07 December 2009

Favorite Cuts of 2009

We're near the end of the year and all the obligatory "best of" lists have begun to emerge, so I figured now was as good a time as any to compile my personal favorites list.  I've whittled down my list to thirteen tracks, and while I was hoping to pare it down to ten, I'm content that this list clocks in at 48:08, less than last year's 54:34 run time.  The playlist is sequenced for listening, and does not reflect any kind of ranking of the songs.
"American Girl," Taylor Swift - A Rhapsody exclusive, '09 was Swift's year.  I heard a lot of her music hanging out with my cousin, I followed Swift on Twitter and her cover of this Tom Petty song reflects a growing maturity to her voice and phrasing sensibilities.
"Johnny Cash Is Dead (And His House Burned Down," Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers - Yeah, Johnny Cash tribute songs are now a dime a dozen, but this one hails from a longtime touring partner and friend of the Man in Black's.  It's set to the tune of Cash's "Big River," and its message is as simple as it is humble: "there'll never be another Johnny Cash."
"Who Will Comfort Me," Melody Gardot - Gardot continues to record sultry, forlorn jazz that simply smolders with sensuality.  Every time I hear her voice, time slows down.
"The Touch - Sam's Theme," Stan Bush - A radical remake of Bush's iconic '80s recording, this time as an uncredited  collaboration with Linkin Park.  It was intended for inclusion in this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but was passed over by director Michael Bay.  At first I hated the new arrangement, and the newly added Linkin Park hip-hop segments still haven't quite grown on me, but I've come to appreciate this new take on an old favorite.
"I Told You So," Carrie Underwood featuring Randy Travis - Speaking of new versions of old favorites, I was thrilled when I learned that Underwood had covered this gem of Travis's on her sophomore album.  Retroactively adding his vocals was icing on the cake, and it's interesting to hear a song I'd always thought of as the interior monologue of one person presented as a dual monologue between two former lovers.
"Easy as You Go," George Strait - A young couple get hot and heavy, and then have an unintended pregnancy complete with family drama.  Sounds pretty rote, except it's in the hands of George Strait, whose discography to date has generally shied away from any social controversies.  In the song, the characters don't get an abortion, but they don't have an easy time of it, either.  Strait's narration refrains from passing judgment or holding up the couple as martyrs; he simply relates their tale, while somehow making it feel reassuring.
"I'm Movin' On," Rosanne Cash - From Cash's The List album, a collection of old school covers.  This old Hank Snow song has been covered countless times, but it has never been sexy until now.  Cash's vocals are mesmerizing, and it's easy to forget this was once a trucker song.
"Cousin Randy," Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears - From the Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears EP, this is one of the most unique cuts I've heard in a long while.  It tells the story of Black Joe's cousin, Randy, whom he believes to be possessed by the devil.  It's got all the feel of an early blues parable, but it's thoroughly modern...and funny as hell.
"Wild One," Those Darlins - This was including in one of the numerous free samplers I downloaded from iTunes this year, and when I heard it I couldn't believe it was a new recording.  It oozes early 70's country, which isn't typically a sound I even like--and yet there's such a charming enthusiasm from Those Darlins that makes this one of the most infectious songs I've heard in a long while.
"Take My Drunk Ass Home (demo)," Luke Bryan - From Bryan's Spring Break with All My Friends digital EP, this is one of those songs that is easy to relate to, fun to hear and even more fun to sing along with.  I miss my drinkin' days every now and again, and it's fun to relive them vicariously through the safety of a three-minute long song.
"The House That Built Me," Miranda Lambert - This is one of those songs that is so simple in its concept that it doesn't seem right that it is also so profound.  Lambert returns to her childhood home, now owned by people she's never met, and takes a tour, narrating the physical artifacts left behind--and more importantly, those left within her.  This is my favorite song on an excellent album, and may be my favorite of the entire year.
"Lullaby," Honeyhoney - Yes, Brahms's "Lullaby" performed by the indie rockers that gave us "Little Toy Gun" and "Black Crows."  Suzanne Santo's vocals are full of twang and range, and yet somehow fit the soothing melody perfectly.
"Married Life," Michael Giacchino - From Pixar's Up, this is the music played throughout the emotional montage that opens the film.  Not since John Williams's "Journey to the Island" in Jurassic Park have I been so impacted by the perfect marriage of music and image in a film, and that was just cool--this was heart-wrenching, and Giacchino's score expertly navigates the delicate nuances without becoming schmaltzy or bombastic.

iTunes - November 2009

141 songs, 12:47:25 total time for November, down by more than 50% from October.  I'm a week late posting this, but anyway here it is.  If not for a fifth play of "The Touch - Sam's Theme" by Stan Bush (a 2009 version of the iconic song produced in collaboration with Linkin Park to coincide with this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), the most played music in my library in November would have been Norah Jones's fourth album, The Fall.  There were a handful of things with a couple plays each, but most of November was dedicated to podcasts.  Chief among these was Stuff You Missed in History Class from HowStuffWorks.com, which I wholeheartedly endorse.

  • "The Touch - Sam's Theme," Stan Bush (5)
  • The Fall, Norah Jones (4)
  • "Cowboy Casanova," Carrie Underwood (3)
  • Three songs from Classical Music from Ingmar Bergman Movies (2)*
  • "Independence," The Blue Van (2)
  • "Sea of Heartbreak," Rosanne Cash featuring Bruce Springsteen (2)
  • "Crystal Blue Persuasion," Tommy James and the Shondells (2)
  • "California," Miranda Lambert (2)
  • "Spiderwebs," No Doubt (2)
  • "Hanuman," Rodrigo Y Gabriela (2)
  • Selections, Sarah Chang (2)
  • "The Way You Look Tonight," Frank Sinatra (2)

*Three tracks were available from Amazon free of charge.  I have yet to pay to download any of the rest of the compilation.

25 November 2009

"Between the Bridge and the River" by Craig Ferguson

Between the Bridge and the River
Craig Ferguson
Date of Publication: 15 March 2007
Cover Price: $13.95
329 Pages
ISBN: 0-8118-5819-7

Fraser, a Scottish TV evangelist, leaves for America ahead of a career-destroying scandal.  George, an estranged friend of his from childhood, is dying.  Leon and Saul are transient brothers, trading on the former's charisma and talent and the latter's conniving to break into Hollywood.  Uniting them are a series of events, the full meaning of which is only revealed to the reader.

