The Fall Of Anakin Skywalker
New DVD out today, for all of you looking to complete your collection!
New DVD out today, for all of you looking to complete your collection!
One year after George W. Bush's victory, The New York Times offers a biting critique of the administration's performance, with over three years left to go. The harshest words are reserved for the vice-president. Read for yourself:
President Bush's Walkabout
After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.
In Argentina, Mr. Bush, who prides himself on his ability to relate to world leaders face to face, could barely summon the energy to chat with the 33 other leaders there, almost all of whom would be considered friendly to the United States under normal circumstances. He and his delegation failed to get even a minimally face-saving outcome at the collapsed trade talks and allowed a loudmouthed opportunist like the president of Venezuela to steal the show.
It's amazing to remember that when Mr. Bush first ran for president, he bragged about his understanding of Latin America, his ability to speak Spanish and his friendship with Mexico. But he also made fun of Al Gore for believing that nation-building was a job for the United States military.
The White House is in an uproar over the future of Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, and spinning off rumors that some top cabinet members may be asked to walk the plank. Mr. Bush could certainly afford to replace some of his top advisers. But the central problem is not Karl Rove or Treasury Secretary John Snow or even Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary. It is President Bush himself.
Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver - in great part through his own powers of leadership - a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.
The place to begin is with Dick Cheney, the dark force behind many of the administration's most disastrous policies, like the Iraq invasion and the stubborn resistance to energy conservation. Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney's back is against the wall, and he's declared war on the Geneva Conventions.
Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.
This child of the late 1970s and early 1980s enjoyed a retro night at the Journey concert right here in Wallingford. I took eleven teenagers see a band that peaked long before any of them were born. I was only mildly disappointed to find out that I had been hoodwinked during the show into thinking that the lead singer was actually Steve Perry. The soundalike was pretty credible, though, belting out renditions of "Don't Stop Believing," "Faithfully," "Wheel In The Sky," "Anyway You Want It,"
On my way home from a meeting tonight I stopped by the Apple store and was mesmerized into buying the new iPod with video capability. The store did give me the educator's discount, but this was still a pretty pricey purchase on the spur of the moment. With a 60G hard drive, I can fit all of my iTunes songs for the first time plus add photos, videos, and other such distractions.
The DVD of U2's Vertigo 2005 tour arrived via Amazon this morning (the deluxe edition, of course!). It holds warm memories of the May concert I saw in Boston just after this Chicago show was filmed.
Sort of. Fall term classes ended today. This break between trimesters hardly feels like a vacation, however, since the faculty here at school have exams to grade, reports to write, and winter term syllabi to prepare, all while trying to enjoy the Thanksgiving vacation.
I took in the latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise at the local cinematic emporium last night with an assortment of 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds who apparently have been weaned on a steady diet of Hogwarts books and movies. The film did not disappoint. I find that while I read these Harry Potter books when they come out--usually flying through each one in a day or so--I promptly forget all the details of the plot so that when the corresponding movie comes out a few years later, it all seems pretty new to me. I suppose that's good. For example, I had forgotten the twist at the end of "Goblet of Fire." Thumbs up.
. . . and I will be there. December 7--a day that will live in more than just infamy!
I have spent far too much time today ripping music videos from my DVD collection onto my iTunes. It's hard to imagine I will ever spend much time watching these on my new iPod. But if anyone wants to know how to do this, I have acquired a certain degree of production expertise.
As soon as I get a block of time and the courage to tackle this project, this web site is getting an upgrade. Specifically, I need to update the Movable Type engine that runs the blog. Then I will convert the whole site to CSS, which will give all the pages a fresh look.
I actually saw snow flurries today, a little after noon. Unfortunately, it's getting too cold to ride my scooter around much anywhere, which means I am faced with the unpleasant task of putting it away for the winter and all the mysterious mechanical processes that will entail. On a related front, I figured with sub-30 degree temperatures making an appearance, I finally ought to take out the air conditioner from my bedroom window.
