SirTheory’s Treatise on Life

(opinions on just about anything)

R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

To call Madeleine L’Engle my favorite author might be overstating things a bit. But not so much as to consider the statement untrue. It was only last year that I truly grasped the grandeur of her writing. Yet in that year I read almost every novel the woman wrote, I gave a speech about her in my speech class, and I wrote a paper on her poetry. Other authors have probably had a great influence on me, yet few have engaged me the way L’Engle has.

She is best known for her novel, A Wrinkle In Time, which is usually considered a children’s science fiction novel despite her protests. Yet she has written so much more than that. My personal favorites are The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp, the first dealing with the main character as a child, the other as an elderly woman. Camilla is another one I highly treasure.

Even though she hasn’t released a novel for a while, I kept holding on to hope that we would get a follow up to Charles from The Time Quartet. His tale demanded a follow up. But it was, apparently, not meant to be.

My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends, and fellow fans. Thank you, Madeleine, for the great stories that transported us into your world, making us feel like we were getting to know you through your characters.


September 8, 2007 Posted by | Literature | 1 Comment

Royal – My Dear

Tooth and Nail Records is often unjustly categorized as just a Christian label releasing bland music like Thousand Foot Krutch and Hawk Nelson. Yet in the mid-to-late-90s Tooth and Nail was releasing a whole slew of interesting indie rock (what was, at that time, considered “alternative rock”). I mean, Tooth and Nail was the launching pad of The Danielson Famile for crying out loud. The Danielson Famile was directly related to the rise of Sufjan Stevens. Yes, that Sufjan Stevens. While The Danielson Famile has become Pitchfork Media indie darlings, there were many other deserving artists released through Tooth and Nail who never got the slightest attention from the mainstream media or the Christian media.

Royal was a band from Norway who released only one album. While they were never really signed to Tooth and Nail, it was Tooth and Nail who released the album to the United States. The album released without any real fanfare, other than a couple of good album reviews in the edgier Christian music magazines (Tidal Wave, 7 Ball). Their one claim to fame was that the one guitar player had been Extol’s guitar player before Extol was signed.

The core of Royal is the brother-sister duo Emil (the ex-Extol guy) and Elvira Nikolaisen, although the band is five members deep. Emil went on to form the noisy shoegaze band, Serena Maneesh (which, interestingly, did make one of Pitchfork’s yearly top-50 lists) and Elvira is now a Norwegian pop singer. Yet neither of them has managed to eclipse the grandeur that is Royal.

Elvira handles most of the lead vocals, a laid back croon that you might expect to hear with Over The Rhine. The music Emil backs her with is certainly a far cry from the folk pop of Over The Rhine. A cacophony composed of loud, roaring guitars and a crash symbol used so frequently that it could ring in the apocalypse.

Yet it will turn on a dime so suddenly that your head is left in a swirl. The roar drops completely and they craft silence. Not a pure silence as Elvira continues to croon and the drums tap out a bare bones beat, accompanied by a slowly plucked guitar. Time might be lost track of as things slowly build. All of a sudden three or four minutes have passed with this growing quietness before, just as suddenly, the roar returns.

My Dear can’t be listened to quietly. The stereo has to be cranked in order to prevent the quiet parts from fading completely away. I can’t think of any other album which has two completely distinct personalities and such a difference in volume. This makes comparisons difficult to come by, however, it is hard to imagine that Sonic Youth wasn’t a huge influence on what Royal accomplished. I would like to see someone slip Thurston Moore a copy with a request to re-release it. My Dear would be right at home on his record label while being different enough from Sonic Youth to be more than just a repetitive blip.

September 5, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Struck Last May – 16 Flowers

You might not be able to call Michael Knott successful, after all even in the Christian market which he was an alternative rock groundbreaker his name is more likely to be met with blank stares than not. Yet this has not prevented him from being remarkably prolific, especially in the 90s, when multiple albums in a year were not uncommon. However, new material from Knott has been pretty hard to come by the past two or three years. The drought finally ended at the end of ’06 with the All Indie E.P.. Now we have a new full length with a new band name.

