notes from
the MUCK . . .

How does your garden grow? With muck, muck and more muck! I spent much of today finishing the final muck box and then shifting muck from one box to the next. The first box, which the Big Lad is enthusiastically pointing out, has been rotting down for two years now and once we’d removed the top quarter of unrotted material, we found we’d hit the pay dirt.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Friday Random Ten (Friday Edition)

All day Wednesday I thought it was Friday. All day yesterday I had no idea what day it was. Then Ben reminded me it was FRT(TE) day, but by then it was too late. We haven't done one of these on a Friday for quite some time, so let's see how it goes.

John Prine, The Moon Is Down - From his latest album, Fair & Square. I really like John Prine. I think there are a lot of valid criticisms to be made of his songwriting, but something about his music always puts me in a good mood.
Jim Carroll, It Goes - Spoken word track over some strange noises. Tom Waits could make this work; Jim Carroll not so much.
The Beastie Boys, Something’s Got to Give - Eh. Skip.
Primus, The Thing That Should Not Be - Should I even bother posting this list? Serves me right for playing Friday Random Ten on Friday, of all days. Skip.
Bullfrog, Hotel Food - An improvement, but not nearly enough to make up for the last four duds. Nice little musical track.
The Fugees, Ready Or Not - Garbage. I’m giving this thing two more songs to blow me away. Otherwise, I’m clicking “publish” and going to the gym.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The Nutcracker Suite - At least this one is seasonal. Actually, I like this adaptation quite a bit. The Nutcracker swings much more than I would have imagined.
Gorillaz, Dirty Harry - Good enough for me to stick around for another track. This album made my top ten for 2005 (number 8, to be precise), and this isn’t one of its best songs, but still very solid.
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 9/ --Recitative: O Freunde, nicht diese Tone! - Then, brothers, it came. O bliss, bliss and heaven, oh it was gorgeousness and georgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched red gold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise, silver-flamed and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again, crunched like candy thunder. It was like a bird of rarest spun heaven metal or like silvery wine flowing in a space ship, gravity all nonsense now. As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures. There were veeks and ptitsas laying on the ground screaming for mercy and I was smecking all over my rot and grinding my boot into their tortured litsos and there were naked devotchkas ripped and creeching against walls and I plunging like a shlaga into them. Or something like that.
Beck, Emergency Fruit - I’ve never listened to anything on this album before. This is not bad sounding, but I don’t think I’ll be rushing to hear it again any time soon.

So, that sucked. I blame Friday. Back to Thursday Edition next week, if I can start keeping my days of the week straight.

errr, here's a list of stuff to do...again.

I'd like to blame my lack of posting on the fact I've been far too productive working on optional essays for law schools, polishing up my resume, but, truth be known, I've spent my waking hours with my new mistress, Smackdown vs. Raw, the wrestling game on the PS2. You can be all sorts of characters in all sorts of situations, I like the "Buried Alive" game, where you have to throw your opponent in a casket and close it on them. Satisfying. Sadly I've been communicating to my family through the medium of loud ultimatums, pointing my finger around a lot, and exaggerated facial expressions. Tis the season.

Since Mathew has taken up the slack despite his genuine excuse of helping care for Owen in his first few days on this rock, and his powerbook not working, he's still managed to post.
Not much has happened to me other than various injustices on the game (that will be righted), so here I go again with a list of things we should do before we die...

1. Fire a gun: Now, I know I'm being a hypocrite here, what with my earlier rant against guns and all, but there you have it, I can tick this off; I actually went to the gun store in Vegas and fired 50 rounds from some utilitarian looking machine gun for the princely sum of $25. Firing this thing was the scariest thing I'd done till the dreaded attack of the dolphins, and it still ranks up there. Those guys who fire machine guns one handed, BULLSHIT. I had to have the guy stand behind met to stop me being blown back into Circus Circus it was so powerful. It was truly a shit inducing experience to feel just how much force is emitted from these things, and to imagine what it is like to be on the receiving end. The smell of burning gun powder rifling through my nostrils was the final straw in ensuring that this was truly a once in a life time experience. Call me a wooly headed liberal if you must, but there is nothing good about guns. Nothing. Now excuse me while I run off and shoot dinosaurs and natives in King Kong (also on PS2) YOU GOTTA PROBLEM WITH DAT?!?!?!?!? Coz if you do, I got 4 little words for you, SHUT THA HELL UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Put down the game Ben...

2. Meet Someone with Your Own Name; We're talking first and second name here. This is something I haven't done, not many Soesmans around. There are plenty of Bens around here, in fact, throughout my education, I seemed to be one of about 4 Bens. Maybe that is why I cling to the moniker of Beldaz so tightly. The teachers would idenitfy us by placing the initial of our surname after our name; or in the case of me and Ben Salmon, an Sa or So (or Su sometimes, my name has been mispronounced/spelled a lot, so much I really don't care about it anymore. Still, its disturbing that my primary school teacher who had my name written in the register couldn't spell it properly). In University we identified Ben's by size; there was Big Ben (not me), little Ben, again, not me, and Ben S (yours truly). Thinking about it now, i feel somewhat peeved by the fact that so little imagination went into my naming, but I suppose it's better than middle Ben or something.
This is probabaly easy for a lot of people, the Smiths of the world for instance. If this has happened to you, what were the circumstances; did you just google it, were you randomly introduced? What did you think of the person? Did meeting them make you look at yourself in a different light? Did come away feeling somehow belittled or humbled, that they were better at being you than you were? Or did you find your evil self; maybe they're big fat Bush fans, Yankee fans to your Boston. Whatever it was, tell us.

3. Be a Human Guniea Pig; I haven't done this, but I've certainly considered it. I'm looking for the most severe experiments, were you electrocuted, submerged in water, made to dress up as a rat and run around a maze, or just drink as much red bull as possible whilst watching the weather channel? How much did you get? Have there been any side affects? Please do share.

Well, best get back to the old grindstone. And remember, LITTLE MAN, YOU EITHER COME BIG, OR DON'T COME AT ALL!!!! YOU CAN'T TOUCH THIIIIIIIIIIIISSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was considered too coarse by some onlookers, but the moment when Hulk and the invisible woman first publicly showed their affections for one another still brings a tear to many an eye.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Death of a Powerbook

Last night I decided to backup the essential files on my hard drive. I copied my entire documents directory, both personal and professional, my digital pictures library, all of my e-mails, and my address book and burned them on to DVD. I walked in to the living room to label the disc with a Sharpie and put it with the rest of my discs. I then walked back in to the kitchen, where I found my three-year-old standing over my computer looking petrified. "Daddy," she said, "I spilled a glass of water on your computer." At first glance it looked as though she had actually missed my powerbook, so I calmly said "It's alright, baby," and quickly snatched it up. That's when water began pouring out from the keyboard.

Before I had a chance to get angry, Cleo said with relief "I thought you were going to me mad at me, daddy," which of course meant that I couldn't even get mad at her. But so far at least, the Powerbook is fried. Completely unresponsive. I've been reading up on-line about laptops drying out and making miracle recoveries, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed, but not holding my breath. On the other hand, all my critical files are backed up, I've been coveting the 12-inch Powerbook lately, and that Dubya prick owes me a fat tax refund, so all may turn out for the best in the end.

Anyway, blogging is likely to be light for a few days, limited to when I can commandeer my wife's iBook (which may actually not be all that infrequent, since she's going to bed at 9pm with Owen these days). Hopefully Ben and Jeff will pick up the slack, to the extent that my absence creates any.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Public Service Announcement

Atrios and TBogg, two bloggers I read daily and respect enormously, are recommending matt pond PA's CD Several Arrows Later.

Well, I bought it and it sucks. Don't believe the hype.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled nonsense.

Monday, December 26, 2005

How was it for you??