First-time author Ferguson weaves a fascinating tale of what he calls, "unexpected redemption."  The pace of the novel is brisk, helped along by the brevity of the chapters (some are a mere two pages).  In fact, at times it feels more like a collection of vignettes than a traditional novel; one can easily see Ferguson dashing off a chapter here or there, as his schedule and inspiration permitted.  Given the philosophical and emotional density of some of the passages, it's actually nice to be able to turn the page and find a conveniently placed stopping point.

There are some distractions throughout; Ferguson replaces real-life names of entertainment people and businesses with fictitious knock-offs (for obvious reasons).  It might be impractical to cast either Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts in the novel, but the fictitious name Meg Roberts (an "America's sweetheart" type actress) is a bit of a speed bump in the middle of this story.  In fact, I found myself frequently wishing to get through the passages devoted to Leon and Saul and return to those relating to George and Fraser.  George's self-examination in light of impending death (and his unexpected affair with the alluring and captivating French Claudette) touches on one of the most important themes of them all: potential.  Fraser, meanwhile, has his own epic story (including a recurring dream in which Carl Jung appears to him to analyze what's going on with him).  In many ways, Fraser's story recalls Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and that's never a bad thing.

13 November 2009

"The Psychologist's Book of Self- Tests" by Louis Janda, Ph.D.

The Psychologist's Book of Self-Tests: 25 Love, Sex, Intelligence, Career & Personality Tests - Developed by Professionals toe Reveal the Real You
Louis Janda, Ph.D.
Date of Publication: 1 July 1996
Cover Price: $13.95
230 Pages

I have owned this book for twelve years; it was one of my sign-up selections when I joined Quality Paperback Club (the first time).  As I recall, I needed a seventh title, and this seemed as interesting as half of the other contenders for the spot.  And so it came in the mail and promptly began its decade-plus role of collecting dust that would otherwise have marred my book shelf.

Unlike other books reviewed by me for this blog, this one is somewhat interactive; I actually took twenty-four of the twenty-five tests.  (I passed on "How Do You Love Your Partner?" which seemed too-Cosmo for my taste.)  Anyway, I found that most of the tests re-affirmed things I've always known or been told about myself.  For instance, I placed very highly on the Experience Seeking subset of the Sensation-Seeking test, while placing very low on the Thrill and Adventure Seeking subset.  I have little attraction to things that could be dangerous, yet will quickly volunteer for something novel from which I suspect I might earn an entertaining anecdote.

My favorite anecdote from having taken these tests concerns the very first test, "How Intelligent Are You?"  There are fifty-four questions, and scoring forty-five or higher places one in the "Gifted" percentile.  When I checked my answers, I discovered that I had correctly answered forty-four questions, one shy of the "Gifted" label.  I also discovered that I had, inadvertently, outright skipped question 25, which, upon review, I would have answered correctly.  If you give me credit for that one that I passed over for some reason, then perhaps I have a claim on the "Gifted" label; I, however, accept that my having failed to even see the question constitutes evidence that I'm not a passable borderline case.

These tests are largely taken from various psychologists; Janda himself only claims credit for one of the tests (and he explains that part of the impetus for this was that he was not given permission to use the test he wanted to include).  Janda follows each test with a cursory explanation of its objectives, and the general implications for people who scored at the high and low ends of the results scale.  One thing I appreciated was Janda's honesty in questioning the significance of a few tests.  For instance, the test, "How Rational Is Your View of the World?" he suggests is reflective of a "philosophy," rather than "science," and that it is perhaps less relevant to the theme of the collection than some of the other, more empiric, tests.  (This test might stand out to me, as I bombed it--scoring a 14, placing me well in the lowest category; the only test on which I surprised myself.)

Tests such as these aren't for everyone.  My own wife balks at the very existence of such things, and will not listen to anything I have had to report about my own results--even when they support things she has insisted are true about me!  I suggest that anyone seeking to take these (or similar) tests do so 1) privately and 2) with the understanding that they are merely introductions to various aspects of ourselves.  Janda regularly offers encouragement for improvement in areas in which we do not place well, and just as regularly cautions against being too proud of a low or high score.

If I had one chief complaint (other than the sometimes obnoxious self-scoring system, what with its reverse-scored questions and all), it is that Janda's explanations are too simple.  Referrals to further reading, or more descriptions concerning the included tests, their origins and those of their creators, would help sheath the tests in a veneer of professionalism.  As it stands, this book is accessible to people with little familiarity with psychology but not particularly rewarding for those who have subsequent questions.

My Results
The General Mental Abilities Test -44, placing me in the 85th percentile; a 45 or higher is "gifted"
The Fear of Success Scale - 14, placing me deep into the 85th percentile (10 or higher)
The Assertive Job-Hunting Survey - 57, placing me well within the 15th percentile (90 or lower)
The Impostor Phenomenon Scale - 72, placing me ridiculously high in the 85th percentile (37 or higher)
The Test-Wiseness Test - 29, placing me in the 85th percentile (28 or higher)
The Self-Esteem Inventory - 22, placing me lowly in the 15th percentile (33 or lower)

The Internality, Chance, and Powerful Others Scale

  • Internality - 33, placing me in the middle of the 50th percentile (32-34)
  • Powerful Others - 33, placing me highly in the 85th percentile (25 or higher)
  • Chance - 30, placing me highly in the 85th percentile (23 or higher)

The Rational Behavior Inventory - 14, in the 15th percentile (22 or lower); the only test with which I strongly disagreed

Sensation-Seeking Scale, Form V

  • Thrill and Adventure Seeking - 6, in the 15th percentile (6 or lower)
  • Experience Seeking - 7, in the 85th percentile (7 or higher)
  • Disinhibition - 5, in the 30th percentile (5)
  • Boredom Susceptibility - 5, in the 70th percentile (5)
  • Total - 23, in the 50th percentile (23-25)

The Existential Anxiety Scale - 10, in the 85th percentile (10 or higher)

The Social Interaction Self-Statement Test

  • Positive Thoughts - 48, placing me in the 50th percentile (47-50)
  • Negative Thoughts - 46, placing me in the 50th percentile (44-48)

The Rathus Assertiveness Scale - 5, placing me in the 50th percentile (0-14)

The Interpersonal Dependency Inventory

  • Emotional Reliance on Others - 31, in the 15th percentile (30-34)
  • Lack of Social Self-Confidence - 40, in the 85th percentile (36 or higher)
  • Autonomy - 42, in the 85th percentile (35 or higher)