Band names for Knott have tended to feel tacked on like an afterthought. The Russian roulette wheel spun to determine what album gets what moniker. Because whether Knott is electric or acoustic, L.S.U. or solo, it still tends to sound like Michael Knott. So it is understandable that even with a new and different band name on the cover of a Knott album we expect that to have simply been a new addition to the Russian roulette wheel. That assumption is a mistake and is probably at the root of many people’s backlash against the album.

Struck Last May is without a doubt the most experimental thing that Knott has been musically involved with. While there are portions of his back catalog which hint at experimentalism, not a single one of his albums really highlights that tendancy. 16 Flowers highlights it and revels in it, portraying a more textured vision than we’re used to. This is likely thanks to Knott’s partner in crime, Rick McDonough, who’s own solo projects are quite experimental and textured.

The tracks on 16 Flowers range from more typical acoustic Knott to more typical McDonough. Most songs find a middle ground that evoke both artists work. The mixture works really well most of the time, such as on “You Are Me” where McDonough provies ambiance to the standard Knott songwriting. Where it fails to work is when poorly pitched vocals and hollow-sounding drums (I’m looking at you, “Fraidy Cat”) are mistaken for being experimental. That isn’t being experimental, it is being too lazy to do things right.

Thankfully tracks like that are the exception rather than the rule. However, Knott and McDonough set themselves up for failure by making that one of the early tracks on the album, making the one that will stick in peoples minds as they listen for the first time. “Bundled Up” follows “Fraidy Cat” and, despite taking a step in the right direction, meanders on too long and still has some shadily performed vocals. Thus the stereotype for the album is set. If “Bundled Up” is listened to independently from “Fraidy Cat” it works a whole lot better. Unfortunately, the “Fraidy Cat” formula is repeated on the following track, “Pollen.” It isn’t really until track six of this 14 track album that the album settles into a groove and really shows off what the two do well. In fact, if tracks two through 5 were eliminated 16 Flowers would not only have a chance to really impress Knott fans, but be considered one of his better albums.

The other tracks also have experimental aspects, but they retain a pop sensibility and good songwriting. Experimentalism for experimentalism’s sake isn’t always a bad thing, but it needs to be more than the proverbial farts in a can. Because no one wants to hear that and the fact that you think that people do is quite masturbatory.

To really hear this album for what it should have been eliminate tracks two and four, and possibly five, from your listening experience. This will allow the other 2/3s of the album to stand out and show what it is that Knott and McDonough bring to the table together.

September 2, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Michael Jackson Dies.

More people claim the name Michael Jackson than the popular pop singer. Indeed, considering the relatively common occurrence of Michael as a first name and Jackson as a last name, it is surprising there aren’t more famous Michael Jacksons. Maybe they prefer to go by Mike?

In beer worlds the name Michael Jackson refers to the iconic beer critic. He has written books on beer and filmed televisions on beer. Late night talk shows have had him as a guest. Jackson spent his life traveling the world, tasting obscure beers.

When I first started <I>really</I> getting into beer I would go to Barnes & Noble and stand next to the cooking section where the beer books were located and flipping through the various books. Jacksons always seemed like the authoritative tome on the subject. Then I saw him on Jay Leno. He seemed totally wrapped up in his own beer world. Leno didn’t seem to quite know what to do with him, but tried some of the beers Jackson brought along to sample.

When asked what the worst beer out there was, he responded “Corona.”

I disagree, finding Corona more tolerable than the Bud Lights and Miller Lights of the world. Still not a beer I would buy, however.

Anyway, the world minus one Michael Jackson. Pop music lives on. Beer lives on. Yet we will miss a beer legend.

September 1, 2007 Posted by | Beer, General | Leave a comment

Why The American League Will Continue To Dominate.

It has come to light the past number of years that the American League is dominating. If you look at their inner-league record and how frequently the win the World Series and at the number of elite teams the have things are looking bleak for the National League. The sad thing is that we probably won’t see things change in a long time. Surprisingly the dominance isn’t due to a major difference in talent. Instead, the reason that the AL always seems to come out victorious is due to something else entirely.

The American League is playing a different game than the National League.

Oh, sure. Most of the rules are pretty much similar. Enough that most people probably don’t really see a problem. Yet if you look at what the rule difference means in how the teams are compose, it means that the AL automatically has a huge advantage.

