In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every American President, Who Would Win and Why?

August 22, 2012

Hello everyone!

One of my most-visited sites on the web is Reddit.com, and one of my favourite subreddits is HistoricalWhatIf, an online community that debates historical hypotheticals. Earlier today someone asked the question, In a mass knife fight to the death between every American President, who would win and why? Someone beat me to the obvious answer that a final showdown would see Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt doing a dagger-wielding version of a Mexican standoff, so I took it too far and walked through how I thought every president would turn out. An hour later the result greatly exceeded the maximum 10,000 character limit for a post, so I’ve decided to blog about it instead.

To begin, here were the original conditions of the hypothetical, as suggested by the redditor Xineph:

  • Every president is in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.
  • The presidents are fighting in an ovular arena 287 feet long and 180 feet wide (the dimensions of the [1] Roman Colosseum). The floor is concrete. Assume that weather is not a factor.
  • Each president has been given one standard-issue [2] Gerber LHR Combat Knife , the knife [3] presented to each graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course. Assume the presidents have no training outside any combat experiences they may have had in their own lives.
  • There is no penalty for avoiding combat for an extended period of time. Hiding and/or playing dead could be valid strategies, but there can be only one winner. The melee will go on as long as it needs to.
  • FDR has been outfitted with a [4] Bound Plus H-Frame Power Wheelchair, and can travel at a maximum speed of around 11.5 MPH. The wheelchair has been customized so that he is holding his knife with his dominant hand. This is to compensate for his almost certain and immediate defeat in the face of an overwhelming disadvantage.
  • Each president will be deposited in the arena regardless of their own will to fight, however, personal ethics, leadership ability, tactical expertise etc., should all be taken into account. Alliances are allowed.

With the scenario set, here’s my take on it:

1) George Washington – Commanding presence, strong physique, military training, viewed as a hero by everyone asked to shank him: He makes Top 10 without question. Of the guaranteed top three (I’m going to call them the Holy Trinity for the purposes of this rambling rundown), my money is on Jackson being the one who murders him; he wouldn’t blink, either. They were closer in age, and the hero myth wouldn’t be quite as firmly set. Besides, I’m pretty sure Jackson didn’t blink when he sneezed…

2) John Adams is going out early. Nothing against the man, but portly well-spoken lawyers bring lampoons to a knife fight. It doesn’t end well.

3) Thomas Jefferson. I’d like to say he’d make a good show of it, but he was a bit of dandy… Middle of the pack, but his dying words would be incredibly quotable.

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Music Review: Round Three: The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, February 2012

February 20, 2012


The Beatles have been a part of my world as far back as I can remember. I love to share my enthusiasm for them, and –as I’ve mentioned several times before– it is a weekly pleasure of mine to visit  The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, an ongoing art project that plans to publish an original cover of the entire Beatles discography, reworked in any number of genres by artists from around the world (as long as there’s a ukulele in there somewhere).

There have been some changes along the way from their first heady days following Obama’s inauguration: One of the project’s founders left; the site has gone through a number of evolutions resulting in dead links and lost essays, and there have been oscillations in the amount of background material, context, and analysis presented with each song. None of that has taken anything away from the quality of the music. The site’s organizers have given artists a framework to build wonders, and I cannot say enough good things about what this project has done on a weekly basis for the last several years.

To date I have thrice given short reviews of each cover (Songs 1 to 48, Songs 49 to 71, Songs 72 to 115), and I’m long overdue for a fourth installment. If you would like to listen to any of these songs without following my links to the individual pages, this page can stream all of them for your enjoyment. I really must start off these reviews –as I have before– with a few words of caution. I am not any kind of critic. I’m just a Beatles fan. I have no training in music, and if my two cents strike you unkindly, please consider them not worth the hypothetical copper and zinc they are minted out of.

Without further preamble, here’s my take on songs 116 through 161:

116. –It’s Only Love covered by Erin Bowman
released on the week of April 5, 2011

I picked a lousy place to break my reviews. Misery –number 115– is one of my least favourite Beatles songs, although The Big V did a fine job with their rendition. Now I find myself starting this new series of short opinions with another Beatles tune that never really fired up my blood, and it’s being covered in the genre of Tween Pop by the woman who apparently sang the opening theme to the latest Pokémon movie. No part of that speaks to me. I turned to the article in search of something I could hang my hat on, but I’m afraid the guest essayist spent the bulk of his time talking about Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies for some reason. For me, this entire entry was a rare miss in the collection, but I encourage you all to give it a listen and a read to form your own opinions.

