The Doctor Is In

Well, it has been a fun week in political circles, hasn’t it? The White House, in its never-ending quest to turn the Presidency into a cheesy straight-to-TV movie has spent much of the last few days quietly retreating away from some of the more outlandish claims of last week’s Thanksgiving surprise. I can’t see what possessed them to have the President wandering around with a false Turkey; surely they should have known that it’d look a bit silly when they were inevitably found out, hmm? Then there’s the detail about how Air Force One was spotted by a British Airways 747 pilot when it was flying to Iraq. The first version of the story had the pilot radioing AF1 asking whether it really was the President’s plane. Only British Airways denied such a conversation ever took place. The second version of the story had the pilot radioing London Air Traffic Control. British Airways denied this also. At the moment, we’re up to the third version, which is some guy with a British accent radioed in to London ATC. Yes, it’s only a little thing, but the story was fine enough as it was: Bush visits Iraq with only a few video cameras and reporters. There was no need to add embellishments to an already quite impressive story/PR stunt.

Back in California, the Democrat-controlled Legislature has turned its nose up at Governor Schwarzenegger's attempt to move California's debts to a bigger credit card (or $15bn in a new bond issue, if you prefer). They also wen't too pleased at his proposed $3.8bn budget cuts that would have cut back on education and medical spending. The Governor has vowed to go over the Legislature's heads and hold a referendum next November (remember guys, you only have to wait 90 days before you can start the recall process all. over. again.).

And finally from American shores, the Ronald Reagan Dime Act, wherein a group of Republicans with far too much time on their hands want to replace the image of the man who solved the banking crisis, began the New Deal, led America to victory in World War Two, and who founded the March of Dimes, with a man who most likely lied to congress, sold arms to both Iraq and Iran, fired striking air-traffic controllers, loosened anti-trust law to protect multinational corporations, created the situation for the S&L disaster, and landed America with a multi-trillion dollar debt by the time he left office. Well, that makes sense.

Back home, two things of note: Nobody likes Mr. Blair at the moment. The new idea for charging students for attending university (£3,000/per year maximum, payable only after graduation and after the student is earning more than £15,000/year, plus the re-introduction of the maintenance grant) are quite sensible, considering that British universities are losing a lot of money at the moment under the current system, and it's still rather cheap when compared to, say, American-style charging. But nobody wants to hear that; instead we just have lots of student groups and the Conservatives shouting at Blair, without coming up with much of an alternative.

Secondly: George Galloway is a smug, pompous man, and it does the peace movement no good to have someone like that as one of their main proponents.

UPDATE: In the interests of full disclosure (and because I felt bad about it after talking with Laura): FDR wasn't what you would call a saint, either. Trying to pack the Supreme Court, hiding the extent of his illness, using the New Deal for patronage purposes, his feud with Robert Moses which caused problems in New York, and being President during the Japanese Interment. (I'm leaving out the PETA information because it's not clear how long it has been going on for, and whether FDR had any involvement aside from setting up the fund in the first place)

I'm struggling to think about positive things about Reagan. I'm willing to entertain the notion that he, along with Gorbachev, was one of the architects of eventual peace between Russia and the USA, although it didn't happen until well into George Bush's Presidency. Feel free to add your ideas in the comment section, answering the question: what did Reagan ever do for us, anyway?

currently playing: Joss Stone — Super Duper Love (are you diggin' on me?)

Saturday Looks Good To Me — All Your Summer Songs

Or what happened when Belle & Sebastian woke up to find themselves living in Detroit and infected by the spirits of the long-gone Motown Age. Beautiful horns, strings, vocals, and of course melodies to invade a small nation in Asia for. It's the way the tune of "Untitled" keeps on recurring throughout the album, it's the use of "what were once majestic city streets" in "Ultimate Stars", and it's the finale of "Meet Me By The Water" peters out from a wall of sound to just a single guitar that form some of the perfect moments of this record. If you like lo-fi pop, you need this album. If you don't, go here and take a listen anyway. (The fact that Fred Thomas was nice enough to send me a tour CD-R after I explained that I missed the band's appearance in Chapel Hill due to the spring break has not coloured this mini-review. Well, not much anyway)

It's Friday I'm In Love

Music time!

