Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Best and Worst of 2005

The last day of the year is a time for many things. For millions, it is a time for binge drinking, followed by what I like to call “pre-regret” behavior.

For me, right now, it is a time for sharing my favorites (and some least favorites) from the year gone by.

Please note that I only rate best and worst of things I actually saw, read, heard, or experienced—The Dukes of Hazzard movie and Joel Osteen’s book, for example, will not appear below. So with no further ado …

Best movie of 2005: Batman Begins, which rescued the Batman movie franchise from itself.

Best movie of 2005, runner-up: March of the Penguins, which employed stunning cinematography to show us the good, the bad, and the ugly of this amazing species.

Worst movie of 2005: The Legend of Zorro, which was my guilty pleasure of the year despite its horrible plot and worse dialogue.

Best TV show of 2005: "Lost," which continued to surprise viewers with dramatic plot twists and hidden clues.

Best TV show of 2005, runner-up: "The Colbert Report," which had moments of genius in its spoofs of shows like “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Best blog of 2005 (general):
  • The Phoenix

  • Best blog of 2005 (music):
  • My Daily Review

  • Best blog of 2005 (music), runner-up:
  • Heavy Metal Time Machine

  • Best blog of 2005 (movies):
  • Hoosier Revue

  • Best blog of 2005 (personal):
  • Quarter Lifer

  • Best album of 2005: Steve Hackett’s Metamorpheus, which offered further proof, in the form of an orchestral concept album, that the guitarist who left Genesis in 1977 is a truly gifted artist.

    Best album of 2005, runner-up: Dream Theater’s Octavarium, which proved that progressive rock with a metal edge is still alive.

    Most catchy song of 2005: Gorillaz “Feel Good Inc.,” which to this day makes me shake my thang to its infectious groove.

    Best political play of 2005: President Bush’s nomination of Teflon-coated John Roberts.

    Worst political play of 2005: Some politicians’ calls for immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

    Best book of 2005: Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which breathed fresh, literary life into the tired vampire genre.

    Best book of 2005, runner-up: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s America (The Book), which—although published in 2004—made me laugh through all of this year, too.

    And last but not least …

    Best blog readers of 2005: You, for visiting The Musings of David Amulet and being such a wonderful audience.

    All the best to you in 2006. Happy New Year!

    Wednesday, December 28, 2005

    Taking a Historical Mulligan

    In life, we rarely get do-overs. Especially for really, really bad things.

    In Greece, however, authorities are giving it a go. As crazy as it sounds, investigators there have elected to re-enact the Cypriot airplane disaster that killed more than 120 people in August.

    You may recall that Greek fighter jets intercepting the wayward flight looked into the cockpit and saw only a co-pilot slouched over and a flight attendant with an oxygen mask at the controls. And then they watched the plane smash into the side of a mountain. Researchers suspect that air decompression restricted the airplane’s oxygen, rendering most of the crew and passengers unconscious and leading to the horrible crash.

    The authorities believe that the re-enactment will shed light on the cause of the accident.

    I believe that it gives me ideas for other fruitful historical do-overs:

    1. The O.J. Simpson Trial. Something tells me that the whole proceeding would have gone a little better if we had a different cast of characters involved. How about the cast of Law and Order instead of Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden? Let’s see Miles Massey (George Clooney from the movie Intolerable Cruelty) defending O.J. in place of Johnny Cochran. And I always thought Judge Ito’s role would have been better played by The People’s Court’s Judge Wopner.

    2. The Titanic. No, not the ship—I just want to remake the schmaltzy movie. Only this time, we will put James Cameron, Leo DiCaprio, and the others involved in making of this film on the ship itself as it goes down. Or we could just keep the ship from sinking in the first place, removing the impetus for this blight on the landscape of American cinema.

    3. The Fall of the Roman Empire. A global imperium may not be the ideal form of government, but its disintegration is a bitch. All kinds of raping and pillaging and barbarian invasions, you know. Then centuries of technological and cultural decline. It seems like most of the world’s problems started with Rome’s decay, so maybe we can try again with a few revisions—like fewer crucifixions and more toga parties.

    Who knows … if the Romans had stuck around longer and made earlier advances in jurisprudence and transportation, we might not even have seen the O.J. trial. Or the sinking of the Titanic. Or the airplane crash in Greece. Many future catastrophes could have been avoided.

    Surely, for example, the Romans would have thrown James Cameron to the lions.

    Friday, December 23, 2005

    The True Meaning of Christmas

    As we quickly approach the big holiday, it is an excellent time to reflect upon the real significance of the season. It’s not the binging on gifts. Nor is it the love of family and friends.

    It’s not even the religious stuff.

    The true meaning of Christmas, in fact, is much simpler: inebriated Santa Claus rampages.

    At least it is in Auckland, New Zealand, where 40 people in ill-fitting Santa suits tipped back a few and raised hell last week in the latest incarnation of “Santarchy.” In a well-executed publicity stunt for this global movement, which opposes the commercialization of the holiday, these ho-ho-hooligans engaged in a variety of community-strengthening activities such as burglary, assault, graffiti spraying, and public urination.

