Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dez Reviews Avatar, 2009

I'm a little late in my review, I know. But I just got around to seeing this last night. Word of advice: see it in 3-D, preferably on the IMAX. It makes all the difference. So, do you want the good or the bad first? Let's start with the good.

This is the most visually stunning film I've ever seen. Whereas George Lucas' alien worlds looked exactly like what they were: cold, computer-animation creations, James Cameron has created a beautiful, exciting and exhilerating alien world. From floating "islands" in the sky to fearsome, pteradactyl-like creatures who rule the sky, Cameron has created an unforgettable sci-fi landscape.

And the 3-D? Wow. We've come a long way since the last theatrical 3-D film I saw, Jaws 3-D. The 3-D effects are seemless, and really put you in this world. Things aren't simply thrown from the screen at you because the movie is in 3-D. Instead, the effects are used with purpose to enhance your overall experience of the moon.

Also, some of the performances are good. Sam Worthington, in the lead as the disabled marine hero, Jake Scully, plays his part well. The story is fairly stock sci-fi: we have discovered an alien moon brimming with life. A valuable mineral is discovered on the moon. The big, bad Corporation wants the mineral. An indigenous people who are as one with the natural world will either need to be relocated or destroyed to get to the mineral, humorously named unobtanium. All kinds of deadly creatures roam the moon, so we have cleverly created avatars. In essence, you are put to sleep in a chamber, and with your mind you control an alter-ego who is made to look like one of the indigenous peoples, the Na'vi. We get a classic battle between the scientists (led by a saucy Sigourney Weaver), who want to study the planet and make peace with the Na'vi; and the military types who want to kick Na'vi ass. Jake is stuck in the middle. Much of the film entails Jake, through his avatar, becoming a part of the Na'vi tribe. At first to infiltrate, but he of course genuinely become one of them and decides to help them defend their homeland. It is the long sequence where Jake learns about the tribe and explores the planet that is really the heart of the film and also features the most stunning visuals.

ABOVE: Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) teaches Jake's avatar (Sam Worthington) the ways of the Na'vi

Which leads us to the downside of this $250-300 million dollar epic, the most expensive film ever made. The story is so predictable. We've seen this many times, it is Dances With Wolves in space. A native-American revenge fantasy. Heavy handed environmental and anti-war (read: Iraq and Afghanistan) messages pummel us over the head throughout the film. White Man is sent to infiltrate the natives. He learns their ways and feels more connected to them than his own people. Female lead is annoyed by him but forced to train him in native ways. Fall in love. Bad White Men come. Natives feel betrayed by Dances With...I mean Jake. But only with Jake's help do they succeed. (Mildly insulting, by the way, that only with a rogue White Man's help could they hope to succeed against other invading White Men. I say White Man of course, because the Na'vi are so clearly supposed to be Native Americans.)

By the way, I feel no guilt with "spoiling" the plot for you. You know how this is going to end 15 minutes into the film. If you don't, you have not seen many movies or you're an idiot. In fact, as I sat watching during the first third, I mapped out the entire plot in my head and went down my mental checklist as each thing happened as I knew it would. And being James Cameron, he even borrowed from his own movies. Brightly colored, glowing, benign, mysterious, floating alien things that somehow contain the wisdom of the ages? Saw that in his The Abyss. Finale with a huge battle and a human is in an enhanced robotic skeleton giving him superhuman strength so he can fight an alien? Yep. Saw that in Aliens. Bloodthirsty military controlled by a greedy Corporation trying to exploit an alien race, but there are some soldiers with hearts of gold who foil the plans? Also saw that in Aliens. (although, in Aliens, the aliens were pretty evil too.)

So, we are left with a stunning visual triumph that could change how movies are made and a fairly pedestrian, recycled story. Still see it, though. But make sure it is 3-D and on the IMAX.

Visually: ***** out of *****
Story: **1/2 out of *****
Overall: **** out of *****

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dez's Top 13 Beatles Songs That Weren't Hits

Why 13? I got the list cut down to 13 and couldn't take any more off, so instead of a top 10, it is top 13. Radio and history narrow down a band's catalogue to the greatest hits that you hear over and over again. But I find it rewarding to visit (or revisit) those songs that for whatever reason did not get released as a single or did not somehow make it into regular rotation on classic rock radio or get used in a beer commercial. With a great band like the Beatles, the deep cuts are often as interesting or great as the hits. Now, I do not subscribe to the philosophy, as stated by my friend Jim, that there is no such thing as a bad Beatles song. (See "Hello Goodbye", "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", "Wild Honey Pie", "I Me Mine", etc.) Nobody's infallible, not even the Fab Four. So, here are my favorite 13 Beatles songs that were not hits. If you want a fresh look at the most familiar of bands, make this list into a playlist. It will be a fresher ride that listening to "Hey Jude" for the 1,128th time. Listed in chronological order...

"Things We Said Today" from A Hard Day's Night, 1964: One of many earlier McCartney pop gems.

"Yes It Is" released as a b-side in 1965: Gorgeous, and probably the best example of their three-way harmonies.

"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" from Help!, 1965: Lennon tries to be Dylan.

"If I Needed Someone" from Rubber Soul, 1965: The Beatles influenced their contemporaries, sure. But what is often overlooked is that they were also influenced by the music of the day as well. Here, George Harrison does his best Byrds impression.

"Good Day Sunshine" from Revolver, 1966: The Revolver record is their best. While they all shine, I find myself most impressed by McCartney during this time period. His set of pop gems on Revolver are so, so great.

"Tomorrow Never Knows" from Revolver, 1966: One of the opening salvos of psychedelia.

"Only a Northern Song" from Yellow Submarine, 1967: George Harrison didn't even think much of this one, but I've always thought it had a great groove.

"Happiness Is a Warm Gun" from The Beatles (White Album), 1968: Created from three disparate song fragments, this disjointed Lennon masterpiece makes for a fascinating 2:45. Lennon said that he got the song title from an article in a gun magazine that he saw.

"Rocky Raccoon" from The Beatles (White Album), 1968: Often McCartney's goofy little story-songs are annoying (especially during his solo career), but this one works and is charming.

"Helter Skelter" from The Beatles (White Album), 1968: Evidence that McCartney can rock as hard as Lennon. ("Julia" from the same record provides evidence that Lennon could write songs as pretty as McCartney could. The stereotypes aren't always correct.)

"Don't Let Me Down" b-side, 1969: Should have been on Let It Be.

"I've Got a Feeling" from Let It Be, 1969: Although tensions were at an all time high, this song shows that Lennon and McCartney could still work together. Created from a song fragment of Lennon's and a song fragment of McCarney's to create a whole (like the more celebrated "A Day in the Life.") Had a great experience last weekend playing this on Beatles Rockband at my friend Paul's place. I was taking McCartney's part and Paul and Jim were singing the Lennon parts. Blasting through a killer stereo system, man, we sounded awesome! That was fun. That is probably the coolest part of Beatles Rockband, the three-way harmony singing that you can do. It is difficult!

"You Never Give Me Your Money" from Abbey Road, 1969: McCartney and producer George Martin really own Abbey Road.