117. –Taxman covered by Matt Gibson
released on the week of April 12, 2011

Now this is more in line with what I love about the project. Taxman is famous for being George Harrison’s railing against having to pay so much of his Beatles fortune to the British Government. Matt Gibson took that premise and kicked it up several notches by infusing it with an American Libertarian bent, all country and western with sawing fiddles and Bon Jovi-esque pedal steel, and a couple of very ‘Big Government is out to get you’ voice overs. The cover even came out the week United States citizens need to file their income taxes, which is a cute bit of timing right up there with Revolution #9 coming out September 9, 2009 (09/09/09).  The essay is excellent as well. I don’t know that I would listen to this regularly –it’s not my genre, and I’m generally okay with paying income tax– but as an example of what The Beatles Complete on Ukulele is capable of, this one is a shining example.

118. –I’m Happy Just To Dance With You covered by John Conte
released on the week of April 12, 2011

This is one of those songs even The Beatles didn’t like (as the fine essay points out). They needed this as a point A to B transition in the movie Hard Day’s Night, and it was banged out with little thought and less art. John Conte took that lack of enthusiasm and slowed the song down dramatically. There isn’t anything happy or bubbly in it. If you were actually dancing with someone while this covered played, you wouldn’t even have to move your feet: Just sway a little bit. It’s sleepy but not sappy, which takes some doing considering the lyrics. I neither love nor hate it, which I suspect is the point.

119. –Penny Lane covered by Gerald Ross
released on the week of April 19, 2011

I was more than a little surprised that this cover is strictly a ukulele instrumental piece, but after several listenings I’ve really warmed to the idea. Penny Lane can be considered the quintessential Beatles melody: You can hear more of their flavour in it than anything else that springs to mind. This project too often says, “And there’s a ukulele in there somewhere.” Why not let a virtuoso show us why this instrument is so suited to John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s work? Is anyone really going to be terribly upset that just this once we aren’t asked to puzzle through the double entendres about the fireman and the nurse? The essay is a lovely piece comparing Paul’s Penny Lane to John’s Strawberry Fields: It’s well worth a read, and I’d suggest playing this lovely cover in the background while you do so.

120. –I’m Looking Through You covered by Dandelion Wine
released on the week of May 3, 2011

Most of you have probably never asked yourself in a quiet moment, “What would I’m Looking Through You sound like as an 80s Hair Metal Power Ballad?” and that’s a shame, because here we have the answer. I’d like to say the cellos make this piece, but the lead singer’s voice is the real instrument here. The essay uses that rasp to link this song to Rod Stewart’s Maggie May in a way I never thought of before, but will always add to my enjoyment of the song moving forward. It’s a solid, solid entry to the collection. No doubt about it.

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Music Review: Update, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, March 2011

March 31, 2011


Within days of starting this blog I was already putting the good word in for one of my favourite things I have ever discovered online, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. If someone mentions The Beatles or ukuleles within my earshot, they leave my presence with at least a passing understanding of what this website aims to accomplish.

The mission of this site –which started publishing during President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and intends to complete its project during the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics in 2012– is to publish an original cover of a Beatles song every week  until the entire discography has been reworked in any number of genres by artists from around the globe. The only rule is that at some point the cover must include at least one ukulele. This is about giving creative people a task and letting them go to it. The results have been remarkable. I stand in awe of what artists can do with their medium. The Beatles produced an incredible body of work, and that body can be stretched in ways that continue to amaze me.

I have twice reviewed the entries to date, here and here. It’s been too long since I’ve revisited that subject, and I apologize for that. I’m also sorry to admit that while the site has grown and thrived, it has migrated to a new dedicated domain that rendered all of my earlier links invalid. Further, many of the excellent essays I praised have not made the journey to their new home. I have now revised the links on my earlier reviews, but I beg your forgiveness if the content I referenced may no longer synch up with what appears there now.

Anyway, I’ve been asked by one of the site’s founders to resume my brief synopses, and I’m delighted to do so. If you would like to listen to any of these songs without going to the individual pages, this page can stream all of them for your enjoyment. I feel compelled to include the following disclaimer: I have no formal musical training, nor am I any kind of critic. The following opinions are mine alone and informed only by my background as a Beatles fan who almost certainly first heard the Fab Four in utero. I am absolutely willing to concede my ignorance on any technical points of musical theory. With that in mind, enjoy!

