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Archive for January, 2010

So I’m probably the very last person in the world to put this trailer up (it dropped last week, and was kind of a big deal), but I’m going to post the new trailer for the upcoming “A-Team” movie anyway.  Now, I never watched the show, and don’t really have even the slightest of nostalgic connections to material, but I am intrigued enough by the parts involved where I find it to be curiously interesting.  For starts, Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley, and “Rampage” Jackson is a bizzare cast no matter how you shake it.  Toss in one of my favorite directors in Joe Carnahan (Oh, why did “White Jazz” have to fall apart?  Why!?) and I just can’t look away.  I’m pretty convinced that even a by-the-numbers TV adaptation from Carnahan would be better than 90% of the summer movies that get trucked out each year, so it’s going to take a lot to dissuade me from being optimistic about this one.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about ““The A-Team” Trailer“, posted with vodpod

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Over at CNN it has been projected that Republican Senator Scott Brown has won the election for the seat previously held by Ted Kennedy.  While there are some surefire implications of this change in seating (most notably for the President’s Health Care agenda), there are some things that you can be sure to expect to hear. Republicans are going to tell you that this upset is reflective of the country’s indictment of Democrat’s failures. Democrats will tell you that it’s a disappointment, but ultimately no big deal.  The major news media outlets will either tell you that this is a ray of light beaming down on America, or that the sky is falling (depending on what your outlet of choice is).  Finally, Lucifer in the disguise of Matt Drudge will gloat and come up with some childish and obnoxious headline that is supposed to pass for conservative wit.

Brown’s victory made real the once unthinkable prospect of a Republican filling the seat held by Kennedy, known as the liberal lion, for almost 47 years until his death from brain cancer in August.

Voters across Massachusetts braved winter cold and snow for an election with high stakes — the domestic agenda of President Obama, including his priority of health care reform.

Brown’s victory strips Democrats of the 60-seat Senate supermajority needed to overcome GOP filibusters against future Senate action on a broad range of White House priorities. Senate Democrats needed all 60 votes in their caucus to pass the health care bill, and the loss of one seat imperils generating that support again for a compromise measure worked out with the House.

Now, am I disappointed that Teddy Kennedy’s seat has been taken by a Republican?  Of course.  Do I think it’s a blow that the Democrats have lost their magic 60 in the Senate?  Absolutely.  Do I think that Massachusetts voters have made a mistake?  Of course.  But make no mistake, this isn’t the end of the world.  Health care reform was tricky with 60 and it will be even more so with 59, but that doesn’t make it impossible.  Additionally, as much as I don’t like the fact that the seat tipped toward the Republicans, I still think it’s way to early to attribute this upset to any real national trend to the right, we just don’t have the data to support that thesis.  Basically, at this point I am taking my political lumps and hoping for the best.

I was watching Rachel Maddow a little earlier this evening and did think it was interesting when she pointed out Massachusetts’ poor record when it comes to supporting female candidates for major elected offices.  I’m not sure that had a whole ton to do with the vote in Massachusetts tonight, but it is interesting to ponder where exactly somebody like Martha Coakley fits in post-Obama America, and how much has really changed in the eyes of voters.  Frankly, I’m unsure what makes me more uncomfortable, that voters dismissed Coakley because she was a woman, or that they actually understood and preferred Brown’s ideas. Distressing stuff either way, but as they say, the sun will come out tomorrow.

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Some Words On Haiti

I haven’t posted about the situation in Haiti yet.  This is mostly due to the fact that it’s so unbelievably staggering, that I just have had absolutely no idea what it is that I could say.  The death toll is astronomical, the country is in a state of near-chaos, and so far the global community has been unable to provide the kind of aid that is needed.  In short, it is one of the single worst disasters that has occurred in my lifetime, and in the aftermath is a nation that is teetering on the edge.

I am not on the ground in Haiti.  I have never been to Haiti.  I cannot paint an accurate picture of what is going on in the country right now, or what needs to be done.  This being the case, here is the picture as painted by some sources with much more authority and expertise than I would ever claim to have.