So, it's the day after Christmas day (for those who celebrate it), and many of us will have got new presents. It's going to be nigh on impossible to beat Matt's new arrival, but still, someone may have gotten close.

Me, I think I got a pretty bumper crop this year, especially considering I didn't really request that much. New CDs, a DVD (Richard Prior, thanks mum), lovely new jeans, and a new phone that plays ipod tunes. Sweet. I also got King Kong on the PS2 which I am anxious to check out. My brother and cousin both have PSPs now (portable consoles) so I got to play on those too.

The phone is a very cool addition to my mp3 player and I can randomise it even more by taking advantage of the feature that just takes 100 songs from my library randomly...As this is what I am listening to, I thought I would initiate a one off xmas random 10 (not to be confused with Friday random 10 (Thursday edition).

10. Richard Cheese; Hot for Teacher. Richard Cheese does all kinds of popular acts in a cabaret lounge stylee; it's as good as it sounds.

9. Nina Simone; Just Like a Woman. Ahhh Nina. I found out she had died when I was walking down some street in Australia and saw a sign outside mourning the sad passing. They did not give away free stuff which would have been nice, but I did sink very low when i saw it. Many heroes have been lost in recent years, hopefully Owen will help to address the balance. This is a lovely song, by the way.

8. The Libertines; What a Waster. Pete Doherty is the new darling of indie rock in the UK. His on off relationship with Kate Moss and their use of various drugs takes up a predictably yet still disapointingly large proportion of the national discourse. I think his bands, The Libertines and now Babyshambles are pretty good, but not worthy of the hype/derision/plaudits that they have garnered here.

7. The Cure; Why I Can't I be you? (accoustic). We've all been there, is there a peer who seems to have shitloads of the attributes you can't even spell correctly? Don't bother trying to better yourself, try and become them instead. Start with the easy things like wearing their clothes, be frustrated when you realise you can't even do that. Cry. Listen to the Cure. Find solace. Wear black. Drink. Laugh. Ridicule your prior object of perfection. Repeat till dead.

6. Elvis Presly; A big Hunk o'love (live). Elvis lives, elvis shakes, elvis rattles, elvis rolls, and he rocks. Yeah.

5. Bobby Womack; It's all over now. This song has been done by various artists, including the Rolling Stones. I'm not sure who did it originally, though I'm sure I was told once and forget; bear that in mind before you try and enlighten me in comments.

4. Johnny Cash; Drive On (accoustic, live). Thanks to Mathew for this VH1 live performance from Willie Nelson and Cash. Great cd, and I think this is a strong track from Johnny, who didn't die by the way, he just had a train to catch. Damn I want to watch Walk the Line.

3. James; Seven. James' big hit was Sit Down, which was released in the nineties; I don't know how much they're know stateside but their pretty established here. Although they haven't made anything new of any note this decade. Which, by the way, is half way thru.

2. (2 Many DJ's); Michael Jackson Dirty Diana. This is from a remix CD that I downloaded and haven't listened to all the way through; this is pretty good, although as i listen it's kind of degenerating...When Michael Jackson toured in the late 8o's in the UK he apparently did not sing this song for fear of offending Princess Diana. Nice.

1. The Postal Service; Recycled Air. Thanks to Mel, who lent me this CD when we were having fun travelling around in my mobile sweat tank in Northern VA. Sometimes the only thing that kept me going (and I'm pretty sure the same is true for Mel) is the promise of the swimming pool in the motel we were staying at. Storms meant we could not go for a swim. Damn. This is a nice album, and i really should listen to it more often.

Bonus Boxing Day Song.

Richard Cheese; Baby Got Back. Wow. I just talked of how much randomness went in to this process, and yet we have some kind of symetry and closure here. Maybe Sam Mendes would like to make a movie about it. I love this song, it's very funny. When I went to the zoo in DC i saw the panda bears. One was sitting in a tree with its backside facing us. It truly was humungous and I marked the moment by providing an impromptu acapella version of this little ditty.

So, let me know. How was it for you?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Introducing... Owen

Edward Owen Engle
b. Dec. 23, 2005 2:51pm
Charlottesville, VA
7 lbs. 6 oz.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

Tax Break

According to IRS Publication 501 (2005), Exemptions, Standard Deduction and Filing Information,
A child who was born or died during the year is treated as having lived with you all year if your home was the child's home the entire time he or she was alive during the year. The same is true if the child lived with you all year except for any required hospital stay following birth.
For present purposes, the significance of this rule is that a child born at the tail end of the calendar year can be claimed as a dependent for the entire year. The result is a substantial tax break, since the filer has only incurred a small fraction of the costs of raising the child that year but gets taxed as though he had been supporting the child for the full year. Also, because the child has not been claimed as a dependent for withholding purposes, a December birth means a substantial refund the following year.

All of which became paramount to me when Vikki's water broke at six o'clock this morning. We're still at home, and she's really not laboring yet, but by hook or by crook that child will be born today -- tomorrow at the very latest.


Stay tuned...

(and if you already know the name, don't post it in comments... the grandparents haven't been told yet)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

More Holiday Cheer

I understand the complexity of the social and legal issues surrounding physician assisted suicides, but really, does this seem right?

LANSING, Michigan (AP) -- The state parole board rejected a request to pardon assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian or commute his sentence, despite warnings that he is gravely ill.

Poor Dr. Death. He's apparently got quite a list of ailments running...

His lawyer, Mayer Morganroth, warned last month that Kevorkian was in "dire shape" and might not live that long. Kevorkian suffers from high blood pressure, arthritis, cataracts, osteoporosis and Hepatitis C, the lawyer said.

Sounds like he's reaching a point where a dark irony could descend upon his final days, as a man who might suffer the very pain and indignity he was so devoted to eradicating.

Again, I know it's a complex matter, but I got a soft spot in my heart for old Jack.

Here's to you, Doc.

"Nearer My God to Thee"
by Jack Kevorkian

Toga, toga, toga, COME HOME!!!

March of the Penguins was a pretty good movie; about as good as you could make about penguins going to and fro, standing in the wind, and occasionally dieing. However, it seems this film may have triggered an unsavoury consequence, here in the U.K., we're all lighting a candle on the Christmas tree for little Toga, a 3 month old baby penguin who has been missing since Saturday night and is presumed stolen (unless we're witnessing another step in evolution and it flew away).

Sadly, I don't think this will have a happy ending, Zoo keepers fear the worst. Somebody called in to a morning show to say they had stolen it, put it in a plastic bag, and dumped it in the sea. Zoo owner David Curtis had this to say;

I am very pessimistic, I think we have lost it, it has been too long. I think that the person who phoned GMTV was genuine because we got his phone number and I spoke to him

More bad news for Christmas. It really doesn't get much worse than this (ok it does, a lot worse, but this is pretty low), stealing a baby penguin, putting it into a plastic bag, before dumping it at the dockyard. Low. Very low. Still, I'm not ready to give up on Toga. I see him waddling back over some kind of field, his eyes glazed over in exhaustion and terror, but just as you think he's closed them for the last time, Morgan Freeman's soft, soothing voice seeps into our ears, urging the little guy on, on to his family and survival, and frankly, a mini-series starring Barbara Streisand. Morgan's voice is surrounds the bird like the velvety folds of his parent's bellies, keeping him alive...Sadly however, the police don't seem to be taking it as seriously as they should, Curtis adds with concern that;

Unfortunately the police are not treating this like they would a missing human. As far as I am concerned it should be treated the same, but at the end of the day it is a bird.

I share Curtis' shock and dismay at the bold face bigotry of our bobbies; look around you right now and say to yourself honestly that you wouldn't swap one of your co-workers/family members/whatever's around you, for a penguin. You can't.

So look up to the cold winter's sky this festive period and think about a little penguin, slowly waddling his way back to his mum and dad, who just needs a little direction and luck to make this the Christmas story of the year. COME ON TOGA, YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!

