Monday, March 27, 2006

Should read this ...

It's Today's Papers, which rounds up the A sections of the major national papers: NYTimes, LATimes, WSJ, WashPost and USAT. Some amazing stuff in these papers today. We've got the federal government giving away $7 billion to the oil industry (which is smarter than the government); more evidence in the case against the worst President ever sending thousands to their unlawful and morally reprehensible deaths over his lies and delusions; the inevitability of avian flu; more on the immigration debate; frightening, though not surprising, revelations about BigBrother Bureau tracking liberals, er, terrorists, who would dare throw a bottle at a protest; and genetically engineered clone pigs (coming soon chickens and cows!)

Happy Monday.

P.S. if the Sabres don't win today I'm gonna fucking puke in my mouth. All they need to ask themselves is what would Jack Bauer do?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Can't stop the music, and nor would I want to

My mission for March 2006: Finish the March issue of L.A. Youth (of which my students were contributing more than half the stories), put finishing touches on eight-year grad school reunion in Vegas (which I'm planning and happens at the end of this month) and attend five concerts in one month, including three in one week. The best part is that three of these shows were on "school nights" and I'm 30.

Sunday, March 19: The New Pornographers opening for Belle and Sebastian (The Wiltern)
I went to this show with my most frequent and favorite concert buddy (and future King of Comedy David Wright--watch the episode of Malcolm in the Middle he co-wrote, which airs Easter Sunday). At concerts Dave and I are frequent victims of the wedgers--the people who spot the space between two concertgoers and wedge themselves into the gap, however small. Granted, Dave and I often forget to compensate for being in a show and allow outdoor personal space boundaries to apply, hence our frequent victimization. But this night, dammit, I wasn't going to take that.

So we get in just as the New Pornographers take stage. We head toward the front, but stop at the second-section from the stage, to avoid crazy younguns. It's crowded but we find enough space for Lisa, Dave and I to stand essentially single-file three deep. Since we're all of different heights, this worked fine. And more importantly, since we all knew each other (well, I met Lisa that night, but she's a friend of Dave's so it was all good) I stood less than a foot behind Lisa, just to her left (like my head was over her left shoulder). I was at this show to see the New Pornographers, more than Belle and Sebastian, so dammit I was not going to get railroaded out of my spot.

They started with "Twin Cinema," which rocked and I was feeling like this was going to be very smooth. But then we noticed that the couple on our right was really into ... their conversation. Or more accurately at least, she was into talking. Thankfully she would get a couple drinks during the set sparing us from her inane chatter. What was really great about her, and I've been remiss not to mention this yet, is that she talked louder as the music got louder. THAT FUCKING RULED!

Anyway, the New Pornographers sounded amazing, even without the sublimely talented Neko Case (who is out touring in support of her new album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which has been my second-fave album of the year thus far). Kathryn Calder really stepped up vocally and did a great job, far better than I've heard her on previous Neko-free recordings. Even on "The Bleeding Heart Show," which features lots of Neko (including harmonizing with Kathryn) and is my fave song from the album.

Then we were visited by another great concert guest, this time on our left. This was the guy who has to be the center of attention in his group of friends at all costs in all situations. At the New Porn show he decided the best way to accomplish this was to clap loudly, randomly (as in not on the beat) and often. Thankfully, even his girlfriend was annoyed by this and she told him to shut up. His response to this: "I'm the world's loudest clapper." He in fact, was very loud, but given that that was how he responded to his girlfriend's entreaties to shut the fuck up, well, that shows what kind of asshole he was, right?

Had those been the only two bad concergoers, I probably wouldn't have minded that much and perhaps not even blogged about it, but ... then I got a girlfriend. Or at least someone who decided to play one at the concert. This girl was the ultimate wedger. During the show Lisa, Dave and I didn't deviate from our standing pattern, especially as the crowd started to fill in. Well, a group of late-arriving girls decided that they really wanted to watch the NP up close so they started sidling into our section. I decide that DAMMIT I was not going to give ground this time. I even shifted my weight toward my right foot, to steel my resolve against letting them in creep in. Well, somehow (perhaps violating the laws of physics governing spacetime) she managed to squeeze into the 10 inches between Lisa and myself. I was literally breathing into the back of her hair to the point I could see it swaying under the power of my exhales. If I had a girlfriend, I wouldn't want her that close to me at a show. Let alone this skank.

The final funny moment of the show ... after the NP set, Dave and I decide to get a second round of beers. We asked Lisa whether she wanted, but she declined. As were walking back, I tell Dave that I'm done with the second section and am going to find a more airy spot in the back. Lisa, god bless her young soul, is willing to take a dive for the team and joins Dave and I in the back. In the spirit of oldmanedness, I start going off on a rant about how next time we should get tickets that are in the balcony, b/c you get a seat! Dave chimes in to agree and then Lisa disappears. When she returns a few minutes later it's with a beer in hand, b/c we freaked her out with our old man complaints.

finally: Belle and Sebastian were outstanding. They have earned a new fan. Check 'em out. The band is a lot better than the lamo Nickelodeon cartoon.