What are some of your favorite non-hit Beatles tunes?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas For Lawyers

(NOTE: Got this in an e-mail from a fellow lawyer.)

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter "the House") a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g. stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter "Claus") would arrive at sometime thereafter.

The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House, were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as "I"), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the parts of the second part (hereinafter "Mamma"), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep. (At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g. kerchief and cap.)

Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtent to said House, i.e. the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance. The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance.

At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter the "Vehicle") being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer. The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus.

Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen (hereinafter the "Deer"). (Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co-conspirator named Rudolph may have been involved.)
The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or nature. Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney.

Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items. He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations.

Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute "gifts" to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.) Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as "lookouts." Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination.

However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim: "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!" Or words to that effect.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cold War Love

"Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win." - Gen. Thomas Power, SAC Commander, late 1950's

"Then you had better make sure that they are a man and a woman." - William Kaufmann, civilian government official, in response

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Class of 2010

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010: ABBA, Genesis, Jimmy Cliff, The Hollies and The Stooges. Inducted as Non-Performers are industry giant David Geffen and songwriters Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry, Jesse Stone, Mort Shuman and Otis Blackwell.

ABOVE: Iggy Pop and his Stooges finally made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after seven previous nominations

I have no complaints at all with this year’s inductees. Recall there was a list of 12 nominees, and the 500 voters of the Hall of Fame chose their 5 inductees from that list of nominated 12. It would have been fun to have KISS inducted, but the battle was already partially won by having them finally nominated by the famously anti-KISS Nominating Committee. Red Hot Chili Peppers are deserving, but I am glad they did not make it on their first ballot. There are still plenty of deserving earlier artists, so the Peppers will get their day in the spotlight down the road.


I’m not an ABBA fan, but they were a hit machine in the 70’s. The Hollies are somewhat minor, but they had a ton of hits in England during the late 60’s. I like them well enough, and really dig a handful of their songs, especially the Graham Nash gems “King Midas in Reverse” and “Carrie-Ann,” and the super groovy later hit “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress).” To be honest, I think they got in due to heavy lobbying from Little Stevie Van Zandt and Elvis Costello, both longtime Hollies boosters, as well Graham Nash’s general good standing in the music community. Since Crosby (Byrds, CSN), Stills (Buffalo Springfield, CSN) and Young (Buffalo Springfield, solo) have all been inducted twice, it makes sense to even it all out by giving Nash his second induction by honoring his early band. Jimmy Cliff is great, and it is nice to get another reggae star in there beside just Bob Marley. The Stooges are a crucial band, and we can’t blame the Nominating Committee for waiting so long on them. They have been nominated seven times previously, tying Black Sabbath for having been nominated the most times before finally getting voted in. 8th time’s a charm.

ABOVE: The Hollies are semi-deserving of their induction

ABOVE: I was pleasantly surprised that Jimmy Cliff made it

Inducting Genesis goes a long way in rectifying the criminal absence of prog-rock in the Hall. Members of the Nominating Committee, many of them part of Jann Wenner and Jon Landau’s cliques, are notorious prog-haters. Pink Floyd are the only band in the Hall that could be categorized as prog, but they aren’t really prog. So honoring Genesis is a good start. (the band Yes is one of the most glaring omissions in the Hall so far, but the band who gave us the notorious Tales From Topographical Oceans will probably not get by the Rockhall gatekeepers any time soon). For my money, Genesis during the early 70’s produced the best prog-rock ever recorded. Progressive-rock does not get any better than the trilogy of albums Foxtrot (1972), Selling England By the Pound (1973) and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974). That was all during the Peter Gabriel-era of the band. And as dismissive as many fans are of the post-Gabriel (and post-Steve Hackett) Genesis material (which actually comprises about 2/3rds of their career), they made respectable prog-rock in the late 70’s and then made the unlikely transition in the 80’s to pop superstars as a trio. So, congratulations to Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hackett. Long overdue, my friends.

ABOVE: Congrats to Genesis for breaking through the Prog-Rock barrier

The ceremony will be held in March and will be televised on Fuse TV. For those of you interested, Time/Life has put out a 3-DVD set and a more comprehensive 9-DVD set (guess which one I bought?) featuring great performances and induction speeches from the ceremonies from the first 25 years of the Rockhall’s existence. Some of my favorite moments on the DVDs are the rehearsal footage added as bonus features on each disc. If you love rock and roll and its history, this is essential stuff.

Also included on one of the DVD’s is Mike Love’s drunken blitzkrieg of an acceptance speech during the induction of The Beach Boys, where he manages to trash as many music greats as he can within a five minute, fascinating rant. What is fun to watch is George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Mick Jagger all sitting stone-faced in the audience as Love tries to explain why The Beach Boys were a better band than the Beatles or Stones, as there is uncomfortable laughter in the hall. He even goes so far as to challenge Jagger to get up on stage and try and perform as great as he does. A musical duel, if you will. All the more funny because Mike Love sucks. The Beach Boys were great because of Brian Wilson, and it was Love who was primarily responsible for trying to quash the recording sessions of Pet Sounds, Wilson’s masterpiece. Anyway, these are the things that make the ceremonies worth watching every year. (Oh, and Jeff Beck telling the rest of The Yardbirds, including Clapton and Page, “f*** you guys for kicking me out of the band” during their acceptance).

Monday, December 14, 2009

We Are A Nielson Family

I have waited for this moment all of my life. My wife and I have been chosen to be one of the mysterious and all power Nielson's Families. As most of you surely know, Nielson's tracks TV viewing habits of a random sampling of American families around the country. Networks cancel or renew TV shows based on Nielson's ratings. I knew it was a good deal from the get-go when I opened the Nielson's package and there were two whole dollars in cash in the package. That's right. We get paid to watch TV and then tell them what we are watching.

They picked a good family, because we watch a lot of TV. So, what will they find? We watch a lot of cable dramas because they are better. The "Dexter" Season 4 finale last night, for instance? Quite great. I thought John Lithgow was outstanding on "Dexter" this season. ("Dexter" is a Showtime show). On the other hand, "Californication" tanked this season. Seasons 1 and 2 were lots of fun, but this last season that mecifully ended last night was horrible. Can't wait for the next season of "Big Love" on HBO in the Spring. "Nurse Jackie" was good on Showtime as well.

ABOVE: John Lithgow and Michael C. Hall play "competing" serial killers in the great 4th season of "Dexter"

"Modern Family" is the best new comedy this season. Wonderful, and it is the heir to the cult favorite but ratings killed "Arrested Development." We keep our reality viewing down to Bravo's "Top Chef" and the old warhorse "Survivor." Best season ever of "Survivor," by the way. Go Russell! Looking forward to the fun "Chuck" starting back up in January. And I will do everything in my considerable power as a NIELSON FAMILY to save the great "Friday Night Lights."