First, the big rule difference is that in the NL the pitcher has to hit. So once every nine batters someone is at the plate that spends most of their training not swinging a bat. Pitchers, with a few exceptions, are basically an embarrassment at the plate. You only have nine people in a line-up. When one of those is an out over 80% of the time and your main goal in production from that spot in the line up is in bunts, it is a significant decrease from any other spot in the lineup.

In the AL, however, they have things thing called the Designated Hitter. The DH hits instead of the pitcher so the pitcher can concentrate completely on their pitching– aka, what they’re paid to do. The DH, on the other hand, is often a big power hitter with minimal fielding skills. Essentially, they are paid solely to provide power to a lineup. What is the difference? Well it isn’t uncommon for any given NL team’s pitchers to not hit any home runs in a year. Some do, but you definitely don’t count on it. Then if you look at the AL you’ve got Designated Hitters who might hit 35 or more home runs. As a result the lineups and benches are composed completely differently.

This is OK when the AL is playing the AL and the NL the NL. But when the two leagues face off (and every seasons ends with the biggest series of the year, the final battle between the teams that emerge from their respective league) the advantage will go to the AL every single time. What it means is that when the two leagues face off, either in the regular season or the World Series, there has to be a way to determine which set of rules to play by. It is settled by what ballpark the team is playing in. So if the AL Yankees are playing the NL Mets in the Mets’ stadium, then NL rules are used and both pitchers bat. Conversely if the Mets and Yankees were playing in the Yankees’ stadium, then AL rules are used and both teams use a DH.

“Well that sounds all fine and dandy,” you say. “Both teams play by the same rules and the NL gets to use a DH at the AL field and the AL allows the pitcher to bad in a NL park.”

As dandy as it sounds, it is still not  equal. When playing a game in an NL park it is going to be fairly even. NL pitchers can’t hit too well and AL pitchers can’t hit too well. It is when playing in an AL park with AL rules that the advantage swings hard to the AL team

An NL team which builds its team around NL rules where the pitcher has to bat is at a severe disadvantage when it comes to playing in an AL park because they lack someone on the bench who is up to filling the role of a Jim Thome or David Ortiz. The AL team in the AL park is at full power. An NL team in an AL park is just relieved that someone with a batting average above .200 is hitting in the pitcher’s spot. Just because the pitcher is not batting on either team that doesn’t mean the footing is equal. For a league already built more around being offensively dominant this quirk in the rules gives them a decided head start on any inner-league series they play in their park.

Let’s say that this difference in rules is responsible for even just one loss for a NL team. Teams miss the playoffs by only one game every year. What if the difference is two games? Or three games? Can we really say that the right teams are making the playoffs? Then the biggest effect happens in the World Series when both teams host games. There just one game that gets swung due to the rule difference is a huge deal.

Unfortunately, I don’t see either league deciding to conform to the other league’s rules. At least, not in a long, long time. So be prepared for a lot of AL dominance in the upcoming years. In the meantime we will have to endure a lot of ESPN round-table discussions about why the NL isn’t keeping up with the AL. The NL will be considered a second-rate league. It will just be us purists who keep the life of the NL alive.

August 31, 2007 Posted by | Sports | 1 Comment

I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman

Children’s books are highly underrated by most people. Harry Potter, of course, gets read by a lot of adults. Yet it still gets labeled as “just” a children’s book. People just seem to think that writing children’s books means dumbing things down. And most people don’t like dumbed down. The attitude is one that I try to fight hard against. Well written words are well written words, regardless of the audience.

Gordon Korman wrote one of my favorite books ever. I Want To Go Home, even now, is one of the funniest books I have ever read. I would put it above Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy or Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. (Both of which are, in their own right, super books.) Gordon Korman has a fantastically dry sense of humor and mixes it with amusing characters and situations.

I Want To Go Home is where all of what Korman does well comes together in a perfect storm. Mike is your average non-athletic guy. The only thing that stands out about him is that nothing stands out about him. A nice enough guy, but not bold enough to really make friends. He is forced into camp and it is with no enthusiasm that he arrives. The only other person at the camp who hates camp more than Mike is the mysterious Rudy.