    Apparently in the southern hemisphere, ‘tis the season to be a drunken ass. A drunken ass with politico-economic cause, that is.

    I know that angry bands of self-righteous Christians are roving through American strip malls with pitchforks and torches because the shopping focus of the modern holiday season makes them wretch more than watching “Brokeback Mountain.” Cells of disgruntled anti-capitalists are now joining them, forming an unholy alliance that future historians may mark as a missed sign of the apocalypse.

    But is wanton destruction at the hands of two score shit-faced Santas really the answer?

    Let’s face it. The Claus-witzian anarchist/antiglobalization freaks are stumbling around drunk on the wrong side of reason and the wrong side of history, as well as the wrong side of jailhouse bars in Auckland.

    It’s bad enough that generations of children already carry Santa-related emotional scars through adulthood. Think about it. We lecture our kids incessantly to avoid creepy strangers … then we force them, kicking and screaming, to sit on the lap—and whisper into the ear—of some Schlitz-smelling stranger wearing an obvious disguise.

    And now kids will add the image of a drunk, bottle-throwing thuggish Santa to their cherished Christmas memories. I doubt they will link it to the commercialization of the holiday, however, despite the protesters intentions.

    If there is a meaning to the Christmas season, it probably has something to do with peace and goodwill. I’m not saying everybody should put a baby Jesus in their yard or attack people who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Far from it.

    But it would be nice if, on this one day, we could answer affirmatively to the eternal question posed by the wise late 20th century philosopher Rodney King:

    Can’t we all just get along?

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    The Triumph of Reason

    All too often we hear stories of hatred, misplaced faith, or stupidity reigning over rational thought. Sometimes it even seems that the human brain has been put on hold.

    But once in a while, reason wins out.

    Yesterday was one of those days, when U.S. District Judge John Jones barred the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools.

    Although temptation is knocking at my door, I will not write at length about this--my previous posts on the subject give you some of my thoughts and I really do not like to repeat myself. Or reiterate a point. It's not good to echo my previous comments. You know, to say the same thing again and again ...

    Let me just quote a few of the judge's statements, which capture the essence of the issue.

    In his long opinion, Jones ruled that "it is unconstitutional to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in a public school classroom."

    He blasted the "breathtaking inanity" of the school board's policy of including "intelligent design."

    "Any asserted secular purposes by the board are a sham and are merely secondary to a religious objective," Jones wrote.

    The students and teachers of Dover High School, according to Jones, "deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources."


    And just in case I do not get a chance to post before Sunday's holiday, let me offer my best wishes to everyone for a very happy holiday season, however it is you choose to celebrate.

    Monday, December 19, 2005

    Truth and Consequences

    You’ll see more than the usual number of hyperlinks in this post, but they are here to prove a point. Trust me.

    To whom do you turn for the truth? Where do you find unbiased information about almost anything imaginable?

    I hear the chorus of e-voices responding, “David Amulet.” And I am grateful. But even I cannot write about everything; even I must go elsewhere for true information about many topics.

    And that’s not on my booksehelf. Despite having more than 1,000 books in my house, I don’t have a standard encyclopedia to satisfy my curious mind. So I often find myself looking to Wikipedia—the free, online reference guide for which anyone can write, edit, or comment on an article.

    Recently, however, critics have been attacking Wikipedia, claiming that often distorts or ignores the truth. Must I go out and buy a massive (and quickly outdated) hardcover encyclopedia set to get good information?


    A recent investigation has revealed that Wikipedia, even with its flaws, is just about as reliable as standard reference compilations. The average science-related entry in Wikipedia is nearly as accurate as the Encyclopædia Britannica, according to a recent expert-led study that the science journal Nature reported the results of this month. Wikipedia has slightly more “minor” errors, according to scientists, but the big-name encyclopedia matches the e-contender when it comes to “major” mistakes.

    I have found Wikipedia more useful than any other single wide-ranging source. It has quite respectable coverage of topics that Britannica probably does not touch—from outstanding but underappreciated musicians (like Steve Hackett) to my favorite authors (such as Chuck Palahniuk) to surprisingly detailed pop culture entries (including the phrase “bling-bling” and the song “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani).

    And there’s another aspect of the Wikipedia that appeals to me. Through constant updating and editing and discussions between people with different information and opinions on each topic, it shows an accumulation of truth that is above and beyond the traditional encyclopedia. (For you science fiction fans, it’s the closest we humans can yet get to the shared-consciousness collective knowledge of the Dals in David Eddings’ Mallorean series or the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert’s Dune series.)

    Most entries that I waded through while putting together this monstrously hyperlinked post contained phrases that I would edit if I cared enough to take the time. But all in all, the articles present an impressive array of cumulative knowledge that can be accessed—and updated—more quickly and easily than any traditional print product. It may not be as trustworthy as a true expert on any given subject, but it’s a good first choice for most topics.

    Unless you can ask A.J. Jacobs, who read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica. True story. How do I know?