ABOVE: "Modern Family" is the funniest show on network TV

My wife enjoys many of the sci-fi-tinged shows like "Fringe," "Doll House," etc. Both of those are quality, for what they are. Unfortunately, she also enjoys the two worst shows on television: the insipid "Brothers and Sisters" and "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off "Private Practice" (which is so bad that it makes "Grey's Anatomy" look like Shakespeare). Normally I would use my immense power as a NIELSON FAMILY to do my best to cancel those two blights on modern culture, but my wife will unfortunately rate our household as one that watches them.

ABOVE: I hope that Russell wins "Survivor" this season. This Houston oil man supposedly made over $1 million last year, but told his fellow Survivors that he was a struggling fireman/survivor of Hurricane Katrina (where he, as he tearfully lied, lost his dog in the floods). Russell decided on his first night to empty everyone's canteens and burn their socks in the fire as they slept. He has found three immunity idols so far with no clues given to him. He has made this season lots of fun to watch.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cat Power

I don't usually go for these cutesy animal pics, but as a cat lover, this one made me chuckle.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Brush With the Sort of Famous...

My students were working on a project in my AP U.S. History class the other day, and as is often the case, I had my iPod playing while they worked (U.S. History is not the only history I teach my students). I believe I had some Allman Brothers on tap while they wrote me something about Reconstruction. Southern theme, so it worked.

One of my students asked me out of the blue whether I had ever heard of Sam the Sham. Being well versed in rock history, I of course immediately responded "Woolly Bully!" Turns out that Sam Samudio (aka Sam the Sham) is this kid's great uncle or something. "Woolly Bully" is one of the all time great 60's garage party tunes, and Samudio is one of the first great latino rockers. I immediately grilled my student on everything he could tell me about his uncle Sam, and it turns out the guy has a fascinating story. I'm going to ask my student to get in touch with Sam for me and set up some interviews. There is a book here. I'm serious.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dez Reviews The Kinks Choral Collection, Ray Davies 2009

This is either a great idea or a terrible one. Anyone who has followed the musical loves of Dez knows that I worship at the altar of The Kinks. I have posted at length many times regarding The Kinks here at GNABB.

Kinks leader Ray Davies has decided to revisit some Kinks classics with a full choir behind him. Ray is generally not one to rely on his past triumphs (his most recent solo album from last year, Working Man's Cafe, was excellent). So when he does revisit the Kinks past, he usually tries to put a different twist on it. It is an interesting set-up. Ray plays with a traditional rock band, but the Crouch End Festival Chorus backs him as if it were a Sunday afternoon in church.

If you are familiar with The Kinks discography, you are probably thinking what I was thinking when I first heard about this release. This will work really well if he picks the right tunes. It will be awful if he picks the wrong ones. Ray's songwriting often has a wistful, nostalgic, particulaly English quality to it. It is those songs which would work the best. With two exceptions, every tune he reworks comes from his 1960's period (the exceptions being "Celluloid Heroes" and the title track to Working Man's Cafe, which actually works wonderfully with the older Kinks material).

"You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All of the Night" are as terrible as you might expect in this setting (are these jokes?), while "Waterloo Sunset" is as gorgeous as you would hope. There are several places where Ray and the Chorus really step out and take some chances with once familiar material. The melancholy "See My Friends" is given a haunting, a capella treatment that is quite compelling. The material that really lends itself well to the Chorus are Ray's ruminations on English culture, such as "Victoria" and the six song suite from The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society that closes the record. In fact, given the nature of the brilliant Preservation Society concept album, one wonders why Ray didn't just rework that entire album in a choral arrangement and then augment it with a couple of other thematically related gems here like "Waterloo Sunset." That would have been perfect. At any rate, the six song suite is brilliantly done, especially "Village Green" and "Village Green Preservation Society."

ABOVE: There's no video, but here is the audio of the lovely "Days."

The songs of Ray Davies are some of the finest in pop music. It is a pleasure to hear them in almost any context. Although the record has some embarassing missteps ("You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" really need to remain in the gritty garage in which they were born to keep their potency), most of these tunes benefit from the formal, choral treatment, especially the more delicate mid to late 60's-era tunes that Ray wisely focuses on for most of the record. None of these versions will make you want to forget the originals, mind you, but they are different and interesting enough to give us a nice twist on the Kinks legacy. And as a whole, the record has a tight cohesiveness in mood to it.

**** out of *****

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Charles Strikes Again

Charles Barkley on the Miami Heat: "Dwayne Wade is Michael Jackson playing with a bunch of Tito Jacksons."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sh*t Sandwich

I enjoy looking through Rotten Tomatoes for movie reviews on good (and bad) films, and came across this line: "We have reached a point in our moviegoing life where the two most horrifying words a studio can mutter are "Robin" and "Williams."-John Anderson, Washington Post, reviewing Old Dogs.

Or how about this one from the same review: "When [Robin Williams] puts on the sad clown face, you may indeed laugh, at the tragedy of what happens with success in the movies, and in a culture where Americans demand so little. Travolta is simply useless in Old Dogs, but Williams is actively offensive, in the puerile manner by which he tries to milk sentimentality out of the wizened teat of Old Dogs, which will leave you howling, but only over the cost of the ticket." That is awesome. Someone's performance in a movie is so bad that it is "actively offensive."

The New York Post said: "Old Dogs does to the screen what old dogs do to the carpet. It's unfortunate that only the latter can be taken out and shot."

St. Paul newspaper: "Kids who suffer from progeria may be able to relate to Old Dogs, but it's hard to imagine anyone else fully appreciating it."

Or this: "Director Walt Becker can’t even pull off hits to the groin (you know they’re coming in a movie like this) with as much panache as an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos."

But of course, there is the lone critic who swims against the tide. Pete Hammond of Box Office Magazine offers the sole positive review of Old Dogs, raving that it is "An often riotously funny slapstick farce that ought to appeal to moviegoers of all ages...Robin’s in great form and has terrific chemistry with Travolta as they manage to recall a modern-day Abbott And Costello."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RIP Edward Woodward, 1930-2009

Why does Edward Woodward have so many "D"'s in his name? Because without them, his name would be "Ewar Woowar."

Known best to American audiences as the supercool ex-British intelligence officer turned vigilante Robert McCall in the TV series The Equalizer (1985-89), Woodward was a respected English actor of the screen, TV and stage. I have always enjoyed his work, expecially for the choices he made and the chances he took.

While the man had range and could play a variety of characters and circumstances, he was most effective playing the proper British (or Welsh or Australian) man with an outdated moral code thrown into extraordinary situations where that code is severely tested. This was present in The Equalizer (one of the 80's great forgotten shows), but even more prominent in his two most memorable film roles.

Woodward played the by the book devout Christian (and celibate) police investigator Neil Howie looking into a series of murders of young girls on the island of Summerisle in the British cult horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Howie's inner and professional world are thrown into chaos as he realizes that he is dealing with the island's population who celebrate pagan Celtic rituals, including sexual rites and the worship of the sun. He matches wits with the island's religious and government leader, Lord Summerisle (a never creepier Christopher Lee). While Lee's role is the more flamboyant and memorable, it is Woodward, with his internal conflicts, who anchors the film and makes it more than merely a run-of-the-mill horror flick. It also features one of the most memorable final scenes in all of horror films.