The only thing better than getting into a bed with freshly washed sheets is getting into a bed with NEW sheets!
Snow on Thanksgiving morning! A couple of inches already have accumulated here in Wallingford. I'll be kicking in the four-wheel-drive on my way up to South Windsor later this morning for some family time. I'll bet that retailers will be happy that the mood for tomorrow's sales extravaganzas ought to be a bit more holiday-oriented in light of this weather. (By the way, not only would I never dream of going anywhere near a mall tomorrow, I CERTAINLY can't imagine getting up at 5 a.m. to do so!)
ABC announced Wednesday that Alias will be canceled at the end of this, its fifth, season. I was a latecomer to the show, devouring the first three seasons on DVD. Frankly, I thought the show gradually went downhill, season by season. What used to be grippingly suspenseful has gotten boringl it can no longer hold a candle to 24 in the category of outlandish serial action thrillers on television. Nothing that followed could match the appeal of the first season, with Jennifer Garner as a part-time grad student with a seemingly normal existence who was leading a double (triple?) life as a CIA spy within the SD-6 organization. The detailed touches of the "normal" side of Sydney Bristow's life--like her interactionx with roommate Francie and best friend Will--brought some much-needed human interest into otherwise far-fetched plots. I even liked the Rambaldi mythology before it got too played out. But this season, with a very pregnant Sydney still in action around the world, has become preposterous far beyond my capacity for the suspension of disbelief.
The Sunday funnies on a Friday:
In addition to grading exams, writing end-of-term comments, preparing my winter syllabi, and coaching runners, I also have time for leisure pursuits this weekend, as evidenced by the creation of the following:
Here's one more:
A good piece on the world's biggest rock band in the Business section of the this morning's Times:
Media Age Business Tips From U2
by David Carr
IN pop culture, nothing lasts forever. But U2 is coming close.
On the surface, the formula U2 used to send 20,000 fans into sing-along rapture at Madison Square Garden last Tuesday night was as old as rock 'n' roll: four blokes, three instruments, a bunch of good songs. Add fans, cue monstrous sound system, light fuse and back away.
But that does not explain why, 25 years in, four million people will attend 130 sold-out shows this year and next that will gross over $300 million and how their most recent album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," has already sold eight million copies.
For that, you have to look at U2 less as a band than as a multimillion-dollar, multinational media company, one of the smarter ones around.
"We always said it would be pathetic to be good at the music and bad at the business," said Paul McGuinness, the band's manager since the beginning. And while U2 hasn't become a Harvard Business School case study (at least not yet) it offers an object lesson in how media can connect with their customers.
MEET THE CONSUMERS WHERE THEY LIVE For years, the U2 fanzine Propaganda was used to feed the tribe. The band's Web presence was restricted to temporary sites for specific tours. But in 2000, U2 opened an extensive Web site, with an index to every song and album, lyrics, tour news that is refreshed nightly and subscriber features - for those die-hards willing to part with $40 - that allowed them access to tickets, exclusive content and streaming downloads of every song and video the band has ever made.
APOLOGIZE, THEN MOVE ON With the Vertigo tour, it became apparent that some of those fans who had paid good money to join U2's Web site had been elbowed aside by scalpers in the scrum for tickets. The band's response was to apologize immediately and promise to do better.
"The idea that our longtime U2 fans and scalpers competed for U2 tickets through our own Web site is appalling to me," the drummer Larry Mullen wrote in a statement issued by the band as soon as the problem arose. "I want to apologize to you who have suffered that."
EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY While other big acts were scolding and threatening fans for downloading music or, in the case of Metallica, suing Napster, U2 was busy working on a new business model.
A collaboration with Apple yielded a U2 special edition iPod that was a smash hit and gave visibility to the band at a time when most radio station playlists don't extend much beyond a narrow selection of pop singers. With iTunes, U2 produced what may be the industry's first downloadable version of a box set, offering the band's entire musical history for $149.
