Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Word for the day : w00t

Properly spelled double-yew zero zero tee. We forget sometimes that a language is a dynamic entity.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Deathwatch 2008 - Fernando Lugo

Fernando Lugo (center-right in the photo) is the newly-elected President of Paraguay. He brings hope to an impoverished nation. For the last 61 years, one party (the Colorado Party) has ruled Paraguay; about 2/3 of that time as a repressive right-wing dictatorship under a guy named General Alfredo Stroessner.

Lugo got 41% of the vote. The candidate from the Colorado Party got 31%, and a former Army chief got 22%.

Fernando Lugo's politics are center-left. He's a former Roman Catholic bishop who stepped down from that post so he could run for president. His supporters are the Indians, peasant farmers, and trade unions. He is not a big fan of Cesar Chavez.

The now-unseated Colorado Party has the support the Army, the rich, and every power-broker who's enjoyed 60+ years of corruption.

Lugo is scheduled to officially take office on 15 August. We're laying even money that "the powers that be" don't even allow him to get that far. If he does get sworn in, then we're betting there'll be a coup within a year, and the only question is whether they'll send him into exile or "Allende" him.

Congratulations on making our 2008 Deathwatch List, Fernando Lugo. Best of health and best of luck. You'll need both.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lisa Jackson - Absolute Fear

Title : Absolute Fear (2007; 494 pages)
Author : Lisa Jackson (b. 1952)
Genre : Murder-Thriller
Rating : C

This Month I Read...
A serial killer roams Louisiana, killing men, women, and a few old nuns in ritualistic fashion. Eve Renner gets stalked and shot, and has to deal with the possibility that her jealous beau could be the shooter/stalker.

What's To Like...
The story starts out fast, and continues for 500 pages that way. There's lots of mysterious clues to reason out, and someone gets offed every hundred pages or so to keep you from getting too relaxed. I guarantee you won't figure out who's the Ultimate Evil until the end.

What's Not To Like...
The heroine obviously has a death-wish. There's a psychopathic killer stalking her, and she just can't think of enough reasons to go off to places by herself.

Everyone is amazingly dense here. The killer tattoos 3-digit numbers onto his victims, and no one can figure out what they mean. Hey, it took me two pages to deduce that one.

Finally, there's a slew of unresolved loose-ends left lying about at the end, and one doesn't get the feeling they're there in order to carry over into the sequel. For instance, once our intrepid heroes figure out what the 3-digit numbers stand for, you're still left with a giant "so what?". Are these clever MacGuffins, or just sloppy writing?

And if you don't know what a McGuffin is, click here.

Wait! It's not Murder-Thriller! It's...
Think about where you found this book. Were there Nora Roberts and Danielle Steele books on either side? Maybe that should be telling you something.

Yes, folks. There may be blood, gore, moral outrage, death, and nunocide in this book, but at its core - it's Chick Fic. True love oozes from page to page, and threatens to overshadow the murder-mystery. I guess that's okay if you happen to be a chick, but male readers are hereby forewarned.

To sum up, Absolute Fear is overall an average novel. The unforeseen twists and action-packed chapters are offset by the IQ-challenged characters and the loose ends and MacGuffins. We'll give it a C, keeping in mind that if you like Romantic Thrillers, you might rate this a lot higher.

Monday, April 21, 2008

RIP - John Wheeler

John Archibald Wheeler
born : 09 July 1911
died : 13 April 2008

Okay, I can hear you saying, "Who??" John Wheeler was an important American physicist. "Big deal," you say.

Well, what makes the man memorable is that he popularized the terms black hole and wormhole. Up until him, the concept of a black hole was referred to as a "gravitationally completely collapsed star". Yeah. Try saying that three times fast. When inebriated.

As a time-dimension traveller, I have to admit I've used wormholes once or twice. It is not my preferred mode of transport - the flukey things are always changing termini, and dumping you out into an unknown galaxy.

Black holes are worse. Yes, you can go into them, no problem. And you can also exit them, provided you are acquainted with dimension-travel. But trying to exit them as the same entity as when you went in is a real trick. I once ducked into a black hole in Rigel 9 to take a short-cut to the Yth'hinian Universe, and emerged as a 5-dimensional glob of ectoplasm. Talk about being embarrassed! But that's a story for another time.

Anyway, so long John Wheeler. And thanks for all the fish.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

(Happy) 420 Louis !!

If you're older than 25, you're probably unaware that April 20th is a holiday. You can read the MSNBC article on it here, or read the Wikipedia entry here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

2008 Phoenix Pride Parade

The pics are up. You can access them by using the link here, or by going to or by clicking on "View My Complete Profile" (in the left-hand column) and scrolling down to the bottom.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Billboard Sign for the Week

A quick, but apropos post. I've been going to the gym 3x a week to try to avoid becoming the next poster-child for this billboard. Alas, that cuts into blogging time.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Hairy Back Contest (a)

I've been reminded that I'd promised to post some pics of the "Hairy Back Contest" from when we went to the hockey game. So here we go. Three shirtless "contestants" got to go out on the ice during the first intermission. You'd think we, the crowd, would simply clap for our favorite Hairy Back, but oh no...

