This just in: in other news, the city of Paris has just filed a suit...

>> Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ATHENS, Greece - A Greek court has been asked to draw the line between the natives of the Aegean Sea island of Lesbos and the world's gay women.

Three islanders from Lesbos—home of the ancient poet Sappho, who praised love between women—have taken a gay rights group to court for using the word lesbian in its name.

(Associated Press, April 30, 2008)

Dear Island Of Lesbos,

Too late.

Shoulders Of Giant Midgets


I feel so stimulated!

So I'm driving into work this morning, listening to tunes, enjoying the new Bug, and I happen to notice that I'm going to have to stop for gas this evening. That's not quite true, actually. I noticed I was getting To That Point yesterday, and decided I'd put it off one more day, but I noticed that my tank hadn't magically refilled itself last night. (You might think a tank that magically refills would be something indeed, but I wouldn't be surprised: I was born in '72, remember, when a certain film franchise was in its prime and a certain television show--I don't mean 60 Minutes--still ruled Sunday nights, or it did when you were, like, five. In other words, based on what I learned about Volkswagen Beetles when I was a little boy, I'm somewhat disappointed that my new car has so far failed to go out by itself at night, hasn't managed to get Buddy Hackett and/or Don Knotts into any kind of amusing hijinks, and--most disappointing of all--has completely failed to get me comically/romantically entangled with a thirty-something Stefanie Powers--rrrrowr.)

But, obviously, I digress. Yet again. Back on task, Eric: I was thinking about refilling the tank of my lazy, gold-bricking car (you know, Michelle Lee has totally turned into GILF material, I'm just saying), and naturally that led to thinking about Senator McCain's ingenious proposal, now endorsed by Senator Clinton but criminally, callously rejected by out-of-touch über-elitist Senator Obama, to temporarily suspend the 18.4 cents-per-gallon Federal gasoline tax. And here's what I thought:

$.184 x 8.5 (roughly how many gallons I put in during a fill-up) = $1.56 (rounded off)
$1.56 x 5 (approximately how many times a month I refill) = $7.80

I'll be rich! Rich I tell you! Richer than God! Ha! Haha! Hahahaha! I win! I win!

Ahem. Sorry. I guess I got carried away with all the extra money I'll be making.

I feel obligated to admit that I didn't actually do the exact math until I got to the office, no, I merely approximated and mistakenly estimated I'd have an extra ten bucks a month during the suspension of the tax. Ten whole bucks, I thought, and I was nervous about making my car payments on the new vehicle!

But I'm not being fair, am I? I mean, I drive a little bitty magical car capable turning Keenan Wynn into a wreck of a man and able to place first and second in international races after being sawed in half. What about people who drive SUVs? Surely they'll save a small fortune!

Now, I will grant that asking two co-workers who drive SUVs how much they put in their tanks is hardly scientific. But we're going to run with it because, hey, it's my stinking blog, right? So let's do some third-grade math:

$.184 x 16 (how many gallons my friends say they put in on refills) = $2.94 (rounded off)
$2.94 x 5 (approximate refills per month) = $14.70

So, let me see if I've got this right: what Senators McCain and Clinton are in favor of is giving up millions of dollars of highway funds to put something like $7 to $15 per month in everyone's pockets. Oh, what the hell, let's be generous and double it for those extra-long-distance commuters. Thirty dollars a month is what they're offering.

This is the point at which the gas-tax-suspension proposal goes from being stupid (the usual criticism) to insulting. See, I think everyone knows that this is a crude ploy to get votes. The two people at the front of this plan are, after all, running for President, and one of them is using the issue to swat at the Democratic front-runner. So how much does it actually cost to buy a vote? The proposal is to suspend the tax for about three months:

3 x $7.80 = $23.40
3 x $14.70 = $44.10
3 x $30.00 = $90.00

Cheap, no? My vote is apparently worth a retail value of less than $25.00 to the honorable Senators from Arizona and New York. I don't even merit a C-note in the mail. At least the President thought I was worth $300 during his first term in office.

When I told my co-workers what their vote was worth, one suggested a closing line for this post, and she was absolutely right--here is my response to a bribe, and a $23.40 bribe especially:

Kiss my white ass.



>> Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It's almost 11:00 p.m. and I haven't written an entry for today. And dammit, I can't think of a topic, either.

There's the weather, which feels colder than it is: temperatures were about ten degrees lower today than they were yesterday, but that's still weather in the sixties, which is a damn sight warmer than the recent weather in, oh, say, Alaska.

