Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's On My Mind Today...

*I came across a headline that said "Fans Shocked By Kevin Federline's Weight Gain." The most shocking part of this headline? K-Fed has fans.

*Google Maps is often like Google: it gives you a whole lot of information, but not necessarily anything useful for what you need to do. (Especially if navigating Atlanta's labyrinth of streets with their often ridiculously thick traffic and unpredictable construction schedules.)

*Most Americans pronounce "Boston" as if it rhymes with "Austin," yet the two words don't share any vowels. One of the wonderful peculiarities of English.

*Speaking of which, many vowel sounds in English are represented in pronunciation guides with a character known as the "schwa." (represented by the upside down "e") I've often wondered why they didn't just make the schwa a letter.
*Also, you may be surprised to learn that Austin, TX is the southernmost state capital in the continental United States. I suppose that it is a result of pre-telephone days, when it could make a great difference to shorten communication by even a day or two, that Florida's capital of Tallahassee is in the far northern part of the state and Alaska's capital of Juneau is in the far southern part of the state--closer to surrounding territories (and to Washington, D.C.) but not convenient to the majority of residents in those states.
*It is a testament to the mindset of conspiracy theorists that a lack of evidence for their beliefs does not dissuade them, and a preponderance of evidence against their beliefs does not convince them.
*Why is it that people who don't like baseball have to make a big deal of how much they hate baseball whenever it is introduced as a subject of conversation? As if not liking anything is a reason to behave like a jerk.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Album Review: Karma Lingo, "Breath of God"--A FANTASTIC Debut

"All of us, a feather flying on wings of grace...This spirit wind, the Breath of God..."
I came across this CD as the result of attending performances of another local Atlanta band, The Lost Boys. (More on them in another blog!) As it turns out, The Lost Boys were formed from another band called Karma Lingo. The lineup has changed through the years, but this CD is the first one released by the group and contains six members: Matthew Trautwein (multi-instruments, notably guitar and violin), Kelley Yearout (guitar), Michael Guss (drums/percussion), Charles Holmes (bass), Sarah Onsager (keyboards), and Nancy Myers (keyboards). All of the members sing as well. (The men in the group formed the original Lost Boys troupe...again, more about them some other time.)

On the whole, this recording would best be described as "progressive rock," and I'd say it's one of the most inventive progressive rock albums I've ever heard. Though Trautwein wrote or co-wrote most of the material, there are fine contributions both in composition and performance from the other members of the group. Holmes gives a suitably anguished vocal performance on the relatively simple "Run Down," Onsager is seductive in "Power Over You" and endearing in "Bad Sky," Yearout is uplifting on "Open Door" and "She Is Afraid" (hearing the current KL lineup perform this song is what convinced me to buy the CD). "Hand to the Flame" sounds like a cross between 70's-era Styx or Kansas and Hungarian gypsy music. A prog rock opus like this one would be the last place you'd expect to hear the driving blues of "Ain't Nothin' But A Thing," but surprisingly it fits right in. Trautwein opens and closes the album with his songs "A Point of Departure" and the epic, 11-minute meditation on existential angst "Feathers On the Breath of God," the latter of which he has claimed as the finest thing he's ever written. He possesses an incredibly wide vocal range and these songs showcase his skills as a powerful singer.

Despite the relatively simple packaging, the production quality of the recording is excellent. It certainly shows no sign of being recorded in someone's basement like many independent productions. The instrumental skill of the performers is also evident throughout, with many long interludes that propel the music forward rather then seeming self-indulgent. Originally released in 1999, this music has aged far better than most of the popular music of ten years ago. I highly recommend it, especially if you favor the music of Kansas, Rush, Styx, Yes, or Emerson Lake & Palmer. The CD is available online at and the band's website is here.

The Jumble

It's been a while since my last post, so I'll take a stab at writing things that are somewhat random and unrelated to each other.

*I did finally see the Space Shuttle launch last Wednesday...on television. I'm contemplating plans to go to the scheduled August 18 launch of Discovery.

*Earlier this week we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin's historic first extravehicular activity on the moon. As a lifelong fan of the space program, I've seen numerous videos and documentaries of the event and done much reading on the subject. Unfortunately, there are still misinformed malcontents who believe that the moon landings were faked. (Whoopi Goldberg, you should be ashamed of yourself! I expect someone who appears on Star Trek: The Next Generation to be more open-minded about the capabilities of our astronauts and rocket engineers.) If you suspect that the Apollo missions were an elaborately-staged Hollywood production (or you know someone who does), I'd direct you to an excellent, entertaining, and informative website: It contains a thorough rebuttal of popular conspiracy arguments, as well as a lot of information about the planning of the missions, the equipment used, and the people who made it happen. (OK, I'm a nerd, so I think that it's fun reading.)

