Friday, April 23, 2010

South Park Punks the "Revolution Muslim" Punks

South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were the target of threats by a group called "Revolution Muslim." These ridiculously stereotypical angry Muslims produced a video intimating that Parker and Stone would end up murdered, like Theo Van Gogh, for depicting Mohammad in a "blasphemous" way. Well, the joke was on the angry Muslims:
Mohammed appeared on Wednesday night's US episode of the cartoon with his body obscured by a black box, since Muslims consider a physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. Last week, the character was believed to be disguised in a bear costume. When that same costume was removed this week, Santa Claus appeared.
The very idea of blasphemy against any religion is such an obviously human one. There is no god. But if there were a being of such awesome unimaginable power, would it really be necessary for people to protect this god from ridicule? It's not like this alleged creator of the universe would have the emotional constitution of a fragile young child being mocked on the playground for having a goofy haircut. This is supposed to be an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity. Few other human attitudes do more to highlight the absurdity of blind faith than throwing a temper tantrum and demanding that everyone else give respect to the irrational belief in imaginary beings.
In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way."Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

The plot of episodes "200" and "201" are quite convoluted and silly, in true South Park fashion. But as with many episodes, it's a subversive, intentionally offensive morality play. Buddha is depicted snorting cocaine, Jesus admits viewing porn on the internet, but a box covers Mohammed at all times and even the mention of his name by the characters is bleeped in the audio. The closed captions, however, weren't altered. Even more absurd, a "lessons learned" speech at the end of the show, which made no mention of Mohammed, was completely bleeped out (including the closed captions). Apparently, Comedy Central completely caved to what can only be described as terroristic "warnings."

Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, and years before the murderous riots by angry Muslims, pissed over a few Mohammed cartoons, the episode "Super Best Friends" (July 4, 2001), showed an apparently innocuous cartoon version of Mohammed as part of the plot, but there were no riots, no death threats then. On April 5, 2006 and April 12, 2006, a two part episode "Cartoon Wars" had terrified characters throughout the US burying their heads in sand to show Muslims that they had no part in the airing of a picture of Mohammed on the show Family Guy (well, the South Park parody of Family Guy). They built the suspense, first showing an episode within an episode with a black censorship box. The next week, they were supposedly going to show it unedited, but Comedy Central wouldn't air it:


I still prefer the "Douche and Turd" episode, in which Stan decides not to vote for a school election, and is threatend by Puff Daddy to "Vote or Die" (an actual slogan he used in pro-voting commercials). As usual, their over-the-top theme serves to illustrate the stupidity of people feeling obligated to vote in an election, even if they don't like either candidate.

P.S.: Balko links to a story about a call to ink pens, for cartoonists everywhere to draw Mohammed on April 20, 2010.

Anthropomorphizing Nature

At CNN, Alan Weisman tries to add a few more squawks to the chorus of Chicken Littles pushing the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) theory. He litters his unsupported hypothesis with the childish view of the entire world being a sentient being which is "striking back at us" for our environmental "sins", closing with the stereotypical alarmist imagery:

...if we don't pull carbon out of the way we energize our lives soon, a small clump of our not-too-distant surviving descendants may find themselves, as Gaia scientist James Lovelock has direly predicted, like the first Icelanders: gathered on some near-barren hunk of rock near one of the still-habitable poles, trying yet anew to eke out a plan for human civilization.

"Gaia scientist"? What's next, an astrology scientist? How can so many grown men and women go out in public and pretend that a 658-sextillion-ton rock measuring 25,000 miles around has a rational mind? This is Santa Claus and Leprechaun stuff.

Even more amazing is how these charlatans have managed to repackage socialism and convince so many people that there is a dire need to do the economic equivalent of carpet bombing modern industry.

As I wrote before, green is the new red.

What he said.

Musical Madness

Radley Balko links to an article at Slate explaining the maddening trade-offs involved in tuning keyboard and fretted instruments. I was blissfully unaware of the concept of musical temperament and just assumed that musical notes were perfectly laid out in simple, integral frequency ratios. Thanks, Balko, for making me feel even stupider about music theory.