There's the new music I've been listening to. I listened to Sigur Rós's Hvarf/Heim ("Disappeared"/"Home") a gorgeous double album of alternate versions of cuts from the band's previous albums. As much as I love the band's epic sound on albums like ( ), I might actually like these slimmed-down acoustic versions more. It's a lovely pair of disks, a really lovely pair of albums. Right now, as I'm typing this, I'm listening to Smog's A River Ain't Too Much To Love. I bought it partly because the last Smog album I owned before picking it up was 1995's Wild Love, a ten-year gap in records and I really have meant to pick up all of Smog's other records in between, I just haven't for whatever reason. In fact, the two Smog albums I previously owned (I also have 1994's Julius Caesar) were purchased when I was in law school, right after I saw Smog open for somebody--I can't even remember who it was Smog was opening for, actually. Funny, that. I was at that show with a girl I had a mad crush on at the time, and who in time broke my heart just a little bit, which wasn't a unique thing at all since the other guy with the two of us apparently felt the same way. The girl is mostly gone but the band remains; this is a universal story, I could be Everyman and the girl could be Anyone, it's an old, old, old story. Anyway, A River Ain't Too Much To Love is a fine record so far, and I'm glad I bought it, though the ten-year gap between Wild Love and A River... is noticeable: Bill Callahan, who used to be a one-man band, now has a band and his voice is lower and mellower than it was in 1995-or-so (the experience is akin to following one of Tom Waits's early records, Closing Time, say, with one of his later ones, Bone Machine, why not, it's that degree of difference). Hm--you know, it might have been Palace Brothers that Smog was opening for that night.

Well anyway, isn't that how it goes? You start writing about having nothing to write about, and you end up accidentally writing about something like the way sediment remains when so much else has flowed away with the current. Enough said. Tomorrow night may be a video or it may not: the weekly online Neverwinter Nights game looks like it's getting bumped to Thursday this week, so there might be a regular blog entry tomorrow and the (already assembled) Neverwednesday Nights entry might become a Neverthursday Nights entry. We'll see. In the meantime, put something mellow on the CD player, eh?


So, how was the show?

>> Monday, April 28, 2008

How do you think it was? It was fucking awesome.

At around two hours, it was a little shorter than I expected, but Bruce and the band deserve a little slack seeing as how they put a very old friend in the ground this week. Indeed, the show started a little late and on a mellow note, with the band doing "Blood Brothers" on a darkened stage while a montage of Danny Federici stills and clips played on the giant video monitors behind the stage. A little later in the show, Bruce told a funny story he said he'd told at Danny's funeral, about how in the late '60s Danny had a huge pot plant in the passenger seat of his car and then parked it in a tow-away zone.

One of the things that's been a hallmark of Springsteen shows since the '80s is that Springsteen usually tries to bring the light/dark dichotomy of The River to his stage shows. That is, The River is an album that purposely contains extremes--e.g. the drowning desperation of "Stolen Car" contrasted against the carpe diem, raucous joy of "Ramrod". Springsteen has said he was trying to find a path between the two extremes on that record. Similarly, Springsteen's live shows often drive between emotional extremes, and Sunday's show was no exception. The somber interpretation of "Blood Brothers" was followed two songs later by a surprisingly roadhouse take on Nebraska's "Reason To Believe" (preceded, surprisingly, by "Wild Billy's Circus Story" from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle; "surprisingly" because it was an interesting choice--but the last line of "Wild Billy's Circus Story," "All aboard, Nebraska's our next stop...," was a perfect set up for the segue, and I expected something from Nebraska the second I heard The Boss sing the line).

Also typical, if that word applies to a man who possibly never plays the same set list twice, was the way the band dug through the entire E Street Band catalogue. Magic, the band's most recent album, was well-represented with songs like "Radio Nowhere," "Livin' in the Future," "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Long Walk Home." (I'd love to be more specific than "they rocked," but I still--yes, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it--don't own Magic. It wasn't until I pulled up the album on Amazon just now that I recognized some titles, and there may be some more songs from Magic that were played tonight that I missed. Yes, I need to address this neglect on my part and get a copy of Magic soon, maybe later this week.) But the band also played a swinging (and awesome) take on "Kitty's Back" (also from The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle) and--a wonderful moment for me when I heard Professor Roy Bittan play the opening chords--"Lost In The Flood" from Greetings from Asbury Park, a personal favorite of mine (if I were to ever start playing even halfway seriously again, and were to try to put together a band, "Lost In The Flood" is the Springsteen song I'd want us to learn, an epic, apocalyptic song that evokes something like Yeats's "The Second Coming"). Born To Run was represented--the title track (during the encore with the house lights up and full audience participation, of course, an E Street tradition) and a classic take on "Thunder Road." So was Darkness On The Edge Of Town, one of Springsteen's four "perfect" albums (along with Born To Run, The River and Nebraska), with "Prove It All Night," "Badlands" (lots of audience participation on that one, as always), "Promised Land" and--another personal favorite that totally made my evening--"Candy's Room", with its beautiful buildup and stormy crescendo (Mighty Max Weinberg is one of my all-time favorite drummers, and the way he pounds the shit out of the drums on "Candy's Room" is nearly a religious experience).

