Thursday, October 4, 2007

America and Torture

Okay. Okay. One more...

Andrew Sullivan has been coming down hard on the Bush administration for its authorization of torture for a few months now. You can read his devastating piece on some of the similarities in techniques used by the Nazi regime and those Bush has endorsed (they used the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques" too).

Today he responds to the New York Times piece on the DoJ memo which has just come to light and clearly states that torture is okay. Sullivan is understandably livid as all Americans should be.

There is no doubt - no doubt at all - that these tactics are torture and subject to prosecution as war crimes. We know this because the law is very clear when you don't have war criminals like AEI's John Yoo rewriting it to give one man unchecked power. We know this because the very same techniques - hypothermia, long-time standing, beating - and even the very same term "enhanced interrogation techniques" - "verschaerfte Vernehmung" in the original German - were once prosecuted by American forces as war crimes. The perpetrators were the Gestapo. The penalty was death. You can verify the history here.

We have war criminals in the White House. What are we going to do about it?

Is this the kind of country we want? I almost feel ashamed not only that it is happening in my country, but that so many people seem to not really care because it just happens to non-whites and it supposedly keeps us "safe."

Some things shouldn't be compromised.

Fairy Tale Murder Mystery

I should be going to bed (or at least doing homework), but I want to write about the TV show I watched last night. I don't watch a lot of TV and typically if it's a good show, I just catch it on DVD. Last night, though, I sat down to watch one of the new fall shows that appeared very intriguing, Pushing Daisies.

In a nutshell: impressive. It was a great blend of fairy tale romance, macabre murder mystery, and quirky characters. Ned discovers when he is a young boy that with a touch he can bring dead things (people, animals, plants, insects) back to life. It sounds great, except there is a catch. If he touches the person or thing again, they die. However, if he does not touch them again within a minute, someone close by dies in their place.

This leads to a very traumatic experience for Ned. When he is 8, his mother has an aneurysm in front of him. He doesn't yet know that a second touch will kill her or that if he doesn't touch her in a minute, someone else will die. Ned is in love with Chuck, the girl next door. When his mother is alive for more than a minute, Chuck's father keels over and dies in the yard. Then when Ned's mother tucks him in for bed that night, she gives him a kiss and promptly falls over dead.

Chuck goes away to live with her neurotic aunts and Ned develops a neurosis about touching or getting attached to people. He makes a quiet living making pies until a private detective learns about his ability. Together they make money by solving murders. Ned reanimates the corpse, asks them "who did it?" and kills them again before a minute is up.

This works out well for them until Chuck turns up dead. The private investigator, Emerson, does not know of the history between Ned and Chuck who have not seen each other since they were 8. He tells Ned their is a big reward for this case, but Ned cannot bring himself to kill Chuck again once he has resurrected her. Of course, he cannot touch her again and their are many sweet (and funny) moments in the episode as they grapple with this.

It's nice to see a show that's different. Shows about lawyers, doctors, and cops are a dime a dozen and most of them are all too similar. There is nothing like Pushing Daisies on TV and I can't wait to see more episodes. I'm hoping that it catches enough of an audience to stay on. Too many good shows don't seem to get an audience and are cancelled (Arrested Development, Boomtown). So, check it out. Let the suits know we don't want more of the same junk they're always trying to peddle on us.

Nightwish - Dark Passion Play

Nightwish has finally released their latest CD, Dark Passion Play. It came out on Tuesday. I've been anxiously awaiting this album for awhile now, but somehow with everything going on I forgot about it until I was leaving work today. Needing to fix this grievous error, I immediately went to the local Hastings and picked it up.

So, how does it measure up to previous releases. I've only listened to it all the way through once and I am half way through a second listen as I type. It's going to take a few times through to really get a feel for it, however, I have to say I really like it.

Of course the big change with this album is the new singer, Annette Olzon. She does not have a classically trained voice as Tarja did. She has a "poppier" sound. I do like it, though. She has good range and emotion. It will be interesting to see how she sounds singing their older material.

The heart of Nightwish has always been Tuomas Holopainen. His poetic lyrics and beautiful compositions are what makes Nightwish Nightwish and he doesn't disappoint here even as some other band members share song writing credits on two songs. With Dark Passion Play, Tuomas has gone over and above their last CD, Once, in epicness. A full orchestra is used and the liner notes credit some fifty people in two choirs for backing vocals. This is on full display on the album's first song, The Poet and the Pendulum, a fourteen minute show-stopper about death, hope, love, and the power of music. It is probably my favorite track at this point, very reminiscent of Ghost Love Score, another of my favorites.

