Saturday, October 29, 2005

Patterico, Miers, and What Comes Next

Patterico noted today that the Washington Post's reported list of likely nominees for the once-again-open Supreme Court seat is full of strongly qualified candidates, which stands to make the widespread opposition to the nomination of Harriet Miers all the more worthwhile. He notes also that the "current environment" described in the Post article as requiring such qualifications was created through this succesful Miers-opposition and acknowledges his own pride in contributing to said environment.

Which makes now a convenient occasion for me to acknowledge the important work he did on that front. In my one earlier post on Harriet Miers, I somehow failed to mention him, but Patterico was one of the most prolific single bloggers I read on the subject. His insights were important in general throughout the process and of benefit to me specifically. I've read his blog on occasion for a while, but it's one of priority for me by now. I look forward to what unfolds with the next SCOTUS nomination and to what he contributes to the discussion about it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Defining and Undefining Emo

A couple of years ago now, when I had barely heard the term "emo" at all, I mentioned to some friends that among the CDs I had just bought were Ben Lee and Sun Kil Moon. I may have also, thinking nothing of it, mentioned having bought a Modest Mouse disc, which could possibly have contributed to the resulting confusion. For, in reference, I thought, to the Ben Lee & Sun Kil Moon purchases, my friend Justin responded, "Boy, you really do like that emo stuff, huh?"

So for the next couple of years, I thought emo was a style exemplified by such artists as Lee and Mark Kozelek, so I was somewhat confused during a discussion at work about what the term really meant. One co-worker said that he had the understanding it referred to any sort of music that's very emotive--including such things, I believe he mentioned at various points, as blues and bluegrass and even the rapper Lil Jon.* While I knew that was wrong, I didn't know what the right answer actually was. Another guy said that emo is basically just watered-down new wave, which was basically just watered-down punk (though I'm confident he used phrasing more profane than "watered-down"). The punk angle seemed odd, since I had Ben Lee and Sun Kil Moon in mind.

In an effort to clear this up, I checked both allmusic.com and my copy of The Rock Snob's Dictionary. First, allmusic.com doesn't associate Ben Lee or Sun Kil Moon with emo (nor did any useful result I could find from some Google searches). Instead, it turns out that co-worker number two is on the right track. Allmusic.com explains emo in the following ways: It says that it's "originally an outgrowth of hardcore punk" and that it's "full of complex guitar work, unorthodox song structures, arty noise, and extreme dynamic shifts." Apparently, while some emo is close to punk-pop, it's a bit more intricate.
Emo lyrics are deeply personal, usually either free-associative poetry or intimate confessionals. Though it's far less macho, emo is a direct descendant of hardcore's preoccupations with authenticity and anti-commercialism; it grew out of the conviction that commercially oriented music was too artificial and calculated to express any genuine emotion.
It seems that "emo ideal is authentic, deeply felt emotion that defies rational analysis" and at its best, it has a "a sweeping power that manages to be visceral, challenging, and intimate all at once." The term "emo" was intially used to describe "hardcore bands who favored expressive vocals over the typical barking rants" and the first true emo band was some outfit I've never heard of, followed by a bunch of others I've never heard of. The most notable bands in the emo genre seem to be Sunny Day Real Estate, Fugazi, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer, and Modest Mouse. There's more details there, though, even after the mention that "some vocalists literally wept onstage during song climaxes, earning derision from hardcore purists" and the references to "dramatic melodies and introspective mysticism" and "wry, geeky introspection and catchy punk-pop." Go take a look if you're interested.

The Rock Snob's Dictionary defines it this way (with a conclusion I particularly like):
Controversial term for a strain of punk-steeped yet thoughtful rock popular among depressive teens and twenty-somethings. Arising out of a Washington, D.C., scene of the mid-eighties in which hardcore bands got tired of playing noise and went slightly sensitive and mid-tempo, emo matured into a codified national movement in the late nineties with such bands as Jimmy Eat World and Promise Ring, which played pained hard rock overlaid with boyish vocals characterized by odd, flatulent vowel pronunciations. By the turn of the century, emo had broadened in scope to accommodate the madlin Dashboard Confessional, the somewhat more jaundiced Cursive and Yellowcard, and the countryish Bright Eyes. Aptly, given the hypersensitivity of the genere's practitioners, most emo artists recoil at being called "emo," claim that their music is unique and uncategorizable, and insist that you don't even know what the term means anyway.


(*Update: I've been advised that the Lil Jon comment, which he made later than the others, was, in fact, a joke. I have more than my fair share of humor-impaired moments.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Will Miers Represent?

I agree with those who've made the argument that President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is outright cronyism. See, for example, this Randy Barnett piece at The Volokh Conspiracy and this one in the Wall Street Journal. Important newspaper columns detailing the wrongness of this nomination have been written by George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer. A concise summary of objection was offered by Gregory Djerejian and a call to opposition presented by David Frum and also by Stephen Bainbridge. The Corner, The Volokh Conspiracy, Bench Memos, and The Right Coast are all blogs which have also been rich in relevant arguments against the nomination. Beldar responds to many of the aforementioned and makes the best sustained argument in favor of Miers that I've seen, but I remain quite unpersuaded.

