Friday, August 25, 2006

A Bulletin

In case you're wondering, I didn't disappear again.  I've been adjusting to another year in Morgantown, which has included fighting multiple computer crashes.  That's a big rarity for me, but everything seems to be working now.  I'll try to blog again within the next few days...there's certainly enough going on here and in the world to write about.  Bookmark my RSS feed if you have a reader and have not done so already; that way, you won't miss my posts when they come up.  I'm trying to keep the blog relevant to my fellow Mountaineers, so I will probably be focusing on local issues more than within the last year.  Don't worry if you're not from these parts, I'll still be sticking my nose in national business as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Day They Stopped The Sky From Falling

As probably everybody knows by now, a terrorist plot to destroy as many as 10 planes flying from England to the US on August 16th was foiled by British officials this week.  Dozens of suspects have been (and are still being) arrested, security has been seriously ramped up on both sides of the Atlantic, and the UK is at its highest terror alert level. (We are at Code Orange, thankfully, unless you count commercial flights.)

Aside from obviously preventing terror and death to thousands of innocent people, what did catching these guys accomplish?  For starters, it reminded everyone what we've been fighting against for the last five years.  I say "what" instead of "who" because Terror, though a great adversary indeed, lacks a singular face.  We have been fighting everyone, and yet no one, ever since the day the Twin Towers collapsed.  It's human nature to need more clear definitions of our foes, whether by marking boundaries on a map or by targeting specific people.  At this point, I believe this is the reason why we went to war in Iraq; we saw a suspicious character in charge of borders and a government, and we leapt at the chance to make a pre-emptive strike.  Saddam Hussein ended up not having the WMDs, despite his non-cooperation with UN weapons inspectors and persistent bluffing.  On the bright side, we toppled an incredibly corrupt dictator; on the darker side, we jumped the gun.  Many will cite oil, globalization, and personal vendettas as our reasons for going to Iraq, but not I.  For better or for worse, human nature was the cause.

We know that it's easy to target another country in a faceless war, but targeting other people may be a simpler task.  Osama bin Laden has topped the FBI's Most Wanted list for a very long time now.  That much makes sense; he's the head of Al-Qaeda and could only be more responsible for 9/11 if he had been flying one of the hijacked airliners himself.  However, the vast majority of our opponents are Arabic and Muslims, and that's led to a lot of questions about racial/religious profiling.  These questions were given new breath as arrest reports came in this week showing most suspects to be British citizens of Pakistani descent.  Is it right to tie a group of people together on any occasion?  If you've had enough "diversity training", the automatic answer is no.  But if you know that almost all of your opponents come out of a specific grouping, it's hard for you to totally resist when you consider the time (and potentially lives) saved looking for the enemy.  It's almost like hearing of an impending Viking attack and then not bothering to stop the bearded guy with the horned helmet that's hanging around near your village.  That said, I'm still disgusted when I hear about the innocent Arabs and Muslims attacked by their fellow Americans after 9/11 happened.  This is the darkest side of human nature, and when you stare it in the face, it's easy to understand why people still get upset over profiling regardless of who we're fighting.  Yet maybe, to the smallest extent humanly possible, such profiling helps keep us safe.

One unexpected positive to all of this is that all those hare-brained 9/11 conspiracy theories might finally kick the bucket.  Vanity Fair had just released an exclusive report detailing panicked reactions within NORAD as the 2001 attacks were happening, complete with voice recordings. Yet as recently as Monday, MSNBC was airing a Scripps Howard national survey in which 36 percent considered the possibility of a conspiracy "very" or "somewhat" likely.  Never mind that the figure was lower than those who believed in a Kennedy conspiracy (40 percent) and in withheld proof of alien life (38 percent), which is really kind of sad.  What got less press than the round number itself was who were more likely to believe in a 9/11 conspiracy: minorities, people with no college education, Democrats, and people who use the Internet but do not regularly read newspapers or listen to the radio.  And anyone is surprised?  To add to the irony, pro-conspiracy protesters from 911Courage.org were busily passing out leaflets at theatres when the Oliver Stone movie World Trade Center released on Wednesday.  Just afterwards, the British stopped the sky from falling.  For once, I think it's safe to say that this was entirely coincidental.

When it comes right down to it, the only drawback to being reminded that the threat is real - and that those seemingly superficial terror alert levels really do mean something - is the gravity of the reminder.  We are at war with an enemy without borders, without fear of death, and without remorse.  Al-Qaeda appears to be behind this latest effort, which recalls a name we had thought to be a shadow of its former self.  And judging from the simple efficiency of the liquid explosive-planting strategy the terrorists had concocted, they are more clever than any of us would have wanted to believe.  The phrase "fear-mongering" has previously been directed at those who would remind us of these simple facts.  May that phrase never be applied again except to our enemies, the real fear-mongers: the terrorists.

[A side note: If you didn't catch it, check the URL on the first link in this article.  Yes, that is the most bizarre location for a Seinfeld reference that I have ever seen...but it's great.  - Ed.]

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Because Your Baby Isn't Metal Enough

Just when you think you've seen every specialty version of a popular band's music, another always seems to turn up.  Many platinum-selling acts, including My Chemical Romance and Hawthorne Heights, already have string quartet tribute albums.  (I believe the Arctic Monkeys do as well, though they aren't as big Stateside as in Britain.)  But these acts all have a lot of catching up to do to Metallica, both in terms of sales and in bizarre tribute albums.

Let's see here: the public already has Fade to Bluegrass, a Metallica tribute recorded by, yes, you guessed it, bluegrass musicians.  The string quartet thing was already outdone by the full live band and orchestra of S&M, so there's no reason to go there at this point.  The only logical solution left to tribute hounds would be...a collection of lullabies?!?

No, I'm not making this up. There's even 30-second sample clips at the link. From what I've heard, the album will be very soothing; that is, it will be if you don't pay attention to how creepy it is. The idea of turning "Enter Sandman" into a lullaby is especially freakish when you consider the original's polar opposite lyrical content. "One" (about a landmine casualty robbed of his senses and limbs), "Fade to Black" (about suicide), and several other modern classics are featured here in a form your baby will love. In other news, I should never work in PR.

The CD, which releases August 29th, does have three major things going for it. For one, it theoretically could be used for its intended purpose. You shouldn't have to worry about creeping out your kids until they get older and hear the originals, because the lullabies are strictly instrumental. Secondly, it has the Metallica name and will therefore sell; even more traditional fans might be interested, as the samples I heard are musically identical to the source material. It actually sounds more like an ambient movie soundtrack than anything in this format, and the songs still sound just dissonant and minor-key enough to be worth a grown music fan's time. Admit it, you're curious to see if "Battery" could possibly be soothing to a small child. Finally, none of the album tracks were pulled from anything Metallica did after the zillion-selling Black Album, which the cover spoofs.

Only one problem with this whole thing, though: the metal-to-lullabye floodgates are wide open now. Yes, these bands have recorded songs that were supposed to be very surreal or horrific takes on lullabies (refer back to "Enter Sandman" again for the shining example), but this is a new frontier. I don't see it catching on, but it would be hilarious to see metal artists performing lullabies, as opposed to lullaby artists performing metal. Just try to imagine "Rock-A-Bye Baby" as recorded by Ronnie James Dio.

[By the way, if you don't know who Dio is, you're probably not a Black Sabbath/80's metal/Tenacious D fan. And if you're in college and not at least one of the three, you might want to take Bob Marley off repeat. -Ed.]