My introduction to playing music was on a trumpet in the sixth grade, which meant I had a very narrow perspective: one note at a time. I could hear when I didn't harmonize with another person's instrument, but that was either a matter of tuning, or a simple result of someone playing the wrong note. Not until high school did the band directors even attempt a cursory sketch of music theory: major, minor, and perfect intervals. Otherwise, it was just rote learning. Play what's on the page.*

Being a math geek, it always bothered me that the notes on a major scale were not symmetrical, making each letter two semitones apart--the reason there isn't a black key between every white key on a piano. Why not use a hexatonic, or whole tone scale, so an octave involved six notes instead of the seven notes in a diatonic scale? Put a black key between each white key and adjust accordingly. A C-major scale would no longer be void of accidentals, but wouldn't that force neophyte musicians to grasp just exactly how a major interval differs from a perfect interval? Alas, the symmetry of such a scale was swapped out for the concept of the tonic. Having done most of my playing on a one-note horn, and never having been taught improvisation, I still only have a fuzzy grasp of harmonics. The idea of connecting that to what's on sheet music and what's on a piano or guitar comes as naturally to me as playing Boggle in Spanish. I have a rookie-level ability to pronounce printed words (I have to look up how to pronounce words like "ciudad") and would be an abysmal failure at writing down words I know by ear ("quatro" vs. "cuatro").

Another mystery to me was the "Every Good Boy Does Fine" vs. "Good Boys Do Fine Always" discrepancy (treble clef versus bass clef). It didn't matter to me when I stuck to one instrument. But after a few lessons on the classical guitar (which was already rough going), I was asked to take lessons on the electric bass guitar to replace another student (Chris W.**) in the jazz band, because he was moving. If I recall correctly, his family had a change of plans so he quickly returned and I was spared the agony of compounding two unfamiliar tasks--playing a string instrument and reading bass clef. Unfortunately, it also meant I never resumed the classical guitar lessons.

* On my list of most embarrassing moments is the time I was hired at age 17 to be part of a trumpet trio playing Christmas music in front of a large congregation. At the last minute, we were told to transpose to another key to make it easier for the pianist. The other two more experienced players said "no problem" but I managed to inject a plethora of sour notes. "A little bit of humiliation goes a long way."

**My Best Man at my wedding, Carlos, played with Chris in a band, doing gigs for high school parties. They were often arguing over what songs to play. As a bassist, Chris was always wanting to play Rush songs, which are heavy on Geddy Lee's bass playing. Chris was most famous in the high school band for keeping a book of quotes of our band director's humorous impromptu aphorisms. After it became well-known, Mr. M. would add, "Put that in your little book, Mr. W!" afterwards.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


From the AP:

President Barack Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.

Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC, "I want to get a better picture of what our options are."

Here's an option: cancel all the rubber checks you've been writing and let people decide how to spend their own goddamned money.

Bill Clinton paraphrases Billy Beck

When I first read the "hatriot" section of Bill Clinton's speech, I told my wife that he was quoting Billy Beck (well, almost). Apparently, Billy didn't miss that, nor did the many people who sent him e-mail about it.

Idol Season 9, Top 7

Tuesday night was mostly disappointing:

  1. Crystal Bowersox ("People Get Ready" by Curtis Mayfield) - Again, Crystal beats everyone else. This time, she outdoes the best of the rest by the biggest margin yet. I loved her a capella opening. She didn't allow the music to overtake her voice. Even a couple seconds of crying was forgivable, given the awesomeness of her performance. Speaking of forgiveness, the lyrics make reference to the more obnoxious side of Christianity ("no room ... no hiding"). Even an atheist like me can appreciate a moving gospel song about love and charity if it has a good melody and is sung beautifully. I just don't care for the hellfire, Left Behind crap.
  2. Lee DeWyze ("The Boxer" by Paul Simon) - I love this song. While Lee didn't live up to the original, he did a very good job. It was very moving at times. There were a few rough spots, but not many. Even better than the original was a cover by James Taylor and Alison Krauss at the 2002 Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Paul Simon. It's worth it if you can find it. (Incidentally, Lee DeWyze, like Taylor & Krauss, skipped the verses which included the line: "Just a come on from the whores on Seventh Avenue." I listened Simon & Garfunkel's version for years, oblivious to the exact words they were singing until I actually read it.)
  3. TIE Siobhan Magnus ("When You Believe" by Mariah Carey, et al.) and Michael Lynche ("Hero" by Nickleback) - I was disappointed with both performers. I'd say they were a distant third, behind a distant second, which is not a good place to be. Siobhan was very boring and her voice got nasal at times. Otherwise, her singing was excellent. Michael let the music overshadow his voice at times, even though his vocals were excellent, as well. Neither of them moved me, like Crystal and Lee.
I curse Casey for playing that song that the Clintons forever ruined for me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taking Bill Clinton to Task

Radley Balko takes Bill Clinton to task for his cynical exploitation of the Oklahoma City bombing and his revisionist whitewashing of what his people did in Waco. I mentioned a few of the same things last Friday, in a response to an early Balko article.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bill Clinton waves around Timothy McVeigh corpse

At Balko's place:

Bill Clinton waves around Timothy McVeigh to demonize critics of the Democrats.

They’ll fine you if you don’t buy health insurance, jail you if you don’t pay the fine, and kill you if you dare not to submit to them trampling on your rights. That’s all OK to Bubba. “They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do.”

But if you dare to point out that they are trampling on our rights, election or no, you’re feeding into the mentality of monsters who blow up buildings with children inside.

P.S.: Damn, I mentioned Bill Clinton and destroying a building with children inside without even catching the irony.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Idol Season 9, Top 9 (part II)

I'm glad the judges used their save on Michael Lynche last week. However, that means two go home tomorrow, increasing the likelihood of another "shocking result."

My picks for the Elvis show tonight:

  1. Crystal Bowersox ("Saved") - As usual, the best of the night. Her only problem is that she's performed so well each week that she doesn't get bonus points for improving over the previous week that some contestants do.
  2. Siobhan Magnus ("Suspicious Minds") - I liked both halves, unlike the judges. To me, the first part set up the second just as it was supposed to. I listened to it again to try to hear the notes Simon thought were off, but only one seemed to be ever so slightly off to me. My only complaint would be that she tends to get a nasal tone to her voice at times. In the top 10, she was torturing high notes on Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire". In the first top 9 (Lenon/McCartney), she gave a decent, but very boring rendition of "Across the Universe". I think this was her best since the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" (top 12), though Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" (top 11) is a close contender. She definitely peaked with Aretha Franklin's "Think" (top 20), and I'm hoping she can repeat that level of performance in weeks to come. I think that all depends on song choice and whether she can effectively work in some glass-shattering high notes without going overboard.
  3. Lee DeWyze ("A Little Less Conversation") - Good, solid performance with a lot of energy. All the whinging by the judges about his facial expressions is getting tiresome and distracting. Who cares? If he sings well, then he sings well. This week, he was much improved. The past several weeks he's done OK, better than most of the men. I did appreciate his boldness last week having a bagpiper, though I wouldn't have brought him down that staircase in such a melodramatic fashion (putting him off to the side would have been more appropriate). It was great to see the reaction of the judges to that stunt, though.
  4. Michael Lynche ("In the Ghetto") - Michael gave a very moving performance. I've always liked the melody of that song, but the lyrics (written by Mac Davis), when sung by white men like Elvis, seem patronizing and dripping of white guilt(*). Still, I don't want to read too much into Michael's choice to do that song, especially since he said the Crystal recommended it to him. Last week, I thought Michael's "Eleanor Rigby" was very good, almost great (he did go over the top at the end). I thought his changes to the original were very creative and interesting. I couldn't believe he was dead last in the vote.
  5. Tim Urban ("Can't Help Falling in Love") - Nice voice. There were a few places where I think he should have used his strong voice rather than quiet voice, but he showed real talent. It's a shame he was cursed with a face that makes him look confused or dull at times, even when he apparently isn't. He has been improving, which is making VFTW look even more pointless. I understand why they did, but they would be a bit more credible today if they had gone with Andrew Garcia or Aaron Kelly. Not that I want them to look more credible, mind you.
  6. Casey James ("Lawdy Miss Clawdy" by Lloyd Price) - Good, but not exceptional. He needs to watch his vibrato as he's going to start sounding like a goat if he's not careful.
  7. Katie Stevens ("Baby, What You Want Me to Do") - I'm always a bit ambivalent about Katie. The song lyrics were too mature for her, in my opinion. Her voice was great, as usual, but I've always been a bit bothered by her appearance. I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but she looks like a very spoiled girl. In her interviews, she doesn't come across as egotistical, though. And, I can't deny her voice.