The Competitive-Cooperative Attitude Scale - 62, in the 30th percentile (60-67)
The Argumentativeness Scale - 15, in the 85th percentile (15 or higher)
The Triangular Love Scale - did not take
Intimacy Attitude Scale, Revised - 163, in the 30th percentile (161-171)
The Romanticism Scale - 89, in the 50th percentile (86-92)
The Self-Report Jealousy Scale - 31, in the 15th percentile (58 or lower)
Positive Feelings Questionnaire - 112, in the 70th percentile (107-112)
The Sexual Knowledge Test - 21, in the 50th percentile (19-21)

The Sexual Attitudes Scale

  • Permissiveness - 64, in the 50th percentile (60-72)
  • Sexual Practices - 35, in the 85th percentile (35 or higher)
  • Communion - 41, in the 70th percentile (41-44)
  • Instrumentality - 12, in the 15th percentile (9-12)

The Sexual Anxiety Inventory - 14, in the 85th percentile (14 or higher)
The Sensuality Scale - 25, in the 50th percentile (23-25)
The Relationship Assessment Scale - 35, in the 85th percentile (35 or higher)

07 November 2009

The Strength of the Republic

We've become cynical about politics in our country.  Some would have us believe that this happened when Bill Clinton took office; others trace it to the aftermath of the Nixon Administration.  I think it's worth noting that cynicism toward politics played no small role in shaping our nascent federal government, dating to the Articles of Confederation.  We as Americans have a nearly-contradictory view toward our government; on one hand, it is a symbol of our collective might and greatness; on the other hand, it is a frustrating institution seemingly devoid of any ability to function productively.  I spent much of today watching C-SPAN's coverage of the House of Representatives as it deliberates and votes on HR 3962.  Here are some observations:

I was astounded at how refreshing it was to follow the activities without the filter of shouting analysts.  Even the most partial media coverage would insist on characterizing the discourse in the context of viewing politics as some kind of competitive sport.  We too easily accept the "Democrats vs. Republicans" billing, looking to count votes and see who can overcome a filibuster.  We talk about bills as "victories" or "defeats" for either party, and seek to identify every resolution as an indictment of the sitting president (whomever that may be) and his agenda.  Stripping away that tally-keeping leaves us with the actual procedures of our legislative branch.

We have a sense that we vote for people who go to represent us, and then believe that they are forced to abandon any principles upon which they campaigned in order to keep themselves fat.  Today, I listened to a variety of Representatives endorse or slam HR 3962 and while it is fairly easy to identify those whose resumes were built on bombastic language, it is not so easy to say that any one perspective was somehow wrong-headed.  I listened to Republicans who complained that ideas of theirs that they genuinely feel would contribute to help reign in our out-of-control health care system have been excluded from the legislation.  Chief among these is the notion that allowing patients to purchase out-of-state health insurance would take advantage of market principles and help promote, through competition, patient-friendlier pricing.  I have to say, that part makes sense to me and I would urge further legislation to explore this idea.

The public expresses indignation at the disagreements that erupt in our nation's capitol.  We tire of hearing our duly elected officials "squabble" when they should be "doing their jobs."  Well, guess what?  Their job is to squabble.  Contrary to popular belief, we do not enjoy a democracy in the United States; ours is a republic.  Were we to have a true, complete democracy, every franchised citizen would cast a ballot on every piece of legislation.  We don't have the time to dedicate to such an effort; this is why we elect officials to represent us in government.  All you have to do to realize the enormity of their thankless job is to consider the vitriolic rancor that has dominated this singular issue.  Older Americans feel threatened by an increasing trend that panders to the lazy; younger Americans rail against the heartless, survival-of-the-fittest opposition to what they see as the best hope to improve the quality of life for too many of us.

Of course their representatives should voice these concerns; that's their job.  It's tempting to characterize any politician whose vote we dislike as "pandering" to "special interests."  We would do well to remember that even those who speak on behalf of undesirable portions of our society (be they corporate executives or convicted felons) do so to see that our collective voices are heard.  Even when I hear an objection that the government has no place interfering with the "special" relationship between a mother and her child's physician in determining the proper course of treatment for her offspring, I have to admire the dedication to which that Representative has gone to ensure that those who hold that view and fear go acknowledged.  (I would ask them just what insurance companies they've dealt with so far that have so painlessly accommodated all the required tests and treatments that their pediatrician might feel relevant.)

Ultimately, I do not believe that this legislation begins to end the issues facing our health care situation as a society going forward.  There are numerous issues not addressed, and unforeseen issues that have yet to arise, that will need to be solved.  We would do well to bear that in mind, and regardless of the problems that remain--or arise later--that this legislation went through the proper channels.  I, for one, actually found today's discussion encouraging.  Under all the theatrics and the repetitious bumper sticker slogans, these men and women did what we asked them to do: address our issues, and ensure that our disagreeing voices are heard.  It's a shame that too many of us choose not to listen to them work so dedicatedly on behalf of us...and the rest of us.

02 November 2009

Thoughts on the Healthcare Debate, Part II

Note: The following blog entry originally appeared as a thread post on dvdtalk.com.  I have expanded the introduction for this presentation.

Tonight, I entered the discussion on DVD Talk's sub-forum concerning our national healthcare debate.  It was already in its fifth part, sprawled across nearly twenty pages and including hundreds of posts.  Here is what I posted, and I look forward to any meaningful, thoughtful remarks.  I identify as a classic liberal, in the sense that I embrace questioning our government.  I like checks and balances on anyone in power, and I believe that where the government has the legal authority to act on behalf of the public, it has a moral obligation to do so--unless there is clear evidence that not acting will yield preferable results.

I'm assuming that most of the debate here has been like it has been everywhere else; "Public option is evil" vs. "Public option is the only thing that will save mankind." I think it's a worthwhile place to start, but there are far more relevant issues for our healthcare situation I haven't heard addressed much at all that I'd like to throw out there.

We're really just debating whose money is going to foot whose bills. Yes, the money is a major part of it, but I can't help but feel it's getting too much attention. For instance, when I was a kid in the 1980s, we had one kid in the entire school with asthma. I distinctly recall class coming to a complete halt for his occasional attacks, and I personally witnessed an ambulance being summoned for him once. It was a very alarming, disturbing thing and it always introduced a very specific discomfort into the classroom atmosphere to have him around.