"We thought it was an opportunity to be taken with both hands," said Mr. McGuinness. Contrast that statement with anything from Hollywood on digital technology in the last three years.
DON'T EMBARRASS YOUR FANS Sure, U2 has recorded some clunkers (1997's "Pop" comes to mind) but the band works and reworks material until it has a whole album's worth of songs, no filler. Last Tuesday, the band played at least four of the songs from the current album, giving the songs a shot at entering the pantheon and affirming U2's status as a contemporary band, not a guilty pleasure or retro musical act that covers their own earlier greatness. (Quick, what's the last Rolling Stones' album?)
"Don't embarrass your fans," Bono told The New York Times last year. "They've given you a good life."
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU SELL OUT U2 has been offered as much as $25 million to allow a song to be used in a car commercial. No dice. They traded brands, not money, with Apple. Bob Dylan may wander around in a Victoria's Secret ad and The Who will rent "My Generation" to anybody with the wherewithal, but the only thing U2's music sells is U2. Just because it will fold and go in someone's pocket - The New Yorker publishing ads illustrated by its cartoonists comes to mind - does not mean it will be beneficial over the long haul.
EMBRACE POLITICIANS, NOT POLITICS I watched Bono, during the Republican Convention last year, hold Bill O'Reilly of Fox News rapt with a lengthy discussion of AIDS in Africa. Last summer, he posed for a photograph with President Bush, congratulating him for the work his administration had done for Africa.
"Their credibility is very strong," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a trade magazine covering the concert industry. "I don't think there is anybody who doesn't believe that they are sincere in what they are doing."
(Bono came close to jumping the shark by donning a blindfold and miming a prison torture scene during "Bullet the Blue Sky," the band's fatwa against United States military intervention and then saying at the end of the song, "This is dedicated to the brave men and women of the U.S. military." Which of these things, Bono?)
IT'S CALLED SHOW BUSINESS FOR A REASON In 1980, I was standing with my sister at First Avenue bar in Minneapolis watching a then little-known band from Dublin take the stage. The Edge, the band's lead guitarist, kicked into a chiming, ringing salute, the opening chords of "I Will Follow." Bono ambled out, absently drinking a glass of water and when the drummer kicked in, Bono tossed the water into the lights above him, a mist enshrouding him - and us - as he stepped to the mike.
Much theatrical and musical combustion ensued, on that night and in the decades since. The current show is a testament to reinvestment, with a huge lighting and stage structure that managed to make Madison Square Garden seem like a cozy church, the backdrop for a secular sacrament. The Vertigo tour included seven curtains of lights, consisting of 12,000 individual bulbs, and a heart-shaped runway that may have wiped out a few hundred prime seats, but allowed thousands more to feel engaged as The Edge and Bono strode out along it during songs.
SEIZE THE MOMENT, BUT DON'T STEAL IT For years, U2 declined invitations to play at the Super Bowl, but the first one held after the attacks of Sept. 11 had special significance. Bono, in the middle of singing "Beautiful Day," slyly opened his coat to hundreds of millions of viewers and revealed it was lined with the American flag. The band adopted industrial and electronic motifs into their music in the 90's to give currency to their sound and then promptly stripped it down for the current tour. Not every gesture and instinct resonates: Let's not forget Bono's decision to go with a mullet in the mid-80's.
AIM HIGH As the central icon in the Church of the Upraised Fist - a temporary concert nation of gesturing frat boys, downloading adolescents and aging rockers reliving past glories - Bono can command his audience to do anything. During the concert last Tuesday, Bono asked the audience to send, via text message, their full names to One, an organization that fights AIDS and global poverty. They happily complied and their names were flashed on screen between encores. MTV's "Total Request Live" may attract a wider audience, but its members probably aren't made to think they are part of something bigger.
This struck me as very funny (from McSweeney's.net):
7 Habits of Highly Successful People
by Brendon Lloyd
6. Dinner parties