ABOVE: Christoper Lee (left) and Edward Woodward (right) match wits in The Wicker Man. After Woodward objects to naked girls leaping over a fire hoping for supernatural impregnation, Lee calmly points out that "Jesus himself was the son of a virgin who was impregnated by a ghost, if I am not mistaken."

Woodward was even better in the title role of Breaker Morant (1980), a wonderful Australian film detailing the life and court martial of Australian folk hero Harry Morant. Not well known in America, Breaker Morant is one of the most highly acclaimed films in Australian cinema. Morant was a well educated military man, horse breaker and poet, who was put on trial for his alleged involvement in the execution of Boer prisoners of war and a German missionary during the Second Boer War. He is a highly controversial figure in Australian history, and Woodward is brilliant in capturing the complexities and contradictions of the man. A great film that is equal parts war film and gripping court room drama. (And also one of the films that just barely missed making Dez's Top 50 Films list).

ABOVE: One of my favorite scenes from Breaker Morant. The three Australian soldiers accused of war crimes discuss their case (that's a young Bryan Brown with the mustache). Woodward gives a great little speech on "a new kind of war," a speech that was as relevant for for Boer War at the turn of the 20th century as it was for Vietnam in the 1970's as it is for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan today.

RIP Edward Woodward.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Fun Trip Though Pop Culture...

My amigo Johannes sent this to me. The namesake of this blog appears somewhere in there. Can you identify all of the movies/TV shows?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hello Cleveland!

Bruce Springsteen made the classic rock star goof on stage recently in Detroit. Bruce was rocking the crowd and several times bellowed "Hello Ohio!" Only, Detroit is in Michigan. Guitarist Steve Van Zandt corrected The Boss about halfway through the show. The fans were forgiving, since he gave them one of his standard three hour marathons. Still, that's awesome.

Bruce is doing something pretty cool on this tour, though. He has decided to play his best loved records from start to finish at certain stops on the tour. He's already played Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born in the USA and The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. I would love to hear that last one live front to back. My favorite Bruce record. Coming up he plans on playing double record The River all the way through. Considering that his current record Working on a Dream really sucks, it is a good thing he's giving so much attention to older records. Speaking of sucking, I've heard his recent Halloween tune "A Night With the Jersey Devil." One of his worst songs ever, although I appreciate it was meant to be a seasonal novelty. Spirited video, though.

ABOVE: Bruce tries to scare us on Halloween with his bad but spirited haunted screamer "A Night With the Jersey Devil"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maj. Hasan is a Terrorist

13 people are dead because we are too sensitive about hurting other peoples' feelings. Hasan spoke openly about his extreme religious beliefs with his co-workers to such an extent that many were quite concerned months before the Fort Hood massacre. Hasan attempted to contact al-Qaida. Hasan corresponded with fugitive extremist Anwar al-Awlaki. He even made a powerpoint to show his co-workers about the virtues of jihad. I know we want to protect the diversity we have in our armed services, but call it what it is. This guy presented multiple red flags about who he was, yet nobody had the balls to move on him until Officer Kimberley Munley put four slugs in his ass to stop the shooting.

The fact that those on the Left are so afraid to label him a terrorist (they prefer "an instance of work place violence") is absurd. I guess you could call it work place violence in the sense that it was violent. And happened at his place of employment. But the guy is a Muslim Terrorist. Plain and simple.

My favorite quote of the day from Chris Matthews: "It's not a crime to contact al-Qaida, is it?" What a douchebag. And Barack Obama: "we should not make any assumptions until the facts are in." The facts are in, dude. Sigh. We need Ronald Reagan.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Money Well Spent

Congratulations Yankees on winning the World Series.

Yankees payroll for 2009: $ 201,449,289
Phillies payroll for 2009: $ 113,004,048

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dez Reviews Stephen Stills, Live at Shepherd's Bush, 2009

Stephen Stills is one of the most frustrating musicians to follow. He is one of my favorite musicians, and was a prodigiously talented songwriter, guitarist, singer and all around musical visionary. He managed to outshine Neil Young while they were in Buffalo Springfield together, and was the leader and most talented of the law firm Crosby, Stills & Nash when they were in their prime. But somewhere around the mid-70’s he lost his way and never really regained his footing. Ego, excess and perhaps creative exhaustion stalled a career that seemed destined to rival that of his on again/off again musical partner Neil Young. Stills has not been able to write consistently good music since the mid-1970’s, and out of all of his CSNY comrades, the years have probably been the least kind to Stills. As much of a legendary junkie as Crosby was, at least the Cros still possesses some killer pipes. Stills, on the other hand, has lost that beautiful range that he used to have. His voice is now a scratchy, strained howl. He has been in as bad shape as Crosby has been in recent decades, often showing up to gigs out of shape and drunk. Even his once peerless guitar playing has suffered in the last couple of decades.

Therefore, I wasn’t too excited when I heard that he had a new live record coming out that he wanted to act as a sort of career overview. The only thing that got me somewhat interested was that it was to be split evenly between acoustic and electric halves, just like his other live release, the killer 1975 Live.

But it is still Stills, so I had to give him a shot. What a great thing when your expectations are low, and then they are pleasantly and greatly exceeded. This live record is a triumph of sorts for Stills. Perhaps it is because he knows this show is being recorded for posterity, he seems particularly focused. The setlist is well chosen, hitting most of the phases of his remarkable career. He hits highlights from Buffalo Springfield (“Rock and Roll Woman,” “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth”) to CSN (“4+20” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”) to Manassas (“Johnny’s Garden,” “Isn’t It About Time”) and various solo highlights like “Treetop Flyer,” “Change Partners” and “Love The One You’re With.” In addition, he throws in some well chosen covers, like Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country” and Tom Petty’s “Wrong Thing To Do.”

ABOVE: Stephen Stills might be fat, old and out of shape, but he can still kick your ass on the guitar

He is especially chatty during the acoustic set, introducing his classic drug smuggler tale “Treetop Flyer” with “This is dedicated to some of Crosby’s friends…before they knew that they could grow it themselves…” and even acknowledging his age before “4+20” with “I will go ahead and sing the original lyrics, because “3+60” doesn’t have the same ring to it.” It was also interesting to hear him discuss “Johnny’s Garden,” I did not know that it was based on the same gardener that Peter Sellers based his film Being There on. Stills evidently bought the house from a friend who had bought it from Sellers in London and the gardener “came with the house.”

The centerpiece here is his epic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” The song has been a curse of sorts for him to perform in recent years. Be careful writing classic songs in your youth that require vocal gymnastics, because your fans will still expect you to hit those notes 30 years later. I’ve seen CSN live quite a few times over the years, and Stills always struggles vocally with several lines of this song (to an embarrassing extent at times), with Crosby and Nash helping to cover for him with their still strong harmonies. So he’s gonna try it solo here? You can tell even he is hesitant to try it. He plays around with the guitar line for a little bit and then says “I’m just playing around here so I can figure out whether I really want to do this one…” What a revelation this rendition is. Free from the shackles of the tight three part harmonies of the original song, alone Stills is finally able to adjust and play with the vocal lines to fit what he can now do. This is a strong, exciting rendition, and is the most natural I’ve ever heard him sing it (and I’ve heard him do it many times). During the guitar solo section, he unleashes some lightning fast lines that remind us just how great he is on the instrument. Untouchable on the acoustic guitar.