The E Street Band is, in my opinion, the best backing band in all of rock and roll. They're solid musicians, they're tight as hell, they can turn on a dime, and they bust their asses for the hardest-working showman in rock and roll. Springsteen himself is an incredible guitarist--nobody ever says it for some reason, maybe because it doesn't seem fair that such a talented frontman and songwriter should also be as impressive a musician--and so is Steven Van Zandt. Nils Lofgren, on the other hand, is one of the single most impressive guitar players I've ever had the privilege of seeing live; and I only phrase it that way because of my deep love for David Gilmour (okay, I admit it--Lofgren's probably better, but Gilmour remains my fave, 'kay?) and because I really could agonize over whether Lofgren is better than Dave Rawlings or vice-versa all night long (I've also seen Richard Thompson, who is fucking unbelievable, so I suppose we have a full-on horserace). Anyway, Lofgren is unbelievable. I don't know if I should go through the entire band roster or not--Weinberg, as I've said, is one of my all-time favorite drummers and Roy Bittan's session work outside the E Street Band is notable.

Anyway, it was a helluva show. What else did I expect? Of course you may be thinking, "What else is he going to say?" Well, actually: I think we've all had shows that we built up in our minds beforehand, only to find ourselves a little disappointed when things didn't quite go as we expected. I had a bit of that last November, when I saw Tori Amos again and was a little disappointed that she wasn't as good as the other times I'd seen her. That wasn't the case Sunday night, I'm happy, happy, happy, happy to say. The Boss was in fine form, the band was tight, and the house was rocked.

That might be the whole review in two words, actually: I'm happy.


What I'm doing tonight

>> Sunday, April 27, 2008

(In the meantime, I'm goofing off today. Not going to the coffee shop to write, just hanging out at home and playing videogames or reading or maybe watch a movie or something. Perhaps make an omelet for a late lunch. See y'all tomorrow!)


The return of Blake's 7

Just a little snippet of geek news to pass along: they're talking about bringing back Blake's 7.

It's been a good twenty years (maybe, depressingly, more) since I saw Blake's 7 on late-night PBS, but my recollection was that it was a damn good show if you saw past the cruddy sets and the BBC-black-screen (I've had it explained to me that British shows were as well-lit as anyone else's, and they only looked darker because of something in the PAL-to-NTSC conversion process, or maybe it had something to do with improper tint correction. All I really know for a fact is that when you used to watch BBC videos at school or on PBS back in the '80s, they all looked like they'd been lit with flashlights. I always imagined actors falling over when taking their places or sets being built in converted air raid shelters from WWII.)

Anyway, my recollection is that Blake's was kind of out there as far as science fiction shows were concerned: character-driven (as opposed to scenario-driven), willing to kill off major characters to further the plot (no last-minute reincarnations of the bridge crew here), and sort of high-minded in the premise (the heroes were sort of the bad guys in a good cause). If I'm misremembering, don't correct me--I'd like to think that it was one of the first truly good SF shows made, the spiritual predecessor to shows like Firefly and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, the proverbial "good" science-fiction show (to paraphrase Clarke and Kubrick, i.e. something that hardly existed in reality and was possibly wholly imaginary).


(Welfare) Queens Of Noise*

>> Saturday, April 26, 2008

So according to a piece in Slate by Reihan Salam that I read the other day, it seems that Warner Brothers would like to charge every single person who uses the internet $60-per-year to make up for the inability or mere unwillingness of music executives to come up with a reasonable way to make money out of digital ephemeral media. (That phrase being my first attempt to come up with a general phrase to cover ripped, downloaded, streamed, pirated and purchased digital music on the internet, hard drives, portable music players like the iPod, etc.) See, here's how it would work: your ISP (internet service provider, for you casual web visitors) would charge you five dollars a month, which they would collect as part of your monthly bill and then send to--well, somebody, maybe the RIAA or maybe just the Big Four directly, or maybe to participating labels... you know, that part doesn't seem too clear, actually. Crap, you weren't supposed to get hung up on details. Sheesh. No, don't worry about any of the non-RIAA labels or independent artists unaffiliated with any label at all, it's a brilliant plan, trust Salam and Warner and something like it will be necessary because they said so. But back to the plan.

See, here's what's in it for you: if you download music from the internet, you pay five dollars a month and you can download all the music you want. (What if an artist doesn't want to license his work to the online buffet? Details! Stop that! All the music you want! Okay?) And if you don't download music, you pay five dollars a month. But you could start downloading all the music you want whenever you wanted. If you wanted. From the artists and labels who participate. Or something.

You're right, it's a shitty plan.

Salam does mention there are downsides in the Slate piece. Sort of. What Salam doesn't seem to grasp is that the real flaw of the plan is that it assumes that the Big Four are entitled to exist and that these labels are useful to artists, notwithstanding a certain amount of historical ambiguity on this score. If all of the labels, and the Big Four in particular, cared all that much about the artists' rights they love to go on about, they might agree to a modification of California labor law to make musician contracts subject to the same limits as other artists' contracts (most workers for hire can only be contracted for five years; musicians can get tied down to seven, which is rarely to an artist's advantage--if he's successful at a particular label, he has no leverage, and if he's a failure at the label, he may be tied to a label that doesn't really want him and unable to reboot his career with another label), be more flexible about performance royalties (historically lower than songwriter royalties), more willing to resolve intellectual property disputes with their artists through mediation (the old problem of the label refusing to release an "unsatisfactory" album nor returning the recording to the artist to seek independent distribution), etc.