Marco Hietala continues to be more prominent vocally, getting lead vocals on a couple of songs, and prominent as back-up in several others. His gruff voice sets up a great contrast with Annette and makes for some dynamic interplay.

Tuomas has always been very personal with his lyrics, but a few songs seem more so on this album. It is obvious that parting with Tarja was very hard in him. He doesn't talk about his personal life much, but it is clear that he really loved her. Unfortunately for him, it was unrequited. The song Bye, Bye Beautiful really captures the anger, torment, and loss he feels. The song Master Passion Greed is most definitely about Tarja's husband and the anger Tuomas (and the rest of the band) felt with the way he treated them and pushed Tarja to go after her solo career.

All in all, while the voice may be different, Dark Passion Play is still classic Nightwish. I'm not sure how I'd rank it in relation to the others right now, but it is damn good and highly recommended if you like epic, melodic heavy metal with female vocals.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fall Classic

I don't follow baseball near as much as I once did. After I stopped playing myself and went through the turmoil of the last 15 years ('94 player's strike, steroids, etc.), I've become bored and disinterested with the sport for the most part. In fact, I didn't even realize that my beloved Cubs made the playoffs until a few days ago.

So, with the eternal optimism of a true Cubs fan, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

Presidential Trivia

Mental_floss ran a contest to give away some books. Players had to answer questions about American presidents and could submit their own nuggets of presidential trivia including this gem:

“Lyon Tyler, whom John Tyler sired at the spry young age of 63, went on to continue the family tradition and in 1928, at the age of 75, fathered a child himself. That son, Harrison Tyler (at right, in 2006) is still alive. The grandson of the tenth president of the United States, the grandson of a man born in 1790, is alive today. He currently lives on his grandfather’s estate, Sherwood Forest, in Virginia. And ladies, if you’re interested, he may be looking to continue the family legacy.”

And I thought it was amazing that my dad's dad was born in 1884.

Obama's Game Plan

Obama has pledged to run a "different" campaign, one where negativity and attacks on one's opponents wouldn't happen. Some have been saying lately that with Clinton's numbers remaining very strong that Obama needs to go on the attack to more sharply differentiate himself. I think, though, that it would be a mistake to do so. For one, he has said he is not going to do that and to change now would only make him look bad. Second, the primaries are still months away and many (most) people have not been paying that much attention, yet. I think when they do, Obama will begin to look better and better. Not to mention that Obama has been criticizing Clinton, just not overtly.

Andrew Sullivan writes briefly about Obama's recent speech at DePaul University and has the full text of it. It is long, but worth the read. It is inspiring and, for me, highlights why he is the best candidate in the race. He comes down hard against torture, talks about diplomacy (imagine that!), says we need to get out of Iraq immediately but not precipitously, calls on Americans to serve, promises to be open and honest, and says he wants to unite America.

Sure, politicians always talk big when they are running, but this is better stuff than what the other candidates, on either side of the aisle, are saying (double Gitmo! free money for being born!). This is what I want to see in a leader even if I don't agree with all of his policy ideas.

Reshaping Education

Slate has an article about a new book, Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy. As the title suggests, it is about Albert Shanker and his quest to improve schools in America starting in the 60s.

In the process, Shanker transformed American education. His efforts significantly boosted teacher salaries, equalized pay between men and women, assured minimal standards in schools (not least by capping class sizes), and forced the National Educational Association, the nation's most powerful teachers' union, to embrace collective bargaining. He also encouraged his sometimes reluctant membership to embrace necessary reform; the American Federation of Teachers, under Shanker's leadership until his death in 1997, backed provisions for ousting incompetent teachers, public school choice, and the standards movement. And unlike Reuther's UAW, Shanker's union has held onto its gains. Today, there isn't a teacher in America whose life hasn't been touched by Shanker's own.

Sigh. Another book added to my list of "must reads."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Religious Humor

Check out this video. This is the first in a series at I was laughing my ass off. Warning: if you are at all sensitive to religious humor, you may find some of the videos blasphemous.

The School Bell is Ringing

I am back in school today. I logged on to my classroom for Introduction to the Old Testament and got my assignments for the week. I have about forty pages to read from the textbook and I have to get on the messageboard and post about the reading.

I'm excited to be back in the mix.


I love dialogue. It is a wonderful chance to flex your mental muscles, test your ideas, and learn something.