Thursday March 23: Metric w/ End of Fashion and Islands (Henry Fonda Theater)

Not bad fans, but a really bad band.

Dave and I went to see Metric, a female-fronted quartet from Toronto. Let me get this out of the way now, they're awesome! Like really awesome. Loud, vigorous, but with melody and sex appeal. What else could you want in a band. I highly recommend them, a more enjoyable to actually listen to Sleater-Kinney might be the best way to describe them. But that's not doing them justice. Do yourself a favoe and listen to Monster Hospital (bad pun coming), it's the cure for all that ails ya!

First opener, End of Fashion was good. Nothing spectacular but enjoyable and hurt your ears loud--in a good way. Second loudest band I've ever heard, after Pantera. I won't be buying anything by them, but I'll pimp them a little right here.

But the something-to-write-home-about from this night was the band Islands, which is composed of the detritus The Unicorns. [i refuse to pimp them with a link, sorry Dave.] If you've seen Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise, this might make sense. If the band that the Nerds had formed ever went on to become a real recording act, they would have become Islands. The first thing I noticed about them is that they were all wearing WHITE. However, unlike a band like the Hives which goes all out for the visual style, Islands wasn't selling this well. Everyone had on something different. The clothes didn't fit well for everyone and a couple of them looked kind of embarrassed to be wearing the clothes.

OK, the next thing I noticed ... they had a fucking bass clarinet player. Now, as a former licksticker, I've always wished I had played an instrument that would have allowed me to join a rock band--hell, even saxophone b/c then i could aspire to be the next Clarence Clemons. But i chose an instrument more classically inclined. But here was an alleged rock band with a bass clarinetist, two violinists and mismatched all-white outfits. YIKES. Then they started playing and they weren't in tune very well, rhythmically very loosey goosey, lyrically inaudible or incoherent and oh yeah, they liked to turn their songs into really long jams. DOUBLE FUCKING YIKES!!! So I refuse to devote any more time to these fucking pieces of musical scheit.

Bottom line, go buy a Metric CD and your aggressions will be buffaloed, like the Snake Charmer after Black Mamba buffaloed him.

coda: this show went until 12:40 a.m., Metric played for 90 minutes! awesome, except that I had to work on Friday morning at 9 .m. :( [i wish i knew the emoticon for tired. anyone?]


Saturday March 25, KCRW Sounds Eclectic Evening (fundraiser-festival show at the Gibson Amphitheater)

This show featured a huge bill, as all festivals do: Goldspot, Feist, Sia, Gomez, Ben Harper, Death Cab for Cutie, plus special guests. It was set to start at 7:45 p.m. sharp. Speculation has been running rampant throughout the past few months as everyone tries to figure out who the special guests are. As Dave and I approach the amphitheater we scope out the merch table see Franz Ferdinand shirts. Um, they're not on the bill, I wonder they they're shirts are there? oh yeah, they must be the super-secret, not yet-announced special guests, who were just announced by fucking T-shirts.

Quickie hits:

Goldspot: a local Los Angeles band, that i'd give big thumbs up to. A good, energetic rock sound. won't cure zits, but worth listening to. I intend to buy and hope to see them again some day.

Feist: she's quirky, she's Canadian. She's someone I've heard before and didn't like so much. But I've heard her CD since then and in this live performance she had a band. and my opinions have changed. She was great, except for the mic problems. Her microphone wasn't working well and so her vocals disappeared for a spell and so did her guitar, like mid-song. OUCH. Given that it's a quick-change, rapid-fire festival show. Unfortunate but forgiveable, right?

Sia: She filled in for Lewis Taylor, who cancelled. I had never heard anything of hers except "Breathe Me," which you may know from the series finale of Six Feet Under. It's an amazing song, that plumbs emotional depths without clichés and is absolutely haunting with her voice. She's amazing. BAD FAN ALERT. Somehow the two women in front of us were channeling that first annoying girlfan from the NP show and started to talk and talk and talk, as if they weren't at a concert. And they also talked louder as the music got louder. RIGHT FUCKING ON!!! Thankfully the woman next to me had way more sac than I asked them politely to shut up and they did. YAY! Her music did have a wee bit of sameness, but she's unbelievably talented and has a uniquely powerful voice. Like blows you away that such a haunting voice would come from this sweet looking, funny blonde girl from Australia.

rest coming tomorrow. Well, it's tomorrow ...

Well, now it's time for the first special guest, Britt Daniel from Spoon. Sorry, Mon, but I'm not a Spoon guy so this didn't really mean anything to me, although the guy and dude next to me were ultra excited. He started channeling the bad clapper from the New Pornographers show. But his performance was very strong. He actually can sing and played well. I just don't really know any Spooon stuff, so whatever.

Gomez: Well, it's just the three non-rhythm section members. They're excellent. Very talented, tight musically (Islands could freaking learn), but once again more sound problems. At some point midsong there was a huge feedback explosion. That was awesome. I know public radio is a shoestring op sometimes, but you'd think that they'd hire someone for the sound board, not accept amateur volunteers. I thought we only got to work phones during the pledge drives.