Today, of course, kids without a respirator could very likely borrow one from a classmate in case of an emergency and their classmates would not be rattled, or even impressed, the way we were because they're entirely more familiar with such incidents.

I remember it was in the 1990s the first time I ever heard of anyone having a food allergy. I thought it was a joke, or at least an exaggeration. I mean, seriously; allergic to peanuts? That meant you couldn't eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and that was simply a violation of all that was decent. And then I came to be aware of just how many children born in just the last decade or so who have not one, but often multiple such inabilities to safely ingest--or even contact--some of the most basic foods in our society. My wife's stepfather and his son have a deathly allergy to chicken, for instance.

Something is going on there, and we need to start doing something about it. I know the popular belief is that our industrialization has so tampered with our environment that our bodies are no longer surrounded by a healthy natural world, and that our food supply is therefore altered from what it once was. To at least some extent, this is certainly true. I remember when I was a kid, again, in the 1980s, and when I poured a glass of milk, I got bubbles. Somewhere along the line, as corporate farms pumped their cows full of more and more things, the bubbles disappeared. I'd forgotten entirely about bubbles in my milk until one day in the 90s, my mom bought a half-gallon of organic milk and when I poured it, voila! Bubbles.

These are simple examples, but I think they're universally recognizable ones. This isn't about red states, "Obamacare" or anyone's agenda. This is about seeing what's right there in front of us and admitting that by any measuring stick, things have gone very far from where they were even just a short while ago. So long as our children continue to emerge less and less healthy, we can continue this healthcare debate to only escalate--in cost, in urgency and in scale.

I have Crohn's disease and was diagnosed at a time when I was uninsured. I've come to greatly appreciate what limited use I've gotten out of the handful of pharmaceuticals that address my digestive woes, so I bear that in mind when I hear about pharma-profits. Research and development of the kinds of specialized things that help folks like me cost money. Proctor & Gamble manufactures one of the 5 ASA drugs, Asacol, that is a staple of treatment for many Crohnies. They were kind enough to provide my prescription to me free of charge  (roughly worth about $150 a month, I believe) because of my low income. It was only effective for me for about a year, but that was a year in which I was mostly under control and their generosity made it possible for me to take the medicine on a daily basis, instead of having to choose between filling a prescription or paying a particular bill.

I've tried to return the favor, in the little way I can, by favoring their products over those of their competitors when shopping, even now (two years after I last took Asacol). I think it's important to note this partly to demonstrate that even the lucrative pharmaceutical companies do find ways of being helpful and accessible to needier patients, and to point out that this is just one example of how such a corporation managed to not only do so while continuing to post great earnings, but earned a loyal consumer in the process. I couldn't easily afford Asacol, but I can easily afford their toothpaste and other items. I'm sure there's a tax incentive somewhere for them, but otherwise the government had little to do with this situation. I think my fellow liberals have lost sight of some of the genuine cooperation within the industry, just as I think too many conservatives have mistaken their own personal fortunes for a sign that other people's problems are entirely of their own doing and that they shouldn't come asking for help after the fact. Medical science can't even answer the question of how a patient develops Crohn's disease, and the leading theories all point to genes and nothing within the power of any particular person to alter through choice or behavior. Simply put, there's nothing I could have done differently, and Crohn's disease--despite how loathsome I get over it at times--is hardly the worst of such chronic conditions. Even now as you read this, I'm sure you personally know someone who would roll their eyes at me even bothering to complain about it.

Ultimately, I think what I'm trying to say is that those of us who have characterized this debate as a matter of counting senators and money estimates have missed the forest for the trees. There are reasons that our healthcare costs have exploded, and they're not all due to the baby boomers reaching their golden years or greedy executives. There are things that we've done to our world and ourselves that have put us here, and these are the things that we need to be addressing. Perhaps those companies dumping God-knows-what into the rivers did more damage than we'd realized; maybe hormones for animals are worse than the F.D.A. thought. I don't know what the scope of such an investigation even should be, but I do know that I am disappointed, and at times outraged, that I've heard no meaningful effort to even begin its undertaking.

01 November 2009

iTunes - October 2009

330 songs, 23:24:44 total time for October, certainly up from the last two months.  Far and away, the most played selections were the six songs in the Spa Moments Sampler, which I played on twelve separate occasions.  (It's very relaxing, and a godsend for someone like myself who regularly needs to be coaxed into sleep.)  After those songs, eight of the ten songs from Melody Gardot's Worrisome Heart were played three times apiece (the other two songs only had two plays apiece, for reasons I cannot now provide).  I also played The Best of the Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe, a free digital album from Amazon, twice, along with a handful of other songs.  Otherwise, the majority of my October plays were one-time only.

  1. Spa Moments Sampler Playlist, David Huff & Mark Baldwin [free digital sampler] (12)
  2. Worrisome Heart (tracks 1-8), Melody Gardot (3)
  3. The Best of the Most Relaxing Classical Music in the Universe [free digital sampler], Various Artists (2)
  4. Jazz at Newport Playlist [free digital sampler], Various Artists (2)
  5. Worrisome Heart (tracks 9-10), Melody Gardot (2)
Albums played once in October: American Recordings by Johnny Cash, Sarah Chang: Selections Digital Sampler by Sarah Chang, Johnny Cash Is Dead and His House Burned Down [single] by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Pieces of You by Jewel, Come Away with Me, Deep Cuts [EP], Not Too Late by Norah Jones, I Love the 80s (1880s) by Various Artists, Working on a Dream by Bruce Springsteen and 127 Rose Avenue by Hank Williams, Jr.

October is always a tough month for me to make time for music, because my first priority is to catch as much of the baseball postseason as possible, and the rest of the month is generally dedicated to horror movies.  Most of my October plays were selections of music for bedtime.  I also began bringing my iHome out into the living room periodically, which accounts for some of the increase in music (Springsteen, Hank, Jr. and some George Jones, for instance), though in truth I tended to favor either podcasts (which are not included in these monthly tallies) or leaving the iPod on shuffle (which doesn't add to a song's play count).

30 October 2009

The Gitmo Playlist

Remember when President George H.W. Bush authorized the ousting of Manuel Noriega and they blasted Van Halen's "Panama" (among other songs) to frustrate the dictatorial druglord into surrendering?  Ah, good times.  Well, you may also be aware that the C.I.A. likes to revisit the playbook from time to time and so they've apparently been using music as a weapon in their interrogations of prisoners of war held in Guantanamo Bay.  In response, nearly twenty recording artists/groups have signed a petition asking for the immediate end to this practice.  They want a list of all the songs played, and they want President Barack Obama to close the facility altogether, immediately.

