Monthly ArchiveSeptember 2009



Music 27 Sep 2009 08:42 pm

Pearl Jam is back — Backspacer

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In a bid for quality over quantity, the new Pearl Jam album, Backspacer, clocks in at 37 minutes. Compared to the sprawling mega-albums by some of the band’s peers, the decision to go minimal was a gamble, coupled with the decision to release nationally through Target stores (and iTunes, and independent record stores, if any of those still exist).

The short run time pays off, however. The album opens strong with the uptempo “Gonna See My Friend” and “Got Some,” and continues right through the first single, the ebullient “Fixer.” Produced again by Brendan O’Brien, the sound is crisp and unaffected, and the tunes are blissfully short. This isn’t the album for grandiose statements and long, rambling guitar solos, but rather for quick little fixes of PJ’s compositional skill.

My favorite tune is “Just Breathe,” an exceptional ballad from lead singer Eddie Vedder. “Johnny Guitar” is a ghost story of sorts with a kicker in the denouement.

 The second half of the album doesn’t quite measure up, but it’s good enough, especially album-closer “The End.”

The CD comes with exclusive access to some feature-length Pearl Jam concerts, which I haven’t had the time to explore. Overall, I would say the release satisfies as a good, old-fashioned rock album from one of the best current American bands.

Books & Commentary 24 Sep 2009 09:32 pm

Some books were made for burning

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Here is this week’s column, published Sept. 24 in The Review:

The Review management has booted the allegedly funny and assuredly liberal Chris Schillig for one Thursday to make room for my appreciation of Banned Books Week, Sept. 26-Oct. 3.

Every day, writers foist their skewed morality and potty mouths on this country’s most precious commodity — our children. These writers scribble stories that promote promiscuity, drug use, anti-government freethinking and alternative lifestyles (which is nothing more than a code for homosexuality, which is nothing more than a code for deviance, which is nothing more than a code for sin), books that are freely available to corrupt impressionable young minds in our publicly funded libraries.

Finally, the American Library Association has done something to combat this crime against kids by instituting Banned Books Week. The ALA’s Web site lists books that true-blooded patriots have flagged as being filled with vile, anti-American values — occultism/Satanism, drug use and nudity, offensive language, and racism. Books like “Gossip Girl,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Kite Runner” and “Heather Has Two Mommies” can now be easily identified in our bookstores and libraries, carted out and exposed as the leftist-leaning trash they truly are.

Thanks to the ALA, we can root out these cancers in the body politic and irradiate them with cleansing, conservative values before they infect even one more soul. Now I urge this organization of forward-thinking librarians to take the next logical step and organize book-burning parties, the light of which will shine to heaven and reclaim our rightful place as a Christian nation. With the ALA at the vanguard of this movement …
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Commentary 21 Sep 2009 06:22 pm

Teachers talk

From the latest Reader’s Digest, here are the “13 Things Teachers Won’t Tell You.” Be sure to follow the link on item 13 to find 20 more things teachers won’t tell you. One caveat: As a teacher, I do tell people these things. Sometimes.

Commentary 20 Sep 2009 01:12 pm

Pure bliss

I woke up Saturday morning panicked that I’d overslept. Then I realized that it was Saturday and I didn’t have to work. Sank down on the pillow and went right back to sleep. Best feeling in the world — pure bliss.

Commentary & Family life 18 Sep 2009 06:46 am

How Uncle Walt almost killed our cat

Here is this week’s print column, published Sept. 17 in The Review.

People ask my wife and me how we’re doing as empty-nesters.

Better than the cat, I respond, because he’s suffered a concussion as a result of our daughter’s departure.

It happened during a rousing reenactment of Disney’s “Lion King.” (Hey, what does YOUR family do for kicks?)

You know the scene where the ugly monkey hoists lion cub Simba into the air while the “Circle of Life” plays? The song uses a lot of authentic dialect (”Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala,” it repeats), but in our house we sing, “Wing-ah-nada! Hey! Wing-ah-nada!” Roughly translated, this means “We don’t know the words. Hey! We really don’t know the words!”