Ben Harper: This is the guy who would qualify as the show-stopper this year. (btw, I'm watching Pee Wee's Big Adventure.) The audience went nuts for him, including a guy who was big and thick, think HS football linebacker body, he was in his mid to late 20s with glasses. He stood, raised his arms in exultation when Harper did, thrust his arms repeatedly toward the stage with pointing fingers and danced like he got his rhythm watching the stoned hippies in the Woodstock movie. But he was into the music, so though I jab at him here, I do it fondly. It's never a bad thing when someone is into music. And Harper was pretty amazing. He was backed by a huge band, with lots of rhythm and percussion. He bounded around the stage and for his finale was joined by Ziggy Marley on a cover of Bob Marley's "War." People have started to leave at this point, not many but a few dozen of the 6,000. Enough to notice a tiny stream of people in the aisles.

Now it's time for Nic Harcourt to come out and announce the special guest, b/c it's getting late and Death Cab will still have to perform. So Nic remarks how despite the rampant rumours of who the guest might be, no one has guessed correctly. (except for Dave and I). When he announces that it's a band that got its U.S. start on KCRW and did its first in-studio performance on KCRW, people start buzzing, but not nearly as much as one would expect (mainly b/c by this point it's obvious most everyone else knows). When he announced Franz Ferdinand people go excited, but not crazy. I mean this is the whitey, westside alt-rock crowd (Obvioulsy that's a broadbrushed overgeneralization) that should jump up and down for the lads from Scotland. But they don't b/c it's not a FUCKING surprise.

Franz Ferdinand: They open with "Do You Want To?" and it's good, but to be frank, it's off. Something's flat in the performance and the audience can tell. They just don't get that into it. Not many people stand (granted not many people do at this show. It's in a carpeted indoor amphitheater in Blade Runner's L.A. with the front row seats going to the station's biggest financial supporters, meaning old people), no one seems to be singing along. But I'd say part of that is because the band's performance is autopilotish. Of course, the sound problems have continued as they have during every band's performance. The sound guy should be canned. And with the exception of "Take Me Out" pretty much every song goes the same. It's all just off. Given that they did a small club show in L.A. a few years ago that's considered one of the best shows in recent Los Angeles club history, I'm disappointed. Don't get me wrong, seeing them was cool and they weren't bad by any stretch, but it just felt like an 85 percent show. Given that I paid like $55 for all these acts, I'm not complaining though.

Once FF finished the place emptied. BigTIME. Like streams were headed for the door and now the HEADLINER, Death Cab for Cutie, was about to take the stage, after some talking and thanking.

Death Cab:
came on and the sound problem thing was really bad. They cannot settle on a level for the bass. It's so bad that during the song, the bassist is signaling to sound techs, after the first song the singer, Ben Gibbard, remarks about it and they delay the start of the second song just to fix things. The best part about this ... it gets worse. It's just uneven. And so for "Soul Meets Body" they turn it up. WAY TOO UP. So much that it literally ruined the song. Two notes sent every chest cavity shaking and drowned out the rest of the band. Yikes!! And people just continue to exodus from the amphitheater, which was a real shame b/c DCFC did a cover of R.E.M.'s "Driver 8" that fucking ruled. One thing I hadn't realized about Seth Cohen's fave band is that they actually really rock it out on some songs. And despite all the people walking out, they are genuinely happy. Like talking to the crowd, talking about how cool KCRW is, thanking the crowd, smiling. It's really cool and I cannot help but feel sad for them that they are playing to an undeserving audience. Also, Gibbard's vocals were a little low, so his strength as a lyricist was sublimated, which hurts, b/c part of DCFC's appeal is the songwriting.

The big problem, dave and i agreed, was that this year's show lacked a true headliner. Last year Coldplay was the headliner and it was on the eve of a highly anticipated new album. So even though you had artists like Café Tacuba, Van Hunt, Nellie McKay, it was clearly a Coldplay show with great openers. But this year, some people were obvioulsy Ben Harper fans and they left after he performed. So an alt-cult band like DCFC just couldn't hold people.

All in all this year's show was like a steady stream of acts playing at an 8 or 8.5, while last year's show was more like a heart attack EKG. Weak acts like Aqualung and Keton Simons balanced out by the amazing Van Hunt, Café Tocuba and second-ever performance of stuff from X&Y.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Um, uh, yeah, um

So I was doing lots of nothing of major import tonight in front of the television, which was displaying the made-for-the-Disney-Channel "High School Musical." I watched most of it. I didn't hate it. If I never have a friend again, I'll understand. In fact, I'd even say Vanessa Anne Hudgens, the female lead, was quite excellent and is a real talent to watch for.

off to have nightmares.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I fucking hate allergies. Without a doubt the worst thing about moving to California has been the allergies. I've barely had them in my life, until I moved out here. Now I keep separate packs of Claritin in my home, car and desk at work. WTF? Or what the fuck for the ignorant, which would include one of my students.