Once again, songs 1 through 48 have been reviewed here, and songs 49 through 71 have been reviewed here.

72. — This Boy covered by Andy Burri
released on the week of June 1, 2010

Sadly, the essay for this entry is now lost. I can only speak to the music. Fortunately the cover is lovely and true to the original. It’s a gentle ukulele-drive homage that does justice to the original without any of the flamboyant departures some of the earlier covers attempted. It’s a great addition to the project, but I wouldn’t call it a stand out success.

73. — I’ve Just Seen a Face covered by Mumtaz Jafri
released on the week of June 8, 2010

I’ll confess I’ve tried to do this justice in karaoke, and I have failed miserably. My vision of this song is much closer to the cover Mumtaz Jafri offers: Slow, dreamy, melodic rather than frantic. The original –as so often happens during the high-water mark of Beatles fever– is a headlong rush into the microphone. It’s an avalanche of sound, of enthusiasm, of optimism. Who hasn’t met an individual and within ten seconds known you will never forget that special someone? That’s a difficult thing to reproduce, and Mumtaz prefers the slower and more deliberate approach. My only criticism to his take is the replacement of the introduction with drums rather than the ukulele that might have offered an interesting contrast. All the same, this slower tempo is a pleasant departure from the original.

74. — Sexie Sadie covered by Julian Velard
released on the week of June 15, 2010

This is another one where the essay has disappeared, although I remember it being interesting. The cover has a greater emphasis on the bass line and drum beat than the original, but in a good way. Julian Velard leans into the lyrics in a way that is absolutely satisfying. He lends a worldliness to a song that I know and love well. Some of the harmonies remind me of the Beach Boys, which I enjoy because of The Beatles’ own fascination with the California boy band who also became artists after their early 60s teenie-bopper fame.

75. — Michelle covered by Floanne
released on the week of June 22, 2010

I have, in the past, bemoaned covers done in another language. I can’t do that here. If ever there was a song that should be done in a different tongue, it’s Michelle. It almost cries out for a full-French rendition, and here Floanne does it with the welcome addition of the clinking of glasses, accordion, and the casual conversation of a Parisian cafe. Only the electric backing percussion pulls us away from the mental image of a 1960s francophone coffee house. The essay is interesting, but I somehow remember it being of greater depth. Perhaps it was edited during the transition to the new site?

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Best of the Web: Professor Elemental’s “Fighting Trousers”

November 12, 2010

From time to time, I come across something on the internet that just compels me to share it here on Faceintheblue.

Today’s discovery is about as unlikely a scenario as I could imagine. There’s a British hip hop comedian whose stage name is Professor Elemental. His approach to music –which he calls ‘chap hop’– is to envision hip hop artists as Victorian-era British aristocrats.

Another British comedian, Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, also works in chap hop, and so Professor Elemental has decided to write a diss song in the grand tradition of Tupac’s Hit’Em Up, which was directed at Biggie Smalls and the East Coast rap movement of the early 90s. The result is surprisingly toe-tapping.

I’ve put the lyrics after the video, if anyone is interested.

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The Raven, as Read by John De Lancie

October 30, 2010

Tomorrow is Halloween, and I like the fun aspects of that holiday. I’m not a big fan of horror films, and there’s something a little worrying about how much insulin one pancreas is being asked to produce in a 24-hour period, but Halloween is one of those few holidays on the calendar where people are really expected to get into the spirit of things.

With that in mind, I came across a true triumph of the internet yesterday. John De Lancie’s recent reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is my new favourite recitation. I’d go so far as to say it’s better than James Earl Jones, and that’s like saying someone does White Christmas better than Bing Crosby.

The poem’s text is available below the jump.
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I’ll be trying my hand at NaNoWriMo this year

October 19, 2010

Hello everyone,

As part of my endeavours to get back into the habit of writing regularly, I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. It’s an internet community project where thousands of people around the world try to write a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1st and November 30th. Last year’s contest saw 165,000 participants, more than 30,000 of whom succeeded in crossing the word count threshold by midnight at the end of the month.

Because of the limited time frame, the emphasis is on getting words onto (virtual) paper, rather than polishing a well-rounded, carefully editing work. The idea is to inspire creativity, without worrying about the end result. I expect to write tens of thousands of words of dreck, but I’ll have fun doing it, and that’s the main thing. Normally my genre is historical fiction, but in a format like this I hope a stream-of-conscious approach inspired by Kurt Vonnegut might see me through to the end. I don’t want to give away too much at this point, but I have a hazy idea for a plot involving a man who has been alive since the last ice age meeting and falling in love with a physical incarnation of death. It will definitely be a departure from anything I’ve done before, but it should be an enjoyable experience all the same.