  • Joss StoneFell In Love With A Boy
    I know very little about Ms. Stone except that she’s 16 years old, from Devon, and this is how you cover a song. (It’s taken from her debut album The Soul Sessions, out in America now, and the UK early next year)
  • AirLost In Kyoto
    From the Lost In Translation soundtrack and their upcoming album Talkie Walkie (available from your favourite P2P application). A week ago, I claimed to a friend that the film wasn't sad. And then I listened to this again. Wrong again…
  • Kate RusbyUnderneath The Stars
    John Peel has a lot to answer for. I shouldn't be buying folk albums. But this is really good. Damn his eyes!

currently playing: Pet Shop Boys — It's Alright

Best of 2003: Adaptation

The team behind Being John Malkovich (in fact, there's even a scene this film from their previous collaboration) returned with another bizarre tale, this time burrowing deep into the insecurities of a writer. Charlie Kaufman is trying to adapt a book about orchids for his next film. And he's having real difficulties. To make matters worse, his imaginary twin brother is having great success with his insane script about a killer with multiple personality disorder. The film alternates between Charlie's current work on translating "The Orchid Thief" (with a great performance by Chris Cooper), and the trials and frustrations that he experiences in the real world. It loses its way a little in the final twenty minutes (it's quite clever, but rather unsatisfying), but for the most part, this is a very funny and intriguing film. Come on, you've always wanted to see Nicolas Cage play a mood southerner writer, haven't you?

Do you think the end of the world is coming?

There’s a bunch of rumours floating around the steam-powered interweb that Godspeed You! Black Emperor are about to go their separate ways. This makes me sad.

currently playing: R.E.M. — Sad Professor

Best of 2003: R.E.M. — Live at Alltel Pavilion

Bill! Berry! On! Drums! Great music, great company, and a chance to see R.E.M. play a homecoming concert. What more could I possibly ask for? (there’s a bit more on this wonderful night here)

Insert Phrase With "Link" Added With The Aid of A Crowbar

From my cousin Miles, a cartoon that makes Itchy and Scratchy look like a show dedicated to the values of non-violence.

Arr! (from jwz - I would send you the link to his blog, but at the moment it contains brain-scarring items, so I'm doing you a favour. Trust me)

Someone needs to tell Mr. Dean that the Soviet Union ceased to exist about thirteen years ago. Apart from that mistake, he's definitely my favourite candidate so far. Interestingly enough, he's attempting to run on the same platform as President Bush did in 2000: an outsider who hasn't been infected with the Washington disease. Not long until Iowa and New Hampshire now…

currently playing: Saturday Looks Good To Me — Ultimate Stars (If I Don't See You Soon)

Best of 2003: Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (Criterion DVD)

Not all DVDs are equal. Quite often, important, cult, or unknown films are released on DVD with little more than an adequate transfer of the film, and if you’re lucky, a selection of trailers. The Criterion Collection is a DVD label that is dedicated to producing definitive versions of important classic and contemporary films, and this year they got their hands of Terry Gilliam’s underrated 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s insane text. Three audio commentaries, a new high-quality transfer, plus deleted scenes with commentary by Terry Gilliam. And that’s just the first disc. The second is crammed with storyboard designs, production shots, pictures from the film’s shooting, letters from Thompson to Johnny Depp, a short film on HST’s visit to the set, seven TV spots plus the theatrical trailer, and an account of the fight that ensued over the script credits. That’s pretty thorough. But it doesn’t stop. There’s another section dedicated to the book, with rare footage of Oscar Acosta, excerpts from an audio adaptation, a Ralph Steadman art gallery, and a 50 minute BBC documentary on HST filmed in 1978. The attention to detail is amazing - the case has a dual-colour slipcase featuring a classic Steadman drawing, and it comes with a booklet that reprints some of HST’s articles from “The Great Shark Hunt”. You need this. One warning, though, once you hop on the Criterion bandwagon, it’s hard to stop…

An Open Letter To Tomy

An interesting gambit, combining the thorny issue of deforestation with an enjoyable, easy-to-pick-up game for children. Everybody likes monkeys.


It's Kerplunk. It's really Kerplunk. It couldn't be more like Kerplunk if it came with a big sticker that said "this game is Kerplunk. And here's some marbles--I mean monkeys."