Ironically, he thought I had better morals than to use such a profanity. If he only knew ... right, Eric Keller's dad?

Btw, if I could be anyone, I usually say Derek Jeter, Matt Damon or Tom Brady. My new choice is Neko Case. To be so talented and so individualistic. ahhhhhh

lastly, R.I.P. Edgar Stiles and Tony Almeida. Jack, let not their deaths be in vain.


Friday, March 17, 2006


Hi Machiko!

Go Sabres!

Go Cats!

Staples Center is really fucking huge!

Downtown Los Angeles looks like a real city at night, too bad no one can afford to live there.

Go Cats!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Why I love free speech and why others should, too

I have been really lucky in that I got into a career that allowed me to work a job that I love and do work that I believe in as important to something greater than myself. When I moved to Los Angeles, I had given thought to no longer working as a reporter, but was rather quickly sucked back in. And thankfully I did, because now I get to help students gain an appreciation for the rights guaranteed them by the First Amendment.

Two great salutes to the first amendment. The first is taken from and it originally appeared in the Miami Herald as a list of journalism's accomplishments in 2005:

Miami Herald

* Died in war zones so we can know what was really happening.
* Risked their lives to warn their towns when bad hurricanes were coming.
* Explained how Social Security works and how to fix it.
* Revealed how crooked public servants squandered public money.
Don't rush out to hug a journalist, says Eric Newton. "That would just scare them. It would be enough if, the next time someone is bashing 'the media,' you simply remind the world's self-appointed media critics that good journalism, like good citizenship, still matters."


This one is far less serious, but under our First Amendment just as important.

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A minor league hockey team is spoofing Vice President Dick Cheney.

Dick Cheney's recent hunting mishap with a plan to distribute bright orange hunting vests printed with the words, "Don't Shoot, I'm Human."

The Las Vegas Wranglers plan to distribute 1,000 vests to fans arriving for Friday's game as part of a promotion dubbed "Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night" at the Orleans Arena.

"It was sort of too juicy not to do," said Billy Johnson, Wranglers president and chief operating officer. "It's one of those events in pop culture."

He referred to Cheney accidentally wounding a hunting partner while quail hunting Feb. 11 on a Texas ranch.

Cheney's office in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.

The Wranglers, of the East Coast Hockey League, are scheduled to play the Alaska Aces on Friday. The 7,000-seat arena is at the Orleans hotel-casino.

Perhaps a trip to Vegas is in order?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

One of the few accepted forms of discrimination and something that seems to united Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, et al.

This past January one of the students I worked with at L.A. Youth, the newspaper by and about teens in Los Angeles, died. Following her death, I wrote an e-mail about going to the wake and how much it saddened and bothered me that she was dead--just 17 and so full of life and charm and generosity. I even wrote about my flickering questioning of my atheism. As I saw her lying there and all the dozens of people devastated by her passing, I wondered whether it would be better to believe that something better awaited her--an eternal peace. Later I realized that eternal peace didn't need to await her, b/c in the loving memories of others she had found it.

Following that e-mail, which was sent to like everyone I know, I received some of the most heartfelt and thoughtful replies and also a number of stories of my friends' own experiences with grief/mourning/spirituality. They blew me away.

One friend asked me about my atheism and we exchanged a couple of really good e-mails about religion.

Interestingly, here's something I found recently that speaks for a lot of atheists, I'd say. My comments inserted throughout in blue italics.

This opinion piece about the role of atheism appeared in the NYTimes March 12.

March 12, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor

Defenders of the Faith


FOR centuries, we have been told that without religion we are no more than egotistic animals fighting for our share, our only morality that of a pack of wolves; only religion, it is said, can elevate us to a higher spiritual level. Today, when religion is emerging as the wellspring of murderous violence around the world, assurances that Christian or Muslim or Hindu fundamentalists are only abusing and perverting the noble spiritual messages of their creeds ring increasingly hollow. What about restoring the dignity of atheism, one of Europe's greatest legacies and perhaps our only chance for peace?

More than a century ago, in "The Brothers Karamazov" and other works, Dostoyevsky warned against the dangers of godless moral nihilism, arguing in essence that if God doesn't exist, then everything is permitted. The French philosopher André Glucksmann even applied Dostoyevsky's critique of godless nihilism to 9/11, as the title of his book, "Dostoyevsky in Manhattan," suggests.

This argument couldn't have been more wrong: the lesson of today's terrorism is that if God exists, then everything, including blowing up thousands of innocent bystanders, is permitted — at least to those who claim to act directly on behalf of God, since, clearly, a direct link to God justifies the violation of any merely human constraints and considerations. In short, fundamentalists have become no different than the "godless" Stalinist Communists, to whom everything was permitted since they perceived themselves as direct instruments of their divinity, the Historical Necessity of Progress Toward Communism.

