Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day!

If the measure of the "special-ness" of a holiday is how often you celebrate it, we are experiencing what can truthfully be called the most wonderful time of the years. So leap something today!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How's That Again?

According to this news item, Madonna's "highly anticipated" new album will be called Hard Candy.

I was going to make fun of the "highly anticipated" label, because I had trouble imagining a woman who'll have a pop album release party just four months before she has a 50th birthday party had anything that the swiftly fickling planet of pop music taste would anticipate.

But I would probably be wrong to do so, because Madonna's last three CDs topped the US charts and went platinum. Her 2005 album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, sold eight million copies worldwide and was number one on the charts in nine different countries (The U.S., U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Canada, Australia and Italy). I had zero knowledge of this, which I guess is proof that I don't listen to Top 40 radio anymore. I tip my hat to the Material One for her musical longevity.

In an interesting Sign that The Times Are Indeed Changing, the eight million copies Confessions sold matches the sales for her 1983 debut, Madonna. That album didn't do any better than No. 6 on the charts in the U.K. and No. 8 in the U.S., France and Italy. It barely cracked the top 30 in Germany (probably West Germany only at the time; the Stasi wasn't into Billboard sales reports) and didn't chart at all in Switzerland. So selling eight million records goes a lot farther than it used to.

PS -- the sales figures come from Wikipedia, who in turn gets them from Billboard magazine.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I didn't watch them. Apparently, I'm not alone.

Kind of like Bob, I guess. I used to care. But things have changed.

The Music Industry Doesn't Know What It's Doing And Never Did (Chapter Eight Billion)

Last year saw a 20th anniversary release of The Joshua Tree, U2's stellar album that turned them into a mega-group. This year, we also have the release of a 25th anniversary edition of Michael Jackson's Thriller, an album whose impact on pop music's style and presentation remains to this day. Thriller is the only album in history to be the top-selling record for two consecutive years, 1983-84, and still sells more than 100,000 units a year.

Both albums are good, but before we get to patting the industry on the back for its wisdom in developing these two star attractions, let me look at another record marking its 25th anniversary this year, Jason and the Scorchers' Fervor. The Scorchers' second EP, it featured the blow-away hillbilly-meets-three-chord-crunch sound that would later get called "cowpunk" and help lead to an entire musical subgenre that I think is called alt-country. Singer Jason Ringenberg's high-lonesome whine somehow fit hand-in-glove with the kind of guitar and rhythm section work more likely to be found on albums owned by people in leather vests and pants rather than fringed shirts with cowboy yokes.

My own opinion is that the two fit so well because at their roots, rock and country derive from folk music that's pretty simple structurally compared with the work of great classical composers. They're lots more alike than they are different, in other words. In 1983, I didn't care; I just thought this cassette (!) kicked some major tuckus and I'm sure the guys who lived next door to me were as familiar with it as I was by the time I wore it out. I saw the Scorchers once, standing close enough to the front in the basement of Northwestern's Norris Student Center to risk getting clipped by a guitar when Warner Hodges started in one of his ridiculous spins or kicked in the head when Ringenberg started skittering his six-feet-plus of elbows, knees and boots around a very small stage. My ears are probably still ringing.

The Scorchers released two great EP's, four great albums (and one not-so-bad), a couple of different compilations and a live set. I think they had a video or two on MTV, too. Without them, I doubt there'd have ever been an "alt-country" movement, let alone country-rock hybrids like Big & Rich.

But somehow, none of the marketing minds within the records industry ever figured out a way to secure for them the ubiquity other acts had. They could break down the barrier between R&B and rock with Thriller and marry Americana roots music to Irish punk in The Joshua Tree. But giving the public a Ramones sound fronted by Hank Williams? That one was, at the time, too far out of the box.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Miracle on Ice Day

Twenty-eight years ago today we were reminded why sports looms so large in our world. Not because a simple thing like a win in a hockey game made any difference in the actual Cold War -- although beating the USSR at a sport on ICE, which they have a lot of, was sweeeeet -- but because sometimes the underdog wins. Sure, the race is usually to the swift and the contest to the strong, but not always. Sometimes the impossible happens and sometimes the universe manages to get things right and sometimes people who have no business achieving something manage to anyway.

In honor of the day, go find a commie (your local university campus is the best bet) and say to him, "Nyah, nyah, nyah."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Do Whatever You Do to the Glory of God...