The truth is that the five dollar plan is only good for one thing: whether the Big Four labels are actually signing new acts or distributing successful music, they would get a regular revenue stream out of it. Indeed, they could presumably stop producing music altogether, let all the current artist contracts expire, and simply float off the money collected by the ISPs on their behalf--perhaps using their back catalog as a buffer if any agreement with the ISP requires the actual posting of music on the internet for those people who want to download it.

I'm a liberal. I believe that government exists to protect the people, and that includes providing a safety net for the unemployed and even the unemployable--benefits for those who suddenly lose their jobs or for those who suffer from some disability (when handled properly) are morally good, diminish the motives for crime, promote social stability. (And then there's my cynical and half-facetious "welfare for the rest of us" theory--it's an unfortunate truth that there are some people who really ought to be on the dole instead of subjecting everyone else to their incompetence. Sure, physically they can work, but they're really not people you want leaving streaks on your floor or nailing boards together crookedly, much less trying to land airplanes or watching the dials at a nuclear power plant. I am happy to pay higher taxes for some people to stay at home, please, in fact I can think of a few people I'd be happy to add to the rolls.)

As I was saying when I got sidetracked, I believe in welfare. But even I have to draw the line at a public tax to pay the executive officers at Warner Brothers a subsidy for their failure to put out albums anyone wants to buy. (Yes, I know, most of them probably fall under that "welfare for the rest of us" category I just mentioned. If the CEO of Warner Brothers had to go to work picking fruit, he'd probably bruise all of it. But he already has a bajillion dollars. He doesn't need the money, okay? He just wants your $60/year because he likes calling his accountants and hearing that he still has shitbuckets of money, not because he's almost out of the fixings for Cheerios-and-peanut butter pie.)

Maybe if the labels can't get their acts together, they deserve the diminished profits. Has that fact somehow missed all the good capitalists out there by such a wide margin that it takes a part-time mixed-economy socialist to point it out and say "Huh?"

But what about all those poor starving artists? I've said it before: what the artists ought to do is make their money the way the old fashioned way, by touring and selling merch. That's money going directly into their pockets, as opposed to the two-cents-per-album or whatever it is they're getting out of all those twelve-to-eighteen dollar CDs that are still being sold. And of course the artists can also make money selling music directly: setting up your own website and PayPal account to sell your own digital ephemeral media or hardcopy CDs is neither difficult nor prohibitively expensive. And then there's the charityware approach Radiohead used for In Rainbows, selling music for whatever a buyer thinks its worth. None of these saves the Big Four labels--but if a billion dollar company can't save itself without passing around a plate, it gets what's coming to it.

(*With sincere apologies to The Runaways for the title.)


Friday night movie

>> Friday, April 25, 2008

In the early 1940s, Disney's most formidable rival in animation was Max and Dave Fleischer's shop, Fleischer studios. You might have thought it would have been Warner Brothers (and they'd like you to think so, I'm sure), but until '44 the Warner cartoons were essentially subcontracted out to Leon Schlesinger, and the fact that the famous birthplace of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the lot was called the "Termite Terrace" might tell you a lot about the esteem the animators were held in (Chuck Jones wrote of Schlesinger, "Leon's sole method of determining the quality of an animated cartoon was how far it came in under budget."*).

Anyway, the Fleischers were the second-biggest game in town. This was in spite of the fact that they'd had some problems in the late 1930s and been forced to restructure, with Paramount Pictures acquiring a stake in the company. This kept the company afloat, but ended up being a disaster since part of the restructuring was that Paramount could fire the Fleischers and take over the company at will.

In 1941, Paramount had managed to get the rights to do a string of cartoons based on this new funnybook everyone was nuts about, about this guy with blue tights and a red cape who was faster than a speeding bullet, could leap tall buildings in a single bound, and was more powerful than a locomotive. Kids' stuff, and just a fad for sure, but real money to be made if you could get something in the theaters.

So here's the sorta ironic part: supposedly, the Fleischers really, really, really did not want to do Superman cartoons, but they couldn't just say "no" to Paramount (they could get fired, remember?), so when Paramount asked how much it would cost to do the films, the Fleischers high-balled the figures. Because Paramount didn't have any experience with animation, they didn't know how much a bunch of ten-minute cartoons should cost, and anyway they were kind of desperate to get the things done before the license expired or all the kids moved on to something else (remember, nobody had a clue at the time that Superman was going to be a strong franchise sixty years later, and worth gazillions of dollars). So Paramount agreed to the figure, which left the Fleischer brothers in the awkward position of having to actually make the cartoons.