Wrimos, as we are apparently called, keep in touch through the website, blogs, and hopefully meet up in early December at bars all over the world to commiserate and swap war stories. In that spirit, a friend of mine has set up a blog, Stranger Than Truth, and I’ll be submitting my content there, here, and hopefully on the NaNoWriMo website as well. My profile on the site is also called Faceintheblue, so I should be easy to track down; I encourage anyone reading this who is also doing NaNoWriMo to add me as a buddy. A community is only as rich as its members, after all.

I also encourage you to follow me on twitter here, as I’m bound to complain heartily over the course of the month, and everyone likes to hear colourful rhetoric in the place of thoughtful prose from time to time.

For anyone who’s interested but not already involved, you can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Perhaps we’ll fail spectacularly together, but I suspect we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it.

Good luck to you, to me, and to all of this year’s Wrimos. Cheers!


Music Review: Update, The Beatles on Ukulele, May 2010

May 28, 2010

One of the first things I did when I started this blog was promote one of my favourite sites on the internet, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. This site, starting from Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and going to the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics in 2012, plans to release an original cover of a Beatles song –in every genre of music under the sun by artists from around the world– until the entire discography has been so honoured.

Of course, one of the drawbacks of a blog is that hardly anyone ever goes traipsing through your backlist. Posting so early in my blogging experience drove almost no traffic to their site, and that struck me as a tragedy. More people need to know about this site. I talk it up at parties. I mention it to co-workers. I can’t recommend it enough: If you like anything in the Beatles’ body of work, this site is worth your time.

In December of last year I did a rather extensive review of their covers up to that point, and that blog post was rather well received: The site organizers got in touch with me, as well as several of the musicians, thanking me for my efforts. I also succeeded in convincing some of you to take a look. My blog gets an order of magnitude more traffic now than then, and a good body of new material has built up in the meantime, so the timing seems right for me to revisit my reviewing and bring you up to date.

I’m happy to say that the site continues to produce musical treasures, as well as brilliantly written essays detailing where the song fits into the Beatles experience. They have also recently revamped their free downloading set up, making it even easier to access the music.

Anyway, I promised reviews, so without further ado:

49. — Honey Pie covered by Sarah Mitchell
released on the week of December 22, 2009

Honey Pie is one of Paul McCartney’s salutes to the bygone music his parents listened to, in this case Vaudeville. Sarah Mitchell stays true to the old timey spirit of the original, while tastefully updating it to the 21st Century with just the same deft touch McCartney gave to his 1960s take on a 1920s jingle. I honestly cannot think of a better way to approach a cover of this song. Mitchell’s voice even seems honey-coated. Her tone sweeps and swoons. You can picture her singing into one of those giant steel cage microphones, dressed as a flapper, in some retro-themed bar. The essay, as usual, is excellent: Esoteric, thoughtful, playful. This is a solid, solid entry into their blog, well worth a listen and a read.

50. — We Can Work It Out covered by Like Trains and Taxis
released on the week of December 29, 2009

There aren’t too many times I claim this, but if the Beatles had never written this song, and this cover was the only version in existence, it would still be a hit. Like Trains and Taxis could build an album around this, and I would see their show because of it. It’s smooth, sexy, calm, composed. Where the Beatles seemed in a hurry over this one, Like Trains and Taxis lead singer seems almost philosophical about the situation he finds himself in, and when the rest of the band joins in on the chorus you really feel like they’re trying the soft sell approach on whether or not the relationship in question should continue. The essay was a real eye opener too, as I hadn’t really considered who Paul was addressing the song towards. This is worth a look, good readers. Click the link. I’ll wait.

51. — Back in the USSR covered by A.L.X.
released on the week of January 5, 2010

As much as I love this site and appreciate all its efforts, I’m not universally slavish in my praise. This song, to me, is a rare miss. It’s too… Calculated? Self-aware? This is where I admit I’m not a musician. I don’t know the thought process that goes into putting a cover together, but as a listener I can sense that a lot of planning went into this one. That’s like reading a novel and knowing the author had the whole plot written out in bullet points in a notebook just from how the prose flows. It takes you out of the moment to sense the framework behind the art. The essay, as usual, is very interesting. On the whole it’s not a terrible contribution to the site, by any stretch, but something just doesn’t sit right with me on this one.

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