I feel like the writer is over-simplifying here and lumping all believers into some God-justifies-irrational-behavior. But at the same time, given how atheists are often lumped into some If-they-don't-believe-in-God-they-can't0-be-good-people group, I get where he's coming from.

During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: "Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God." Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God's will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God's favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God's existence.

I think this is best summed up in the principle of "I'd rather behave ethically than believe morally."
Yeah, this position begs the question about whether someone would try to game the moral calculus and try to do things that are good out of ultimately potentially harmful motives or perhaps to potentially curry favor with a could-possibly-exist God. But isn't the result what should be judged? Of course, this seems to lead to pragmatism and not idealism to the shallowly observing eye, but that's really not true at all. The ideal is the "right thing." And so who defines what's right? How about law and common sense. Don't fucking kill people, steal from them, assault them, etc.

Two years ago, Europeans were debating whether the preamble of the European Constitution should mention Christianity as a key component of the European legacy. As usual, a compromise was worked out, a reference in general terms to the "religious inheritance" of Europe. But where was modern Europe's most precious legacy, that of atheism? What makes modern Europe unique is that it is the first and only civilization in which atheism is a fully legitimate option, not an obstacle to any public post.

This really bothers me about the United States, b/c I know that if I ever said "I'm an atheist, I want to run for office, I'd be a guaranteed loser."

Atheism is a European legacy worth fighting for, not least because it creates a safe public space for believers. Consider the debate that raged in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, my home country, as the constitutional controversy simmered: should Muslims (mostly immigrant workers from the old Yugoslav republics) be allowed to build a mosque? While conservatives opposed the mosque for cultural, political and even architectural reasons, the liberal weekly journal Mladina was consistently outspoken in its support for the mosque, in keeping with its concern for the rights of those from other former Yugoslav republics.

Not surprisingly, given its liberal attitudes, Mladina was also one of the few Slovenian publications to reprint the infamous caricatures of Muhammad. And, conversely, those who displayed the greatest "understanding" for the violent Muslim protests those cartoons caused were also the ones who regularly expressed their concern for the fate of Christianity in Europe.

These weird alliances confront Europe's Muslims with a difficult choice: the only political force that does not reduce them to second-class citizens and allows them the space to express their religious identity are the "godless" atheist liberals, while those closest to their religious social practice, their Christian mirror-image, are their greatest political enemies. The paradox is that Muslims' only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.

Here I gotta call bullshit again. He's over-simplifying. Muslims have many many allies and friends among faithful Christians and Jews and Hindus and other religions.

While a true atheist has no need to boost his own stance by provoking believers with blasphemy, he also refuses to reduce the problem of the Muhammad caricatures to one of respect for other's beliefs. Respect for other's beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronizing way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth.

What, however, about submitting Islam — together with all other religions — to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis? This, and only this, is the way to show a true respect for Muslims: to treat them as serious adults responsible for their beliefs.

Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, is the author, most recently, of "The Parallax View."

What does being pro-choice on abortion mean?

I am decidedly Pro-Choice, which would probably surprise no one who has ever read this blog, all two of you (and that probably include me as one of those two). The right to privacy and freedom from government intervention in how an individual treats his/her body is of supreme importance. I also support the right to choose on more pragmatic foundations: illegalizing abortion won't end abortion, so unhealthy, back-alley abortions will return; and that will in no way deter teen/unmarried sex, which seems to be the goal of the uptight Bible Belt morality. (Incidentally, why is the prudish, religion-based quest to extinguish the genetics of sex not regularly cited as one of the driving forces behind the Pro-Life movement? B/c it totally is.)

As I've talked to my pro-Choice friends about abortion, we've agreed that one of the great misunderstandings in the national debate has been that anti-abortionists seem to equate Pro-Choice with Pro-Abortion. What I always want to remind them is that pro-Choicers don't high-five each other outside Planned Parenthood offices every time a woman walks out after having an abortion. I've often termed my own stance as Pro-Choice, anti-abortion, meaning that while I will defend with my last breath the right to have an abortion (including late-term abortions), I think most should be done to prevent the need for them:

--We need more birth control and comprehensive sex education.
--We should encourage people to consider adoption, but be entirely OK and supportive if they choose to terminate the pregnancy.
--Emergency contraception should be available and covered through medicaid.

And further, I think ending a pregnancy is really horrible and a very sad decision. But also, one that should be necessarily protected. The alternative, bringing a child into the world in a circumstance of not being wanted, how is that better? (essentially the stance of Dr. Larch in The Cider House Rules).

Then I read this story in the Los Angeles Times. (My comments in blue italics.)

Mar 7, 06
Abortion Ban Puts Strategies in Doubt;
South Dakota's test of Roe vs. Wade has both sides wondering if they've moved too fast.

Stephanie Simon, Times Staff Writer

South Dakota's ban on nearly all abortions, signed into law Monday, has opened deep rifts within both the antiabortion and the abortion-rights movements, as the two camps struggle to frame the issue to their political advantage.

The divisions have turned traditional abortion politics topsy-turvy.