So they did the movies. There were seventeen in all, about half of which were really done by the Fleischers and the others after Paramount ousted the Fleischers and took over. It's not hard to tell the difference. The Fleischers had the decency, having named an absurdly high figure to start with, to put the money on the screen, something Paramount somehow neglected to do when they actually took charge of making the movies themselves.

Tonight's Friday night movie is the second, and arguably the best, entry in the series, "The Mechanical Monsters." Superman must give a smackdown to a mad scientist who has possibly spent several billion dollars to build giant robots to steal fifty million dollars' worth of precious gems. Possibly, the mad scientist has investors. Or maybe it's just a hobby, like those guys who build battlebots.

More importantly, this is some beautiful animation. Pay attention to the "lighting," Dave Fleischer did. And enjoy the rotoscoping: for those who don't know, rotoscoping is the technique in which an animator traces the image onto the cel from photographs or individual frames of film. The technique has a little bit of a bad name because it's often been used on the quick and cheap as a shortcut (Ralph Bakshi, who is a genius, is a notable offender: despite his brilliance, he's always had a hard time with schedules and budgets, and has frequently resorted to quick-and-dirty rotoscoping to cover for being out of money). But done well, and in the Fleischer Superman cartoons it's done well, it can give a special fluidity to the animation. You'll notice rotoscoped motion in the movements of the police officers and Superman, and also in the backgrounds during the flight sequences (the Fleischers rotoscoped aerial photographs to get realistic scenery).

Another somewhat ironic thing I love about this cartoon is the way it assumes functional literacy in the audience, something you don't associate with modern cartoons at all. Quite a bit of the exposition in "Mechanical Monsters" requires you to be able to read a newspaper headline. It doesn't sound like much, but someone making this cartoon today would get yelled at if they put even that much text on the screen, and they would have to do a talking heads scene to set up the story's premise.

And then there are those awesome, iconic giant robots.

"The Mechanical Monsters" (1941):

* But the best, the very best story of Leon Schlesinger, the one that really tells you everything you need to know about the producer, is this one from Chuck Jones's memoir, Chuck Amuck:

In Tex Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt--the first Daffy Duck film (1937)--Daffy's voice was a sort of cross between a stuttering "hoo-hoo" and a spluttering laugh. Tex felt that "hoo-hoo"s could go stale with repetition and that there was a vital difference in a duck that was nutty and a duck that enjoyed being nutty. But he still needed a voice, and it was Cal Howard... who suggested that Leon Schlesinger's lisp plus Leon's absolute belief that the world owed him a living made him a perfect prototype for Daffy. Mel Blanc saw no difficulty in marrying Leon's voice to a duck, so the deed was done, and Daffy found a new voice as well as a new personality, an acquisitiveness to match Leon's.

But all unbeknownst, and only when we were into the production of the new film and incapable of retreat, did we realize the hideous, the lethal potential of the future: Leon Schlesinger was going to see this film, and--more important to our future--to hear his own voice emanating from that duck.

In order to save ourselves the embarrassment of being fired, all of us were careful to write out our resignations before that fateful day when Leon strode into our projection room and sprawled on the gilt throne he had snatched from some early Warner pseudo-De Mille film or other. The rest of us, of course, still sat on beat-up splintery church pews from an early family film. The new Daffy Duck lit up the screen at Leon's courteous command: "Roll the garbage!" The cartoon played to the studio audience, accompanied by many crickets, prayers, and silences. Then the lights went on and Leon jumped to his feet, glared around: "Jeethus Christh, that's a funny voithe! Where'd you get that voithe?"

Something to think about the next time you hear Daffy: that, my friends, is the voice of a late and mostly unlamented producer of low-budget animated shorts, Leon Schlesinger. He may be dead, but an unkind but apparently accurate impersonation of his voice will live forever....


Do any of you remember that "Got your nose" game?

>> Thursday, April 24, 2008

You know, that trick that maybe your dad or an uncle pulled where they would pinch your nose, then slide their thumb between their fingers so it looked like they pulled your nose off?

Well this isn't the same thing at all. At least I'm pretty sure it's not.

It seems like it certainly could be a way for a guy to avoid awkwardness the first time he spends the night with someone he's dating. "Babe, just so you know, it used to be much bigger. As soon as I pay the ransom to that dude with the gold ring who's holding it hostage, wow."

The comments of Kinshasa's poor chief of police, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko, are magnificent. I picture him as being something like east-central Africa's answer to Andy Taylor, patiently explaining to some rube that no, it's highly unlikely that a witch doctor stole his penis. Has he tried looking the last place he left it? He has, but now he thinks it's defective. Well, did he keep his receipt? Chief Oleko must be a man of enormous patience, based on this story he may have to become a sort of personal hero, at least until I forget about the penis-thieves of the Democratic Congo. Hmm. You know, I really think I might have an idea for the third X-Files movie, if Chris Carter is accepting story pitches. While the premise may seem a little outré, and presents difficulties insofar as it might mean we have to explain what a Bas-Congo witch doctor is doing in the States; on the other hand, those who felt the series slid in quality when Mulder and Scully's relationship progressed beyond friendship would definitely find... certain elements... erm... removed from X-Files 3--The Truth Has Company. I want to believe, indeed. Mulderrrr!