The electric set is not quite as thrilling as the acoustic, but has its charms. His electric playing is muscular and he stretches out and solos in exciting fashion throughout. I especially like what he does with “Rock and Roll Woman.” The original was a bright, chiming pop gem with gorgeous harmonies (I always like to say that “Rock and Roll Woman” is the best Byrds song by someone other than The Byrds). But here Stills dirties it up and turns the once chiming pop tune into a gritty rock anthem. Great stuff. While his guitar playing is excellent throughout, some of the electric set has a certain sameness about it, especially on the rather tired rendition of “For What It’s Worth.” Also, where he was careful and able to work with vocal subtleties in the solo acoustic set, during the electric set at times he is really straining his voice.

Minor complaints aside, this is a triumphant set from Stills. It shows that while he’s been a bit battered, worn and torn, he has survived and still has some of his gifts and can offer us some great music.

***1/2 out of *****

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dez Reviews Adventureland, 2009

Coming of age comedy/dramas are plentiful in movieland, but they are difficult to pull off with authenticity. Adventureland is one of the best of the genre that I've ever seen. Released earlier this year, it is now available on DVD. It sort of came and went under the radar, but it deserves more attention.

Adventureland was marketed all wrong, first of all. As you can see at the top of the movie poster above, it is "from the director of Superbad," and the previews all focus on comedic moments that lose much of their charm and humor out of the context of the film. Based on the preview, you might expect Porky's for the 2000's, but what you get is a sincere, touching (and often humorous) love story.

James (a wonderful Jesse Eisenburg, who was also great in Zombieland) has just graduated from college with a not very useful degree in comparative literature. Thinking that he is about to join his buddies on a summer trip through Europe before starting grad school at Columbia, his plans change when his family falls on hard financial times and he instead has to get a summer job to make some money for grad school. After some funny scenes featuring James being rejected by a host of employers ("I'm a college graduate but apparently I'm not qualified to drive a cement truck"), he settles for a job at the local amusement park. Predictably, he meets and befriends a host of oddball co-workers. He is soon smitten by co-worker Emily (a sly and seductive Kristen Stewart).

ABOVE: Emily (Kristin Stewart) and James (Jesse Eisenburg) spend their summer working at Adventureland, smoking pot and falling in love

The film works for several reasons. First, it captures youthful passion, confusion, love and lust like the best John Hughes films. The performances are all spot on, with many memorable supporting characters (among my favorites is Ryan Reynolds as park repairman/alleged part-time musician/male whore Mike, who claims to everyone who will listen that he once jammed with Lou Reed, but when pressed by James for details, can't even correctly name most of Lou's tunes). Secondly, it takes place in the summer of 1987, and captures the era wonderfully. (There is great use of Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus," for instance). The soundtrack is awesome throughout, The Raplacements's "Unsatisfied" is my new favorite song. But the film mostly works due to the chemistry between the awkward but smart James and the wild child Emily. You sincerely pull for these two to make it.

This is a wonderful coming of age film that sticks with you long after the credits roll.

**** out of *****

BELOW: "James? Am I pronouncing that right?"

"Selling England By the Pound..."

You think Peter Gabriel is a little weird these days? Check out this clip from 1973. In honor of Genesis's long overdue nomination to the Rock Hall of Fame, I went on YouTube and found some great Gabriel-era clips of Genesis. Here's a favorite, "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight." This clip is so old, Phil Collins actually has hair...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's a...

As most of my loyal readers know, I am scheduled to be a father at the beginning of March. My wife and I went to the doctor on Monday for the big sonogram where they tell us the sex of the child. As we were looking at the sonogram picture, I noticed a huge, long, snake-like object between my child's legs. It was massive. When you consider the relative size of this thing with the body of the child, it would dwarf Dirk Diggler. Pride swelled inside of me that we would have such a well-endowed son with a bright future in the porn industry. Dollar signs were dancing in my head as my eyes bulged with awe...but the doctor then told us that what we were looking at was the umbilical chord stuck between the kid's legs. Oh. OK.

It's a girl. Very exciting. I wanted a daughter. Today in class I told my students that we were having a girl and so I projected the website on the board and I asked for name suggestions. I quickly dismissed the suggestions of "Cookie" and "Candy" as "stripper names," which they found funny. Someone suggested Loquishia. But by and large they gave me some good suggestions.

I told them that we, so far, had "Ella" and "Julia" as frontrunners (and my wife is also pushing "Alana"). My wife's name is Nicolyn, and her mother is named Rosalind, and my sister's middle name is "Lynn", so I think we've decided to definitely have "Lynn" in the middle. I really like Ella Lynn. That's got a nice ring to it. But a downside to that is, according to, Ella is the 10th most popular female name this year. There is a flood of Ellas hitting the market. But it seems to really work for me. Thoughts?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fantasy Basketball Draft '09

Just finished my yearly ritual of sitting in front of my computer for hours in my Dikembe Mutombo Rockets jersey participating in my Fantasy Basketball draft. I've been playing in this league for about 5 or 6 years now with these other 10 guys. I've got to say that I'm pretty damn happy with my team this year. For those in the fantasy know, we play a rotisserie league that counts points, threes, rebounds, blocks, steals, assists, turnovers, field goal % and free throw %.

I ended up getting the 7th pick (out of 11 players) for the first round, and I picked Danny Granger. That is ridiculous that he was still available at the 7th pick. In my view he should be 4th or 5th (toss up between Granger and Durant at those spots). Granger doesn't have the name recognition of Lebron or Wade, but as far as fantasy numbers go, he is almost as valuable as they come. He basically is the Pacers offense. Last season he averaged over 2 threes a game and 1.5 blocks per game! That is a crazy combo. He averaged almost 26 points a game last season and was playing injured. So that should go up, if anything.

ABOVE: My pick in the first round this season was Danny Granger

After that, my picks went in this order through the rounds: Chauncey Billups (freakin' Deron Williams was picked two spots ahead of my second pick...argh!), Gerald Wallace, Kevin Martin, Andrew Bynum (I'm a bit nervous about picking him, but it was the fifth round and I needed a center), Al Horford (very happy getting him here in the 6th round), Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler (he should be fun to own this year), Luol Deng, Shaq (he will be on my bench most of the season, but this late in the draft, why the hell not? Maybe last season wasn't a fluke, and he will have Lebron feeding him passes), Andrei Kirelenko, Courtney Lee and Yi Jianlian (who I promptly dropped after the draft and picked up Antonio McDyess off the wire in his place).

So, what do you think? I'm pretty happy with the team considering 11 of us were picking in the draft.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The 12 Miraculous Days of Obama

Our president, Saint Barack Hussein Obama, has joined such important historical leaders as Yasser Arafat (a terrorist) and former president Jimmy Carter (a failed president in every way) as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Not only that, but he did it in record time. The nominations for the Nobel Prize were due by February 1, 2009. Therefore, Obama was nominated for the award 12 days after taking office. I will repeat that: 12 days after taking office.