Now, it's not surprising that so many recording artists would object to their music being used in this capacity; many of the petition's signers have built their careers and reputations as being socially-conscious liberals such as Rosanne Cash and Steve Earle.  Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails have learned that their bands's music has been included in the audible assault, and have cried foul.

Of course, the quickest way to find out whose music was played would be for the involved artists not to petition a release-of-information from the involved intelligence agencies, but rather to simply complain to the Recording Industry Association of America and insist on being paid royalties for those public performances of their music.  You might think I'm kidding, and maybe in part I am, but I think there's a kernel of merit to this idea.  The artists can then donate the recovered royalty fees to a charity of their choosing, or what have you.

The danger, I think, in this public pursuit of information is that there is already a morbid fascination with "The Gitmo Playlist."  Our society has increasingly become list-obsessed over the last decade or so, and when we know there's a list to be found, we insist on knowing its contents.  Rosanne Cash should know all about this, since her recently released album is, in fact, titled The List in reference to a list her famous father gave her of one hundred classic folk and country-western songs he felt essential for her to know.  Every interview she's given in promotion of the project has included a discussion of how eager other people are to know the rest of the songs named on the Man in Black's list.

Could we see an iTunes Essentials: Torture at Gitmo playlist emerge from all this?  Even if Apple did not compile the list themselves, there are bound to be iMixes published from any publicly identified songs.  We already know that Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." has been identified as having been part of the selection; how perverse would it be--and contrary to the intent of the involved recording artists--should fans flock to these songs now?

I don't mean to suggest that objecting to this use of their recordings should be dismissed; obviously, these are artists who feel as though their work has been hijacked and perverted in the context of torturing human beings and this bothers them.  To be honest, I find it rather easy to separate the issue of "Don't play this music to harangue prisoners" from the broader issue of the prisoners themselves.  And, personally, I like creative approaches to things so the idea of using music to make people uncomfortable doesn't, on paper, offend me in the least.

I would side with the recording artists in this matter, ultimately because I think there's something personal about crafting a work of art and I can easily see how troubling it would be for the originators of a song to find out it has been co-opted for something to which they object strongly.  It would help, I think, if there was any sense that anything other than humiliation has taken place in Guantanamo Bay in the last seven years.  We've yet to be informed of any meaningful confessions coaxed from anyone housed there; indeed, we're unclear just how many detainees were even enemy combatants in the first place to have anything to confess.  "Panama" earned some infamy for driving Noriega into custody, and so that use of music had a clear objective and result.  This, like the Guantanamo Bay detention program at large, seems to have been more of a meandering exercise in sadism.

28 October 2009

Julian Casablancas and the $90 Solo Debut Album

Don't know who Julian Casablancas is?  How about The Strokes?  Yeah?  Me, neither.  Oh, wait; they're the band on the T-shirt that Shia LaBouef wore in the first Transformers.  Anyway, the guy's releasing a solo debut album (Phrazes for the Young, and when you spell things with a "z" instead of an "s," you know it's cool) on 3 November.  Fans who are super-excited can wait until 18 December and shell out $89.95 for a box set edition.

Wait, what?  $90 for a box set of an album that will barely be a month old, from a guy whose name is unknown to most anyone who isn't already a fan of his band--which has, to date, released a whopping three studio albums?  Yes, and despite the fact I won't be acquiring it at all (it's just not my brand of music), I think it's a great deal.  Why is that?  I'll tell you.

First, there will be a standard CD version with a more common MSRP of $9.98.  Secondly, here's what you get for your $90:

  • A digital download of the album available beginning 3 November
  • The album on CD
  • The album on 180 gram vinyl
  • A second CD containing demo versions and B-sides
  • A DVD featuring solo acoustic performances by Casablancas
  • A 48-page book, autographed by Casablancas
  • A double-sided poster
  • A Cult Records pin

Now, I grant you that this is still a hefty sum of cash and perhaps the inclusion of the same material on three different media (digital download, CD, vinyl) is overkill.  And what isn't mentioned in any of this so far is the fact that the album itself is a mere eight songs (!).  Consider, though, that Amazon has the standard CD at its list price of $9.98 and the vinyl release with a sale price of $21.83 (down from its list price of $22. 98).  That's nearly a third of the cost of the box set.  Granted, once you have your standard CD, you can make your own digital download, but to have it before you have the box set you'd have to buy the standalone CD release, which would ultimately prove superfluous entirely.

So, is a CD of demo versions and B-sides, a DVD of solo acoustic performances, a signed 48-page book, a poster and a pin worth $60?  Not for me, but as I said, I'm not interested anyway.  For a fan, though, I think the answer--irrespective of that fan's financial status, which is likely not promising at the moment--is "yes."  Simply put, I can think of a handful of artists of whom I am enough of a fan that if they were to release a comparable box set, I would be very excited.

Consider that Garth Brooks's last box set, the Walmart-exclusive The Limited Series, carried a retail price of $25.  For that price, you got remastered CD's of Garth's last two full studio albums, one of three randomly included, new packages for 1998's Double Live, a 12-track release of The Lost Sessions (which was released a scant three months later as an expanded, 17-track standalone CD) and a DVD featuring not a concert performance, but an interview with Garth featuring a slideshow of photographs from his career playing against a soundtrack of his hits.  That's a lot of redundancy for $25.  In fact, most fans were better off just skipping the box set entirely and purchasing the aforementioned single CD release of The Lost Sessions, which was a greater supplement to their Garth library.

But, wait, aren't you saying that this other guy's eight-song solo debut is worth a $90 release, but Garth's 63-song box set wasn't worth $25?  Yes, I am and the reason is that the only new material to be found in Garth's box set was quickly released by itself...with more material.  Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Garth had instead packaged The Lost Sessions similarly to Casablancas's Phrazes for the Young.  That would have seen fans paying $90 for two CD's, including one of demo versions of songs from Garth's career (there really haven't been any B-sides, since he only released singles overseas, and they all but rarely contained album versions of songs); a DVD of Garth performing songs and a signed book, on top of the two media versions of The Lost Sessions (no digital Garth, as discussed in my last blog entry) and the poster and pin.  It would have been uncharacteristically expensive for a Garth Brooks release, absolutely, but I think it might also have been more rewarding than was The Limited Series.