I'm tired, and got to the interwebs late, and I sort of want to play a videogame before bed instead of trying to beat my brain sluggish with a more serious blog entry. I'm not sure why I feel obligated to mention this. Are not the penis-thieves a sufficient subject? Perhaps too sufficient--you do realize I could have gone with the Hardy Boys riff instead of the X-Files riff, right? One need look no farther than Wikipedia to realize that titles like The Tower Treasure and The Clue Of The Hissing Serpent are rife with possibility. But I almost misspelled "too" just over a sentence ago, and that's a sign.

My brain has hurt much of the day. Part of this was lack of sleep last night, but I suspect my allergies are coming into play. Happily, I no longer seem to go through as much swelling and stuffiness as I used to, and aside from one bad trip to the zoo when I was a kid, I'm lucky to say that I've never been incapacitated by allergies--but I do get a bit more achy and short of breath this time of year, which I fully blame on my immune system overcompensating for all the plant sperm billowing around this time of year. (Yes, that's flower spooge all over your car in the morning. Good luck getting that image out of your head.)

I don't really want to complain. I have friends who have it really bad right now, and I'm sure a few of you have it worse. But feeling a little punky is still feeling punky. Hence this blog entry, which I may wind up regretting. Sometimes my Dad calls to tell me how he liked something I wrote here or made a good point about something-or-other; sorry, Dad. Didn't mean to let you down this time. Blame the weather, or at least what was in the air.


Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Still one of my favorite videos of all time: "Karma Police," by Radiohead. I could babble, but I don't have much time and the video speaks quite well for itself.


Sophie From Shinola, Part The Ultimate

>> Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nathan, at Polybloggimous, suggested anyone who wanted to could try to write a closing for Sophie From Shinola. This one is mine:

"...and that," He said, "is where it keeps breaking."

"Run it so I can see for Myself," She said, and He shrugged and He ran it again. The universe exploded from a singularity, around Them and beneath Them and inside Them and beside Them. Time and space got sticky and globbed up into leptons and quarks and then the quarks got all globby into hadrons, and some of the hadrons were attracted to some of the leptons and when enough of these hydrogen nuclei were bunched up together they caught fire and lit up the expanding night. And the blowing ashes of the thermonuclear bonfires were heavier and heavier, chunky helium atoms followed by lithium by carbon by iron by lead by gold; finally, some ashes were so heavy, those unstable elements that just flaked off into smaller pieces all the time, spitting out neutrons and collapsing into finer, more stable modes.

"See that?" He said, "That's good." And She saw it was good. "You've really separated the light from the darkness," She said and He smiled that goofy, ineffable smile She'd always loved. Radiant machines were kicking out atoms that liked being together, couples and pairs and polyamorous chains. There were planets assembling in the night, bathed in the soft rain of complicated chemicals.

She bent close to one of the nascent worlds. "Ooh," She cooed, "I love this part." He put an arm round Her shoulder and watched with Her: on a rusty little world where it was still hot enough to cook it had just gotten cold enough for carbon-based chains of atoms to stay hooked together when they spontaneously copied themselves according to the rules He'd set when He started running this one.

"You got this to work!" She yelled. "This never works! Are they going to repro--they are!" She beamed at him, then (ever the perfectionist) scowled. "That's not much of a homey place for them, is it?"

He didn't take offense. "That's why I set it up to move them to that wet one over there," He said as a massive chunk of rock and metal smashed into the fourth world, spraying chunks of burning ore everywhere. She smiled again, to see it--a few hundred million years and a few of the rocks carefully fell into the binary planet in the third orbit. The proteins that landed on the airless gray partner froze and baked and froze and baked ceaselessly, but the larger of the pair was wet and hot and just right for the evolution of life.

The tricky part was over. The simple self-replicated molecules that had been transferred from the fourth world to the third became increasingly grandiose. The chemicals learned, after a fashion--that it was safer on the insides of microscopic oil bubbles, that labor could be divided, that energy could be exchanged with the outside via molecules of carbon dioxide and paired oxygen.

It all went so quickly from there: colonies of the things, and specialists within the colonies. The colonies learned to eat, learned to swim, learned to crawl, learned to walk. In the flash of a few billion years, the wink of an eye, the colonies went from walking to setting fires to painting things on walls to poking each other with pointy sticks and rocks (She didn't like that) and riding on each others' backs ("Ponies!" She cooed, enthralled).

"Why are they making everything stink?" She frowned. "They're smelting," He said, "I'm afraid it gets worse when they start burning compressed hydrocarbons and begin driving these little buggy-things around." "Those?" She asked, pointing. She pouted, "I'd have never taught you to write consciousness if I'd known it would smell so awful." He patted her arm, "Look," He said, "they've already stopped using complex hydrocarbons for fuel." Moments later, silver specks were propelled into the void on strings of orange fire, thousands of tiny starships full of millions of human colonists.