Hairy Back Contest (b)

First, each contestant's lady friend got to lather his back with shaving cream.

Hairy Back Contest (c)

Okay, they're all fully lathered - from neck to waist; from love handle to love handle.

Hairy Back Contest (d)

Step Two - the girlfriends now get to toss handfuls of cheese curls at the contestant's backs. One whole bagful per entrant.

Hairy Back Contest (e)

Step Three - the cheerleaders get to count the number of cheese curls on each hairy back. Well, they just kinda sorta guessed at the numbers.

Hairy Back Contest (f)

And here's your winner!! With (an estimated) 85 cheese curls sticking to his shaving cream. What any of this has to do with having a hairy back escapes me, but is was good, cheap fun at your local minor-league hockey game.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Strawbs - Blue Angel

Artist : Strawbs (1964 - present)
Album Title : Blue Angel (2003)
Genre : Prog Rock
Rating : ***** ****½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
The Strawb's heyday was the first half of the 70's, so Blue Angel is 30 years past their prime. It was their first new material in 12 years, and almost all the main Strawbs musicians form the past (with the exception of Rick Wakeman) are present on at least a couple of the tracks. Needless to say, Dave Cousins, the mainstay of this group throughout its history, is the lead-singer and guitar-player here.

What's To Like...
This album hearkens back to the finest days of the Strawbs. The eponymous title track is an 11-minute triptych that will remind you of Ghosts from their 1975 album. The rest of the album is more akin to Deep Cuts (1976) and Burning For You (1977). There is no filler here; the whole album is replete with varied styles and sounds, expert musicianship, dynamic lyrics, and fantastic guitar licks.

For the first time since Sandy Denny sang with them in the 60's, there is a female vocal presence. Welsh-born Mary Hopkin (she of "Those were the days, my friend; we thought they'd never end...") sings accompaniment on about half of the first dozen tracks; and Maddy Prior joins in the chorus on the final cut, "The King". Awesome!

What's Not To Like...
Nothing really. 3 or 4 songs from earlier Strawbs' and Dave Cousins' solo albums are re-worked here; that apparently miffs some folks. Other than that, the worst I can say is that I don't think the Strawbs tour at all anymore. Cousins does some acoustic concerts, but on those rare occasions when he comes to the USA, he seems to confine himself to the Northeast. The odds of me seeing him/them in Arizona are pretty remote.

YouTube Links...
I haven't found any of the tracks from the Blue Angel album available at You Tube, but there are a couple videos featuring their better-known songs. One is "New World" which you can watch here. "Part of the Union" is undoubtedly their biggest hit (in th UK only), and you can hear it here. And "Lay Down", another signature piece, can be heard here. Finally, although it's a non-Strawbs video, you can listen to "Round & Round" here.

Treat Me Kindly, Dear Blue Angel
Deepest Colour of the Night
Be Merciful, Be Gentle
For I Have No Strength to Fight...
I became a Strawbs fan the day in 1972 when I walked into the local record store and found Grave New World, an album with a cool cover, and whose title was a take-off of a book by my favorite author, Aldous Huxley.

The album was quite progressive, quite metaphysical, quite spacey, and quite good. Its cover is posted below. Then in 1974, I found Hero & Heroine, which at least one person (not me, honest.) has described as "the greatest album of all time". That's not far from the truth.

I'm tempted to give Blue Angel a rare 10-star rating, except for one thing - it isn't even in the top-three Strawbs albums of all time. In order, those would be Hero & Heroine, Bursting At The Seams, Ghosts, and Grave New World. Blue Angel checks in at #5, and there's still a couple Strawbs albums I haven't listened to. So we'll stick with 9½-stars, and give this our highest recommendation, provided you can find a copy.

Strawbs - Grave New World

The album cover that started it all. Buying LP's by unknown groups just because the album jakcets are très cool has its risks, but this one was a wonderful discovery.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Lest We Forget...

It was 40 years ago today that the government blew away Dr. Martin Luther King as he stood on his balcony at a Memphis hotel. Anyone who thinks that a lone redneck yahoo could have pulled this off probably believes in the tooth fairy too.

The assassination came one day after King's famous "I've been to the mountaintop" speech, in which he seems hauntingly aware that he is soon to die. Here's the relevant excerpt...

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." (Martin Luther King - 04/03/68)

We pause to remember this tragic event, and wonder when right-wing brownshirts will realize that murder is NOT an acceptable means of voicing one's political opinions.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Eloy - Planets

Artist : Eloy (formed in 1969)
Album Title : Planets (1981)
Genre : Progressive Symphonic Space Rock
YouTube Link : point of no return
Rating : ***** ** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Eloy is a German band with a sound that's a blend of Pink Floyd and Yes. Their last studio album came out in 1998, and they haven't toured since 2003, so they may be defunct now.