One of my favorite websites,, commented on an interview with a computer hacker who is very up front about being a Christian and using his skills to do good.

Personally, I think it would be more interesting to find and interview a Christian spammer. That would involve some fascinating questions:

1. Do you invite the people who will receive the Sixty-Five Million (65,000,000USD) Dollars through your connections with the Nigerian banking industry to tithe what they will get once they've sent you all their personal account information?

2. Do you require that those who purchase V*Y*E* A*G*R*A* from you at a DEEP DISCoUNT provide proof the product will only be used within the context of a legal, preferably Christian marriage and according to proper Scriptural guidelines?

3. Do the BEST REPLICA ROLEXES you sell have an alarm feature which will wake me at the end of a particulary boring sermon, whether or not I'm preaching it?

4. Can I be certain that the thousands of Single Women In My Area to whom you Want To Introduce Me are interested in me for me and are willing to commit to a monogamous marriage relationship centered on our devotion to Christ? Also, since according to you they all have fevers (which is what I assume you mean by them being HOT!T!T!T!T!), do they have medical insurance to cover their illnesses?

5. Do the stocks you advertise, which will only go up up up in value and which are available now for RIDICULOUSLY LOW PRICES, JUST PENNIES! contain any satanic or demonic symbolism in their corporate logos?

Of course, these are just hypotheticals, as anyone who ever actually meets a real spammer won't waste time asking questions before removing all of the lowlife's fingers so he can't type this crap anymore.

(H/T Get Religion)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hoopus Maximus!

Watched some more good little-school tournament action tonight. The nightcap game was a one-point thriller that finished only when a last-second layup rimmed in and out while the buzzer sounded. No millionaires, no thugs given a pass because they can shoot a ball, no irresponsible dorks with vapor trails of illegitimate children strung through cities around the country. Just the game.

Ooh, and no Dick Vitale, either. Baby.

Of course, who knows how long it will get to stay that way. One team tonight in the Class B games had a fan brigade that's been watching the NCAA's greatest hits on ESPN -- they had all the moves down. The silly synchronized jumping up and down, the rude trash talk directed at the other team, the inability to accept that sometimes the players on their team fouled and the players on the other team didn't -- check, check and check. I wonder sometimes: If someone made a rule at one of these games that you could only make noise for your team, would these people have anything to say? Would they know what to do?

I used to have this discussion at the college I once worked at. A large segment of the fans who showed up did so playing ESPN Dress-Up, with the painted faces and slogans and whatnot (often in need of a proofreader, too). And they did the usual classy stuff -- once they mocked a referee who had only one arm about his condition. Their faculty advisor never really wanted to crack down on them, saying that the school wanted students at the games, and it was hard to lure them in if we required something like civilized behavior out of them (those are my words, of course). It was funny -- if any of these students had come flat out and said, "Well, we won't come to the games unless we're allowed to act like jerks," no one would have agreed. But when they just didn't show up unless they were allowed to act like jerks, we bowed the knee forthwith.

Who says passive-aggressive doesn't get the job done?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fun at the Races

Quick, unpretentious and entertaining read from horseman-turned-author Dick Francis, in his second collaboration with his son, former physics teacher Felix. Restaurateur Max Moreton,finds himself in the middle of some nasty business -- first several guests at an event he caters spend some awful hours following a mysterious food poisoning. Then a bomb -- also at an event he caters -- kills several people and puts his business and eventually his life in jeopardy. Are they connected? Will the British health inspection office shut Max down for good?

Francis isn't in the business of offering surprise twists -- in fact, the greatest mystery may be why it took him 45 years to title one of his thrillers "Dead Heat," an obvious choice for a man who writes against a horse racing backdrop. But you'll probably have fun (and gain a recipe or two) watching Max be generally clueless but still stumble his way to a solution. And along the way he offers a novel method of settling a lawsuit without a trial, too.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Neat Idea

I'm either going to have to stop reading other people's blogs so I will stop being depressed about how many good ideas they have or start reading them when I usually do sermon prep so I can steal all of those ideas. Here's another neat post from a friend of mine who's at a church in Kansas City.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

You Have Done Well, Young Padawan...

Wanted to link to a sermon by a former student of mine here. Viewers in the future, you will want to find her post of Feb. 15, 2008 in order to read it. She's got some personal journaling stuff at the top of the post you are welcome to read or skip past as you wish.