She applauded. "We should talk to them!" She said, but He shook his head. "I tried that in a few versions, and all they did was take pills to make Me shut up. I think they have to be riper... except...."

She looked away from the colonization of the universe. He was biting his lip. "What?" She said. And then She said, "Something's happening." The whole universe was beginning to run together, an oil painting left in the rain. Stars turned into smudges and planets to mud and vast nebulae smeared with black holes that left spotted lines across the creation.

She could make out Blackmothonthestarclickclicklighton and then it all collapsed. She shrieked and jumped up, startled. They were alone in the void again, surrounded by nothing. Not black and not white and not dark and not light; absence, except absence would still be something and there wasn't anything at all, except the two of them, Sophia and Demiurge. "Do it again," She insisted, and He did and it was all exactly the same from the expansion of spacetime to the way the whole infinite thingamajig wobbled and smudged and crashed. "I think I heard My name," She said.

He blushed. "I named it after you. Our kid." She blinked at Him. "That's what this is supposed to do. You said you wanted kids, so, I... er... I thought I'd make one for You. But she isn't stable. Every time Our daughter is almost ripe, she starts turning into some kind of superhero/pilot/publisher/spaceship/coma victim/schizophrenic paradox and it causes the whole universe to break."

They were silent for what could have been a nanosecond or a googleplex of eons, if only time existed. "I thought maybe You'd have an idea," He said, "since You're..." and here He dug His toe into the nothingness and shyly looked down (or what could have been down), "You're good at words and ideas and things like that... I'm only good with My hands, I'm not as good at thinking of things."

She took one of those hands and held it. "I don't know how to tell You this," She said, "but I think You may have taken what I said a little too seriously... I was just chit-chatting, and... You're a really nice guy and I'm flattered that You tried to create the universe for Me.... but...."

He froze like he'd been speared in the gut. Which, in a manner of speaking, He had been. "But?" He said.

"Maybe We should just be friends."



>> Monday, April 21, 2008

One last, short entry for the day. As I was driving home from work this evening, I was listening to shuffled tracks on my iPod. Patti Griffin's "Mother Of God" came up followed immediately by Gillian Welch's "Everything Is Free," and it occurred to me: I cannot conceive of deleting Griffin's Silver Bell or Welch's Time (The Revelator) from my iPod.

Now, the thing that's kind of funny and strange is--how do I put this? I love, no, I adore both of these records, and yet they wouldn't necessarily leap into my brain as favorite albums or "desert island" albums or any of that. I love Ms. Griffin and Ms. Bell, and yet (due to inertia and neglect) these just happen to be the only albums I own by these two artists (and one is a bootleg of a woefully unreleased masterpiece--I have a ton of Patti Griffin albums on my shopping list now, and I just haven't gotten to any of them yet). Despite my admiration of both artists, they're not necessarily the first to leap to mind as favorites the way Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Michael Penn, Sigur Rós, U2 or Bruce Springsteen leap to mind.

And yet, in spite of all of that, I realized on the way home tonight that I just can't imagine ever not having those two albums on my iPod. Deleting American Doll Posse from my iPod is certainly easy to imagine--matter of fact, I should probably do that soon, and maybe put some Go-Gos and Dick Dale on there. I'm not sure I have any U2 or Smiths on the iPod, despite the fact that The Edge and Marr mean a lot to me as guitarists. And I had an ironic exchange with a coworker who also happens to be seeing The Boss this coming Sunday over the fact that I recently swapped out the Springsteen bootleg I had on my iPod as part of putting a whole bunch of Bowie on it after going to a Bowie tribute/AIDS benefit with friends a couple of weeks ago. I.e. no Springsteen on my iPod despite being a devotee.

So here's the question, if anyone wants to discuss it (this feels weird--I'm so used to just ranting; asking for replies feels dirty somehow, like I'm trolling): are there albums on your iPod (or similar digital-music-portable-device) that you just can't even dream of deleting? "What's on your iPod?" is an awfully conventional question. So I'm not asking. The question is do you have anything that you can't delete on your iPod? It might not even be your favorite album or artist, simply something that would ache if you tried to remove it.


More evidence that duct tape can do anything...

The year was 1972. December, 1972; I was eleven months old and there were men on the moon. Astronauts from the lunar lander Challenger had landed on the edge of the poetically-named Sea Of Serenity, and were getting ready for a drive. And that's when it happened--a minor disaster with the potential to jeopardize their entire mission. Astronaut Gene Cernan bumped the mission's Lunar Rover, damaging the vehicle's right-rear fender and exposing the buggy to excessive contamination by the fine grit of moondust.

The solution? First, a repair of the fender with duct tape. And when that fell off, they made a new fender out of duct tape and some laminated maps. (In my mind, I like to think they were AAA maps.)