*Most people who have watched the moon landings have heard them narrated by Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchor who passed away just a couple of days before the Apollo 11 anniversary. (One reason why the CBS version is so popular is not just because of Cronkite's professional demeanor, but also because ABC and NBC seem to have lost the tapes of their coverage.) It is difficult to imagine a voice other than his describing the moment that forever altered humanity's path of exploration. A fitting comment on his legacy can be found in Ron Howard's Apollo 13, which opens with narration by Cronkite recorded especially for the film.

*It is possible to oppose health care legislation without opposing the idea of fixing the health care industry. (Really, calling it health care reform is a bit of a misnomer, since the bulk of the discussion is about health insurance.) Too many big players in this discussion take a ridiculous all-or-nothing approach: "If you don't support this bill, then you want to maintain the status quo! You clearly don't care about the needs of the poor and uninsured!!!" Well, those who truly care about the poor and uninsured understand that hastily-written, quickly-passed bad law will be more destructive to everyone in the long run. Those who criticized the previous administration for "rushing to war with Iraq" should display a more patient attitude towards the political process, rather than screaming for a massive overhaul to be passed NOW NOW NOW!!! The whole purpose of having three branches of government is to slow things down to reduce the passing of bills that will do more harm than good, regardless of the initial intent of the policy.

*When you leave your home late for work, you place yourself at the mercy of all the other foolish drivers on the road.

*If you love energetic, hard-driving, bluesy, guitar-driven rock music, go see ZZ Top. I'm not a huge longtime fan, but they put on a great show. And yes, the beards are real. Also, they did appear to be wearing Cheap Sunglasses.
*In keeping with the topic of the moon and space exploration, a legendary film dealing with the subject is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The bulk of the film deals with a mission to Jupitar by a fictitious Discovery spacecraft. The onboard computer, HAL 9000, is often mistakenly thought to be named "one letter ahead" of electronics giant IBM. 2001 co-screenwriter (and book author) Arthur C. Clarke has maintained that the term is actually short for "heuristic algorithm," a fancy term that means the computer is programmed to act human. The similarity to IBM is simply a coincidence. (Source: The Lost Worlds of 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke, published by Signet)
Photo courtesy

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Once Again

Latest Shuttle Launch Update

Second verse, same as the first. I won't be able to make it to Wednesday's attempt, which probably means the weather will cooperate. I can't stand the thought of that much driving again this week; also, I have tickets to tomorrow night's Aerosmith/ZZ Top concert in Atlanta. In fact, I have two tickets and can't find anyone to use the second. This just isn't my week.
(Image from

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Scrubbing

(Image courtesy

My second and third attempts to view a launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

I headed down to St. Petersburg on Friday, July 10 to stay the night at my grandmother's. We enjoyed the evening's baseball game at Tropicana Field, with the Tampa Bay Rays defeating the Oakland A's 6-0. Saturday afternoon I left the Gulf Coast for the Space Coast to see the 7:39 pm launch.

I arrived early enough to grab lunch at Subway before turning toward Jetty Park, the location in Port Canaveral that I had chosen for my viewing spot. As I neared the park entrance, I saw the recently posted sign: Launch postponed. After some deliberation, I decided my best option was to stay the night and see the launch Sunday evening. I drove inland a few miles to Cocoa (NOTE: there is a reason why Cocoa Beach is a more popular travel destination than Cocoa) and got a cheap motel room. Fortunately they had cable and I was able to pass the hours watching Discovery's Mythbusters marathon. I also had to stop at a CVS Pharmacy and Dollar General to get some clothes and toiletries, as I had foolishly left most of my luggage on the other side of the state.

Sunday, I got breakfast from the next-door Burger King and attended services at a nearby church. I refilled the car, checked the tires, and drove up and down Cocoa Beach before getting lunch (again) at Subway and spending some time in a Radisson lobby reading one of my books. When I got back to the Jetty Park entrance, I discovered that the park was closed due to full capacity. I turned around and took the north Port Canaveral exit to see what I could find. I found what may have been the best viewing area outside Kennedy Space Center--the road outside Cape Canaveral AFB is right across the lake from the launch site, with a head-on view of the Shuttle several miles away. I spent the next 3.5 hours reading, walking up and down the road, taking some pictures, double-checking the view with my binoculars, and talking with other spectators. As the deadline approached, so did an ominous, dark series of clouds from the west. Sure enough, about 20 minutes before the launch time the announcement was made on the radio that the stormy weather was inside the 20-mile radius and the launch had to be postponed. I spent much of the next four hours sitting through horribly backed-up traffic past Orlando.