From The Los Angeles Times:

For residents, the shortages of food, water and fuel carried the prospect of increased hardship in a nation with a volatile history. Chaotic lines formed at gas stations, though it was unclear whether any gasoline would be pumped. Those with enough fuel created a noisy traffic jam on one main boulevard heading out of the capital.

People scavenged for water, carrying empty canisters in the street.

One elderly man, who wanted to be identified by only his first name, Milton, said Haitians were hoping that U.S. Marines, who have been deployed during times of political upheaval, would come again.

“When the U.S. occupation is good and big, it creates work, builds roads, helps people,” he said. Not only that, Milton added, Marines tended to toss the remains of their meals into the city’s omnipresent mountains of garbage.

From The New York Times:

For rescuers and those buried, every hour that passed was the enemy.

“The time window is ever shrinking,” said Florian Westphal, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.

Residents interviewed through the city said that the cries that they heard emanating from many collapsed buildings in the initial hours after the quake had begun to soften, if not quiet completely.

“There’s no more life here,” said a grandmother Thursday, who nonetheless rapped a broom against concrete in hopes that her four missing relatives believed to be buried inside might somehow respond.

From CNN:

“If help doesn’t come quickly, it probably will [get worse],” Agnes Pierre-Louis, manager of her family-owned hotel, the Le Plaza in downtown Port-au-Prince. “We’re not hearing anything from the government. We’re not seeing any foreign aid yet.”

But Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said forces have not “seen a great deal of insecurity.” The priority now, he said, is cranking up rescue and relief efforts to stave off restiveness.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates echoed that sentiment, saying that “other than some scavenging and minor looting, our understanding is the security situation is pretty good.”

“The key is to get the food and the water in there as quickly as possible so that people don’t, in their desperation, turn to violence or lead to the security situation deteriorating.”

From MSNBC:

The situation is especially dire for children, who make up an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of the Port-au-Prince population. They’re smaller and more vulnerable to injury than adults, but they also suffer faster from dehydration, blood loss and shock. Their immature immune systems also make it harder to fight back against illness and infection than adults, health experts said.

In the meantime, medical teams on the ground will continue to grapple with the aftermath of early triage, which postponed treatment for those whose injuries may have been serious, but not life-threatening.

Victims with arm or leg fractures, for instance, wouldn’t have been a top priority, Cummings said. But the untended wounded remain ripe for infections and shock and they’re more vulnerable to other illness.

It’s a no-win choice for health workers who have to make hard decisions about who gets care — and who doesn’t.

From the BBC:

Most of the bodies are covered in white bed sheets or rolled inside carpets, but others have been left exposed to the hot sun and the stench of rotting bodies has begun to fill the air.

Families who are desperately searching for their loved ones are gingerly uncovering the sheets that cover the corpses in the hope they can at least identify family members.

But even if bodies are identified there is nowhere for them to be laid to rest.

Mass graves are now appearing across the city.

The mood for the past 24 hours has been one of patience and solidarity, but there is now a sense of anger and frustration that could change the atmosphere here drastically.

From The Washington Post:

All day Thursday, it was mainly the people of this shattered city, working with bare hands and simple tools, who clawed at the rubble and pulled at slabs of concrete and blocks of debris to get at those still trapped.

The dead and injured were pushed through the streets in wheelbarrows. At the overwhelmed central hospital, anguished patients lay in a weedy parking lot on gurneys fashioned from wooden doors. Calls for help went unanswered, and no doctors were in sight.

Refugees in tent cities sang hymns far into the night, and a chilling series of strong aftershocks shook awake those who were sleeping.

There were scant signs of help from the Haitian government, itself scattered by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake Tuesday evening. The streets were filled with beleaguered residents milling about, left with no jobs, no instructions on what to do, and no place to buy food or to take the injured. Many said they felt totally alone and saw no evidence that relief was on the way, as their mournful pleas began to give way to anger.

Some very sobering stuff to so the very least.  As all of these words certainly indicate, the situation is dire, and immediate action is vital.  If you feel compelled to donate, which I would certainly urge you to do, here are some places that you can go to safely do so;  Unicef, Direct Relief International, Yele Haiti. There are countless other excellent organizations that are accepting donations, but I would caution you to make sure that they are legitimate before you donate.