    Because Wikipedia has an entry on the book he wrote about the experience here.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    Where the Wild Things Are

    We humans really are into ourselves.

    Rather than ponder the rich variety of life that surrounds us, we focus on making our way in the world today. Which, I will note for the 80s TV junkies, takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries, they say, sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away?

    My point is that sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. (Thanks for playing "Name that Tune." We now return you to your regularly scheduled story.)

    We like us, and we show it. Some of us seek to learn from our ancestors, horsing around with séances and mediums. We obsess over celebrities, aping their fashions and their habits. We ogle members of the (usually) opposite sex, dogging them for attention. Meanwhile, we pay scant attention to the animal species all around.

    But that’s about to change. The evidence is all too clear: The war for planet Earth has begun. Humans vs. animals—pick a side.

    The most vicious battleground appears to be in Zimbabwe, where according to, a conservation group warns that crocodiles and elephants are battling it out for best human-killer.

    Croc special forces have taken 13 people out so far this year in the small country, barely topping the pachyderm assassins’ total. Elite hippo units and buffalo hired guns have also scored kills recently. Even rogue lions are coming out of their seclusion and sniffing for human victims.

    Environ-mentals will say that the animals are just reacting to human encroachment on their traditional turf. That’s just too easy of an answer, however—there must be something more nefarious, more dastardly behind all this.

    Maybe the animals are annoyed at the so-called “Intelligent Design” folks, with their anthrocentric assault on the idea of evolution. Or perhaps it’s all due to the animal kingdom’s revenge for that whole ark thing, which animals consider the non-human, prehistoric version of “Rent.”

    Whatever the proximate cause, these beasts are PISSED OFF. Collect your weapons. Safeguard your valuables. Prepare to fight.

    I’ve seen “Planet of the Apes.” I know what can happen. There’s no time to monkey around.

    Monday, December 12, 2005

    What's in a Name? MURDER!!

    In the 1980s, The Police sang about chance on their classic album Synchronicity. In the 1990s, Kenneth Branagh directed and starred in a great film about coincidence, Dead Again. And now we have our newest decade-defining twist of fate, one of the most bizarre stories you will ever see.

    Sit down for this one.

    Imagine two women arrested for soliciting an undercover officer to kill their boyfriends. Not so unusual—yet. Now … place the ladies in the same suburban county—Fairfax County, Virginia—and book them on murder-for-hire charges within 24 hours of each other.

    Add the fact that their boyfriends are each 22 years old. And don’t forget that these women—who do not know each other, according to police—both have the first name April.

    Oh yes, they also share the same middle name, Dawn.

    It’s all true—but the common threads are all just a fluke, according to this article in the Washington Post from last week.

    Detectives checked and double-checked the facts to ensure they did not err and somehow create two stories out of one. In a leading candidate for understatement of the year, a police spokesman told the press that the similarities between these confirmed separate cases involving are a “freaky coincidence.”

    Normally, such low-hanging fruit would spur me to wax comic about twists of fate, chance encounters, and the knee-slapping hilarity of murder-for-hire—even though April Dawn Shiflett and April Dawn Davis are not laughing at their possible 40 years in the slammer. But today, I’m more concerned about my good friend Joe. In fact, I’m hitting his speed dial on my Razr phone now, hoping that I catch him before his girlfriend does.

    Her name? April Dawn Slaughter.

    Monday, December 05, 2005

    Enemy Mine

    We have seen some dramatic peace negotiations in recent years.

    Take the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have been talking for a while after decades of fighting. And here in the US, the Gang of Fourteen crossed some particularly partisan lines to avert a breakdown in the US Senate a few months ago.

    And it does not stop there. George Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton have been flying around the world together all year. Even David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey have decided to break bread.

    But now things are really picking up speed.

    According to the ever-reliable Weekly Word News, angels and demons are negotiating a truce between Heaven and Hell.

    This fine source reveals that Lucifer himself took the first step, asking the Creator—and I quote—“Isn’t it time to let bygones be bygones?” God must have agreed because, the paper declares, talks are continuing on numerous points of the peace plan.

    Naturally, this all has me thinking.

    Optimism reigns o’er me, so I see hope in this historic development. If the denizens of hell are in fact hammering things out with the cherubim and seraphim, there is a good chance for many more implacable foes to move beyond their antagonism.

    Take, for example:

    Vampires and werewolves. Whether it was a family dispute gone awry, as the film Underworld portrays it, or just, well ... just bad blood, we need to get these two back together and take a bite out of crime.

    Oil and water. For all these eons, any two things that have not mixed have been said to be “like oil and water.” Let’s end the madness and come up with a new simile, dammit.

    Jessica Simpson and intellect. I don't know what Jess did to piss intellect off, but whatever happened it was horrible enough to drive the two very, very far apart.

    Team Aniston and Team Jolie. The two women in Brad's life surely can defuse their simmering tension. Who knows, maybe Jen can buddy up to Angie … and talk her and Brad into adopting another abandoned, hopeless creature.

    Matt LeBlanc, perhaps.