So, I'm about to leave St. Petersburg with plans to see tonight's 6:51 pm launch attempt and then drive back to Atlanta. They say the weather should be much better today. Never before have I spent such time, money, and effort to experience....nothing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

We Hardly Knew You

In recent days the entertainment community has been shocked by the deaths of several celebrities. The passing of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, Karl Malden, and Steve McNair has reminded us all that no one, no matter how popular or seemingly invincible (that was the title of a Jackson album, by the way) can undo their own mortality. Some of these deaths, while sad, are not totally unexpected. McMahon and Malden were well-advanced in age, and Fawcett had been battling cancer for months. And in the case of Mays, it is not unheard of for seemingly healthy people to have heart problems. What shocks us about the deaths of Jackson and McNair are the way that hidden problems have been revealed by the stars' untimely passing.

In a way, Michael Jackson was lost years ago. I suspect that the majority of his mourners remember not the frail, facially disfigured, out-of-touch tabloid creature of recent years but rather the magnetic showman with sharp dance moves, soaring vocal ability, and a gift for catchy, feel-good dance pop. I still remember how nearly everyone at my school spent hours trying to master his signature "moonwalk" maneuver, and it was normal to desire a red leather jacket with decorative but functionally useless zippers, and the way my sister and I were scared witless by the Thriller video revelation that Jackson was both a werewolf and a zombie. With his demand for perfection in the studio and his search for innovative ways to market himself (his video for "Billie Jean" was the first by a black artist on MTV, the Thriller short film revolutionized music videos with its 14-minute length and feature-film quality sets and make-up) he spent years between the release of projects, and every release was treated as an event. Feature film directors John Landis (An American Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers, Thriller, Black or White) and Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Departed, Bad) were hired to shoot his videos. Think of the influence he's had: Alfonso Ribeiro ("Silver Spoons," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air") got his start as a moonwalking kid in a Pepsi commercial which featured Jackson. Siblings Jermaine and Janet no doubt owe name recognition to his success. The CGI "morph" that is common for special effects these days was pioneered in the Black or White video. He proved that in the video age a black artist could be successful with all audiences. Ferris Bueller's Day Off lampooned the Thriller line dance (in fact, it could be argued that the modern line dance was inspired by the sequences in that and the "Beat It" video). "Weird Al" Yankovic's major breakthrough came with his inspired shot-for-shot parody "Eat It," and he later copied "Bad" with "Fat." (He even went so far as to mimic the Bad album cover with Even Worse.) Paul McCartney shared the charts with Jackson on "Say Say Say" and "The Girl is Mine," and Eddie Van Halen's most famous guitar solo may be the one he played on "Beat It." Most casual listeners associate industry producing legend Quincy Jones with the albums he produce for Jackson. It makes one want to forget how multiple surgeries and a bizarre skin condition altered his appearance, and how his charitable work with children was marred by his sleepover invitations and resulting molestation lawsuits. Even though his showbiz friends spoke highly of his character, drive, and motivation, interviews and his increasingly strange behavior made it clear that however talented he was, he clearly was out of touch with reality. It now seems that his need to fulfill the demands of being Michael Jackson and his inability to deal with the stress and attention have led to his tragic early demise.

Steve McNair seems to have succumbed to an all-too-common condition of celebrities: they won't catch me. While his time as a quarterback for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens was largely marked by amazing improvisation on the field, clutch plays, and a willingness to play through nearly any injury, McNair cultivated an off-the-field image of a family man and devoted public servant who cared for his wife and four children and ran youth football camps. In the hours following his shocking and violent death, it now seems that he was pursuing some type of relationship with a waitress sixteen years his junior. He frequently visited an apartment where she lived, and she drove a Cadillac registered in both their names. While police are still assembling the puzzle, it is clear that McNair was not living the type of life that his fans expected. I can understand that the adjustment to post-competition life is difficult for many pro athletes, and that an attractive, friendly young woman is a strong temptation for most men, even when they are devoted to their families. But it is a shame that someone who was so much a part of Nashville's rise as a major football city and who inspired so many young (and old!) fans has left us under such mystifying circumstances.

Even heroes are human.