Tuesday, November 29, 2005

a disgrace to Colorado

November 29, 2005

Senator Wayne Allard
521 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

Dear Senator Allard:

As a proud Coloradan, I was disheartened to learn that you recently voted against a measure that would have banned torture.

Whether you suffered a massive ethical lapse or have merely become a doormat for a presidency run amok, I am not certain. But your vote is an affront to the principles of our democracy. Torture is a barbaric and despicable practice.

No matter the trying circumstances of our time, there can be no justification for reprehensible conduct by the American government. This country's founding tenets cannot be cast aside when impractical, even under the duress of terrorism.

Until your recent vote, I would have thought you would agree.

To quote from your own position on human rights posted on your Web site: "The United States continues to be a leader of democracy and human rights in the international arena. ... I have worked closely with my colleagues and the current Administration to spread democracy and prevent human rights violations worldwide, regardless of people's political, ethnic or religious affiliation."

Where does torture fit into that vision, sir?

Your vote stands in stark contrast to your lip service.

Reports of torture and detainees being held indefinitely without charge or trial are rampant from Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and secret CIA prisons abroad. These practices run counter to basic civil liberties afforded American citizens.

And the United States cannot export democracy to Iraq when the very ideals cherished at home are denied to those we purport to liberate.

Abuses breed deeper hatred of American ideals abroad, particularly in Arab lands. When the recipients of these U.S. "interrogation techniques" are innocents, our conduct becomes even more apalling. This government, regrettably, cannot distinguish between terrorists and innocent civilians.

During your investigation into Abu Ghraib, you asked Maj. Antonio Taguba on May 11, 2004: "Did we have terrorists in the population at this prison?" He answered: "Sir, none that we were made aware of."

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the commander at the notorious prison, said in a recent interview with salon.com that: "By the end of September (2003), they brought in just over 3,000 security detainees. And none of them were released. ... Generally, 90 percent of the security detainees behind held at Abu Ghraib were just innocent, had no information at all."

Yet nothing was done to prevent their torture. Your vote tacitly condones the torture of innocents as an unfortunate-yet-acceptable byproduct of the fight against terrorism. It also overlooks the way this administration has smugly violated countless provisions of the Geneva Convention and turned a deaf ear to concerns voiced by our international peers.

These developments, including your vote, undermine the country's moral authority to wage a war against terror.

Our allies have heard reports of our misdeeds and waned in their support of our efforts. Our enemies have used them to arouse suspicion of our intent among impartial Arabs.

If you wish to reduce the United States to the same moral ground of the extremists we fight, by all means use the same draconian tactics they do. But as the most powerful democracy in the world, we're supposed to be better than that.

A vote for torture, no matter the party or purpose, is unbecoming a United States senator. History will cast a harsh light on your decision.



Monday, November 14, 2005

when sitcoms go serious

The bar for sitcoms is set pretty low.

Television audiences tune in for a chuckle every week. They watch familiar characters bumble through situations that expose their foibles. The formula is repeated week after week, show after show. The very word "sitcom" is short for situational comedy, so by definition these shows typically do not tackle serious material.

When they do make that rare venture into the serious side of life, wow, what a treat.

Very often, it is a signal the show is approaching the end of its run, or, if you want to use a cliche, "jumping the shark". But there are those episodes where Asaad Kelada's and Alan Thicke's of the world pull off the feat of producing compelling, emotional drama in a half-hour of television. Sometimes they are bad and good in the same episode.

So whether these are merely guilty pleasures of mine or actually good television, I have no idea. Below is a list of the top-five most memorable times that sitcoms have gone serious.

1. All In The Family. "Edith's 50th birthday" episode. Aired Oct. 16, 1977.

It's hard to lump AITF into the sitcom genre, because it did such a good job of exposing the taboos of an old society nonetheless common in everyday life, and showing the societal schism between baby boomers and their parents. But I digress...

Edith Bunker is nearly raped by a man posing as a detective. Aside from the obvious question of who would want to rape television's lovable dingbat, this bold episode is hilarious while, at the same time, probably the first show to address such a sensitive subject. It's hilarious because Edith asks the intruder "Wouldn't you rather have coffee?" after he has made his intentions known. At the end, you can't help but want to cheer when she smashes her burning birthday cake into the phony detective's grill.

2. Family Ties. "My Name Is Alex" episode. Aired March 12, 1987.

It's hard to include a Family Ties episode, because each one really had a heavy-handed moralistic lesson at the end. Nonetheless...

Alex rejects his friend Greg's request that he help him move a friend's piano. Greg is promptly killed in a car accident en route to moving said piano. Alex is racked with guilt because he should have been in the car with his best friend, who strangely, we have never met before this episode.

The scene at the psychiatrist's office clinches this episode's place on the top five, if only for the moment APK deduces that two dimes, a quarter and three pennies have been dropped by the shrink. Even if this show takes a simple-minded look at the "why are we here" question -- the script offers so many cliches, it was probably written by Mallory -- it offers genuine emotion.

This would also be a good time to remember when Tom Hanks made an excellent guest appearance as Elise Keaton's crazy drunk of a brother.

3. WKRP in Cincinnati. "In Concert" episode. Aired Feb. 11, 1980.

Baby, have you ever wondered ... wondered whatever became of those kids trampled at Riverfront Stadium.

WKRP does a tremendous job turning this episode around a little more than two months after 11 kids were stampeded to death during The Who concert on Dec. 3, 1979 in their very own 'Nati.

The first half of this episode shows the excitement and fervor gearing up for the big show. The second half reflects the reactions of the grieving staff, including a somber Johnny Fever, who had given tickets away for this very event. Considering they used a real-life event so effectively, this should probably be higher on my list.

