Friday, May 4, 2007

Spider-man 3

Spider-man 3 is getting mixed reviews. I will see it no matter what since my sons are dying to go, but I felt that Sony might be making a mistake by having him confront numerous enemies in one movie as this seems to be what killed the first go-around of Batman sequels.

The original Batman had only the Joker and the first 2 Spider-man movies had one villain each, in the Green Goblin and Doc Ock. I think it becomes difficult to maintain focus in a movie and to develop the bad guy characters when you have multiple villains. Superman on the other hand has the problem of almost always having Luthor as a villain, which has happened in four out of the five Superman movies. The other had Richard Pryor--bleeh! Warner needs to pit Superman against Doomsday or Darkseid so that everyone can see just how much better Superman has gotten in the last 20 years.

The last Batman movie, Batman Begins, had things just about right. It introduced one villain, Ras al Ghul, while most of the focus was on another villain Scarecrow, but it was refreshing because there was no Joker, or Penguin or Mr. Freeze or Catwoman or any of the other hacknyed criminals of Batman history.

Affirmative Action

One of the most aggravating hypocrisies of the Bush Administration and its Republican enablers, has been the disconnect between their public stance against Affirmative Action and their actual behavior in terms of hiring. The Bush Administration has been composed of some of the most mediocre individuals that I can remember, going back to the first Reagan administration.

Accordingly, the truth comes out. Republicans are not against Affirmative Action at all. They simply use it as a political wedge to separate people and their party from the Democrats, while all the time serving up people like Albert Gonzales and Condi Rice who would never have achieved their positions in the administration solely upon merit.

Here's an excerpt from a Salon article discussing Rice's career:

[Rice] the arrogant perfectionist is inevitably beset by contradictions and liabilities. With the possible exception of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, she is probably the nation's single most prominent beneficiary of affirmative action, but remains haughtily aloof from the black community and strikingly devoid of empathy for minorities who have not emulated her success. Those feelings were reflected in her decision to join the Republican Party during the Reagan era, supporting a conservatism undergirded by whites' resentment and dedicated to abolishing the reforms that had made her career possible. It is hard to like a striver who wants to pull up the ladder behind her.

Civil Liberties in Times of War

It is a great pity what has happened to the Wall Street Journal. A publication which used to promote the Reaganesque notions of smaller government, now seems to be little more than a neo-conservative tool of the Bush Administration, constanting harping on the need for more presidential power to accompany its editorial position, which can now be described as favoring three main things: Big Business; Big Government; and Imperialism.

Here is a quote from an article from the May 2nd Journal, by Kenneth Mansfield, professor of government at Harvard, which is remarkable for its flimsiness and lack of textual authority:

The lesson for us should be that circumstances are much more important for free government than we often believe. Civil liberties are for majorities as well as minorities, and no one should be considered to have rights against society whose exercise would bring society to ruin. The usual danger in a republic is tyranny of the majority, because the majority is the only legitimate dominant force. But in time of war the greater danger may be to the majority from a minority, and the government will be a greater friend than enemy to liberty. Vigilant citizens must be able to adjust their view of the source of danger, and change front if necessary. "Civil liberties" belong to all, not only to the less powerful or less esteemed, and the true balance of liberty and security cannot be taken as given without regard to the threat.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Alberto Gonzales and DOJ

As matters continue looking worse and worse for Gonzales and his incompetent cronies from the Regent School of Law, the following quote from the Washington Post should give Republicans pause:

An "obvious comparison and contrast to Gonzales is Janet Reno and her tenure as President Bill Clinton's attorney general. Pilloried for her role in the disaster at Waco, Texas in April 1993, Reno famously vexed her boss (so much so that he reportedly stopped talking to her) by appointing a special prosecutor to look into the Whitewater affair, a move that begat Kenneth Starr and Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky and ultimately the impeachment of Clinton in the winter of 1999. Reno was not necessarily a politically-savvy attorney general, had no real constituency in Washington, and did not earn rave reviews from legal scholars. But she was from time to time willing to act independently in a way that put her in direct conflict with the man who had given her the job. No similar examples stand out for Gonzales."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

More about the Beatles

I have just finished reading the memoir, Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, by Geoff Emerick. Emerick served as the sound engineer for most of the Beatles final albums, working on all of them, except for Let It Be and later was the engineer for Paul McCartney's greatest post-Beatle album, Band on the Run.

There were a few things that really struck me from this book. The Beatles were creating music in the 1960's in a manner somewhat similar to much of what is now being done on computers. Back then the Beatles obtained similar effects by combining sounds and recordings from up to 4 different tapes.

One of the strange by-products of such recording methods is that it is possible to create a perfectly good sounding song that the band was not actually able to play all the way through in the studio without mistakes and flubs. Thus, a sound engineer could take several different sections of song run-throughs and then tape the various sections together, resulting in what appears to be a recording of a single complete song. Such an approach differs from a "live" recording in that a live recording, whether made in a studio or at a concert, will basically contain all the good and the bad playing and singing that took place and will lack over-dubs.

Thus, it has always puzzled me why the Beatles often derided the album they "made" with the title, Let It Be, because this album has many excellent songs and does not appear to be vastly inferior to their other albums. The reason is that the making of this album required much more cutting and pasting than virtually all the other Beatles albums. From what the people involved and the Beatles, themselves, have said, it appears that it took a Herculean effort by Phil Spector (yes, the same one currently on trial for murder) to present them with a decent final product. McCartney never liked the Spector-version of Let It Be and subsequently brought out his own version in 2003, called Let It Be Naked.

Yet, in spite of some similar production techniques, there obviously was much that separated the Beatles from the Brittany's and Ashley's of today's teen pop.

Nobody could ever doubt that both Lennon and McCartney could sing well and in a variety of styles. Second, Lennon and McCartney and George Harrison towards the end, were all top-notch composers who were creating the works they sang and played. Third, the Beatles made most of the decisions about what special effects to put on their records. Finally, the Beatles were all pretty good musicians. George Harrison excelled on lead guitar and McCartney was a musical virtuoso, who according to many accounts, was the best guitarist, drummer, bass player and pianist in the group. McCartney would go on to show this, by making two top-selling solo albums by himself in his basement, playing all of the instruments featured on both albums.

The Beatles reached stardom during a real flux in terms of music technology. Not only were multi-track recorders changing the way that music was made, the recent advances in stereo technology were also in play. Although stereo had been around since the late 1950's, it really did not reach extensive use until the early 1970's. Thus, most of the Beatles albums until Abbey Road and Let It Be, were originally mixed in mono, with the stereo versions being more or less an afterthought. Emerick, himself, recommended the mono versions where available.

However, since the release of most of the Beatles catalog on compact disk in 1988, people have been unable to purchase specific mono or stereo versions. Basically, the early albums were released in mono on CD and the later ones in stereo on CD. Many Beatles fans and engineers like Emerick, have specifically noted that Sgt. Pepper is far better in mono than in stereo. Those who are diehard adherents of the Beatles should keep their eyes open to see if their record company doesn't start to release the different versions.