Simply put, the value of a deluxe release is best evaluated by the fan/potential purchaser for himself.  All I'm suggesting is that, while Casablancas won't be getting any of my money, I would like to see this kind of release every now and again from someone in whom I am interested.  Would I buy every such release?  Of course not; even if I could afford to do so (which I can't), it would be hard to remain enthusiastic if every other month saw something like this hit the shelves.  But once a year or so?  Perhaps.

October Horror Movie Challenge

Among other online forums, one of the ones of which I've been a member for a while now is DVD Talk.  This is the fifth year that members have tried to squeeze in as many horror films as possible in the month of October.  Along the way, the challenge has evolved; initially, it was simply to try to hit 100 titles, but now there are a whole host of sub-challenges.  I enjoy participating, but there is one scheduling conflict: the baseball postseason.  Not being a fan of any other sport, I feel compelled to squeeze out every last inning of baseball before it goes into its winter slumber and I'm without the game until April.  Still, my wife and I have tried harder this year than in the past and as of this moment, our total film count is up to 22.  That's almost an average of one a night, which isn't bad given all the distractions and interruptions of our daily lives.

To give you an idea of how this goes, to entice you to join a delightful film-based online community and to get you to participate next year, this year's sub-challenges are:

100 Movies in 31 Days

31 Films Subset
After group discussion, a list of 31 films is compiled.  Each day of the month has one film assigned to it.  This year's dates and films:

10/1 Cube (1997)
10/2 Nightmare Castle (1965)
10/3 Poltergeist (1982)
10/4 The Manitou (1978)
10/5 High Tension (2003)
10/6 The Nanny (1965)
10/7 Vampyr (1932)
10/8 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
10/9 The Signal (2007)
10/10 Baby Blues (2008)
10/11 Cemetery Man (1994)
10/12 Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
10/13 Psycho II (1983)
10/14 Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door (2007)
10/15 Troll 2 (1990)
10/16 Alligator (1980)
10/17 Let the Right One In (2008)
10/18 Zombieland (2009)
10/19 Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told (1968)
10/20 Dawn of the Dead (1974)
10/21 Dawn of the Dead (2004)
10/22 Ravenous (1999)
10/23 End of the Line (2007)
10/24 Prince of Darkness (1987)
10/25 Paranormal Activity (2007)*
10/26 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
10/27 Phantasm II (1988)
10/28 Final Destination (2000)
10/29 Shaun of the Dead (2004)
10/30 Trick 'r Treat (2008)
10/31 Halloween (1978)

*Paranormal Activity is, in fact, the same movie that has just recently had a national wide-release; it was made a few years ago and has been on the festival circuit.

Theme Nights
Perhaps you don't want to be pinned down to a specific film each night, but still want some guidance.  Well, here is a specific theme, and you get to make your own selection.

10/1 "You Put a Spell on Me!": Witches & Warlocks
10/2 Pick Your Favorite Director
10/3 "They're Here!": Supernatural/Haunted Houses
10/4 "Full Moon Mania!": Werewolves (Lycanthropes)
10/5 "Science Gone Horribly Wrong!": Sci-Fi Horror
10/6 Universal Monsters (can be any studio's interpretation)
10/7 "Shockumentary!": Horror Documentaries
10/8 Pick Your Favorite Horror Icon
10/9 "To the eXtReMe!": Splatter/Gore/Shock/"Torture Porn"
10/10 "Asian Buffet of Terrors!": J-Horror, Korean & Thai
10/11 "Quiet, You!": Silent Cinema
10/12 "Passport to Sheer Terror": European Horror
10/13 "Short Attention Span Theater": Anthology Horror
10/14 "Cuts Like a Knife": Slashers, Serial Killers & Giallos
10/15 "Godzilla! Godzilla!": Creature Features
10/16 "From Beyond the Grave!": Zombies
10/17 "Wanna Play?": Creepy Kids
10/18 "Lovecraftian": Cinema Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
10/19 "Bollywood Frightfest!" Indian Cinema
10/20 "Cinema That Sucks!": Vampires
10/21 "My Brain Hurts!": Horror-Comedy & Campy Horror
10/22 "Inbred Hillbillies from Hell!": Backwoods Horror
10/23 "British Fright Cinema": Hammer, Amicus & Ealing
10/24 "Ouch!": Rape/Revenge
10/25 "I Cast You Out!": Possession/Satanic/Demonic
10/26 "Fog Machine Madness!": Gothic Horror (Italian & Beyond)
10/27 "Where's the Beef?": Cannibalism
10/28 "When Animals Attack!"
10/29 "Fava Beans & Chianti Mindfuck": Psychological Horror
10/30 "Timewarp!": Horror Musicals
10/31 "Smell My Feet!": Takes Place on Halloween

The Expanded Checklist/Bingo Card
A list of various themes to try to hit.  Films can be used for multiple categories, so for instance you could count Dracula as 1) a film from the 1930s, 2) starring Bela Lugosi, 3) is about vampires, 4) is based on a novel and whatever format you saw it on (DVD/TV broadcast/Blu Ray/theatrical screening/etc.) as another entry.  Then, rewatch it with a commentary track for another point!

Watch one film from every decade of film history.
--- 1890 - (insert film title here)
--- 1900 -
--- 1910 -
--- 1920 -
--- 1930 -
--- 1940 -
--- 1950 -
--- 1960 -
--- 1970 -
--- 1980 -
--- 1990 -
--- 2000 -

Watch a film for each rating:
--- Unrated (pre-MPAA) - (insert film title here)
--- G -
--- PG -
--- PG-13 -
--- R -
--- NC-17 -
--- X (not porn; 
several horror films were rated X) -
--- Unrated (post-MPAA) -

Watch films in at least three formats (DVD, BD, HD DVD, Laserdisc, TV, online, UMD, theater, iPod, etc).
--- First format, (insert format), (insert title).
--- Second format, (insert format), (insert title).
--- Third format, (insert format), (insert title).

Watch a film starring:
Bela Lugosi - (insert film title here)
Lon Chaney Sr. -
Boris Karloff -
Lon Chaney Jr. -
Vincent Price -
Peter Cushing -
Christopher Lee -
Robert Englund -
Bruce Campbell -
Jamie Lee Curtis -

Watch films in at least two languages other than English.
--- First language, (insert language), (insert title).
--- Second language, (insert language), (insert title).