Little Toga was taken from the Amazon World Zoo Park on the Isle of White. My first question was what the hell a penguin is doing in Amazon world. Then I asked Papa google who highlighted my ignorance by enlightening me as to the number of penguins that live in hot places like South America, and even Africa, where the Black Footed Penguin (Toga's species) lives. This is a rare breed due partly to lots of oil spills.

Hooray! Friday Random Ten (Thursday Edition)

This has been a rough week, but things are starting to turn around. The deadlines have been met. I told off an ex-coworker who drives me crazy yesterday. Christmas shopping is done. Four-day weekend coming up and a baby arriving any day now... Now all I need is a good Friday Random Ten and everything will be everything. Here goes.

Leon Redbone, White Christmas - An appropriate open to this week’s session. Leon Redbone’s Christmas Island is probably my favorite Christmas CD - it has the definitive version of Frosty the Snowman featuring a duet with Dr. John - and this is a very pretty song.
The Perceptionists, Funky 4U - From The Razor mix tape. As much as I liked their Black Dialogue debut album that came out this year, it never reached the consistent funk of this mix tape. Check it out.
The Band, This Wheel’s On Fire - I miss Rick Danko. For some reason, I’ve always thought of him as the real “lead” singer of The Band, though both Richard Manuel and Levon Helm had better voices. There was something very honest about the way Rick sang.
MC 900 Ft. Jesus, Born With Monkey Asses - Five-and-a-half minutes of some lunatic ranting over a good beat: “Shut up. I want you goddamn bastards to get rid of this whore. She licked me between my sacred legs and I am [unintelligible]. And I demand her death.” Solid.
Deltron, National Movie Review - Skit.
Lifesavas, What If It’s True? - This was the first song to capture my attention on this phenomenal album. Highly, highly recommended. Their politics are kind of bizarre - they’re both adamantly anti-war and anti-Bush and outspokenly anti-choice. If you don't let the occasional pro-life lyric get under your skin, this is amazing music.
The Waifs, Stuck - I went through a phase of being very into this Australian band after I saw them open for Dylan. But I have to say that by and large their music is nothing special. Skip.
Billy Bragg, The Boy Done Good - For some reason, I never spent a lot of time listening to Billy Bragg, though I’ve always had friends who were into him. So I bought his retrospective Must I Paint You a Picture? recently, and it’s pretty good.
The Waifs, Time to Part - Well now, that’s just annoying. Skip.
The Band, Theme From the Last Waltz - If you ever want to read a bitter, vindictive book, read Levon Helm’s “This Wheel’s On Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band.” It excoriates Robbie Robinson (with seemingly good reason) and exposes the Last Waltz as a sham. Still, some great music on this.

BONUS TRACKS (to make up for the repetition and the skit):

Van Halen, Unchained - There’s not a damn thing wrong with David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. Fair Warning was actually the first CD I ever bought. This is the best song on the album. Wow, this is kind of a pleasant surprise; I didn’t even know this was on my iPod. Hey, man, that suit is you! You’ll get some leg tonight for sure.
Chuck Prophet, God’s Arms - Here’s a guy who deserves a lot more play than he gets. For my money, one of the most consistent singer/songwriters out there today. Two very solid bonus tracks, time to call it day...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

And In Related News...

A nice addendum to Ben's post:

Stalin sought human-ape super warrior

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Recently uncovered secret documents in Russia reveal that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin wanted to develop a super army by cross-breeding humans and apes.

Documents form the 1920s show scientist Ilya Ivanov was ordered to research the development of such a super-warrior and fodder for the Soviet workforce, The Scotsman newspaper reported Tuesday.

Stalin, the account says, told Ivanov, "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat." Soviet social engineering sought to make a "living war machine," the newspaper said.

The documents claim Ivanov's attempts to use monkey sperm in humans failed, the Scotsman said. Ivanov was exiled to Kazakhstan in 1931 and died a year later.


Good news for a change. And the guy was an appointee of Bush; hope for the future.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Santa, seriously.

In this, the season that is meant to be the preserve of jolliness and jauntiness, the Muck is growing increasingly pissed off with the state of the world. Be it the imprisonment of journalists without trial, the clear, frequent and flagrant violation of U.S. law by Dubya, or celebrities being dicks, (don't even get me started on our little blog war, the teeth start grinding, not nice); the Muck is not happy and it's showing.

Not only are we angry at the state of the world, but, as time chips away at our belief system surrounding this time of year, it's increasingly difficult not to feel somewhat jaded as Xmas rolls round. Don't get me wrong, I still love this time of year, we got a tree this weekend, I have my jingle bells on my MP3 player, I'm slightly optimistic there will be a white christmas here, and my general cheer levels are up. Jeff is left spriralling in a pit of introspection as the world he once knew has been completely blown away by the baddest wolf of all, reality, and even Santa ain't as jolly as he should be...

It's my sad duty to report that the annual Santa of the Year Competition, where up to 50 Santas from around the world congregate to compete in such events as sled(g)ing, porridge eating, reindeer sleigh racing and chimney climbing, was not the ho ho ho fest it should have been. The reigning champion, some British guy, lost his crown in somewhat dubious circumstances which should give all of us cause to think twice before associating this character as jovial...the winner, an Estonian accordianist took the title

"amid dark mutterings of political voting, professional jealousy and backbiting",

Apparently the two went face to face Ben Hur style in a reindeer sleigh race, the result of which is best described by the deposed champ himself;

I was up against the Estonian and I won the race. He actually fell off his sleigh. But he got awarded extra points for falling in a particularly Santa-like style.

Imagine the scene, the British champ and favourite spurs his steeds round the course, pushing them to the limit, he's rationed their mince pies and milk rations just for this moment, they ride like the wind, a dashing, dancing, prancing blur of hooves, antlers, red ribbons, sleigh bells and sheer desperation. It's a sight to behold indeed; the champ looks behind to see his competitor take the last corner too tightly, slip, and fall from the sleigh...the momentum carries him some way and he ends up rolling some miles off the course, ending up at the bottom of a hill with his head, arms and legs protuding from a giant snowball. One of his reindeer, the joker of the pack probabaly, comes up to him and licks him fully on the face...his cheeks are red, and he cannot help but guffaw heartily. This is because the amount of snow entombing his body is numbing him to the pain of the immense damage done to his internal organs.

Meanwhile the britain crosses the line arms a loft; he did it, he bloody well did it. He drops to his knees, the weight of the occasion hitting him like a sledgehammer, and he makes what seems like a snow angel but no-one is really sure...he's sure of one thing though; he's the santa champion for another year...

Or not. Sadly, the unseated champion could not hide his chargrin at the defeat;
I was pretty miffed at that, I can tell you
Miffed; it doesn't get that much worse people, not in Britain anyway.

Anywho, I originally wrote this post to illustrate something that was sad about xmas, but now I read more about it, I think the more I think this story should restore our festive faith. It was a good thing this guy lost; just listen to how he took to the role of santa champion,

We are all very serious. It's not a fun thing.

Furthermore for the sake of his poor wife, it is a good thing he lost;
I've had it written into my wedding vows that I'll be out being Santa on Christmas Day," Horniblew said.
It is a good that an Estonian Accordian player won by falling off his sleigh in a "santa like style", we are free of the vice like grip of our former ruler, the White Witch rules no more, and we are free to celebrate Xmas. So, this holiday raise a glass, a pie, a remote control, to the new Santa. Truly the people's choice. In the meantime, maybe the miffed ex santa champ will gain some perspective and will ammend his plans for when he takes that final sleigh ride,
When I die, I want my suit, with my authorised badge and Winter Games medals, to be draped over my coffin and my Santa boots sat on top.
Sadly however, it seems a little part of him has already died inside. Lucky for us we get to benefit.