Camp Algonkian is situated on an island which is devoted entirely to the camping of kids. So when Rudy and Mike become friends the suggestion of escaping camp is ludicrous. It would take someone really smart and able to succeed. Thankfully Rudy has a plan.  And another plan. He implements more plans than can be counted on one hand. Yet escape always seems to elude them.

What sounds like a simple story gets twisted in Korman’s situational humor and the result is catastrophically funny. Reviews on Amazon are littered with adults who reminisce about reading the book over and over as a kid, and who still reads it and dies laughing. It is laugh out loud funny, will warm your heart, will make you say “oh no he didn’t!”, and more. Give it a try.

August 29, 2007 Posted by | Literature | 2 Comments

Goldeneye: Rogue Agent (Gamecube)

Strange is the 007 game that doesn’t actually feature James Bond. Yet EA Games somehow managed to throw this together, complete with a shiny little “007 Presents” sticker. Really, I’ve only ever seen two Bond movies, so I can’t say I’m too upset over the lack of James in Rogue Agent. In fact, compared with the other 007 game I have, Rogue Agent is better off without the presence of Bond. Instead what we have is an agent kicked out of service and who has nothing to lose. He treks through a variety of environments and tries to kick a lot of you-know-what.

His success, of course, depends entirely on how well you do. And your ability to succeed depends on whether you enjoy shooting a lot of dudes. And whether or not you get bored with it. Because boredom is a very real possibility. On the other hand, if all you’re looking for is a straightforward first-person shooter, G:RA will throw some serious challenges your direction.

One thing I like in a game is a lack of ambiguity on where to go. Mucking around a map while not entirely sure if I’m going the right direction just irks me.  In this way Goldeneye: Rogue Agent is pretty ace. There is only one way to go. Because in Goldeneye it isn’t the going that matters, but the surviving. In order to reach the end of any given level, surviving is quite important.

In order to survive you need to have several skills: A) be good at taking crowds of bad guys out and B) understand the fine art of patience. For as many rooms that you can enter with guns a-blazing, there are an equal amount of rooms where doing so will leave you dead or awkwardly crippled. That is because, as redundant as it seems to get, the bad guys can be quite a pain to take out.

A lot of the frustration comes into play when you’ve worked long and hard to get through a level, only to hit a really tough room without the proper firepower. The only weapon that has unlimited firepower is your pistol. It is also the only weapon, in addition to your grenades, that you can keep without actually holding in your hand. Unlike other games which allows you to just keep on picking up weapons, in G:RA you basically can only keep what you can hold in your hands. Some of the weapons only require one hand, thus allowing you to carry two at once, others take two hands. So when you run out of ammo, and there are no other weapons around, you get limited to a single pistol.

Despite the fristration, there is something rather satisfying about passing a section with only a pistol when there is no way you should have a change in hell at succeeding. For example, I’ve taken out entire tanks with nothing but my trusty pistol. If I had had the rocket launcher it would have taken exactly two shots. With the pistol it took hundreds. To even have the slightest hope at taking down a take with a pistol you must have cover. This is another aspect of the above-mentioned patience. Without cover you’ll be a sitting duck for the canon balls that the tanks have a nasty habit of flinging at you every few seconds.

The enemy A.I. is hardly realistic, but certainly not horrible. The game cover points out that the “all-new E.V.I.I. AI means no two games are the same!” which is true from the point that the characters don’t move on a pre-programed track all the time, so there will be subtle nuances from game to game. Yet it isn’t so different that I would consider it a huge selling point.

The worst part of G:RA is how the difficulty doesn’t really seem to increase beyond new gadgets being utilized. If you can take out the bad guys in the first room, you can take out the same enemies in the last level. There are just more of them with nastier weapons. Or locations with things like the afore mentioned tanks. That increase is pretty much neutralized by the gadget that gives the game it’s name… the electronic and upgradeable Goldeneye.

You start off with the eye only being able to see through solid objects. Not all solid objects, but most normal obstacles. Then at certain points in the game your financier gives it upgrades which pretty much make you unstoppable for most normal opponents (though, unfortunately, the bosses are immune to the power of the eye.) The two big powers are the shield (which will protect you from the rocket launchers and canon balls, and smaller forms of firepower as well) and the energy field that kills. Nothing beats walking into a room, locating a person, and pressing the right button. They fly into the air like a rag doll, even though you didn’t lay a finger on them. Of course, none of this flows as free as water. At 100% you can use any of your four abilities. After the use, however, it will have used up a portion, or all, of you eye’s ability until it recharges. Recharging, especially if you are playing the hard level, can take a little while, so the patience comes back into play. It is much easier hiding only to emerge once in a while to pick off an enemy than to come out with guns firing.