Watch a film in each of the following subgenres/types:
--- Vampire - (insert film title here)
--- Frankenstein -
--- Werewolf -
--- Mummy -
--- Invisible Man -
--- Ghost/haunting -
--- Witchcraft/satanic/religious -
--- Zombie -
--- Slasher/psycho/homicidal maniac -
--- Monster/creature feature/Godzilla -
--- Documentary -
--- Musical -
--- Spoof/comedy -
--- Revenge -
--- Killer/evil doll -
--- Killer/evil animal -
--- Killer/evil child -
--- Giallo -
--- J horror -
--- MST3K/rifftrax/CT -
--- film and its remake -
--- based on a video game -
--- based on a novel -
--- directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis or Uwe Boll or Ulli Lommel -
--- won an Academy Award -- any category -
--- silent film -
--- Criterion version film -
--- with commentary -
--- film and at least two of its sequels -
--- anthology film -
--- takes place on a holiday -
--- takes place in space -
--- takes place on or under the sea -
--- animated film -
--- called "Night of ..." -
--- called "Return of ..." -
--- called "Revenge of ..." -
--- called "Attack of ..." -
--- with the words "Living Dead" in the title - 

22 October 2009

President Obama: Most Valuable Player?

Much has already been made of the Nobel committee's decision to award its Peace Prize to President Barack Obama.  You don't need my contribution to the discussion, but I did feel it a worthy subject for the purpose of my blog.  After all, I did name it from the motto of the French Revolution, and so I would be remiss to neglect something of this caliber.

The first question on everyone's mind has been, "What exactly has President Obama done to warrant his receipt of this prestigious award?"  Some feel that it is sort of an investment in his potential to promote peace.  I myself have grappled with this for a while now, until I decided to relate it to the greatest allegory of them all: baseball.

Think of the Nobel Peace Prize as the Most Valuable Player award.  Our international popularity has always been linked directly to that of our president; such is one of the by-products of our head of government also being our head of state.  I don't think I'm telling tales out of school to say that the international community wasn't particularly fond of us during the presidency of Mr. Obama's predecessor.  "Wait a minute," you say.  "The president shouldn't be worried about winning some kind of popularity contest!"

Well, isn't that exactly what a president does?  I mean, that's the very definition of an election: a contest decided by winning over more votes than the opponent.  And, once elected, a president must constantly rally his supporters both in Congress and among the citizenry to see the advancement of his agenda.  When a president fails to convince Congress that the people are with him, his proposals die.

Recall President Reagan bringing his tax reform effort onto live television, hoisting an insurmountably thick hard copy of the federal tax code to demonstrate how out of control the system had become.  He'd already won the election handily, on the promise of restoring our economy and prestige, and yet he still had to plead with the American people to besiege their representatives in the government to ensure that everyone stayed on-board with executing his vision.  So, yes, a president not only should be concerned about winning popularity contests, it's the very essence of his job.

So, now that we've accepted that a president must win popularity contests.  Back to our baseball allegory.  Helping to regain the popularity of our great nation amongst the international community wins Mr. Obama the Rookie of the Year award.  It's a helpful contribution to the team; it's worth recognizing.  But is it MVP material?

The criteria for winning the MVP award, per the ballot (as quoted on Wikipedia):

"There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier. The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:
  1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
  2. Number of games played.
  3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
  4. Former winners are eligible.
  5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.
You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from one to ten. A tenth-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all ten places on your ballot. Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, and that includes pitchers and designated hitters. Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration."

Now, then, let's consider Mr. Obama's prospects for winning the MVP award.  Firstly, his actual value to his team is strong.  Despite the aforementioned favorable international view of the president, his domestic popularity level has fallen since his historic inauguration; but that was to be expected.  Just now, I ran a Google News search for "Obama" and here are the top related search terms that were automatically generated, in order:
  1. obama fox news
  2. obama new york
  3. obama small business
  4. obama birth certificate
  5. obama health care
  6. obama approval rating
  7. obama michael jackson
  8. obama poll
  9. obama iran
  10. obama ghana
For the uninformed, there has been a very public spat between the president and Fox News, vis-a-vis their editorial direction and whether they have passed off blatant anti-Obama opinions as "fair and balanced" news.  Yesterday, the president spoke at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, hence the second item.  During the day, it was announced that, as part of the president's response to public frustration over the highly-paid executives who had pocketed federal bailout money for themselves, that the 2010 payout levels would be slashed by as much as 90 percent.  2009 may have been a year to exploit the chaos, but it's being made clear that President Obama intends to reign in what has been depicted as either an overt attempt at the socialization of industry or some kind of collusion between corporate thieves and their political puppets.  The stock market seems to be awakening from its slumber, and the bailout reign-in should be taken as a sign that, as Mr. Obama promised, things are looking up.

The birth certificate story has long been played-out, and I'm surprised that there are still enough people Googling it to put it in the top ten.  Health care reform has been Mr. Obama's domestic policy priority, bar none, and it is surprising that it should trail the irrelevancy of his birth certificate here in October 2009.  This has been a divisive, controversial issue contested hotly by all involved but there is one thing that cannot be denied: The President said he would tackle this out of the gate, and he has.  It hasn't gone smoothly, but then, he cautioned us that it wouldn't.

Of the remainder of the list, only the last two figure into an MVP discussion.  Then-Senator Obama declared in his 2008 campaign that he would be willing to return to diplomatic efforts with Iran.  To date, those efforts have consisted mostly of publicly traded jabs with the controversially (i.e., illegally) re-elected Iranian president Amadinejad, though a deal is apparently in the works in which Iran will begin exporting the uranium it only recently admitted to having developed.  Also, Mr. Obama has been presented with a bill that would bar companies that deal with Iran from receiving any government contracts.

Currently, many Africans are enduring the same kind of oppression against which the Iranian people railed in June: corrupt, brutal governments.  The president has been criticized for sitting on the sidelines during these conflicts, taking his relative silence to be a sign he is unconcerned by the plight of those in such circumstances.  During the aftermath of the Iranian election, the president noted that he had deliberately avoided making any remarks to avoid any suggestion of U.S. interference.

At what point should the president make a bold statement in defiance of a hostile regime, and when should he allow the internal affairs of another sovereign state to take their own course?  This is possibly the most challenging question posed to any of our chief executives and each has answered it differently.  Mr. Reagan struggled over how to handle the Middle East, certainly, but he was also tormented by how to handle the anti-communist thugs in Latin America with whom he was thrust into a tenuous alliance.  So, too, must Mr. Obama navigate these issues of international elections and human rights debates.