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Jay Reatard: 1980-2010

Wow.  I don’t usually find myself too affected by celebrity deaths, but I have to admit that this is really bothering me.  The New York Times is reporting that garage rocker Jay Reatard was found dead in his home today at the age of 29.  I realize that I am just about the last person in the world to post on this, but I really felt like I had to get something up.  There was just something so vital about Reatard and his music that made him feel so very full of life, making it all the more strange to me that he should pass away in his sleep  (as is being reported).  For such a spirited and talented musician to pass away at such a young age is really tragic.  It’s one of those moments where I don’t have anything eloquent to say, as I don’t think that it would truly do the man justice.  Given what I have read and seen of Reatard, though, I think he would support this crude and base reaction; holy shit.  Below is a more fitting tribute than I can muster, Reatard’s video for “Ain’t Gonnna Save Me” (one of my favorite songs of 2009 off of one of my favorite albums) — music fans the world over will miss him.

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Vampire Weekend is coming out of the gate in January with the year’s first big musical release, and as a result, the band has the spotlight all to themselves.  The pressure’s on.  Now, I’m among what seems like the very few listeners who never experienced any feelings of backlash against Vampire Weekend whatsoever.  Their self-titled debut is something that I’ve listened to regularly since it was released, and in my opinion, it has held up wonderfully.  All of that being said, I was pretty skeptical that the band was going to be able to recreate the magic of that first album without merely xeroxing that sound.  The band’s mixture of indie-rock and Paul Simon recalling afro pop was fresh back in 2008, but has grown more and more common place ever since.  Inevitably, Vampire Weekend was left with the unenviable challenge of shaking up their sound without losing the spark that made people react so passionately to them in the first place.

Contra opens with “Horchata,” which in addition to being the first single that leaked, is also undoubtedly my least favorite song on the album.  It’s not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just very by the numbers for this group of musicians.  It takes some of the more obvious elements of their first album and magnifies them, almost as though it were some act of defiance against their remaining critics, signifying that they won’t break for anybody.  Fortunately, though, the band quickly settles in and unleashes another album full of pop-gems, starting with the very next track.  “White Sky” features Ezra Koenig singing lyrics that seem to be set in the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, and unleashing a hook that is nothing more that a series of syrupy falsetto yowls.  It’s a simple but pleasing turn for a band that is perhaps best known for their complicated an bookish lyrics, but it also is indicative of an album that features a fair share of experimentation musically.

“Cousins,” which was the second track leaked off Contra, is essentially the polar opposite of a song like “White Sky”.   While the latter is all about that glossy pop surface, “Cousins” is all about a nervous and twitchy energy, complete with an urgent and belting hook, and it makes the track absolutely thrive. Koenig is again weaving a complicated web of tongue-twisting and head scratching lyrics (“Interest in colors / I discover myself / If your art life is gritty you’ll be toasting my health”), but the words thrill as their presentation is every bit as rhythmic as the Chris Tomson’s pulsating drums.  The song definitely rocks harder than what we’re used to hearing out of the band, it’s decidedly less poppy, but it’s no less catchy than any of their very best jams.  This is perhaps the greatest trick that the band keeps pulling across the album, playfully experimenting their sound without really losing any of their dance-along appeal.

On the subject of experimental sounding tracks, give one listen to “California English” and you’ll be able to tell that the band has been taking notes from groups like Dirty Projectors and Grizzly Bear.  It’s by far the most abstractly “musical” song that Vampire Weekend has ever released, but it’s yet another thrillingly infectious tune.  Here the band utilizes some of the auto-tune skills that Rostam Batmanglij must have been perfecting with his Discovery side project, as Koenig’s voice is filtered through the device and layered on top of itself.  Additionally, the band throws in some violins and soaring background vocals to bolster the mishmash of California-laden lyrics (my favorite being; “Living like the French Connection, but we’ll die in LA”).  If this is a sample of what the band’s music will be sounding like in the future, than as far as I’m concerned the future can’t get here fast enough.  This is a track that feels like it could have easily been a cut off of Bitte Orca, except with Ezra Koenig at the helm, and if that description doesn’t get the music fan inside of you excited, than I’m honestly not sure what will.  (It’s also worth noting that the bonus track, “Giant,” is in a similar vein)