Dirty Santa

Dirty Santa, Yankee Swap, Grinch Exchange, Thieving Secret Santa, White Elephant Gift Exchange...I know you've played it - a bunch of people, each one bringing a non-gendered $10 to $15 gift, get together and pick, swap and steal the gifts until everyone walks away with a completely useless object in their hands. It's great holiday fun, and I look forward to it every year. Only, in my family, we call it something different. We call it a Chinese Auction.

Now, I accepted this title growing up. Even when faced with blank stares at its mention, I thought it was the proper name for the game. I didn't question it when I realized that other people called it White Elephant, or Yankee Swap, because I knew I was using the original title. It didn't bother me one bit when I found out that, in fact, they don't play this game in China at all. And what of the fact that there's nothing Chinese or Auction like about it? No matter. My family has been calling it that for years, and that's just what it's called.

Or not. Twenty minutes ago, Wikipedia turned my world upside down. In its informative article on the matter, we're given a list of the many names by which this game is known. Surprise - there's absolutely no mention of "Chinese Auction." How could this be? Why would my family just make that name up? Most of them barely even know where China is. Could this be like their persistent mispronunciation of "SAL-mon?" No...that at least makes some sense, given the confusing nature of silent letters. But "Chinese Auction" is just plain weird.

I needed to do more research. Back to Wikipedia, which has this to offer:
In a Chinese auction, bidders are not prospective buyers (as in the conventional English auction). Instead, they buy tickets, which are essentially chances to win items. Bidders may buy as many tickets as they like, and bid them on any item(s) they want by placing them in a basket or other container in front of the item(s) they are trying to win. At the conclusion of bidding, the winning ticket is drawn from the tickets bid on each item, and the item is given to the owner of that ticket.

So there you go. A completely different fucking game. In fact, it's not really a game at all. It's more like, oh I don't know, an AUCTION!

So where does this leave me? I can try to explain the error to my family, but how do you overturn over a decade of misnomer, especially among a group so resistant to change? No, there's no hope of that. We'll just have to go on riding the linguistic short bus as long as Christmas keeps forcing us to get together. The best I can hope for is some insight into how the problem got started. I'll do a little investigative work over the holidays, and report my findings right here on the Muck.

And who knows, if I ever accidentally have children, maybe I'll pass along the bad habits of my own upbringing to the next generation. Nothing like the spread of ignorance and cultural insensitivity to celebrate the American holidays. Besides, even if we are wrong, at least we're wrong in a unique way. Maybe we could even build on the theme and introduce General Tso's chicken into our Christmas dinners.

Well, before I cross the thin line that separates satire from outright bigotry, I better bring this to a close. I do wonder, however, which of the game's aliases are the most popular. Are there any other "Chinese Auction" stories out there? Maybe you play something called the "Vietnamese Roulette," or the "Eskimo Ro Sham Bo?" Please, don't be afraid to share.

Jesus Christ

Jeff has encouraged me to continue to blog this warrantless domestic wiretapping scandal, but frankly the whole story just makes me want to go home and bite my pillow in rage. This really is not complicated: The law prohibits eavesdropping on persons in the United States without first obtaining a warrant, which are extraordinarily simple to obtain anyway. Bush admits that he signed executive orders authorizing warrantless domestic wiretaps. He is unapologetic about it, and vows that he will continue to do it. There are lots of interesting angles to this story, but they all amount to sideshows. The argument that Congress authorized domestic spying in the Afghanistan war resolution? Bullshit. The argument that getting a warrant would take too long? Bullshit. The argument that the President has inherent constitutional authority to spy on Americans? Bullshit. The argument that whoever leaked this story compromised national security? Bullshit. The argument that leading Democrats agreed to this program? Bullshit (and irrelevant).

For all these distractions, the big story here is astonishingly simple: Bush has repeatedly broken the law and vows that he will not stop breaking the law. I've never believed that Bush could be impeached, but there really is no other solution to this. If the President shows disregard for the law and vows to continue doing so, he has to go. Period. You don't get much more high-crime-and-misdemeanor than an illegal domestic espionage program. If Congress doesn't stop him, then we're down to two branches of government in this country.

And, adding insult to injury, they continue to treat us like we're the morons. Here's the Washington Posts's account of Bush's press conference today:
[Bush] was visibly angered when a reporter asked him what limits there were on "unchecked" presidential authority during wartime. "I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power," Bush said. "There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law for starters.
Get that? The "check" is that Bush once swore to uphold the laws that he vows to continue violating. What the hell does this even mean? If the American people accept this gibberish as any kind of rationale, then we really do deserve the son-of-a-bitch.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

In My Line of Work, We Have a Name for This

That name is called "Confession."

Friday, December 16, 2005

Muck of the Week

Sorry if you had another one ready to go Jeff, this one spoke to me though.

I said CUT!!!

Well, life seems to be imitating art; Lillo Brancato, who was in the Sopranos for 6 episodes playing a wannabe hood, is being charged with the murder of an off duty police man. Brancato has had a drug problem, and apparently was breaking into a place to steal money or drugs with a man who is thought to be the father of his girlfriend. An off duty policeman (28 years old) who lived next door went to investigate, was shot at, shot back, and later died of his wounds. Both Brancato and his accomplice were admitted into hospital in critical condition and are charged with the murder of a police officer.

Numerous things went through my head when I read this; it's tragic that someone was killed, so young, over such an inoccuous incident. I was angry at the fact this rich, succesful, young actor had not been satisfied with the lifestyle provided to him by his wealth and fame (he was also in a Bronx Tale playing Robert DeNiro's son), and had felt the need to go to such lengths that he was prepared to shoot someone to stop from being caught and humiliated, or to simply get what he needed to get. Of course, it's not that simple. Addiction is a cruel thing and it really doesn't look at how much money you've got (until you're trying to pay bail, rehab, a roof over your head, favours from friends), but still, I'm pissed that some guy is dead because some kid who couldn't handle his fame lost it. I also wonder whether the charges would've been brought had the person shot not been an off duty police officer (maybe, perhaps, but what if he'd been some guy living in an apartment block, hadn't dialed 911 before investigating, would we or the police had heard about it?).

In general, I also think it's one more reason to reform gun control; i.e. actually put some in place and make sure it's enforced. What's scary is that this type of thing happens day in day out without anyone knowing, one case will hit the headlines (maybe they'll be rich, white, or both) and there'll be a baying of blood, D.A.'s will smell an election winner and go for the death penalty (if its an option) and show that they will not tolerate crime in any way, shape or form. Meanwhile, nothing is done about the number of guns in people's homes, the lack of education endured by a significant amount of the population, and the horrific effects of abuse are ignored, or dismissed as an excuse. If Brancato was black, poor, and in the rural south right now he'd be prime material for death row.

This didn't start off as a rant, but there you go, it pisses me off.

On a somewhat lighter note, the dude out of everyone's terror in the sky movie Passenger 57 who played the terrorist set on blowing up the plane or something was arrested on board a flight to the UK because he was mouthing off and being threatening to staff after they refused to serve him anymore free booze. Jesus. Again, I am PISSED off by this juvenile, egotistical behaviour. There's people cramped in the economy seats making the most of their peanuts and coke, and trying not to spit at the tv as sandra bullock plays that beautiful but clutzy undercover cop/journalist/lawyer/ballerina/or whatever shit she's peddling, some people on the ground can't even afford to buy a car let alone jet across the world, and this guys getting mouthy because the champaigne isn't flowing. COME. ON. I may well make it my weekends mission to track down this dick and slap some sense into him...

Celebrities, please, think about what you have, and what others do not. Don't be dicks, we have enough of them as it is. And if you can, try and be a happy drunk this holiday period.