But, then, shouldn't the Nobel Peace Prize be a sign that he has, in fact, successfully finagled his way through at least some of those issues?  To date, he has kept mum throughout the re-election of Amadinejad and canceled a meeting with the Dalai Lama to avoid angering China.  That would seem to be the baseball equivalent of choosing not to play in the All-Star Game and then sitting out a key September game with the division title on the line.  In other words, hardly MVP behavior.

The number of games played, the Dalai Lama aside, has been great; if anything, the president has been criticized for being over-exposed in his television addresses and online presence.  He may not be setting the single-season home run record, but he's definitely a gamer.

"General character, disposition, loyalty and effort?"  Few of the president's opponents are railing against things that he hadn't already made clear he would seek to do as president, and his supporters are quick to point out that he has, in fact, turned out to be the rare politician who has seemingly worked very hard to make good on his campaign promises.  If there is one knock on Mr. Obama, it is that he is so deliberate and stoic at times that it is frustrating to not see him "in action" regularly.  President George W. Bush was clearly more like Star Trek's Captain Kirk-ish, and for fans who like to see their leaders mix it up, it can be frustrating to see a more Picard-ish Obama call a senior staff meeting to mull over his options.  (That's right, I just introduced a geek analogy into our baseball analogy of a political situation.)

To be perfectly honest, I think the fourth MVP criteria opens up the most interesting part of the entire debate, and that is that former winners are eligible.  President Bill Clinton has not won the Nobel Peace Prize, but he should certainly have been a candidate this year.  His Clinton Foundation has worked prolifically to address global issues through the cooperation between influential leaders and corporations, sidestepping the kinds of restraints that tie the hands of a government official.  And let's not forget his skillful negotiation for the release of two journalists arrested in North Korea.

I don't mean to rain on the President's parade, but while I would certainly give him the Rookie of the Year award, it is President Clinton to whom I feel the MVP award should have gone.

15 October 2009

Garth Brooks vs. iTunes

The following is taken from a response I posted to the macrumors.com forum.  In one of Garth Brooks's two (yes, two) press conferences, he insisted that iTunes is "killing" the music industry through its practice of selling songs individually, rather than exclusively as albums.

Well (and this is coming from a fan of Garth's), remember this is the same guy who tried to thwart used CD sales nearly 20 years ago. And, on paper, to an extent, he's right. When an entire album goes platinum, every session player and songwriter is entitled to royalties (the poor collection and distribution of which, is another debate). When fans cherry-pick specific songs, only those players and writers are entitled to royalties.

I side with the artists on one issue, at least. I have grown very tired hearing people look at a CD and declare that "There's only one or two good songs on here." What that really means is, "I've only heard one or two songs on here." Typically, this is because those people only hear what singles are pushed on radio or get exposure online. Many a time, I've bought an album and been disappointed by which album cuts were passed over as singles, and I know I'm not alone in this.

Now, here's the thing I would say to Garth about this. Firstly, as others have noted, digital sales can easily be restricted to entire album purchases. Secondly, while I appreciate his point about how useless radio and iPods would be with no music playing, I would ask him how relevant an artist's work is with no audience to appreciate it. See, it cuts both ways.

I could even understand it if Garth's only concern was piracy, but he seems not to get the value of music portability (carrying an iPod the size of a cassette is much easier than even an album of CD's), or the appeal of customizability. Mix tapes pre-date the digital world anyway, so it seems rather pointless to resist them at this point. Just the other night, I made a playlist in my iTunes library of Garth songs appropriate for an insomniac. And Garth? I bought all the CD's brand new--even double-dipping for both boxed sets. And if you want to get into the nitty gritty, how about including a 12-track version of The Lost Sessions in your second boxed set just three months before issuing a 17-track standalone version?

10 October 2009

2009 Reading Objectives: October Status

Back in February, I set some reading objectives for 2009.  You may recall the post to that effect, but if not here they are:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom series - A friend lent me his old paperback of A Princess of Mars and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Since Pixar is going to be adapting this in a couple of years, it seems prudent to read the source material now.
  • Joe Torre's The Yankee Years - I own and have read his first two books, and so I look forward to reading this one.
  • Books upon which movies I like are based - Sideways by Rex Pickett, Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley and Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler (Eyes Wide Shut was based on this) are at the top of the list, but there are many, many others.
  • Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise comic series - I own the second volume, I Dream of You, and enjoyed it.  It'll be this year's Bone.
  • The Works of Alan Moore - It seems that if a film adaptation of Watchmen can finally come out, the least I can do is read the original comic.  And then, V for VendettaFrom Hell, the DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore collection and the remainder of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  And if I ever read Lost Girls, you can bet I won't be admitting it in this blog.
  • P.G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves" stories - Introduced to me by B.J. Harrison in his outstanding Classic Tales Podcast series, these are absolutely delightful.  Apparently, there was also a British TV series based on these in the 1990s starring Hugh Laurie, and that's at the top of my Netflix rental queue.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories - Because it seems high time I read a standard like these.
  • Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun - It will be bittersweet indeed to read the penultimate Fleming-penned Bond book when I get to my annual allowance of this series.
  • More John le Carre novels.  I last read the masterpiece, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, and am up to The Looking Glass War.
  • Art Spiegelman's Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began - I checked out the first volume from the library last year and was so engrossed by it I read it all in one night.
  • Elie Weisel's Night - because my new aunt lent it to me, thinking I would appreciate it.
  • Peter O'Toole's Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice - I found the first volume for a quarter at Half Price Books and would love to read the second half of this engaging, if dis-organized, autobiography.
  • At least something by David McCullough.  I mean, the guy is pretty much the American historian as far as mass market publications go, anyway.  It seems like my degree won't be final until I've at least read something by the guy.
So far, I've managed to knock off:

Gods of Mars, second in Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Barsoom" series
The Yankee Years by Joe Torre with Tom Verducci
Sideways by Rex Pickett
Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler
Strangers in Paradise: The Collected Edition by Terry Moore
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
The Looking Glass War by John le Carre
Maus: A Survivor's Tale II - And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman

Left to read:
At least something from P.G. Wodehouse's "Jeeves" series
At least something from Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" series
The Man with the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming
Night by Elie Weisel
Loitering with Intent: The Apprentice by Peter O'Toole
At least something by David McCullough

And, if possible, more of Strangers in Paradise and works by Alan Moore.  Not bad, really, since I've got nearly three months to go.