On Saturday, there was an interesting New York Times article, which includes a revealing remark with which I think the Bush administration severely undermines one of its central contentions. Dan Coats is the former Republican Senator who the Times tells us the White House has asked to help Miers get through the Senate confirmation. Orin Kerr points out this remark from Coats:
If great intellectual powerhouse is a qualification to be a member of the court and represent the American people and the wishes of the American people and to interpret the Constitution, then I think we have a court so skewed on the intellectual side that we may not be getting representation of America as a whole.
Kerr, like Arlen Specter, derides Coats for evoking the late GOP Senator Roman Hruska, who praised mediocrity in a nominee thusly:
Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?
The Hruska mediocrity echoes* notwithstanding, I, like an insightful and more concise anonymous commenter on Kerr's post, find very peculiar and perhaps more disturbing, the multiple references from the White House's chosen SCOTUS confirmation guide to the nominees role as a representative. It's especially jarring right after reading Krauthammer:
Moreover, the Supreme Court is an elite institution. It is not one of the "popular" branches of government.

To serve in Congress, or even as president, there is no requirement for scholarship and brilliance. For good reason. It is not needed. It can even be a hindrance, as we learned from our experience with Woodrow Wilson, the most intellectually accomplished president of the 20th century and also the worst.

But constitutional jurisprudence is different. It is, by definition, an exercise of intellect steeped in scholarship. Otherwise it is nothing but raw politics. And is it not the conservative complaint that liberals have abused the courts by having them exercise raw super-legislative power...?
Legislators ought to represent their constituents. The President ought to represent the American people. The Supreme Court is outside of that consideration. If someone is to represent me, I want the opportunity to replace him or here once it's apparent they no longer do. You don't give someone a lifetime appointment who's meant as someone else's representative. You give someone a lifetime appointment you trust to exercise wisdom and judgment irrespective of what you would want done on any given issue.

We select people to represent us in order to pass and execute legislation. Considering that, Coats' remarks Saturday totally undercut President Bush's promise Friday that Miers "will not legislate from the bench."



* I may have to use "The Hruska Mediocrity Echoes" as the name for some future post-Blogspot blog.

Your T-shirt probably isn't as clever as you think.

I read the following on the back of a T-shirt a preadolescent girl was wearing at the Greek Festival on Friday night:
I survived Family Fun Day at Patriots Park.
I understand the thinking behind a souvenir T-shirt for a roller coaster, for instance, that says something like "I survived the Photon Light Speed Moebius Plowhorse Express" or whatever, but...Family Fun Day? The only sense in which that T-shirt could be clever is one far too morbid for a young girl, which is the implication that significant numbers failed to survive Family Fun Day:
I survived Family Fun Day, unlike some unfortunate people I could mention but won't...
Oh, sure, rub it in.

Is this really the message they're going for?

My frequently worn T-shirts are pretty straightforward:
  • One that simply says, in block letters on blue background, "I want the full story." (From Spamshirt.)
  • The only one that really tends to engender confusion, which bears a simplified picture of a camper and the name of this band.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Go See MirrorMask.

MirrorMask was worth the 4-hour round-trip drive to Atlanta to see it on its opening night last Friday, and it'll be worth another 4-hour drive this Wednesday to see it again. If you haven't heard of it, that's because Sony Pictures has shamefully underpromoted and underdistributed it. Of course, they deserve great credit for initiating this in the first place.

What happened was this. They approached the Jim Henson Company and gave them a mere 4 million dollars to make a movie to follow in the tradition of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The Jim Henson Company then turned to the Everything Award-winning author Neil Gaiman and his longtime collaborator, artist Dave McKean, who jointly came up with a story for which Gaiman wrote a script that McKean then turned into a film of unique and astonishing genius.

If you've ever read anything Gaiman wrote or seen anything McKean created, you should automatically see the appeal. If you haven't yet or are somehow still unenthused anyway, click here to go to an unofficial Dave McKean site that includes a whole lot of still photos from the film and a good number of video clips, including, of course, the trailer. Actually, go there even if you don't need persuading. It's great. Probably the second-most important link in a link-heavy post.

Obviously, I loved it, but I'm honest enough to tell you that not everyone did. Roger Ebert, for example, wasn't too impressed at all. And this guy absolutely hated it. A lot of critics quite like it, though. Some choice quotes:

"Avant-garde panache...remarkable cinema fantasy...this dazzling reverie...has something to astonish everyone." --Entertainment Weekly (A-)

"A gloriously loony yarn and astounding work of art." --√úbercine

A longer one:
If I offered the opinion that MirrorMask is an amalgamation of Alice in Wonderland, The NeverEnding Story, The Wizard of Oz, Labyrinth, M.C. Escher & Tim Burton, you'd probably be pretty intrigued...if not all that convinced of the film's unique vision and startling presentation. But despite clear "inspiration" from these and numerous other sources, MirrorMask still stands as a powerfully original composition. It's playful, dark and mysterious. It's got a few simple little morals, it's amazingly gorgeous to look at, and it's effortlessly enthralling for 90-some straight minutes. Much of the movie feels comfortably familiar...yet it's certainly unlike anything you've ever seen before.
.................................
Somewhat beholden to some of the finest fantasy stories ever conceived, yet still more than fresh and unique enough to stand on its own, "MirrorMask" is one of the most thrillingly addictive adventures I've had in years. Hats off to superlative artists Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean for constructing something this endearingly odd and utterly enjoyable. Movies like this give me renewed hope for movies in general, and for that I'm very appreciative indeed.
And perhaps my favorite, from the very enthusiastic reveiw in the East Bay Express:

"When Tim Burton manages to see this movie, he'll realize he just got owned."

Also of interest might be this L.A. Times article and these interviews of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean in the Onion A.V. Club and this one of both on Nerve.com.

And because it's only showing in select cities, this list of theaters is the most important link here.

Find a theater in a city
you can get to, plot out a course on MapQuest if necessary, check showtimes on Moviefone or Fandango, and go see this movie. You're not required to thank me afterward, but I won't be surprised if you do.