Winning the War On TerrorTM, Part Two

Still flush from the excitement of having apprehended al Qaeda's hair stylist, the Bush Administration has a stunning new success to boast: Fallujah police forces captured Abu Musab Zarqawi, al Qaeda's #3 man!!! Of course, they let him go a few hours later. Drat.

But wait, I have an idea: Let's just roll back a few more civil liberties!!! That'll be almost as grand!!!

Can We Finally Fucking Impeach Him?

So, turns out Bush "signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States." The NSA has been intercepting phone calls and e-mails in the United States without getting warrants. This is illegal. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance1 Act
prohibits conducting electronic surveillance not authorized by statute. A government agent can try to avoid prosecution if he can show he was "engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction," according to the law.
I mean seriously, do these people just think they can anything in the name of Fighting Terror, without any regard for little things like laws? It's bad enough that Congress will apparently pass any anti-terror measure the Adminstration wants, without even bothering to read it first. Will Congress now just turn a blind eye to the Administration flouting one of the few remaining laws that protect our civil liberties? Suffice it to say, I'm not liking the odds.

Oh, and you've got to love this little gem:
The Times said it held off on publishing its story about the NSA program for a year after administration officials said its disclosure would harm national security.
(emphasis added) Thanks, New York Times. Good looking out. Where would this country be without the bravery and vigilance of a free press?
1 Of somewhat less significance, I'd also just quickly like to point out that "surveillance" is yet another word that does not follow the "I-before-E-except-after-C" rule, which is the most useless fucking rule in all of grammar.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

How happy is Mona Lisa?

83% happy. No more, no less. Yep, those researchers have been at it again, having come up with some software to determine the emotions in a face. Bravo. The researchers also found, however, that her face shows us that 9% of her was disgusted with something...what could that be I ask myself? Had Leonardo just come back from the toilet and forgotten to zip himself up completely revealing his brain? Had she just taken the first bite of her sandwich only to realise that there was cucumber in it? Maybe she had a premonition about all the peolple that would stand around gawking at her, or about the time and money spent to find out just how happy she was/is.

Either way, just how happy are you today? Look in the mirror, check out the curvature of your lips, the crinkles round your eyes...evaluate yourself. 60% happy? Maybe you should get a frame of reference, a picture of you when you know that you were 100% happy, maybe you're drunk at a party, maybe singing your favourite song, maybe you're kicking over a snowman, whatever, just look at the photo and ask yourself how the person looking back at you in the mirror measures up...I'd like to submit to you this photo of me for similar analysis posted in the comments section. I think you'll agree that the expression has the same haunting ambiguity that has made Mona so famous.I know you can do better than those egg heads; don't disapoint me. In your analysis, you could try and come up for reasons for those particular emotions...

Friday Random Ten (Thursday Edition) (Special Snow Day Edition)

Office is closed today. YAY!!! But I had the foresight to bring work home with me last night. BOO!!! Oh, well. At least I have my iPod back (actually a brand new one) so I can do a FRT(TE) while trying to work on the couch, which I'm discovering doesn't work so will with a 3-year-old in the house. But I've got some shit that has to be done before my wife goes into labor, so I really can't afford not to. Also unfortunate is that fact that I had only backed up about a third of my music (data backups, that is, I do have audio copies of almost everything), so I'll be spending a lot of time ripping music when I'm up all night next week with a newborn... Anyway, we forge ahead, even with a paltry 4000 songs on the mp3 player:

Donovan, The Car Song - From one of our various childrens’ albums. Doesn’t really add much of anything to the original Woody Guthrie.
Leonard Cohen, Take This Waltz - My mom was always listening to Leonard Cohen when I was growing up, so his music always takes me back. Thanks to Jeff for pushing me to start listening to him again within the last year or so.
Jim Carroll, Female As Thunder - I’ve never been wild about this album (Pools of Mercury), but I highly recommend his first album, Catholic Boy.
The Waitresses, Christmas Wrapping - Hey, what can I say? I’ve got a soft spot for Christmas music.
Pixies, Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf) - From the Complete B Sides album, which raises a question we were discussing in the office yesterday: What actually constitutes a “B-side” these days?
Mike Ness, Ball and Chain (Honky Tonk) - I’ve always like Mike Ness, all the more since he called George W. Bush a “douche bag” and drop-kicked a Bush supporter at one of his shows. As Jeff would say, ROTFLMAO.
M.I.A., Sunshowers - This shit it weird. In two months, I’ll either be listening to this constantly, or I will have decided I hate it. I don’t have the slightest idea which it will be.
Dave Van Ronk, Gambler’s Blues - Dave Van Ronk is an amazing folksinger. Catch some great footage of him in Scorcese’s Dylan documentary, No Direction Home.
Bob Dylan & The Band, Goin’ Down the Road - From A Tree With Roots (The Complete Basement Tapes). I understand why Dylan got so annoyed when this stuff got bootlegged, but listening to Dylan and The Band just fucking around in their basement is incredible. This is one of their more polished performances. The atrocious sound quality just enhances the experience.
Pixies, In Heaven - Have I started to detect a Pixies backlash out there in the internets recently? That would be pretty silly, wouldn’t it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ding Dong...

Well, be prepared to avert eye contact with the muck for the forseeable future when you see it coming down the corridor for fear it will corner you and talk about wedding plans... that's right, Notes from the Muck is proud to announce it's first wedding; I, Ben (Beldaz), recently got engaged to my girlfriend and we are planning to marry in the very near future, next month.

I will spare you the emotional narrative and cut to the chase; I am currently broke, am struggling to find work to even pay for xmas cards, my loans are being called in, my girlfriend is working crazy 12 hour shifts and as such have only been able to talk to each other once a week, my girlfriend is currently in the U.S., I am in the U.K., between now and next month (date is still pending), something is going to have to happen soon to enable this beautiful coming together take place.

My one concrete detail is that it will take place in the U.S. (red tape); and will be in a registery office (you guys do have those right?) before a Church gig sometime later...I would like to share with you all the magic as it comes together, or rather the panic that sets in as more time goes by with only the continental land mass decided upon...Thank god, or Mathew for his wedding guide earlier in this blog; at least I know there will be poker. I sure as hell hope there'll be a drunken uncle doing the time warp as well.

Stay tuned, it'll be fun and you'll get cake. Promise.

After all these years Brian still had it. "All these years" being ever since he turned 65, "It" being the ability crack his hips in time to Copacabana.

And bringing up the rear...

God damn temping assignments giving me no access to the internet. Oh well, I'm here now. Let's finish what I kind of started and give you the top five records that rocked me in 2005.

5. Kings of Leon; "Aha Shake Lovebreaker" This could be in here for the title and album cover alone, but this definitely did it for me this year. It actually came out in Europe in 2004, but that was before the U.S. release; apparently they're not as big there as they are here.

For anyone that doesn't know, KOL are a rock band who took off where the Strokes left off, even though the Strokes weren't aware that they were leaving off (btw, their next single sounds like a return to form after a couple of complacent albums, think Batman, edgey...). Anywho, this album gave me ample motivation to sing along at the top of my voice to a song about doing cocaine with a super model, trying to get it on with said super model and failing the physical because your appendage is too affected by said cocaine to do what it seems to do everytime you have to go for a job interview. Come on, we've all been there. Oh.

4. Tom Vek; "We Have Sound". Now this WAS a 2005 release. Tommy boy spent a lot of his teenage years in his parent's garage making tunes with an 8 track. Unlike most people, he emerged with something a little more impressive that a dislike of bright lights, an addiction to KFC, the startings of a new
language or at least dialect, and inexplicable outbursts of hair where there really shouldn't be hair; he came up with a pretty decent ablum. Again, I don't think this album has raised any eyebrows stateside, but when it came out on this side of the pond he was the critics darling. Many called him a fresher version of Beck and I would agree. I'm not really into electronica that much (though i'm not sure if this qualifies) but there are some great tunes here that breathed life into my appreciation of this genre and for that, Tom goes in at number 4.