None of this is to suggest that the album doesn’t have some more subdued moments.  Both “Taxi Cab” and “Diplomat’s Son” could effectively be described as being ballads (even though the latter features an M.I.A. sample), but both provide a welcome change of speed to Contra rather than weigh it down at all.  “Taxi Cab” is almost a spoken word song, as Koenig’s voice is slow and softly monotone, creating an intimate story-teller feeling, while “Diplomat’s Son” mixes its hip hop influences with varied instrumentation and a slowed-down tempo.  Meanwhile, both songs also have been purported to be packed with Joe Strummer references and to have been inspired by the artist in interviews with the band and discussions by fans.  If this really is the case, than it’s quite fitting because it perfectly matches the tone of the album.  If Vampire Weekend’s debut was reminiscent of Paul Simon, than it must be said that this one is reminiscent of Strummer (though, in my opinion, not so much his work with the Clash as his later stuff with the Mescaleros).  You could certainly can’t accuse the band of suffering from a poor choice of inspirations.

If you’ve gotten the impression that Contra is a real melting pot of ideas and musical styles, fear not, it’s an accurate one.  Vampire Weekend is displaying the kind of creativity and willingness to push their boundaries that will keep the band improving and evolving as their career progresses.  The fact that they’re able to maintain their pop-sensibilities at the same time is just a reminder of why listeners have found this band to be such a special one from the very begging.  While the more avant-garde and experimental nature of Contra makes the album a little more difficult to fully embrace at the outset than the band’s debut, I think the detail and multiple layers to the songs just might make the album even more rewarding to listen to over the long haul.

SCORE: 4.5 out of 5.0

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If you look at the cover art for the Cold War Kids latest EP, you will find the following message scrawled on there by the band; “These three songs were recorded some time between the Loyalty sessions and now. They didn’t belong there, but they kept hanging around, started trouble, made friends, and insisted that their story be heard.”  While that may sound a bit pretentious (do I really need to hear that your songs both insisted and made friends?) I was pleased going in to my first listen to Behave Yourself that it sounded as though the tracks were going to be fully fleshed out pieces of music, not the hollow half-efforts that often populate between album EPs.  The levels to which the Cold War Kids delivered on this promise, however, are a bit mixed.

It has seemed as though there’s been a bit of a backlash against the Cold War Kids, be it justified or not. Critics didn’t seem to take to Loyalty to Loyalty the same way that they did with Robbers & Cowards, though sales would suggest that fans in fact did.  Taking account of that alone, it might or might not be a good thing that the songs on Behave Yourself didn’t fit on Loyalty.  Listeners will indeed hear some new subtle rubs applied to the harrowing, bare-bones music the band specializes in, but the sound is still close enough to home that few will probably find their opinions changed by those tunes, one way or the other.

The best track of the four is clearly “Audience,” as the song really drives home the fact that the band is getting better at writing songs that are singles.  It stand out the same way that “Something Is Not Right With Me” did on the previous album, but with a lighter, and dare I say upbeat, tone than most of what you’ve heard out of the band before.  It’s not that the song is any less obtuse lyrically (“Pacing your apartment’s linoleum floors / Get a call from an old friend she never liked him before / He will drive all over three lanes while you ride shotgun / Windshield wipers waving for an audience of one”), nor are Nathan Willett’s vocals any less piercing, but there is a breeziness to the track that has often seemed to be missing from their music.  Perhaps it’s the playful piano, or maybe it’s the rhythmic clapping that keeps the beat throughout most of the track, but “Audience” is the kind of song that just sounds as though it’s encouraging you to sing-along, whatever the words may mean.

“Santa Ana Winds” is similarly warm, though pretty unspectacular.  However, it does a more effective job of bridging the gap between Behave Yourself and Loyalty to Loyalty than “Audience” does, you can hear a natural progression.  It’s also probably a bit of a cop-out to describe any song that takes place spanning across the California desert, but the crash of symbols and and bang of piano keys do seem to be distinctly less fierce on the song (or maybe I’m just getting all warm and fuzzy about a track that name drops the Getty).  However, unlike on the opener, “Santa Ana Winds” sounded a bit hollow without that usual prickly edge that the Cold War Kids bring to their songs.  It just felt like something was missing.