Two random points: 1) Even as a young child when this show aired, I understood that Bailey Quarters was far hotter than Loni Anderson. 2) During this series, WKRP often refers to Mayor Springer, who is none other than Jerry Springer, the honest-to-God, one-time Mayor of the 'Nati.

4. All In The Family. "The Draft Dodger" episode. Aired Dec. 25, 1976.

Another powerful episode from Norman Lear that comes at the height of the nation's angst over the Vietnam War. Gloria and Mike's draft-dodging friend stops by for Christmas dinner. Archie invites Pinky Peterson, who has just lost his son in the 'Nam, for the same meal.

The episode reaches its predictable crescendo with the backgrounds of the two guests exposed during dinner. Carroll O'Conner delivers a fiery performance while skeweing the draft-dodging David, but is stunned into silence when Pinky shakes David's hand.

Nothing on television has come close to summing up Vietnam the way this episode did.

5. The Brady Bunch. "Bobby's Hero" episode. Aired Feb. 2, 1973.

Mike and Carol Brady are called to meet with young Bobby's teacher after it is revealed he has developed a fascination for outlaw Jesse James. In his typical father-knows-best fashion, Mike Brady has Bobby meet with 90-year-old Jethroe Collins (played by Burt Mustin), whose father was killed by Jesse James during a stick-up.

Later that night, Bobby dreams his family's train his hijacked by a vengeful James, who guns down the Brady family using a mint-colored gun and yelling "bang, bang." Bobby wakes up crying, and the lesson has been learned. Root for the good guys, not the bad apples.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

one for the road

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I will be embarking on a lengthy road trip. Myself and the soon-to-be-missus are driving from Denver to Houston, and then back home.

If you had 35 hours to spend in the car, what would be among your choices for road-trip music? I am looking for suggestions on things that would be staples of a good road-trip roation as well as new tunes to try out.

Your suggestions are welcome.

Also, I have a big FAA test next Friday, so I probably will not be posting much until after that is over.

Monday, November 07, 2005

what a buffoon

I read this Associated Press story this afternoon, and it just made me shake my head in disbelief. I've tried to restrain myself from starting political debates on here, but sometimes things are so ridiculous, it cannot be avoided.

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) -- President Bush vigorously defended U.S. interrogation practices in the war on terror Monday and lobbied against a congressional drive to outlaw torture.

"There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again," Bush said. "So you bet we will aggressively pursue them but we will do so under the law."

He declared, "We do not torture."

Over White House opposition, the Senate has passed legislation banning torture. With Vice President Dick Cheney as the point man, the administration is seeking an exemption for the CIA. It was recently disclosed that the spy agency maintains a network of prisons in eastern Europe and Asia, where it holds terrorist suspects.

The European Union is investigating the reports, which have not been confirmed by the White House.

If we do not torture, as George so adamantly stated, then why oppose legislation that would specifically ban torture?

Because we do torture, we do run gulag-style prisons in eastern Europe and elsewhere, as a comprehensive story in The Washington Post meticulously detailed last week. We indeed have sunken to the level of Stalin.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry

Here is a link to my recent review of Marah's new album, If You Didn't Laugh You'd Cry.

I had quite a bit more to say, but they prefer short, concise reviews, so I did my best to follow those guidelines. Bottom line, the album is very good. As one of my friends said, it rivals Kids In Philly as the group's best ever.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

cover to cover

If I was a musician, and let's be clear I'm not, I would be leery of covering other people's music. It's hard to do it right.

Most cover songs make me cringe, and for good reason. They insult the original version of the song. Sheryl Crow destroyed Sweet Child O' Mine. Brittany Spears trashed Satisfaction. Others are merely mediocre for not adding enough of a new spin, which then begs the question "what's the point?"

A good cover walks a delicate balance between casting a fresh perspective on an old song while remaining faithful to the original artist's intent. So says me.

Here's my imperfect list of the top 6 covers of all time. It's just off the top of my head and by no means comprehensive. So if you say, "Hey, how could you forget so-and-so's verson of that-old-song," it's probably exactly because it didn't pop into my head while creating this list.

Also, my friend Bill has compiled his best-cover list too, so check it out. We didn't discuss our picks before, so I don't know what he picked yet. But we're both posting our lists today.

1. Marvin Gaye. I Heard It Through The Grapevine. This was a Motown classic originally made a big hit by Gladys Knight and the Pips. Breaking an unofficial rule that a good deal of time should pass before a song is covered, Gaye took his slowed-down, soulful version to No. 1 in 1968, only one year after the original release.

2. Jimi Hendrix. All Along The Watchtower. Sure, it's a safe pick. But it carries my definition of a good cover to a new level, actually conveying the song's revolutionary message better than Bob Dylan's original. The Hendrix version is fierce and alarming.

3. Van Morrison. Gloria. Morrison turned this Donnie Iris and The Cruisers number into an fiesty anthem enjoyed to this day. As for the original, well shit, I'll admit I've never even heard it. But I remembered that it was not a Morrison original, so it makes the list.

4. The Black Crowes. Hard To Handle. This cover of the Otis Redding tune helped the Crowes, a pretty damned good band, attain national recognition. Both the cover and original are rollicking. Interestingly, the Grateful Dead have also done a version.

5. Warren Zevon. Knockin' On Heaven's Door. Yes, another Dylan cover, one that might be the most covered song in the last 40 years. But few did it like Zevon -- he did it while dying of cancer and softly whispering "let me in, let me in!" It was haunting, and it took big stones.

6. Johnny Cash. Hurt. A master of covers his entire career, the Man In Black made his last a mournful, poignant, sad Nine Inch Nails cover that is a reflection on his life and approaching death. I'm not a sappy man, but it's hard to listen to this song and watch the accompanying video without getting a little choked up.