(okay, so I assume that the reason that they've changed it is that marbles are probably more expensive to make than plastic monkeys — have a look at Hungry Hungry Hippos to see how the toy company has shaved a few pennies here and there by switching to plastic balls, but let me be indignant! I'm doped up on painkillers and cold medicine, dagnamit!)

currently playing: Broadcast — Colour Me In

Best of 2003: Outkast — Hey Ya

“Lend me some sugar — I am your neighbor!” — Need I say more? Oh, okay, if you insist. Infectious as all get out, funny, a tune that drives you straight to the dancefloor in an open-top convertible and a ticker-tape parade, and one of the year’s best music video concepts. Will that do? No? How about the way the organ comes in during the chorus? Isn’t it great?

Hello IE Users!

Yes, now you can see the Santa hat too. I wasn’t attempting to drive you mad by talking about things that weren’t there in the last entry, honest.

currently playing: Missy Elliot — Work It

Best of 2003: Finding Nemo

At its heart, it's a very simple film, but Pixar once again wrings every last bit of potential out of the scenario. The CG is flawless as always, stepping up a level to realistically model water, and there's the now-traditional blend of fun humour for the kids and extra bits to keep the older kids entertained. But what makes this film special is Dory. Ellen DeGeneres manages to take a character who could easily have become annoying very quickly, and turns her into somebody we laugh at one moment, and feel extremely sorry for the next. Who knew that a bluefish had so many levels? All together now — "IIIIIIIIIIIIIssssspppppppeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaakkkkkkkke eeeeeeewwwhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllleeeeeeeeeeeee!"

The First Window

Okay, so you’ve probably seen the Santa hat by now. The plan is to have a different picture and link displayed for each day of Advent. It might not always be a web page; it could be a sound clip, a song, a movie clip, or other random weirdness. Hey, it could be fun…

currently playing: Cat Power — Names

Best of 2003: Cat Power — You Are Free

Anyone who expected a reprise of Moon Pix is going to be disappointed. Die-hard fans may even decry the appearance of such major-label faire like Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder. This people are Wrong And Should Not Be Trusted, for this is Cat Power’s most assured work yet. It’s about loss, both childhood and adult, in the heartbreakingly sparse “Good Woman” and “Names”. It’s about freedom in the complex productions of “He War”, “Free” and “Speak For Me”. It’s about Chan seemingly being confident once again. It’s about being as fragile as a snowflake. Tough as nails, brittle as ice.

Advent Time

The Christmas CSS file is now up. Not quite as many changes as for Halloween, but it’s going to be like this for most of the month, so it needs to be legible. After midnight EST (0500 GMT), put your mouse cursor over Father Christmas for an extra surprise!

Also, from tomorrow, I'll be starting my requested-by-no-one-in-particular Best of 2003 feature, where I'll talk about which female singer with a guitar I liked this year. Hurrah!

currently playing: Air — Venus

Is It Too Early?

  1. Vaughn Munroe — Let It Snow

  2. The Waitresses — Christmas Wrapping

  3. The Pretenders — 2000 Miles
  4. Fountains of Wayne — I Want An Alien For Christmas
  5. Emerson, Lake and Palmer — I Believe In Father Christmas
  6. Pet Shop Boys — It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas
  7. David Bowie & Bing Crosby — Little Drummer Boy
  8. Juliana Hatfield — Make It Home
  9. Low — Just Like Christmas
  10. Tori Amos — Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  11. Eels — Everything’s Going To Be Cool this Christmas
  12. John Lennon and Yoko Ono — Happy Christmas (War Is Over)
  13. Joni Mitchell — River
  14. Saint Etienne & Tim Burgess — I Was Born On Christmas Day
  15. Calexico — Gift X-Change
  16. Aimee Mann — Christmastime
  17. Darlene Love — Winter Wonderland
  18. Run DMC — Christmas In Hollis
  19. Slade — Merry Christmas Everybody
  20. Vince Guaraldi — Christmas Is Coming
  21. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl — Fairytale of New York

That's my Christmas mix-cd for this year. If anybody wants a copy, let me know (if you're overseas, then I'll probably need to know by Wednesday, otherwise you will get it in January). Comes complete with simple paper cover design!

Oh, also, expect a few Advent changes on Monday. Muahahaha…

currently playing: Outkast — Hey Ya

A Special Message

Wait, we can not break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, and you will play golf. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They said do not trust the pilgrims. And especially do not trust Sarah Miller. For all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.