Despite the title of my post, I make no claims of credit for her preaching or thinking; she learned the first at seminary and the second I believe she does on her own. The title is just the best pop-culture reference regarding teacher/learner I could come up with on short notice. Again, just breeze on by.

Elizabeth's sermon, on the other hand, is well worth reading, and it's neat for me because this is one of those times when I get to learn something from someone whom I helped teach. Learning from those who've gone before you is a good thing, and I doubt we do it enough as we hurry through speeded-up lives, faster online connections, crammed schedules and try to look for the next neat thing.

But there is a special quality in learning from one's pupils that I've been blessed to experience several times over my years in ministry, and I offer thanks for each such chance, as well as thanks that I managed to be aware enough at the time to see it was happening.

If we achieve, we do so in part with our own gifts, but also because we were the beneficiaries of the gifts of many who went before us to bring us to where we are now. Indeed, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

And sometimes, we get hints of the giants who will stand on our shoulders as they reach for their future as well.

PS -- Yes, there are typos. But no one can hear typos when you preach.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's Indy, baby!

I'm probably the forty millionth blogger to post this link (viral marketing works!), but my not-so-inner geek requires me to.

A thought or two -- the shot where we see just the shadow of Ford donning the hat will be worth about 80 percent of my ticket price. Scum of the earth, you may shake in your shoes now.

And praise be to all that one may hold dear that George Lucas has a co-writer. I wouldn't care if it was one of the touchy-feely hacks Oprah puffs up with her book club -- as long as George "Creator of Jar-Jar Binks" Lucas isn't solely responsible for the story, it has just immeasurably increased its potential to not suck.

Indy, The Dark Knight, Iron Man, a second Hellboy, an Ang Lee-less Hulk -- this geek may enjoy the summer of 2008 more than he has any for a long time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Encore, Mr. Director!

Steven Spielberg has chosen not to help China's Olympic Committee put on its opening and closing ceremonies show.

The move comes because of China's involvement with the government of Sudan and its treatment of its own people in that country's Darfur region. Although China buys two- thirds of Sudan's oil exports and in return sells weapons the Sudanese government seems to use mostly on its own people, it does just about zip with that influence to at least slow down the Darfur massacres. There's also Sudan's lovely focus as a marketplace for trade in human beings, but what's a little slavery among buddies?

You'd think a nation that has so many people might show some respect for them, but you'd be wrong. The Tiananmen Square massacre may be the best-known of its recent crackdowns, but the Chinese government allows its people few freedoms and enforces its control. While no one can deny China's importance to the world and the need to engage it in a responsible manner, you have to look for awhile to see some of those engaged with it use their influence to try to bring some change. Maybe if more did, or if more decided not to be used by a government that is more interested in looking right than doing right, things might change more quickly.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Just a Note of Thanks... John Wesley, for getting us out before stuff like this happened.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Bad Choices

So, Focus on the Family pres. Dr. James Dobson has said that a John McCain nomination would mean he "will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life."

On the one hand, I can feel Dr. Dobson's pain -- my politics is my own business and I won't foist it on you, but I feel safe in saying that the modern political process consistently produces uninspiring choices for most races. Few candidates really tell us what they think about certain things without filtering those statements through party platforms, focus groups, fund-raising impact, sound-bite-ishness, etc. Few give us real policy strategies for reaching the lofty goals they promise. Which only makes sense -- a president can promise to legislate the trans fat out of Twinkies, but when he (or she) heads to work in the morning, there are 535 other titanic egos with their own agendas, debts to pay, personality quirks and Moses-meets-Cicero need to be and sound important waiting for him (or her) up on Capitol Hill. Then there's folks back home like you and me, who don't know any more about the issue than the webpage header we read a couple minutes ago but who equate our right to be heard with a right to be catered to (catered Twinkies...mmmmmm).

But on the other hand, it seems Dr. Dobson never has had to hold his nose and mark a ballot before, and so I say to him, "Wah." As someone who walked into an Oklahoma voting booth on Nov. 6, 1990 and realized what I was about to do would play a role in making either David Walters or Bill Price my governor for the next four years, I have absolutely no sympathy for his dilemma. That choice was so wrong that independent Thomas D. Ledgerwood II received nearly 10 percent of the vote, more than any third-party Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate ever had up to that point.