3. Gorillaz; "Demon Dayz" Again, not very original but this album grows on me everytime I listen to it. Back in the mid ninties when Blur battled Oasis in the battle of brit pop it was anyone's guess who won...when I look at what the members of those bands are doing musically I can say with all certainty that Blur, or rather, Damon Albarn, won. It's simple, it's deep, it hips, it hops, it soars, it stamps, it, enough with this; it's just a darn good album.

2. Kanye West; "Late Registration" Yep, this was my second favourite album this year; why? Because the man is on fire right now and I find it almost impossible to stop listening to his records. Yes, some of the tracks are not so strong, yes, people are probabaly all fed up with hearing about K West right now, yes, but it's hard to find someone in the mainstream who is as inventive, funny, confrontational, entertaining, and just plain good as he is right now. One of things I like about him is that it seems that he doesn't seem able to say something that he
doesn't believe in, whether you love it or hate it or just plain don't care; he puts himself out there. He told Bush that he didn't care 'bout Black folk while other celebrities read politely from their autocues, he will probabaly talk himself out of the limelight, but i hope he keeps on making songs like these.

I don't really believe he's saving hip hop single handedly, but he's certainly leading the crusade for like minded hip hop and rap artists who do not want to bow to the monotonous beats that dominate the radiowaves but still appeal to a larger market than the genre's afficianados.

1. Bob Dylan; "The Bootleg Series Volume 7; No Direction Home ST" So these songs were mostly released a long time ago, but a lot of them weren't because they were made in Bob's home and they weren't released till now. I had of course of known of Bob Dylan for some time but had not bought one of his records till a couple of years ago, and that was the Billy the Kid soundtrack. I picked up "Nashville skyline", "The Times they are changin'", "Freewheelin" but didn't really listen to them a whole lot. i got into "The Times..." a lot last year, but still, I could appreciate he was a good artist but I never counted myself as a fan, more a spectator.

That changed a lot when I watched Scorsese's documentary, and read Dylan's chronicles close together a couple of months ago. What both put across was Dylan's sheer artistery that I had acknowledged but not really appreciated, as well as his down right obstinance to conform to just about anything. I liked that. I had seen footage of his UK tours when he got booed of stage knowing that it was a part of history but because this was how it had always been framed there was always a feeling of detachment, and, to a certain degree, generational contempt at the accolades poured at his feet. Watching him perform I was able to see the slightly hesitant yet bold twitches as he moves between harmonica and microphone, the throwaway attitude he had (has) to his own talent and reputation, and his overriding balls to the wall performances that blew those folkies away. Seeing him in this context I am much more able to appreciate the man and his work and just how important it was; yes I'm late, but at least I got there in the end. 2005 will always be the year that I truly found Bob Dylan, play it fucking loud.

Naked Men

This afternoon, after we discussed the fascist practice of imprisoning journalists without bringing charges against them, Jeff and I were trying to brainstorm a list of male actors we have seen naked. The list we came up with was surprisingly short:

1. Dennis Franz
2. That fat guy in Sideways
3. That's it. Dennis Franz and that fat guy in Sideways

I had a fairly strong memory of having seen Tom Cruise's ass in Eyes Wide Shut, but Jeff assures me that it wasn't, and I have to defer to him. So who else is there? Have I seen Brad Pitt's ass somewhere? Because I feel like I have, but I don't know where it would have been. We're particularly interested in guys who've showed their cranks on the big screen, but there can't have been many of those (Vincent Gallo, I guess, but that shouldn't count because he was getting a blow job. And there's Marky Mark, but I think that was fake.). Also, we couldn't think of a single black actor who'd shown his ass in a movie, which doesn't seem right. Help us out, and no Googling. That's too easy.

New Year's Resolution (A Proposal)

In the New York Times today, there's an article entitled "U.S. Ranks Sixth Among Countries Jailing Journalists..." Originally, I planned to post a satirical blog about my country's high ranking on this list, in addition to mentioning the good standing it has on similarly shaming inventories such as, I don't know, countries that still employ the death penalty:

[In 2004] 97% of all executions were performed in just four countries:China, Iran, Vietnam and the US, with the majority of them in China. See Article.

However, I ultimately decided that approach might bury the real point I'd like to make here. Allow me to direct your attention to the Times article again, and, in particular, to the following passage:

The United States is holding four Iraqi journalists in detention centers in Iraq and one Sudanese, a cameraman who works for Al Jazeera, at the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. None of the five have been charged with a specific crime.(emphasis added)

This isn't revelatory information. We're all aware of the countless prisoners being held there and elsewhere, indefinitely and without charges. We've read the reports of the abuse, torture and mistreatment being utilized at Gitmo, and certainly in the War on Terror. And Control Room showed us that Arab journalists are viewed to be pretty suspect by the U.S. government. Thus, that little quote above is unfortunately not very surprising.

But that doesn't make it OK. It may seem like a small thing compared to the daily atrocities in Iraq, but charge these people and give them a trial, or let them go. Seriously, what's the delay? I don't even know the White House's stock answer to that question. We have a new year fast approaching, and in the spirit of resolutions, how's about the good ol' United States of America get its act together and send some of these folks home? I realize I don't know all the facts, but honestly, when's the last time you saw a threatening cameraman?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Year In Music, Part II (Jeff's Picks)

OK, I realize that I'm straying from the formula here, but I'm presenting my top picks without commentary. Truth is, I'm just not feeling very articulate. However, for the curious, Matt has already provided some input on a couple of these (see below), and the others have been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere.

My five favorite albums of the year are:

5. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

4. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

3. The Decemberists, Picaresque

2. Andrew Bird, Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs

1. Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

The Year In Music, Part II

So on to the five best albums of 2005. If you didn’t check in yesterday, start here with the tenth through sixth “best” records of the year. Jeff’s picks are here, and Ben’s are right below this post. We left off with DangerDoom in the six spot, lamenting the fact that nothing in the top five could be bumped to make room for it there. Those regrets aside, we go onward and upward:

5. Lyrics Born, Same !@#$, Different Day - This was my favorite hip-hop album of the year. I really loved Later That Day and had a hard time imagining how the remix album could be much better. Well, it is. A lot better. LB’s lyrical abilities are pretty much as good as it gets and his voice is killer, but what really makes this album the best hip-hop album of the year are the collaborations. Jumbo the Garbageman of Lifesavas drops some of the wickedest beats of the year. KRS-One has a very nice cameo. Latyrx gets back together on The Last Trumpet. There are a couple of tracks that don’t work, but only a couple, and the vast majority are completely irresistible. I just keep coming back to this album over and over again.

4. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Well, these guys sure came out of nowhere, didn’t they? This album has been so widely discussed on the internet that there’s not a lot left to say about it, but it really just kicks all kind of ass. They draw Talking Heads comparisons, and not without good reason, but listening to them always puts me in mind of New Order, particularly the best song on the album: The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth. This is a shockingly good debut album, and I just hope there is a lot more to come from this band.

3. The Oranges Band, The World & Everything In It - My sleeper pick of the year, which just eeked its way on to Jeff’s list, too. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more buzz about this album. Only one customer review on Amazon? Scandalous. This is not deep music (to say the least), but if you’re just looking for something to put on when you’re feeling good, this is the album for you. These guys borrow equally from early Pixies and the Beach Boys. Grungy guitars give way to acoustic strumming and lots of harmonizing vocals. Suffice it to say I’ll be playing this album a lot at the Outer Banks this summer. If making this list prompts one reader to check out one new band (hey, I’m an optimist - it could happen!), I hope it’s this album. Buy it, damn you, buy it!