My good friend, Jeromy, sent me a link to a blog he came across called An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. The author wants to build a bridge for a discussion of evolution between scientists and creationists. From his introduction:

And that brings us to the reason for this blog – a dialogue. The current relationship between evolution and evangelicalism can best be characterized as warfare. I believe that ending this warfare will be good for science, and much more importantly, good for the gospel. Our Christian commission is to tell the good news of Christ’s resurrection, his present and coming kingdom, his new creation. The evangel in evangelicalism should remind us of this everyday. And I strongly believe that our misguided war on science in general and evolution in particular is hurting the gospel; it is preventing many from hearing and responding to the good news. And it is causing some who have heard and believed to now doubt whether it is good news at all. Dialogue is the first step towards a ceasefire.

A noble undertaking. I haven't read more than his introduction at this point, but I intend to keep up with his posts. For the record I believe in God/Jesus and evolution.

I Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

How can people get anywhere in life being this stupid?

Work Ethic

Apparently, Protestants work harder than people of other faiths. It's part of their basic morality or something. Darn it, why couldn't those early Protestants made a virtue of lounging around and reading or something?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burgeoning Entrepreneurs

Normally, I pick up my daughters after work on Friday, but last Friday I picked them up in the morning on my way to work. The volunteer department at the hospital was hosting a craft fair. The table fee goes to the volunteers who use the money for purchasing things around the hospital.

I signed up my daughter, Erica, for a table so she could sell her key chains. She has been bugging me for a year to let her sit in the front yard at my place and sell her wares, so this was a golden opportunity for her. Shaena sat with her and helped her. She sold her keychains for either $1 or 2$ depending on how much was involved in each one. By the end of the day, she made $31. She was so excited about the whole thing and she's already talking about the sale next year.

I didn't think her mother was going to let her go because it meant skipping school and she had been telling Erica for a few weeks she didn't think it was a good idea. I am surprised, actually, that in the end she permitted it. I'm very glad, though, because it was a wonderful experience for both of them. I got lots of compliments about how smart, polite, and cute they were which made me feel very proud.

Weekly Secret


I get the sense that there are a lot of people like this. They want something more from their life, but they are too scared or just don't know how to get out of their rut and go after what they want. Something I've tried to stress to my daughters is that if they want something, they are the only ones holding themselves back from getting it. Big dreams are worthless if you are not willing to take big actions to make them come true.

Obama and Hope

Andrew Sullivan wrote about Obama's speech at Harvard. He also includes a full transcript. It is very good and is an example of why I think Obama is the best candidate in the running now.

The truth is, though, one man cannot make a movement. No single law can erase the prejudice in the heart of a child who hangs a noose on a tree. Or in the callousness of a prosecutor who bypasses justice in the pursuit of vengeance. No one leader, no matter how shrewd, or experienced, or inspirational, can prevent teenagers from killing other teenagers in the streets of our cities, or free our neighborhoods from the grip of homelessness, or make real the promise of opportunity and equality for every citizen.

Only a country can do those things. Only this country can do those things. That's why if you give me the chance to serve this nation, the most important thing I will do as your President is to ask you to serve this country, too. The most important thing I'll do is to call on you every day to take a risk, and do your part to carry this movement forward. Against deep odds and great cynicism I will ask you to believe that we can right the wrong we see in America. I say this particularly to the young people who are listening today.

Channeling a bit of JFK there and that's not a bad thing. I think many of us in this country have forgotten how to sacrifice and serve. We need leaders guiding us back to that, leaders who will help us rise above ourselves and become a part of something big.

No More Hugging

I guess this school has solved all of their other problems because they have just banned hugging on school grounds.

The principal says the rampant hugging is creating bottle necks in the hallway and making kids late for class. Furthermore she says although hugs are supposed to be handshakes from the heart some times they don't seem so innocent.

So, teachers can't just monitor the halls and tell the kids to keep moving if they are causing a traffic jam? I guess they can't just tell kids to tone it down if their hugs are becoming more than hugs, either. I mean, really, banning hugs? It sounds like something out of a bad Orwell knockoff.

More Teen Sex Insanity

A 17-year-old boy is being charged as an adult with sexual assault in New Hampshire for having consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend.

What benefit does this bring for society? Will other teenagers see this and think, "Gee, maybe I better not have sex with my partner?" No. The only thing that will come from this is the boy's life being ruined if he is convicted as he will be looking at jail time and registering as a sex offender. Why can't they just let parents handle these things (as long as they don't act like the girlfriend's dad, anyway, who beat the boy up at school)?