In the end, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent is a very acceptable first person shooter. However, for those who are expecting and wanting something more in the traditional 007/Bond vein the game will definitely disappoint.

August 27, 2007 Posted by | Video Games | Leave a comment

Lovedrug – Everything Starts Where It Ends

Year 2007 in the world of music has been… disappointing. Favorite artists have released underwhelming albums (The Shins, Bjork) or albums that fail to capture my imagination (The White Stripes). Which wouldn’t be extremely disappointing except I’ve only discovered a handful of new artists to capture my attention (St. Vincent, Noisettes).  For the first time in years it is looking like my normal year-end top-20 list will get shrunk to a top-10. And there still might be filler on it.

One possible option for the filler is Lovedrug’s second full length release. My history with this band is long and storied– swinging from extreme hater to a non-hater. Then ending up as an appreciator. It is a whirlwind of a story. Grab a cup of mocha and enjoy…

Once upon a time there was a band named Kerith Ravine. They were a little band out of Ohio who released one awesome CD, a couple of tantalizing EPs,  and then disappeared.
Along comes Lovedrug, who just happens to have several of the same members as Kerith Ravine (including the lead singer/songwriter). “Ho boy!” said I. “This will be almost like having Kerith Ravine back!

The first Lovedrug CD, Pretend You’re Alive, did nothing to prove my initial enthusiasm justified. Bland, typical indie emo rock anthems. So naturally Lovedrug became much bigger than Kerith Ravine could have ever hoped to be. Yes, I was bitter. I lamented the inane music industry and its championing of mediocre talent.

I saw them live. And that was when I stopped being anti-Lovedrug. They put on a great, energetic live show. It was the only context which the songs off of Pretend You’re Alive did anything. The live show gave me enough to hold onto to allow me to have hope for Lovedrug’s future.

Which brings us to Everything Starts Where It Ends, the new Lovedrug release. It keeps a similar tone to Pretend You’re Alive, but creatively pushing the envelope. As a result it sounds a lot more alive. It ends up being an engaging listen that doesn’t play it safe.

It still fails to live up to Kerith Ravine, however this album won’t surprise fans of Kerith Ravine the way it might surprise those simply familiar with Pretend You’re Alive. The album proves that Lovedrug are going in the right direction and, perhaps later down the road, will fulfill the promise Kerith Ravine came close to perfecting.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment


Superbad is a movie I have been looking forward to since I saw a preview early this year. After the genius of Arrested Development any movie starring any of the main characters catches my eye. Michael Cera, who played George Michael on Arrested Development, was one of my favorites. The previews for Superbad were amusing but I was sold completely on the strength of George Michael.

Realistically, this movie isn’t a far shot from what drifts through your average American male teenager’s mind: Sex, sex, sex, penis, sex, scoring alcohol, sex, boobs, sex, porn, and any other key buzzword to cause this blog to come up on any naughty Google search. Seth, played by Jonah Hill, even has a casual discussion with Evan (George Mic… erm, Michael Cera) about which porn site he’s planning on subscribing to. Yet Superbad manages to do more than remind people of their adolescence.

The character who ends up being the most interesting in the movie is Fogell (the debut of Christopher Mintz-Plasse– you’ll be seeing more of him, I guarentee it), an ultra nerdy kid whom no one really likes except himself. Evan tolerates him well enough to agree to be roommates in college while Seth really doesn’t seem to think he contributes much. Yet the three still hang out and drink alcohol together, albiet in one of their basements and not at the cool parties the other kids are going to.

This all changes when Fogell finds a place to purchase a fake I.D.. Seth immediately latches onto this and sees this as an opportunity. He promises the pretty girl in his cooking class that he would pick up the alcohol for a party that evening. She, doubtlessly, sees it as nothing more than a convenience that saves her from trying to dig the alcohol up. Seth sees it as a promise for some lovin’.