So I hope the good doctor cowboys up and does like us lesser mortals who nearly always have to vote for the least bad choice. After all, for most of us, the ideal candidate is one who agrees with us on everything, does things the way we would do them and always listens to everything we say.

But I've never seen my mirror on any ballot.


We're almost ready to play it for those who served in the US military in World War I:

One of last 2 WWI vets in US dies

I sometimes wish we hadn't switched from "Armistice Day" to "Veterans Day" until the last of these fellows went to stand their long watch. Most of us see World War I with a little bit of a head shake at the naivete of those who thought it would be "the war to end all wars," but for those guys it was the real thing, and I expect the news of the Armistice - with the realization their chances of living to see home again had just ballooned dramatically - was very, very welcome. It seems like a little thing to continue to honor that until they have all passed away, but there are probably good reasons for the change.

I visit a member of my congregation who's in an assisted living center. He started out in the Army as an enlisted man and during World War II was promoted, and he eventually retired from the US Army as a major. He was wounded in action, ("It was my own fault; I was standing there holding a map. They knew who to shoot at."), served in Korea as well as postwar Germany and spent some time learning some things about US nuclear strategy. He was 97 in December and is probably one of the few commanders or officers from that war still living. Most of those still around today were young guys in the early '40s, enlisting when Pearl Harbor was attacked or being drafted later on. They were the grunts or swabbies or dogfaces, depending on the preferred mode of address for your service, and they're moving on as well.

Today they're the crotchety old guys who yell at the kids playing on the lawn or drive 20 MPH in the left lane with the blinker on or stand in the center of the aisle at Wal-Mart with the cart just so, keeping you from getting by. But when they were kids, they faced death, made choices to take human lives, watched their closest friends be hurt or killed and somehow came through it all, some with great bravery and some with less. Their shuffling footsteps are the tread of giants and heros who still walk our earth, though much more slowly.

It doesn't hurt to remember that sometimes.

(H/T Ms. Cornelius)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Some Days...

You read stuff so true you know it had to be made up...

Pastor eBays Congregation

Friday, February 1, 2008

Super Bowl Halftime

Tom Petty will headline the Super Bowl 42 halftime show...a couple years after his most recent single hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 100, took a look around, and skedaddled.

I own several Tom Petty records and saw him once when he toured with Bob Dylan in the mid 1980s. A group of my fellow Wildcats and I sat on the lawn at the concert, next to a group of grizzled bikers carting an enormous amount of beer. Their tats, leathers and ham-hock arms scared us college weenies to death until they fell asleep during Dylan's second set (Bobbay! Bobbay! Bobb...zzzz!). Like Petty, like the tunes, liked the show. But I can't figure out why he's headlining SBXLII.

Ever since the whole Justin Timberlake-Janet Jackson ugliness in 2004, the network broadcasting the game has played it safe. Oh, and the bit where Justin exposed Janet's breast has caused trouble, too. In 2005, we saw the then 63-year-old Sir Paul McCartney (and I confess that the fireworks going off during "Live and Let Die" rocked my world). Last year it was the Rolling (average age at the time, 62) Stones, who managed to get bleeped during a couple of songs. I worked in a nursing home one summer and guys that age often use inappropriate language, so who knows why anyone was offended. At 57, Petty's "much" younger, but it's still been awhile for him. The other acts are Alicia Keys and Jordin Sparks, and who cares.

For my money, there's no reason to do Super Bowl halftime shows anymore. U2 put the period on all possible halftime shows in 2002 (those who know me probably saw this opinion coming). The tribute to the fallen of September 11, the quoting of Psalm 51, the amazing anthem "Where the Streets Have No Name," Bono's sly reveal of the US flag lining of his jacket and a host of other factors combined for 12 of the best minutes I have ever had watching television. Sure, I like some Tom Petty songs better than I like some U2 songs, but when you measure what he'll do live against what happened in 2002, well, is how you say in English... no point?

So don't try anymore. Run down some first-half stats, let Terry Bradshaw say something simultaneously insane and funny, shellac Jimmy Johnson's hair and let Fox trot out one of its American Karaoke -er- Idol stars on the years they show the game. Then get back to the commercials and football and leave us alone.

ETA: Oops, I left out the Prince performance from 2007. He was 48 at the time and I think he tops the 60s Brigade, but only comes in second amongst the 80s Guys.