Some foes of abortion -- fearful that South Dakota has moved too far, too fast -- now find themselves reluctantly opposing efforts to protect all fetal life from the moment of conception. They are even angling to block another abortion ban that seems likely to pass in Mississippi.

For their part, some abortion-rights activists feel they must acknowledge the sentiment behind the South Dakota ban by assuring America that they, too, regard abortion as a grave moral concern. But such language outrages others in their movement, especially abortion doctors, who feel it stigmatizes and alienates their patients.

This is one of the statements that has me re-thinking my views. I've started to realize that my views are ones I have formed to assuage perhaps my own conscience about supporting the termination of a life. But I hadn't considered how my view affects the women who make that choice, who have something far more serious to live with than I do.

"There's a mood out there that change is in the offing," said John Seery, a professor of politics at Pomona College who has written extensively on abortion. "There's a lot of jockeying, a lot of testing, a lot of pushing the envelope."

The turmoil in both camps underscores the significance of South Dakota's law. It bans all abortions in the state, including the few performed each year in cases of rape and incest and the hundreds done in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. The only exception is if physicians deem an abortion necessary to save the mother's life.

Doctors who violate the ban would be subject to as much as five years in prison.

In signing the bill, Republican Gov. Michael Rounds acknowledged it was, for now, a symbolic gesture. The law is due to take effect July 1 but will almost certainly be blocked in the courts because it directly -- and deliberately -- challenges Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right.

An anonymous donor (gutless) has pledged $1 million to help South Dakota defend the new law in court. Citizens of more modest means have also stopped by the governor's office to drop off checks.

Those backers hope the ban will give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reverse Roe vs. Wade, much the way the justices used Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 to overturn a decades-old precedent that allowed segregation in public schools.

But analysts on both sides say Roe is secure for now. Even if President Bush's new Supreme Court appointees -- Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. -- prove to be opponents of Roe, a slim majority of five justices is on record as backing Roe.

Promoters of South Dakota's ban are calculating that one of the liberal justices will retire -- and be replaced by a conservative -- before their case winds its way to the high court. Daniel McConchie, vice president of the Americans United for Life, warns that the South Dakota strategy could backfire.

If the public knows an all-out ban on abortion is headed to the Supreme Court, "getting a [conservative] justice through the confirmation process will be like World War III," McConchie said.

He'd rather rely on the Roberts court to steadily chip away at abortion rights without overturning Roe outright. For instance, he's hoping that in an upcoming case on the procedure that is called "partial-birth abortion" by opponents like him, the justices might give states more leeway to restrict second- and third-trimester procedures.

Many states ban abortions of viable fetuses, but the Supreme Court has so far insisted that such laws exempt women whose health is endangered by the pregnancy -- and health can be defined broadly to include not just her physical condition, but also her emotional state, and even her family circumstances.

McConchie said he thought there was a good chance the present court would "narrow that loophole."

Such incremental steps would save many more fetuses than South Dakota's ban, said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life. "As a pro-lifer, I feel guilty saying this, because people are out there all excited, but a ban is actually counterproductive," she said.

She and others argue that their movement needs more time to turn society firmly against abortion. They want to hold public hearings to investigate the alleged (and hotly disputed) risks of abortion. i worry about media portrayals of the debate here, b/c they are giving the pro-life side too much credence on its views that abortion is risky. that's patently false according to any science worth any weight. They plan to promote ultrasounds to fix an image in the public's mind of the embryo as a beautiful, human life. They aim to use more women who have had abortions -- and now regret it -- as spokeswomen for their cause.

Until then, they're reluctantly advising legislators in Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee not to pass the bans under consideration in those states.

Instead, they urge legislators to pass provisions such as requiring a woman to attend counseling and to wait a day or more before getting an abortion. The latest trend is to require doctors to show a woman her ultrasound or to inform her that the fetus might feel pain during an abortion.

Legislatures are also continuing to drive abortion clinics out of business with a wide variety of regulations, including the width of the hallways and whether out-of-state doctors can come in to perform abortions.

There is one clinic in South Dakota, for example, another in Mississippi and two in Missouri (one of which only offers first-trimester abortions two half-days a month).

btw, what country do we live in?

Missouri state Sen. Jason Crowell -- like his colleagues in South Dakota -- refuses to be satisfied with making abortions harder to obtain. He views the procedure as an unambiguous evil and says the time is past due to act, no matter who's sitting on the Supreme Court.

"We've been debating this since 1973," Crowell said. "If not now, when? If not us, who?"

In Mississippi, that philosophy propelled a ban on abortion (except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life) to an overwhelming victory in the Mississippi House last week. The bill looked poised to pass the Senate and Gov. Haley Barbour had pledged to sign it. On Monday, though, antiabortion activists called off their drive to pass the bill and asked for time to rethink the strategy.

"We're trying to get a consensus," said Terri Herring, president of Pro-Life Mississippi. "What we don't want is five different pro-life voices out there."

The abortion-rights side has had even more trouble finding a unified voice.

