right there. The father was hit three times but was not seriously hurt? Who is this guy, 50 Cent? How does that happen? You're standing in a living room, some guy pulls a gun at you, he fires at you three times and doesn't hit you anywhere that hurts? Unless he's a Stormtrooper, it seems unlikely.

Kill-Crazy Bill

Bill O'Reilly has now publicly fantasized about murdering Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Michael Kinsley. So, just for the record, we never ever have to listen to him talk about a need for civility or politeness in public discourse ever again. I'm just saying...

But before we get into the most recent example of Billy O making an enormous jackass out of himself, let's take a look at the perfectly sane Kinsley-supported editorial from last week's LA Times. It's a short piece about the whole Newsweek-flushing of the Koran-Muslim outrage story.

The Times position is that the Newsweek thing doesn't really matter, and what's important is that the Muslim world is perfectly ready to believe such a thing to be true. Probably because it's totally true. So we need to get to a place where Muslims trust Americans enough to not riot every time our name is mentioned. And, folks, we're a long way off. Right now, a portrait of Amerigo Vespucci is enough to start a massacre over there.

This is not to say that Newsweek's article was correct; after apologizing for it on Sunday, the magazine retracted it on Monday. And the use of anonymous sources, on which the Newsweek article relied, raises questions of motivation and credibility that news organizations (including this one) ignore at their peril. But the story hardly tarnishes all news coverage of the war, as the administration, and much of the conservative media, would have you believe.

Actually, now that you mention it, the Newsweek article was correct. They retracted it because it relied on an anonymous source who has since wavered on his account, but there are numerous other documented accounts of US soldiers abusing the Koran as an interrogation tool. It's not great PR for us, but at least no one gets hurt, except Allah, and that guy's tough so he can probably take it.

To be perfectly honest, I'd much rather hear about psychological interrogation techniques relying on debasing a holy book rather than the actual physical torture (and, oh yeah, homicide) that goes on at Gitmo and went on at Abu Gharib.

Although I think we'd be better off doing neither. And not keeping people in prison for years without any proof of actual wrongdoing.

The United States has already been convicted in the court of world opinion for its treatment of its prisoners, and that's the administration's fault, not Newsweek's. Shutting down Guantanamo and giving suspected terrorists legal protections would help restore our reputation abroad. Crowing over Newsweek's mishap won't.

So, that's the entire LA Times article. Doesn't seem that outrageous to me. In fact, I quite agree. We should shut down Guantanamo. That says to the Arab world that we have heard their outcry and are responding. That we're not monsters who want to torture and kill them in the name of Christianity, but a slightly confused people with bad leadership who want to at least try to do the right thing here. I'm not saying it would solve our problems by any means. Nothing we do is going to make Syrians and Iraqis love us and greet us with hugs and decorative fruit baskets like Rumsfeld promised us before this miserable military misadventure. But taking our abuses of their human rights seriously for a change couldn't hurt.

Apparently, Kill-Crazy Bill of Fox News doesn't agree with this point of view. He's more of the "kill everything with a beard within a 5,000 mile radius" perspective. From Media Matters, taken from Bill's May 17th broadcast of The Radio Factor:

Go to I want everybody in the country to read this editorial, 'cause it just -- I mean, you'll be sitting there pounding the table like I did. How can they -- how can they think this way? How can anyone think this way? You know, "Shutting down Guantànamo and giving suspected terrorists legal protections would help restore our reputation abroad." No, it wouldn't. I mean that's like saying, well, if we're nicer to the people who want to KILL US, then the other people who want to KILL US will like us more. Does that make any sense to you? Do you think Osama [bin Laden] is gonna be more favorably disposed to the U.S. if we give the Guantànamo people lawyers?

See what Bill does? He combines Osama bin Laden with the political prisoners we're holding without trial at Guatanamo Bay into an analogous group of enemies that want to KILL US. So, therefore, anyone arguing that these prisoners have any rights wants to grant Osama bin Laden additional rights!

But of course, this is bullshit. We're torturing these people and we know a whole lot of them, most of them even, are innocent.

Don't believe me? Check out this article from the New York Times on May 20th. It's about the death of an Afghan prisoner named Dilawar, a 22 year old taxi driver from Bagram.

The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.

See, Bill O'Reilly thinks that's great. After all, this guy, Dilawar, he's a criminal, right? He wants to murder American babies and drink their precious bodily fluids, right?

At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.

"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Okay, wow, that's pretty harsh. But still, we've got to get this Dilawar bastard. He's a terrorist, folks. He spreads terror. And, I don't know if you've heard, but freedom's on the march.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

Oh, man. It's hard to even read this story. And this isn't some isolated incident. There are thousands of people being held at Guatanamo and at numerous other prisons throughout the US-occupied Middle East, and even other Middle Eastern nations that do our torturing for us, like Syria.

But, hey, it's all good as far as Billy O is concerned. I mean, their Middle Eastern, right? This 22 year old guy from Afghanistan just trying to make a living by driving a taxi around, he was probably gonna do something anti-American eventually. You know what I'm saying?

Here's a bit more from the demonic mind of Bill O'Reilly, still ranting about that LA Times piece:

I mean, but this is what they're saying. It is just -- you just sit there, you go, "They'll never get it until they grab Michael Kinsley out of his little house and they cut his head off." And maybe when the blade sinks in, he'll go, "Perhaps O'Reilly was right."

Yeah. That would be Bill having an intricate, detailed homicidal fantasy live, on the radio. He's suggesting that, in order for Michael Kinsley to understand the threat facing America from dirty, dirty Arabs, he'd have to be...beheaded.

You know, I always knew Billy was an idiot and a blowhard. But now, I think he might actually be a dangerous sociopath.