What did he accomplish in those twelve miraculous days? provided this handy itinerary of Obama's first two weeks in office. I reproduce it here for your convenience:

January 20: Sworn in as president. Went to a parade. Partied.

January 21: Asked bureaucrats to re-write guidelines for information requests. Held an “open house” party at the White House.

January 22: Signed Executive Orders: Executive Branch workers to take ethics pledge; re-affirmed Army Field Manual techniques for interrogations; expressed desire to close Guantanamo Bay

January 23: Ordered the release of federal funding to pay for abortions in foreign countries. Lunch with Joe Biden; met with Tim Geithner.

January 24: Budget meeting with economic team.

January 25: Skipped church.

January 26: Gave speech about jobs and energy. Met with Hillary Clinton. Attended Geithner's swearing in ceremony.

January 27: Met with Republicans. Spoke at a clock tower in Ohio.

January 28: Economic meetings in the morning, met with Defense secretary in the afternoon.

January 29: Signed Ledbetter Bill overturning Supreme Court decision on lawsuits over wages. Party in the State Room. Met with Biden.

January 30: Met economic advisers. Gave speech on Middle Class Working Families Task Force. Met with senior enlisted military officials.

January 31: Took the day off.

February 1: Threw a Super Bowl party.

Ah yes. Now I can see. Now I understand why Obama deserved to be lauded for his efforts at securing peace in our time after a mere 12 days in the White House.

Now, according to the very important Norwegians who dispense this honor, Obama represents a new hope for our future. He has tried to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Middle East, clean up the environment and change the American unilateral ways. But what has he actually done? What concrete accomplishments do we have? We are still in Iraq and Afghanistan. No significant carbon emissions reduction legislation has been passed. The actual number of nuclear weapons has not gone down. Can we say "premature?" Former Polish president Lech Walesa and 1983 Peace Prize winner can. In fact, Walesa's reaction was "So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far...This is probably an encouragement for him to act. Let's see if he perseveres." So once again, Obama is being praised for what he "represents" and what he is expected to accomplish. Forget the fact that he has not actually done much of anything.

The official list of other nominees will not be released for another 50 years, but we do know that there were a total of 205 nominees. Perhaps these were also all people with potential, or did they actually do something? We will only know when the list is released. I think that I will write a book. I promise that it will be amazing. Perhaps they should go ahead and give me the Nobel Prize for Literature now. It will be a great book, I promise.

It seems clear, most of all, that Obama won for who he is not. This was a repudiation of the Bush administration more than anything else.

I think the reaction from several of my students today when we discussed this in class says it all: "But he hasn't done anything!"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2010 Nominees

I know that you have all been breathlessly awaiting the announcement of the nominees for the RRHoF's Class of 2010. The secretive Committee has released a list of 12 nominees, 5 of which will be voted in by the Rockhall members (about 500 musicians, critics, producers, and music experts) as the Class of 2010. I must say, this is an eclectic list. There are some definite surprises here too, considering the prejudices that exist on the Committee.

The nominees are: ABBA, The Chantels, Jimmy Cliff, Genesis, The Hollies, KISS, LL Cool J, Darlene Love, Laura Nyro, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Stooges and Donna Summer.

As a reminder: a band or artist is eligible 25 years after their first release of album or single.

ABOVE: After years of being snubbed, fierce advocacy by the KISS Army (including a march on the Rock Hall museum in Cleveland a couple of years ago) and equally fierce resistence by sworn KISS enemies on the Rock Hall Nominating Committee, KISS is finally nominated for possible induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Hmm. They seem to be covering a lot of bases this time out. Generally there are 8 or 9 nominees, but this time there are 12. They cover pop, disco, reggae, prog rock, classic rock, hard rock, rap, girl groups, singer songwriter, alternative, proto punk. Overall, I'm impressed and happy with this year's nominees.

Two of the most overlooked bands who have sworn enemies on the Committee finally managed to get nominated: Genesis and KISS. I recall Dave Marsh swearing that he will do everything in his power to make sure KISS never gets nominated, and considering his sway on the Committee, I am pleasantly shocked that they finally made it. Perhaps James Hetfield's scolding of the nominating Committee at last year's induction of Metallica and his specifically mentioning KISS as one of the most egregious omissions had an effect?

Love them or hate them, Genesis' continued snubbing has been equally ridiculous. The Committee has a long standing hatred of all things prog rock (King Crimson, Yes, Moody Blues, ELO have all yet to get a single nomination). Perhaps the prog rock door is finally opening beyond Pink Floyd? Cool.

ABOVE: Genesis finally gets a shot at broadening the Rockhall's prog rock contingent beyond just Pink Floyd. Peter Gabriel (right) should already be in twice by now, once with Genesis and secondly for his solo career. But this nomination is a start. This is the best line-up of Genesis, by the way. When Phil Collins (bottom Left) was just the drummer.

Grandmaster Flash and Run-DMC are the only rappers in so far, so LL Cool J is the next hesitant nomination in that regard (Afrika Bombaada and Beastie Boys have been nominated, but not inducted). The Chantels and Darlene Love show that the Committee still hangs on to the Fifties and early Sixties, even though they have already inducted almost all of the worthy acts from that era by now. They seem to keep holding on to that era as a way of avoiding moving into the early 80's. While The Police, REM and Pretenders are in, bands like The Cure, Sonic Youth, The Smiths and Depeche Mode are eligible, but have not been nominated at all.

The Hollies are pretty minor league, but they have many influential boosters on the Committee like Elvis Costello and Steve Van Zandt who have been pushing them for years. Crosby (Byrds, CSN), Stills (CSN, Buffalo Springfield) and Young (solo, Buffalo Springfield) are all inducted twice, so I guess they want to complete the circle by giving Graham Nash his second induction as a member of The Hollies. But, I kind of dig The Hollies, so I would not be too upset to see them inducted. There are simply much more deserving bands who have yet to make it in, much less even get nominated.

ABBA and Summer, although I'm not a fan of the genre, are both deserving disco-era representatives who could join The Bee Gees, who are already in the Hall. Seeing as Bob Marley is the only reggae artist in the Hall so far, I'd like to see the great Jimmy Cliff get in as well. Nyro represents the token obscure singer-songwriter nominee, but I don't see her having much of a chance with this year's competition. The RHCP's get a nomination their first year of eligibility, which is rare. Deserving though. And The Stooges are nominated again. Maybe the 9th time will be the charm (hey, it took Black Sabbath 8 nominations to finally get in).

The fun part is predicting.

First, if I had a vote, my five out of this list would be:

Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Stooges
The Hollies or Jimmy Cliff (I'm having trouble deciding on my fifth slot)

Who do I think will actually be inducted from this list? That is tough because it is longer than usual and more eclectic than usual. There will be some serious vote splitting this year. Most of the voters are older, so that is important to consider. But they are making a concerted effort to make up for some past omissions, so that is equally important to consider. I guess the following will be inducted:

The Hollies
Donna Summer

I am not confident in that prediction at all, by the way. It could go any way this year. The Inductees will be announced in January.