The liberal think tank Third Way is circulating a memo on Capitol Hill advising politicians who support abortion rights to recalibrate their message. Instead of stressing a woman's right to choose, they should tell voters that they support "personal liberty," but accept that it's a "moral responsibility" to reduce the number of abortions. (That number has declined steadily from a peak of 1.43 million in 1990 to 1.29 million in 2002, the latest year statistics are available.)

A number of abortion-rights activists have bought into that strategy. They've been on the defensive for more than two decades, ever since conservative and fundamentalist Christians began pushing social issues like abortion to the forefront of political debate.

They view South Dakota's ban as a watershed moment, and are determined to seize the opportunity to switch from defense to offense.

"Talking about prevention really resonates with voters, because it's positive, it's proactive ... it makes constituents feel good," said Julie Burkhart, the executive director of ProKanDo, an abortion-rights lobby in Kansas.

Such tactical positioning infuriates Dr. Warren Hern, who runs an abortion clinic in Boulder, Colo. He, too, would like to see fewer women with unwanted pregnancies; he counsels all his patients on contraception. But in his view, the availability of safe, legal abortions should be a cause for national pride -- not shame.

He urges politicians to respond to the South Dakota ban with statements like this: "Before 1973, women were dying like flies from illegal abortions. That has stopped, and it's one of the great public health success stories of the 20th century."

THIS IS THE STATEMENT THAT HAS REALLY AFFECTED MY VIEWS. I've seen that I started buying into the pro-life assumptions in the argument and agreed to have the debate on their terms. that's wrong. We've grown too defensive in our tail-tucking position. Instead the pro-choice side needs to emphasize the gains we've brought to society and culture.

Susan Hill agrees. She's president of the National Women's Health Organization, which runs abortion clinics in five states, and she has been flooded with calls and e-mails from supporters outraged at South Dakota's ban.

Hill sees only one way to capitalize on that anger: a campaign to remind Americans that abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in this country. One out of every three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

"We need to make people realize that this is about them: Their family. Their daughter," Hill said.

Above all, she said: "We have to stop apologizing" for the nation's abortion rate -- and start mobilizing the millions of women "who believe it was the best choice for them."

If her side can do that, "this might be the best thing that ever happened to the pro-choice movement," Hill said.

With both camps in such flux, Seery, the Pomona College professor, has given up trying to peg winners and losers.

"There is no conventional wisdom at this point," he said. "The traditional camps aren't pursuing the traditional strategies ... All bets are off. We're in a period of transition."

GRAPHIC: PHOTO: 'ALL BETS ARE OFF': In Sioux Falls, Zeb Nelson, 9, and his mother, right, back the law signed by South Dakota's governor, banning virtually all abortions in the state, including for rape or incest. But some abortion foes say "a ban is actually counterproductive." PHOTOGRAPHER: Cory Myers Associated Press


Oh yeah, and why do we like the sound of rain bouncing off a roof?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Funniest thing in a while

So CBS anchorman Bob Schieffer was the guest on The Colbert Report Monday night and was discussing ratings for the network news shows and delivered one of the best lines ever (forgive me for having to paraphrase):

Schieffer: the reason our rating are so high on the morning news shows is because our viewers are so old that a bunch of them died overnight and left their TVs on.


granted this is coming from a guy who made really macabre death jokes during the Oscar ceremony--ABC was in hyperdrive for pimping its new series "Miracle Workers" about doctors who save people in dire situations. I said that the special edition DVD will have outtakes of the people who died on the table. If there's a hell I've got my one-way ticket punched.

happy Tuesday!


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Re-living the best of high school

Moving to Los Angeles has improved my life in myriad ways: amazing job, new friends, more arthouse movies and MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC--live, cutting edge and non-mainstream. In Los Angeles all this music is right here. Far and away my favorite musical discovery since moving to the City of Angels is my new adopted hometown's own Rilo Kiley.

This is the band that has turned me into a junior high/high school student again. I devour the songs, dissect lots of lyrics, read most any article i can find (within reason, i am 30 after all now), scrounge for bootlegs and downloads, MUST see live. This is how I treated music 15 years ago, and I'm doing it again with Rilo Kiley and the band's lead singer Jenny Lewis, a red-headed dark angel sprite. I don't think that I could ever give bigger praise to a band than to say they've rekindled the best parts of high school in me. (btw, one of my top four fave shows ever was Rilo Kiley last summer at the Wiltern.) There's a timelessness to Jenny's lyrics and the band's melodies that permanently capture the torrents of high school and the discoveries of adolescence in their songs, even when you're old like me and them, too. It's more the emotional quality of being at first points in your life and the way you approach first points throughout you life.

Well Wednesday night I trekked out to Pomona (about 40 miles east of Los Angeles at the eastern edges of Los Angeles County and the butt of many crystal methlab jokes) to catch the opening date on Jenny's first solo tour. She had played a couple mini-shows, but this was the first night of the tour so I was pretty psyched.