2. M. Ward, Transistor Radio - There are moments on this hauntingly beautiful album that make my eyes well up every time I hear them: when Here Comes the Sun Again segues into its gentle George Harrison homage; the whistling interlude on Lullaby + Exile. This is an album I will sit on the couch with headphones on and just listen to, not while reading, not while playing on the computer, not falling asleep, just sitting and listening and being carried away. It’s completely engaging and captivating in a way that few albums are.

And now, a drumroll please . . . . The number one album of this year is....

1. Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs - In a year of stunningly good releases, this one takes first prize going away. This album manages to be as inventive and original as any other, without sacrificing the slightest bit of melody or beauty. And the lyrics! I don’t know what this guy’s going on about, but I love it. On MX Missiles he sings
I didn’t know what you were made of,
Color of your blood, what you’re afraid of.
Are you made of calcium? Or are you carbon based?
And if you’re made of calcium, I’ll have to take a taste.
‘Cuz listen, calcium is deadly, but tender to the tooth
And it’s one sure-fire way to know if you’re MX missile proof.
Or if you’re just aloof.
I can relate, man. Elsewhere, in Fake Palindromes: “Dewey-eyed” is rhymed with “Disney Bride,” “formaldehyde,” “whiskey-plied,” “fratricide,” and “coulda’ died.”

I’m proud to say that I’ve been listening to Andrew Bird since he was playing with and opening for the Squirrel Nut Zippers, but this year he took his game to a whole new level. I have no doubt whatsoever that I will be listening to and enjoying the hell out of this album in ten years. I could go on and on about the violin, the whistling, the voice, but I won’t. I will however, mention the quirky and original artwork by Jay Ryan of The Bird Machine, who made sketches for each song of the album - two of which now adorn my office walls. And that’s that. The best album of the best musical year of my life:

The Year in Music (Ben's choice)

I concur there have been great records released this year, however, to be honest, I don't own enough of them to really compile a top 10; what I am going to do instead is list the top 10 records that came into my life this year. Some were released this year, some were released last year, some were released over 30 years ago, and some were never released. I apologise for this sloppiness but I just never would have gotten a list together and I do so like to share. Here we go... (please excuse the order, it is pretty fluid and is not definitive).

10. Sam Cooke; "Live at the Harlem Square Club" 1963 All praise to MBI for this little shout out. Most people know about Sam Cooke through sugary love songs such as "Cupid", but like people say, this is the real Sam. It's gritty, it's sexy, it's magnetic. His voice sounds like he's trying to comit GBH on his audience's ears, and they are certainly given as good as they get. What I love about GOOD live albums is the way an audience works puts the artist in a whole new context; they either sink or swim, or, in this case, rise to the top of New York City and shower down upon it their pain and passion.

Cooke turned up to the club after his band had arrived, got into his suit, and, whilst walking down the stairs to the stage was confronted by a 6 inch scorpion. Without missing a beat he stepped on the scorpion, and proceeded on stage. Poor scorpion, but that was his relationship with the stage, the audience, weren't nuthin getting in the way. Maybe the scorpion did bite him, and its venom was dripping from Sam's voice as he sang "Bring it on Back".

If I do have a gripe against it, then it's because it doesn't have the song "Change is gonna come" that Spike Lee used to such good affect in "Malcom X".

This album wasn't released till 1985, but I only heard about it this year. If you're hearing about this for the first time, take MBI's advice and go forth and listen to it. Now.

9. Bruce Springsteen; "Greetings from Asbury Park"I love Bruce Springsteen, but for sometime I didn't own that many of his CDs. I had the greatest hits, that revolves mostly on his hits from the 80's and 90's for ages as my sole representative. Then I bought his Live album 1975-1985; which I loved; it didn't really change my perception of Bruce though, just gave me a LOT more of what I
liked. Then I got his essential collection which had earlier stuff on it, including "For You". This was a different Bruce. his voice has an amazing power (which he utilised in his big hits such as "Born to Run", and "Born in the U.S.A." but with an agility and nuance I had not heard before. It's like he's turning on a vocal sixpence with a burnt out 69 trying to lure back Sandie from the arms of her loverboy...I bought "Greetings from Asbury Park" and was rewarded with more of the same. "Mary Queen of Arkansas" is exquisite;Bruce and his guitar appear to be dancing with each other, "The gallows wait for martyrs, whose papers are in order/but i was not born to live to die"...Shame on me for not having this sooner.

8. Jay Zeezer; "The Black and Blue Album" I have always liked Jay Z, I like his delivery, his attitude, his rhyming, even his catchy "this is the anthem getcha damn hands up"...I don't think I really appreciated him as an artist till people started putting his "Black Album" on top of anything. Dangermouse of course started the ball rolling with his revolutionary "Gray Album". The black and blue album was the cream of the crop of other offerings I found trawling the
internet...One of the things that I like so much about it is that apart from being a consistently strong mash up album where some others have some great tracks while others just don't work or appear forced, is the way that Weezer's music help to give Jay Z's voice and lyrics a new profound context..."Moment of Clarity" shows a Jay Z desperately trying to show us what flows beneath that seems to have been written for "Only in Dreams" and is muted by Eminem's mix on the original. I'm not saying its better than the Gray album, but I've listened to it a lot more and the heights it reaches show us a glimpse of just how infinite the possibilities of music are.

7. Lyrics Born; "Same Shit Different Day" Sorry for some repetition but this is a great album that only gets better to me. Jeff is more qualified to comment on it and I don't really have anything to add to his eulogy, but everytime I listen to this album I think that Lyrics Born would be a cool guy to hang out with. Jesus I wish I'd seen him live in Cville. Bugger.

Thanks to Mathew for putting me onto this; it's rare to enjoy an album this much.

6. Deltron 30 30; "Deltron 30 30" Jeff and Mathew certainly gave me some great music; this being up there amongst the best; thanks Jeff. Again, I don't think it was released in 2005, but I started listening to it then so that kind of counts. I first heard Del the Funky Homosapiean through the Gorillaz (which may or may not receive a mention in the final 5) on the track "Clint Eastwood". I think his
delivery may well be one of the most distinctive around and this album really shows that off. It's a ridiculously strong album while managing to be edgy and experimental at the same time. I'm also listening to it right now which may or may not have influenced my decision.

Stay tuned for the climax folks...

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Year In Music, Part I (Jeff's Picks)

Matt has already commented on the number of high caliber records put out in 2005, so I'll just get right to my personal favorites:

10. The Oranges Band, The World & Everything in It - A lovely, catchy, pop surf album. I'm fortunate that Matt threw this one my way - it's a gem, and a criminally overlooked one at that.

9. Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary - I only picked this up recently, but I'm super impressed. Grand, dark, arresting...Canada scores again.

8. M. Ward, Transistor Radio - Wow...that voice, you know? This album (his best, people say) is a little spotty in my opinion, but when it's good, it soars. This is another one I copied from Matt. Luckily for us, nobody reads this site and we're probably in no danger of being arrested by the authorities.

7. Lyrics Born, Same ! @#$ Different Day - I was a big fan of Latyrx, and Born's definitely still got it. The only hip hop album on my list, this record is nearly impossible not to like. Having said that, there were some major hip hop releases that I never got around to checking out (Kanye West's sophomore effort; The Game's super-producer showcase, The Documentary; Common's Be...). It also pained me not to include Dangerdoom on my list, but I just couldn't find a spot for it.

6. Jens Lekman, Oh You're So Silent Jens - Maybe it's because Jens Lekman is a new discovery for me, and I'm therefore judging him through a lens of exaggerated excitement, but I really really like what I'm hearing here. Catchy melodies, quirky lyrics and great vocal delivery earned this album it's spot on my list. I just bought it last week, so it found me in the nick of time.

The Year In Music, Part I

Well, the end of 2005 is fast approaching, and it seems about time to discuss our favorite music of the year. Tomorrow I’ll be posting my five favorite albums of 2005; today are rankings #10-#6. But first a few preliminary words.