My wife was playing the monkey (not often I get a free pass for saying THAT) and lifted Oliver the cat into the air, chanting our homemade lyrics to much acclaim, right up to the point where she forgot that the ceiling fan was turned on, making the soundtrack more like “Wing-ah-nada! Hey! Wing-ah-THUMP!”
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Media 18 Sep 2009 06:45 am

He probably meant to say ‘plucking’

The best part is the co-anchor’s reaction. Classic.

Comic books 16 Sep 2009 09:25 pm

Archie #601

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What’s it mean when I’ve bought, read and blogged about the new issue of Archie on the same day it’s released? That the stunt is working, I guess.

Archie #601 is the second part of the multi-issue “Archie Marries Veronica” storyline, the one where high school grad Archie walks up memory lane instead of down it, so he sees his future instead of his past. This future includes last issue’s proposal to super-rich Veronica Lodge and this issue’s wedding.

Writer Michael Uslan and artist Stan Goldberg (along with inker Bob Smith) give us everything we’d expect in a wedding, and especially in the wedding of the century (millennium?) in the Archie-verse. The thing reads like a who’s who of Archie Comics, with virtually every character who’s ever been involved in the series making a cameo. It culminates in a double-page spread where the couple shares its vows, and two full pages where Archie kisses the bride and the happy newlyweds are showered in rice.
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Commentary 11 Sep 2009 06:40 am

First and goal

Here is this week’s column, first published on Sept. 10, 2009.

For the past four years, I have asked my students during the first week of school to write 100 life goals.

I stole the idea for the assignment from somebody else, which is how good ideas get around in education — and maybe everywhere. In this case, character-education guru Thomas Lickona deserves the credit.

After the usual moaning and groaning that they couldn’t possibly think of 100 goals, the students got down to work, breaking one large assignment into bite-size chunks by writing aspirations for several categories like travel, learning, relationships, spiritual growth, material possessions, and so forth. Then they circled their top 10 and wrote a paragraph about their number one goal — why it is important and their game plan to achieve it.

In a world where most of us don’t think much past lunch, it’s a mind-stretcher.
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Commentary 10 Sep 2009 09:57 pm

Slam Duncan

He didn’t make the cover of the Sept. 14 Time Magazine (that honor was reserved for Jay Leno), but Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was profiled inside. Just call him the man with $5 billion in discretionary funding that he and he alone can bestow upon America’s schoolchildren.

And that $5 billion is just a drop in the bucket compared to the $100 billion allotted to education in the new economic-stimulus bill, which is good news for school districts — but maybe not such good news for education.

That’s because despite all Barack Obama’s talk about reforming the so-called No Child Left Behind law, with its Draconian emphasis on testing testing and more testing, the president’s new plan looks a lot like George Bush’s. There is still a huge emphasis on one-size-fits-all achievement tests and on the expansion of school choice, which means more charter schools popping up on the educational horizon.
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Books & Comic books 09 Sep 2009 07:17 pm

Dark Entries

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Dark Entries is perhaps best appreciated by television viewers who loath reality television, but have seen enough examples of the genre to recognize the stereotypes. The high-concept here is that John Constantine,  paranormal detective, is hired to investigate an allegedly haunted reality series set, only to learn that …

Well, it’s not too hard to figure out what Constantine learns, especially if you’ve ever followed his adventures in his regular Vertigo series. (I don’t know if it’s still being published.) The only Constantine stories I’m familiar with are the character’s earliest in the pages of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing way back when, but knowledge of the character is not a prerequisite to enjoy this story.

Ian Rankin is a name I’m not familiar with either, but he’s apparently written his share of detective novels. His script here is surprisingly funny for such a serious theme, and he moves the story along at a brisk pace. Italian artist Werther Dell’edera supplies stark, stripped-down art and does an admirable job of differentiating among the reality-show guests.

It’s all a lot more enjoyable than the other inaugural offering in DC’s Vertigo Crime line, Filthy Rich, and compared to that book’s sophomoric, graphic sex scenes, Dark Entries is positively chaste. 

Yet Dark Entries, with its supernatural ties, seems out of place in what I thought was a hard-boiled, film-noirish inspired line. Whatever. It’s still fun, and with a 40 percent off coupon from Borders, reading a 214-page hardback graphic novel for $12 equals real value for the entertainment dollar. I’m willing to check out new entries in the Vertigo Crime line when they show up next year, provided I can keep buying them on the cheap.

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