The movie doesn’t really pick up until Seth sees the I.D. that Fogell acquired. We find out (as if we didn’t already know from the numerous commercials) that Fogell picked the name McLovin. Just McLovin. Despite the obvious fakery Fogell tries the I.D. out at a liquor store. Things happen, people get hit by cars, and all of a sudden we have a movie with two identities. We have one storyline with Fogell and the cops and we have a storyline with Seth and Evan trying to find a way to get alcohol for this party… undoubtedly the first real party either of them have been to.

Then there are the girls. Each of the guys has a girl he’s had his eye on. For Seth there is Jules, played by Emma Stone, who is the curator of the party and looks like a model.  Evan can’t keep his eyes off of Becca (Martha MacIsaac), who has more of a hometown quality to her (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). For Fogell there is Nicola, played by the stunningly gorgeous Aviva (pictured left and in the above picture with Fogell). Aviva really does go by just one name having dropped Farber, her last name.

Each, by the end of the night, ends in disaster. Evan almost gets raped by a drunk Becca, a drunk Seth accidentally head-butts a sober Jules, and Fogell gets busted by the cops while in bed with his vixen. There is more to the ending than that, but I’m not here to play the part of a spoiler.

In the end the movie is quite funny, though not as funny as my high expectations were set up for. Yet it is also a very sweet movie that will have you saying “awwe” at points. Which, in my opinion, is a perk. Movies like this have to display real humanity or they’ll become mired in nothing more than dick jokes. So Superbad is recommended. But I won’t really know what I think until I see it a second time to see how repeat viewings treat it.

August 21, 2007 Posted by | Movies | 1 Comment


So I’ve been a big Cartoon Network addict the past few weeks. Be it Futurama or Robot Chicken or Frisky Dingo. Mostly Adult Swim fare. So this weekend, where had no plans Friday evening, Saturday all day, or Sunday all day I planned on getting a bit of television in. However, I groaned when I found out that Cartoon Network was going to be spending all of that time (except for Adult Swim hours) in a marathon of the kid’s anime Naruto. 100 episodes spread out over 50 hours and 3 days.

I have an appreciation for anime. I’ve enjoyed Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop, as well as others that I’ve seen on Cartoon Network like Full Metal Alchemist. Naruto, while I was familiar with its existence looked more like a silly, brainless anime. There was no real appeal there for me. Yet I sat down Friday evening, bored, and turned it on. Three episodes in and I was hooked. It has the number one thing I look for in movies, books, and television: Amazing characters.

A lot of shows and books have well developed main characters (Full Metal Alchemist seems to be that way) and that is great. I love well developed main characters. However, Naruto not only does great character development of the main characters, but of the side characters as well. While Naruto appears in all the episodes, in many of the shows he is more of a peripheral character. Instead that episode will focus on one of his friends, or enemies, or someone else, and we get treated to textured flashbacks and get to know that character in a way that brings them alive.

Oh, speaking of enemies, the evil characters in this show are stunningly textured. Especially Gaara, a red-haired boy who alternates between a dead, evil stare and a fierce scowl. He is terrifyingly powerful, especially in the earlier episodes, and his character development is superb. You hate him and yet you sympathize with him and want him, as be becomes more and more pathetic as the episodes go on, to turn around.

Naruto is the spiky, yellow-haired kid. He is our hero and a kid with little talent yet high aspirations. He is loud, annoying, and doesn’t like to recognize authority. Yet he is more than that. He manages to use what he has effectively. In most of his fights he is a severe underdog because the other person has a lot more tricks up their sleeve. Through raw determination to succeed and using his brain to combine things in new, unimagined ways, Naruto will often succeed against all odds. And in such a way we see him grow from geeky kid in over his head to a real competitor.

The show isn’t for everyone as many episodes may be short on action for many viewers. Other episodes might be too gruesome for other viewers (just the fact that it is a show about kids battling each other with magic might be too much for many). But I really enjoyed the marathon, even though I didn’t get a chance to see every episode. Unfortunately, the DVDs are ridiculously expensive, even used, at this point. But hopefully in upcoming years they’ll become affordable. I’d enjoy picking them up.

August 20, 2007 Posted by | Television | 11 Comments