The opening band was Whispertown 2000 (formerly Vagtown 2000, which Jenny joked about during her set and then said she shouldn't have revealed the band's former name b/c a band member's mom was in the audience). The set started shakily as the lead singer noted that she had a sore throat before starting and did about 5 shots of Chloraseptic type spray (yikes!). I've had it, it was like cough medicine in taste, but not in effectiveness.

This is a band that I'd recommend watching. A lot of potential. Cool lyrically, as much as one can tell hearing a song for the first time at a live show, fun audience banter, decent musicianship. They did have one problem though, not the best singers. And yes, I'm acknowledging the ailing lead singer. But the main backup/harmonizer was sadly just not that great. They daringly (foolishly?) performed an a capella song like fourth and fifth and that wasn't such a great idea. I honestly wanted to cover my ears as the vocal pitches fought it out. Double Yikes! Nevertheless, though, when that song was finished as with all the others, I clapped enthusiastically. I sure as hell couldn't do what they're doing, especially for the small amounts they're making.

But oddly, this crowd was dick, at least my section. As one of the oldest people at the show, I hung out at the back fringes, b/c dammit I don't do the flesh press anymore upfront. My section of the crowd couldn't even muster up fucking golf claps. Hello, this is a fucking rock show? And there was mad talking. Like if you and a friend were having a conversation in an airport terminal volume style talking. Even though the girl who happened to be standing next to me and I gave the head turn, dirty-look stare the talking continued. No surprise given the dirtiness of the look returned to us. What the fuck, right? Well, despite the lukewarm crowd response, overall, Whispertown 2000 was pretty good. I want to get the band's record when it comes out (even though I'll probably record it prior to that just to have).

Next up was Michael Runion. He was doing the lone guy on the stage with his acoustic guitar thing. He sang (very well, btw) sad songs with introspective lyrics, which were really enhanced by the still talking crowd (now buttressed by ringing cell phones) and what he had the balls to point out, the two people directly in front of him laughing hysterically during his song about disasters and stuff. Again, barely even golf claps from the back end even though he was really solid. I probably won't buy his stuff, but thumbs up. And like with Whispertown, he was clearly kinda excited about performing, which for me as an audience member always adds to my enjoyment. I mean, music is a creative art and the language of emotional communication, so sharing someone else's rock and jazz vibe can't help but make a show better, RIGHT?

Well, after Mr. Runion has finished, Jenny is up next.

The band takes the stage but still no sign of Jenny Lewis or the Watson Twins, but soon thereafter we all heard the most beautiful disembodied voices harmonizing the words "Run ... Devil, run ... devil run ... devil run ... Run ... devil run ..." and so on and then the three of them glide onto the stage until their front and center. Quickly they break right into The Big Guns, just like on her album Rabbit Fur Coat. It's awesome! The harmonies are just as tight as on the CD (unfortunately for Whispertown these harmonies make their vocal imperfections stand out more to me), which is saying something! I mean it's gorgeous. Even the fuckfaced audience members from before are appreciative. Another cool thing, not much audience singing along, actually none, which is unusual for a band like Rilo Kiley, which has extremely passionate fans.

Well, she ended up playing everything from the new album, except for the cover of the Traveling Wilburys "Handle With Care." Stand outs included "Rabbit Fur Coat," "The Charging Sky," "Rise Up With Fists" and two new songs ... Jack Killed Mom and an untitled song, that she has asked audience members to name. One guy in England called out "Tom," b/c that's his name.

"Rabbit Fur Coat," which was just her and an acoustic guitar was sublimely beautiful. The song, which she dedicated to a four-year-old friend (daughter of a friend, duh. although with jenny you genuinely knew that she's the type of soul that can be friends with a four-year-old), is about love, class differences and family had in my mind been a standout sad song. But hearing it live it practically broke my heart, of course compouding that with the sadness of "Melt Your Heart" was plain unfair, Jenny. When she sang of the eponymous "rabbit fur coat" you could practially hear a pin drop as the audience hung not just on the words but the emotion.

"Rise Up With Fists," like "Run Devil Run," featured the stellar harmonies of the really tall Watson Twins. But the biggest surprise was "Jack Killed Mom." A really funny song in a typical alt-country sound that exploded into a gospelish, countrified outdoor revivalist jam--organ, guitar, drums, bass, harmonies, beauty!

Also really cool about the show, I never once wished that Rilo Kiley would take the stage and join her. She really stood out on her own, though of course no one wants Kiley to disappear. Jenny's clearly got stage presence as the audience bent to listen to everything she said and bitched when the concessionaires in back talked and laughed during the encore. And even though i was probably 140 feet away at the back she really did the cliched singer thing and made everyone feel like she was singing at them.

The other thing I felt at this show, that is different from a lot of shows i've been to, is that audience reallly wanted this show to be amazing. First, RK has super devoted fans, but also, this is i think the one good thing about seeing a show outside of L.A., specifically not at the Troubadour (which i love). There's always a bit of a too-cool-for-school vibe at the Troubadour, but definitely not at the Glass House.

So I guess that's it for the show review. A review of Pomona and the Glass House coming tomorrow.