Eloy is not named for that famous city in Arizona; instead it's a reference to the race of the Eloi from the book The Time Machine. The Eloi were the primary munchies food of the evil Morlocks.

Planets came out in 1981, which was in the heyday of Eloy. It is a concept album, and was planned to be a double-LP. Unfortunately, the record company decided one disc was enough, so you get half-a-story. The concluding half had to wait for the next LP, A Time To Turn, which came out in 1982.

What's To Like...
Expertly crafted songs and fantastic musicianship. Check out the YouTube link (above) for a song, Point Of No Return, from this album. Cool album covers (the British cover is posted below), and lots of prog music from beginning to end.

What's Not To Like...
Lead singer Frank Bornemann's voice leaves something to be desired, and it's evident from the lyrics that English is not his native tongue.

Although this whole album is good, there's nothing that really jumps out and grabs you. I prefer their 1979 effort, Silent Cries & Mighty Echoes, which is much closer to the Pink Floyd sound.

Yes , as in "Overrated"...
Eloy-Planets is what Yes could've sounded like if they had been able to get rid of their pretentious attitude. I have several Yes LP's, and a couple Rick Wakeman albums as well. None overly impress me. Too much fluff; not enough substance.

Which is a shame, because the concept behind the Yes-sound has always had great potential. It's nice to hear a group like Eloy grabbing that concept, and taking it to another level of proficiency.

But I digress. Planets is a good album, but it's not the best of what Eloy has to offer. If you can ignore the vocals, and concentrate on the music, you'll find this album a treat. Then if you are in need of a Floydian fix, go out and buy Silent Cries & Mighty Echoes.

Eloy - Planets (British cover)

Cool, huh?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A River Runs Through It

Title : A River Runs Through It (1976; 104 (217)pages)
Author : Norman Maclean (1902-1990)
Genre : American Literature
Rating : C-

This Month I Read...
73-year old Norman Maclean's debut novella was an instant hit. A semi-autobiographical (I love that term. It means, "I'm gonna write about my life, but I get to lie at times.") story about the family relationships, primarily between Norman, his dad and his younger brother. The setting is ...erm... fly-fishing. Pure and simple.

Being only 104 pages long, ARRTI is bundled with two other Maclean stories - one about a summer he spent in a logging camp; the other about a year he worked for the US Forest Service.

What's To Like...
Maclean has a nice, poetic style. If you like your storylines heavy on the drama and light on the action, you'll love ARRTI. I don't think anyone before Maclean ever thought to use fly-fishing as a metaphor for life.

Personally, I liked the two "add on" stories better. They have a bit more plot, a bit more action, and (best of all) give a glimpse into what being a logger and a ranger was like 90 years ago. Daily life was a lot different then, and it's enlightening to get insight into it. In that respect, it reminded me a lot of Isaac's Storm, which was reviewed here.

What's Not To Like...
Did I mention it's light on action? In truth, ARRTI is devoid of action.

Plot-wise (PWP), little brother is self-destructive, and the 30-something author can't figure out how to help him. He asks his Dad, he of zero parenting skills, who also has nothing to offer. A lazy bum of a brother-in-law shows up, who at least puts the "fun" back into "dysfunctional" by boinking the town whore and drinking everybody's beer. The Maclean women's sole activity is nagging the Maclean men.

All-in-all, pretty uninspiring stuff. Alternatively, those who loved ARRTI call the book "dark". Oh, the book was made into a movie, starring Robert Redford, and my carpool partner (who has excellent movie tastes) says it's a yawner too.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it...
Judging from other reviews, I am in the minority when it comes to ARRTI. They gush about the poetry, the philosophy, the metaphysics, and the key to life, the universe, and everything else. Here's one example :

(ARRTI is) "detailed descriptions of fly-fishing and nature to engage with a number of profound metaphysical questions". Whoa! Way deep, huh?

El toro poo-poo. Maclean wrote about fly-fishing cuz it's one of the few things he knew something about. Anything can be hyped into being a metaphor for life. For instance, here's a quote from yesterday at, coinciding with the advent of the baseball season :

"Bart Giamatti, the former commisioner of baseball, wrote eloquently about that journey that begins with the batter standing at home, trying first to leave it and then to get back - to be safe once again at home. For him, it was a grand metaphor of life, this circuituous journey that could be fraught with danger and obstacles, that could demand daring and bravery to complete."

Wow! More way deep stuff, eh? IMHO, they're both ridiculous, unless you happen to be a baseball or fly-fishing fanatic.

But I digress. For me ARRTI was a ploddingly slow read, lacking any plot and action, and saved only by the two add-on tales. I must admit it's well-written; now if Maclean could only have thought of some sort of storyline to drape his flowery philosophy around. If you want to see this sort of genre done much better, try The Thin Place, by Kathryn Davis, which we'll review in the near future.