Thoughts? Predictions?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Netanyahu's UN Speech

Below is the transcript to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the UN from a week or so ago. Pretty remarkable speech in my view. If only our own president had this type of fortitude and sense of purpose. The answers to many of Netanyahu's questions to the UN will, unfortunately, be 'no.' When has the UN ever stood firm in the face of real challenges for what is right?

"Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland. I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events. Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth. Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews. Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie? This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?

And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father’s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state. What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations! Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.

This Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries. In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization. It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially. It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances – by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after an horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism? Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted.

For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. We heard nothing – absolutely nothing – from the UN Human Rights Council, a misnamed institution if there ever was one.

In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza. It dismantled 21 settlements and uprooted over 8,000 Israelis. We didn't get peace. Instead we got an Iranian backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv. Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare. You see, the Hamas rocket attacks not only continued, they increased tenfold. Again, the UN was silent.

Finally, after eight years of this unremitting assault, Israel was finally forced to respond. But how should we have responded? Well, there is only one example in history of thousands of rockets being fired on a country's civilian population. It happened when the Nazis rocketed British cities during World War II. During that war, the allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Israel chose to respond differently. Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians – Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.

That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferreting explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.

We dropped countless flyers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave. Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy's civilian population from harm's way. Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel. A democracy legitimately defending itself against terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot.

By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals. What a perversion of truth. What a perversion of justice.

Delegates of the United Nations, will you accept this farce? Because if you do, the United Nations would revert to its darkest days, when the worst violators of human rights sat in judgment against the law-abiding democracies, when Zionism was equated with racism and when an automatic majority could declare that the earth is flat.

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace. Here's why.

When Israel left Gaza, many hoped that the missile attacks would stop. Others believed that at the very least, Israel would have international legitimacy to exercise its right of self-defense. What legitimacy? What self-defense?

The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us –my people, my country - of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense. What a travesty! Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?

We must know the answer to that question now. Now and not later. Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen, all of Israel wants peace. Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace. We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat. We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein. And if the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace. But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace. In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples – a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted that resolution. The Arabs rejected it.

We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are not strangers to this land. It is our homeland. As deeply connected as we are to this land, we recognize that the Palestinians also live there and want a home of their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in peace, prosperity and dignity. But we must have security. The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel.

That is why a Palestinian state must be effectively demilitarized. We don't want another Gaza, another Iranian backed terror base abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv. We want peace.

I believe such a peace can be achieved. But only if we roll back the forces of terror, led by Iran, that seek to destroy peace, eliminate Israel and overthrow the world order. The question facing the international community is whether it is prepared to confront those forces or accommodate them.

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the "confirmed unteachability of mankind," the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them. Churchill bemoaned what he called the "want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong.” I speak here today in the hope that Churchill's assessment of the "unteachibility of mankind" is for once proven wrong.

I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history -- that we can prevent danger in time.

In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dez Reviews Keep an Eye on the Sky box set by Big Star

Rhino Records has turned the remastering, repackaging and anthologizing of great bands into a science. But most of the well known bands have already gotten the Rhino treatment, even if it was by their own record companies. So Rhino and other likeminded companies have had to move on to more obscure music. And thank God for that. Rhino has decided to give the royal treatment to Big Star, the best band you probably have never heard of. (Thanks also to my friend Quinn Bishop over at Cactus Records in Houston who was instrumental in pushing Rhino to turn their attention to Big Star).

Big Star is the classic story of what could have been, of dashed hopes and amazing talent that was squandered by an indifferent record company and band squabbling. Big Star was/is a band that was formed in Memphis back in the early 70's by former Box Tops teen star Alex Chilton and studio hound Chris Bell. Coming out of Memphis at the time you might expect some deep, Stax-influenced soul grooves, but these guys were much more influenced by 60's British Invasion bands and The Byrds. Optimistically (and ironically, as it turned out) naming their debut record #1 Record, they rightfully expected it to break them into the big time. Everything on that record worked: thrilling power pop songwriting, shimmering vocal harmonies, riffs galore, catchy songs, eclectic and interesting songwriting, hard rockers and gorgeous folk numbers. Except that the record was recorded at Ardent Studios and then leased out to Stax, who did not know how to promote the record properly. Stax then sold its catalogue to Columbia around this time, and Columbia had no interest in selling records owned by Stax but put out by indie studios like Ardent. The upshot: even though radio started to play Big Star's music and fans were interested, record buyers literally could not find the record anywhere to buy.

Bell, already a fragile soul, quit the band and Chilton and bassist Andy Hummell and drummer Jody Stephens soldiered on as a trio. Their second record was as great as their first and had a harder edge to it. But Radio City suffered the same fate as its predecessor. By now Chilton was starting to exhibit his excentric (and some would consider career sabotaging) ways. Hummell left, and Chilton and Stephens went into the studio to record a third record. Chilton was on the edge at this point and so disgusted with Big Star's lack of success, he threw all caution to the wind and made a purposefully uncommercial record. Columbia brass felt that it was unreleasable, so it gathered dust in the vaults for several years. It was finally released as 3rd/Sister Lovers and is now as revered as the first two pop masterpieces. Bell was killed in a car accident in the late 70's, and Chilton forged ahead with a strange, underground solo career. Chilton and Stephens reformed in the 90's with Posies frontmen Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, and the new Big Star continues to tour and even released a record in 2005, the well received In Space.

Above: One of Big Star's biggest non-hits, "September Gurls" from Radio City

Big Star's cult reputation has grown to worshipful proportions. Bands like REM swear by Big Star, and the list of well known musicians who claim to be influenced by them is a mile long. They are pioneers of the power pop sound, and their echoes can be heard loudly in today's catchiest rock music.

So, now on to the box. This set is perfect, covering the prime Big Star period of the 1970's (no 90's or 2000's Big Star is here). All three classic records are presented in their entirety, beautifully remastered and remixed. But the rarities are mostly top notch as well. Great alternate versions, gorgeous acoustic demos of some of their best songs that could stand alone as finished recordings, some early historical (and good) pre-Big Star recordings from Chilton and Bell bands like Icewater, Radio City, etc. Some previously unreleased tunes that could have stood side by side with their released material, as well as post-Big Star sublimely great Chris Bell singles where Chilton backs him up. And an entire 1973 live show that is ragged and fantastic. This is a one stop place for all of the prime era Big Star.

ABOVE: Here is the lovely "Thirteen" from #1 Record ("Tell him what we said about 'Paint It Black'"...what an awesome line)

***** out of *****

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Qadaffi's Back! (2 nights added)

In the past decade or so, we have faced some truly scary "evil-doers" who have sought to do us real harm. Bin Laden. Saddam Hussein. But what about one of the true classics? Today Muammar Qadaffi burst back on the scene by addressing the ever relevant United Nations for almost two hours.