Any real venom that I have for the EP is reserved for “Sermon,” which is one of the band’s more overtly religious tracks yet.  This is something that I am going to find grating pretty anytime I encounter it from just about any band.  However, I will always be won over by a good track.  Much of Robbers & Cowards delved deeply into religion, but instead of rolling my eyes at tracks like “Saint John” and “God Make Up Your Mind,” I absolutely loved them.  That’s because they were creative, original, and interesting. Unfortunately I cannot heap the same praise upon “Sermons,” as the song lazily heaps piles of spirituality, superficial civil protest, and anti-materialist messages on top of one another into one big half-baked pile.  There’s none of the raw human emotion that I could relate to on songs like “Hospital Beds” and “We Used To Vacation” that managed to tie me to the band’s spirituality, and I think the song suffers because of that exclusion.

On the whole, if you’ll excuse the lame pun, Be Yourself is an EP that basically is preaching to the converted.  Fans of the band will find moments to love (particularly “Audience”), while those critical of their music will find elements to turn their noses up at.  Meanwhile, those who are still not sold one way or the other will probably continue riding the fence.  The EP isn’t enough to get you begging for some more new material, but it’s not going to make your ears bleed either.

SCORE: 2.7 out of 5.0

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Anybody Hiring in 2010?

If the American workforce wasn’t already beaten-down and gun-shy, it’s looking like things are going to be even tougher at the beginning of the new year.  John Nichols over at The Nation reports that close to 85,000 jobs were lost in December, ten times what most analysts had been predicting, and he’s concerned that the folks in Washington aren’t paying these figures proper mind.  This is, at the very least, an extremely frightening prospect for the over four million unemployed Americans who lost their jobs in 2009.

So what gives?  As Nichols correctly points out that not only is lowering that unemployment rate good for the country, but it’s plain old good politics.  As voters find themselves without work, that will be the single largest driving factor behind what ballets they punch as they make their way towards voting booths in the coming months.  That alone should make jobs the most pressing issue for Democrats in the coming year;

Forget about the supposed accomplishments or failures of the administration and its “party-of-no” critics. The only accomplishment that could — or should — matter is a serious reduction in unemployment: a reduction that will only be achieved with new investments in infrastructure, a ramping up of green jobs initiatives, the creation of smarter incentives for hiring and retaining workers, and the abandonment of free-trade policies that cut U.S. manufacturing employment by more than half over the past decade.

No issue, no concern, is more likely to shift the sentiments of the electorate than mounting joblessness and economic instability. And there is no rhetorical flourish, no diversionary tactic, sufficient to win forgiveness from unemployment remains in double digits come election day – let alone if it is still rising.

Now, as much as I am inclined to agree with what Nichol suggests, I also do have to take issue with his singling out health care reform as being detrimental in that it’s the primary distraction for the President and the Democrats in Congress for not paying proper attention to the job market.  While I’m not quite prepared to suggest that health care is more important to the country than lowering the unemployment rate, I’m also less than eager to see it written off to coincide with voters whims.  The fact of the matter is that with Republicans and the insurance companies digging their heels into the dirt, the day may never arrive when it will be politically convenient to pursue substantial health care reform.  All that leaves Democrats with is the present, and many would suggest that the window is closing rapidly.

My own hand-wringing over health care aside, I’m also able to realize that what we’re examining here is not a zero sum game, and that greater attention could (and certainly should) be paid to the economy. Despite much of the media throwing up their hands in celebration at the supposed recovery that the country has experienced, people are still losing their jobs at alarming rates.  The only way that this is going to change is if the president and Congress make it a greater priority, and terrifying figures alone don’t seem to be enough to encourage that greater focus.  So if a little political strong arming is what it takes, then maybe that’s not the worse thing in the world.  I do know this though, as frustrating as it is to see the Democrats in Washington sitting on their proverbial hands, the image of Republicans lording over this recession once again is a far more harrowing for me to conjure.

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