This has been a Bad Ass year in music. Perhaps the Baddest Ass year of my lifetime. Certainly no year’s Ass has been Badder since I started paying attention. To wit: here are ten albums that didn’t make my top ten this year:

(Smog), A River Ain’t Too Much to Love
Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine
The Decemberists, Picaresque
Feist, Let It Die
Hot Hot Heat, Elevator
The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema
The Perceptionists, Black Dialogue
The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Origin vol. 1
Sufjan Stevens, Come On Feel the Illinoise
Teenage Fanclub, Man-Made

Now, in any other year, these would have been the top ten albums of the year. No bullshit; those are ten incredibly good albums. If you don’t have them, hang your head in shame and go get them. You will not regret it. Plus, heavyweights Bruce Springsteen and The White Stripes released solid albums, which don’t even crack the top twenty. Even Neil Diamond’s Ass got Bad in 2005, with an assist from producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin. And I haven’t even mentioned the most anticipated release of the year: Fatlip’s TheLoneliest Punk, which is a good - if inconsistent - album that fell short of expectations (which were probably totally unfair to begin with, since we’d been waiting so damn long for it to come out).

Oh, and let’s not forget Mariah Carey. The Recording Academy sure didn’t.

Finally, two disclaimers before we dive in: (1) This is a purely subjective endeavor. I want to hear what your favorite albums of this year were, not get into some retarded pissing match about what is “objectively” the best album. (2) I only just copied the new albums by Jens Lekman, M.I.A. (’s album of the year), Bright Eyes, Elbow, Stephen Malkmus, and Wolf Parade from Jeff, and I haven’t had time to give them a proper listen yet, so they are not included in the rankings even though they sound really good on first listen (this is particularly true of the Jens Lekman).

And so, without futher ado, the tenth through sixth best albums of 2005:

10. Spoon, Gimme Fiction - I was late to the Spoon party, this being the first album of theirs I ever heard. While it’s not as good as their previous album, Kill the Moonlight (which I subsequently bought on the strength of this one), that’s an impossibly high bar to set. The opening five tracks of this album are as good as any, and the only reason it’s not higher is because I find it to get a little monotonous if I play the whole thing. Track 3 - I Turn My Camera On - is apparently a departure from their normal sound. They should do a little more of that, because it’s the best song on the album.

9. Grayskul, Deadlivers - As it happens, four of my numbers 6-10 are hip-hop albums (only one of the top five is). The thing I love about this album is its consistency. There are very few hip-hop records I’ll listen to all the way through, but this is definitely one of them. I really love when strings are sampled in hip-hop, and Deadlivers uses them liberally. Sometimes the beats get a little too manic and the lyrical posturing occassionally gets downright silly, but overall this is a phenomenal album. "These are the facts / In the adversarial theater of justice there's three acts / Act One: Pursuit / Act Two: Interrogation / Act Three: Punishment ... Sorry folks, there's no jury in this scenario! / Ha-ha."

8. Gorillaz, Demon Days - I was vaguely aware of Gorillaz before I got this album from Jeff. I remember that when they got big several years ago I dismissed the whole cartoon thing as pretty juvenile and never really gave them a chance. But after hearing Jeff sing the praises of this album for a month or two, I finally copied it and loved it. I’ll never make the mistake of dismissing any project that involves Danger Mouse out of hand again. Plus, Doom.

7. Blackalicious, The Craft - Blackalicious albums never grab me right off the bat, and this one was no exception. I always like some of the tracks right away; on this album, I loved World of Vibrations, Powers, and Side to Side from the moment I heard them. It took several listens for me to warm up to the rest. My opinion now is that this is their most consistent record. There are no tracks that I dislike, although there are moments I don’t care much for (like the vocal refrain on Powers). But there are plenty of laugh-out-loud lyrics, lots of Gab’s unparalleled verbal pyrotechnics, all kinds of great beats, and some subtle but wonderful string and piano samples.

6. DangerDoom, The Mouse and the Mask - Nobody had a better year than Danger Mouse. MF Doom was another guy I hadn’t really known until Jeff wouldn’t shut up about him. Now I wonder where he’s been all my life. This album is as funky as it gets, and Danger Mouse’s bright and lively mixes compliment Doom’s thick drawl in a way I never would have guessed. This album is entirely trivial, but it makes me smile every time I listen to it. Even the cartoon skits don’t bother me. In a just world, this album would be ranked higher; it’s really getting screwed here. But I just can’t bring myself to bump down any of my top five, so DangerDoom will have to settle for a very respectable sixth placing.

Check in tomorrow for my five favorites of the year. And start getting your own lists ready.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

More good news...

So, if you think you may have had a crappy weekend, consider yourself lucky that you didn't have to put down a dolphin. 9 pilot whales and 24 dolphins died this week after they were stranded on the beach in Cape Cod.

This is a sad tale that happens all too often, in fact, there's even a group designated to helping save these poor critters who take their mammalian label all too literally. Whenever I hear about this happening I always think why, why on earth would creatures get themselves into this situation? I mean, its not like their environment doesn't take up 70% of the earth's surface, why do these tragic border crossings of nature occur over and over? In this instance it seems like the cold weather affected the waters so that they became too shallow...ok, alright, but that can't be the answer for all beached whales/dolphins can it?

Some people put forward the claim that sonar technology used by the navy is a major culprit, and there seems to be some kind of truth to this, but I am still unsatisfied; I think in a lot of cases there is a higher force at work, that of evolution.

I have a theory, that really isn't based in any kind of science or anything really apart from casual observation, presumption, and my imagination, but I still think it may be right. I saw once that often a pod of whales will beach themselves because they are following the lead whale, who, for some reason beaches themselves. The fact that it is the leaders of the group who do this led me to think that the beachings were not a mistake due to a broken radar or whatever, but just an ill timed attempt to shuffle the deck of evolution. Whales and dolphins are mammals right? So, in my mind, they are related to creatures who once lived on terrafirma (a little bit at least, like a toad or something) and took to the water, and they are responding to intangible urges to go back to land. Thus, whales will beach themselves to try it out; some die, but some don't and when they have baby whales, those babies may well just be a bit better equipped to live and breathe on land. One day, whales and dolphins will stalk the urban jungle, and Britain will have a cooler animal than the badger to boast of. I for one welcome that day, and rue the fact that I will never see it.

For the moment however we will have to endure the tragedies that happen on beaches across the world, and console ourselves with the fact that one day, some of our distant relatives may get to ride a dolphin up a mountain. And at least they didn't blow the whale up.

In the future, people will look at the title of this movie and say, "so what, big deal".

P.S. I just started thinking about my assumption that when whales and dolphins can live on land we, that is humans, will ride on them. Is this just my arrogance to make such an assumption? Maybe, the whales and dolphins, will ride us. We're through the looking glass people.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"When you ain't got no money, you gotta get an attitude."

One of my favorite posessions is my box set of Richard Pryor's Warner Brothers comedy albums. I once listened to the whole collection, in chronological order, and I emphatically suggest that you add it on your Christmas list and do the same. It was this experience that made me fall in love with the man, for I realized only then the breadth and humanity of his humor.

These past few years have been rough for me. Many of my heroes have died (Stanley Kubrick, Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Cash, Mitch Hedberg...Ol' Dirty Bastard), and now Pryor. When I logged on and was struck with the headline announcing his death, I literally placed my hand over my heart and let out a small wail . On the heels of Mr. Miyagi's passing, this is all just a little too much to bear.

I think I'm going to draw a hot bath tonight and observe a moment of silence for our loss. There will be many tributes in the coming days, no doubt resurrecting some great footage of Richard in his prime, so I'm sure I'll have ample opportunity to celebrate his life with the rest of the world. Right now, though, I just don't feel like laughing.