During his tirade, he did the following:

* Demanded that the investigation of JFK's murder be reopened, because it was probably the Jews;
* Tore up a copy of the UN charter;
* Demanded that the UN headquarters be moved from New York because it causes him severe jetlag to travel so far from Libya; and
* Claimed that the veto power of the Security Council is "terrorism like the terrorism of al-Qaida"

Of Obama, Qadaffi gushed: "Now the black man doesn't have to sit in the back of the bus. The American people made him president and we are proud of that. We would be happy if Obama stayed president forever." I bet they would. Now that is publicity the White House can't buy.

ABOVE: Qadaffi takes a quick drink during his almost two hour speech at the UN. Note the dude behind him.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rating the Recent Rudeness

Much has been made this week about the coarseness of our society's manners, as represented by three publicized displays of rudeness. I will rate each breach, with * being "not that bad" to ***** being "reprehensible and unforgiveable."

Serena Williams at the U.S. Open

This is only *** at worst. It was the heat of competition and she was frustrated. Plus, there is a long tradition in tennis of blowing up at the officials and line judges. See McEnroe, Connors.

Rep. Joe Wilson during Obama's 1,567th speech about health care

I'd rate this a ****. While it is a long tradition in some countries such as Great Britain to have shouting matches in their legislature while the Prime Minister is speaking (or even fist fights if you are talking about South Korea's parliament), we don't really do that here. Plus, the President of the United States is a symbol of our nation as a whole in addition to serving as the chief of state who should be accorded a certain respect, regardless of political party. Since we don't have a King or Queen, the office of the president is the closest thing we've got. It is not in our tradition to have outbursts like that when the president is addressing a joint session of Congress. Now, the Dems did boo George W. Bush a few years back, which was also a **** on the scale of inappropriate behavior. Let's be fair. But it was quite rude of Wilson and not a good precedent to set. We are still a far cry from the Civil War days when one southern senator beat a northern senator to a pulp with a cane on the Senate floor, or when Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel by Vice-President Aron Burr. But still, we don't really want to go back to those days, do we? Although, Wilson has recieved over $1 million in campaign contributions since his outburst.

ABOVE: Sen. Brooks beats the crap out of Sen. Sumner on the floor of the Senate right before the Civil War

Kanye West highjacking the mike from Taylor Swift to say that Beyonce should have won the award instead of Swift

I give this ****. Assuming that this was not a pre-planned stunt on the part of MTV to garner buzz for their anemic video awards show, this was pretty damn rude. Even President Obama called Kanye a "jackass." Now, when the president of the United States refers to you as a "jackass," you have probably done something pretty stupid. Even worse than the actual act has been Kanye's inevitable "I'm sorry" tour on the talk show circuit. I did enjoy Jay Leno asking Kanye whether his deceased mother would be ashamed of him, though. That was good.

Dez Reviews: The Beatles Rock Band video game

As a true convert to the Rock Band / Guitar Hero genre of video games, I looked to the release of The Beatles Rock Band game with much anticipation. I know I've discussed them before, but as a real musician, I initially scoffed at this line of games. Until I played them. Completely addictive, lots of fun with family and friends. And at least as far as the drums and vocal parts go, they can actually approximate the real deal. (The bass and guitar parts don't really help with your musical skills, other than perhaps with certain rhythms).

Anyway, The Beatles Rock Band takes the familiar Rock Band / Guitar Hero formula and makes it all Beatles. The remastered Beatles music is given the Rock Band treatment.

As a Game

It mostly follows the Rock Band format of guitar, bass, drum and vocal capabilities with Novice, Medium, Hard and Expert levels to choose from for each. Between 1-6 people can play at the same time, so there is great versatility with numbers and friends won't feel left out. Also, each player sets their own level, so I could play Expert bass while a friend who has never played before could play with me on "Tomorrow Never Knows" as a Novice drummer. You can just Quickplay certain songs if you want, or you can challenge yourself through the Story option (the same as the Tour option on the previous games), where you have to work your way through The Beatles' career. This is extremely well done. You work your way through various historical gigs/locations through the Beatles story, starting at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and finishing on the rooftop of Apple Studios for their last performance together in front of an audience. The songs you are required to play are also chronological, which makes sense. You start on the easier tunes like "Twist and Shout" and "I Saw Her Standing There" and wrap up with "Come Together" and "Get Back."

Generally speaking, this is a little easier than the traditional Rock Band. While some tunes are definitely challenging (I did fail out a couple of times), the hardest songs here are not nearly as difficult as the hardest tunes available on regular Rock Band. For instance, my wife being out of town this weekend, I played the game most of the day yesterday solo and already won the entire Story feature within about 4 hours. I hopped around from vocals to bass to guitar to drums just for variety, and was able to get through on either Hard or Expert levels on any instrument with little difficulty (granted I have put in more time than I would like to admit perfecting my general Rock Band skills). On the regular Rock Band game, getting through the Tour option (which I have done as well) took a lot more time and effort.

One other complaint is that the game only comes with about 40 songs. But as they do with Rock Band, they plan on having more Beatles songs available for download in the coming months. My understanding is that in each of the coming months, they will have an entire Beatles album available for download for Beatles Rock Band. I think the rest of Abbey Road (the tunes not already available with the game) is on tap for October. Whatever. I'll pay. It will be fun to be able to play the albums from start to finish. (One of the most fun times I have had with regular Rock Band was in Houston months ago playing with my buddies Jim, Louie, Bryan and Kyle as we worked our way through The Cars' debut album in its entirety).

One funny change they made: yes, you can fail out. But unlike on the other Rock Band games, the crowd does not boo you off the stage when you fail out. You just fail out. Hey, you don't boo the freakin' Beatles!

The only real addition to the game format is the ability to sing harmony vocals. Instead of just one vocalist, the game allows you to have up to three vocalists who dare to re-create the harmonies of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison.

Last night I played a Let It Be-era set trying to play bass while also singing with a mike stand. That is challenging. I was able to stay alive playing Medium level bass and singing Hard level vocals. Pretty impressive, if I do say so myself. Lots of fun too.

For Beatles Fans

Now, for Beatles fans this is a wonderful goldmine. First, it looks beautiful. With thoughtful and thrilling era-appropriate backgrounds (from Hamburg to psychedelia) and cartoons throughout the game, it is a visual masterpiece. They unearthed rare studio chatter from throughout the band's career, and so as you are waiting for each song to load up to play, you get to hear all of this chatter that is related to the song you are about to play. Nice. As prizes for advancing in the Story game and for scoring high points on songs, you unlock rare photos and even video clips to view. The video clips are awesome. So far I've unlocked a rehearsal take of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" when preparing to perform on Ed Sullivan, some fun goofing on a train while on their first American tour and a rare, fan-club only Christmas record. Great stuff.

Also, if you want to pay for the deluxe set, you can get reproduction instruments to use (my favorite has to be the McCartney Hofner bass). You don't have to buy the instruments since the game works fine with the regular Rock Band instruments (and likewise, the special Beatles instruments will work on other Rock Band / Guitar Hero titles), but the true fan needs the Beatles instruments.

Gameplay: *** out of ***** (when compared to other Rock Band titles available)
As a Beatles tribute: **** out of *****