(*) In retrospect, the "child needs a helping hand" meme in 1960s was a driving force behind welfare. That has translated into government institutionalized single-parent motherhood with built-in disincentives to have a two-parent household or to escape the ghetto. This "helping hand" only feeds the cycle, which is ironic since Mac Davis originally titled the song "The Vicious Circle". The best thing the politicians did in that era was to end Jim Crow, which was government institutionalized racism, but they should have left things at that.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Shades of Red

Warren Meyer points out how Obama fits the mold of a "Corporatist" more than a Socialist. I've also seen people describe him as a Mussolini-style Fascist.

Of course, the media marginalizes anyone who uses such terms (while stupidly lumping libertarians and anarcho-capitalists into the "far right-wing" category, along with neo-Nazis and skinheads, when they are as different as can be).

The term "collectivist" nicely ties the -isms with which to describe Obama into a simple category. Unfortunately, the average person is unfamiliar with the term, and doesn't think much beyond the arcane, useless 1-dimensional left-right continuum.

Entertainment Notes

I haven't been taking the time to make any comments on American Idol here for weeks. I've been disappointed that the women keep getting cut. Previously, I'd predicted the opposite. Of course, the women have had a few flops. Tim Urban should have been cut early, but he's a VTFW pick (these are the people who kept Sanjaya in the competition). Funny enough, he's improved the past few weeks--not enough to win, but not horrible enough to give the worsters much satisfaction. The whole concept behind Vote for the Worst is halfway funny, but also pretty lame. Sure, it's fun to make fun of things, but at some point, if you're obligated to put something down all the time, it wears thin, like the Addams Family, where everything was supposed to be like opposite day. The maturity level is pretty low when the best they can do is talk about Kara DioGuardi, a grown woman, having lots of sex. What are they, 12?

Despite the corniness of the show, I still like Richard Nikoley's description of American Idol as an example of the American Dream.

At this point, I like Siobhan Magnus and Crystal Bowersox the best. I think Michael Lynche deserved another chance. He's better than many of the others, and I wish he'd improve his song choice and arrangements to be sharper.

I saw How to Train Your Dragon (in 2D, we got the showtimes mixed up). [update: That was a happy mistake, as I doubt a 3 year old would put up with wearing glasses for 2 hours] It's quite entertaining, a good children's movie. But we also learned that it's much too long for our 3 year old granddaughter. She managed to entertain and annoy the audience the last 10 minutes, playing keep-away-from-grandpa under the movie screen, until I could corral her off to the side, out of view. Otherwise, the movie was enjoyable for me.

After hearing so much about the movie Precious, my wife and I rented it. We almost let our daughter see it, but she wasn't interested. [update: FWIW, I mistakenly thought it was PG-13, not R. Another happy accident that my daughter didn't want to see it.] I would not recommend the movie, unless you like sad stories. Definitely don't let your children watch it, as it is very disturbing and very explicit. I wonder why such movies get such critical acclaim. Sure, the acting was convincing, but damn.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Google Docs

Google offers a cloud-computing version of (Open)Office. Create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and forms. Export them to MS Office or OpenOffice format.