Duct tape. Someday, physicists will discover that the missing field that baffled Einstein, the mysterious force that binds the universe together, is duct tape.

A full account is worth looking at here.


Keeping kosher

Any Jewish readers who happened to be wondering if you can eat hobbits during Passover may want to check out this discussion on Ecstatic Days, a handy list that will also help the observant determine the edibility of dragons, chupacabrae and sea monkeys.


Staring at the picks

>> Sunday, April 20, 2008

Here's what I should be doing. What I should be doing is starting a third draft of the damn thing I've been struggling to write for months now. Here's what I am doing: sitting in the Smelly Cat, over by the window, drinking a coffee that's gotten cold, looking at news, listening to Indie Pop Rocks (some Built To Spill coming over the intertubes and wireless right now), and trying to think of a blog entry.

There was going to be an entry about how Southland Tales destroyed Donnie Darko for me, but I think that's stalled and won't be picked up again. (It turns out Richard Kelly is a horrible director whose ineptitude passed as genius in Darko, which is an interesting phenomena.) And I thought about writing about crazy-lady J.K. Rowling's bizarre and obsessive lawsuit against the wannabe publisher of a Harry Potter lexicon. (Oh shit, I meant to say the "wannabe publisher of a lexicon about a series of books about a character whose name rhymes with 'dairy trotter'.") But I don't know that I want to beat up on poor Jo today--it strikes me as more depressing than funny, y'know? And then I still need to do something about Night Of The Living Dead's 40th anniversary this year. (One of the most important horror films of all time, and justly considered a national treasure.)

(And who would have thought a song about a serial killer would be pretty, but IPR just played "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." by Sufijan Stevens, and now I think I need to get Illinois. What the fuck?)

But no, no, I'm writing yet another Sunday entry about writer's block.

At some point I should probably make myself do some kind of self-imposed NaNoWriMo kind of thing, just force myself to marathon for a month. I think the reason I don't isn't so much a lack of willpower as it is a form of terror. The thing I really want to write at the moment is going badly, very badly, and I don't want to quit it but I can't get in there to dig it out.

("Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (part 1)" is a fucking awesome song, by the way.)

Stephen King, a man who (for all his faults as a writer), undeniably knows something about writing as an act, analogizes writing to paleontological excavations--you're uncovering the story as you write it. I think it's a fair enough analogy, I understand it and I might even agree with it. Some of the most successful writing I've done process-wise has been writing where the characters just went and did things, I had no idea what they were up to until they were doing it and suddenly there was this whole story there. That was a good experience.

But with the current... I hate to keep calling it the project, like it's going to take over the world's nuclear weapons or create a special cadre of biologically-modified super-soldiers, but I like it almost too much to want to discuss it in specific terms... with the current thing, I think I know what all those bones under the hard red rock add up to. I think I have an idea where, under the ground, the tail and the legs and the great big head full of teeth are located. But I'm having the damnedest time trying to figure out where to begin brushing away the rough sand and edging in my pick. Like the cheesy old joke about the man in a bar with a steering wheel in his crotch, it's driving me fucking nuts.

Even this, this that I'm doing right now. This isn't really a blog entry about nothing, you know. It appears, superficially, to be about writer's block or having nothing to say or whatever, but the truth is that it's an avoidance exercise. I'm writing this in the air conditioning of the trailer mounted next to the mesa, just so I don't have to go under that fucking sun again with the picks and the brushes and the chisels and hammers to stare at the monster fucking rock.

I'm screwing myself with this blog entry, so I'm going to stop. I'm making this damn thing out to be a T-Rex and at best it's a goddamn mouse under there. Enough venting, whining and dodging and weaving. Hope your creative work is going better than mine right now.

UPDATE: Hey, I got two pages done! Hooray! I know, doesn't sound like much, but, I don't know... baby steps or something. Anyway, maybe this start is the right one. We'll see. Until I start hating it again or something....



>> Saturday, April 19, 2008

Slate had an amusing parody up yesterday: what might an anti-Obama/anti-Springsteen attack ad from the Clinton campaign look like?

Wow! They totally missed Springsteen's Satan-worship:

When I die I don't want no part of Heaven
I would not do Heaven's work well
I pray the Devil comes and takes me
To stand in the fiery furnaces of Hell

...his misogynistic attitudes towards women:

Yeah point blank, you've been twisted up till you've become just another part of it
Point blank, you're walkin' in the sights
Point blank, livin' one false move just one false move away
Point blank, they caught you in their sights
Point blank, did you forget how to love, girl, did you forget how to fight?
Point blank they must have shot you in the head
Cause point blank bang bang baby you're dead.
-"Point Blank"
...and his casual attitude towards premarital sex:

Well I called up Dirty Annie on the telephone
I took her out to the drive-in just to get her alone
I found a lover's rendezvous, the music low, set to park
-"You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)"

But seriously: the Slate piece actually makes a point that may have been accidental (though I'd like to think Timothy Noah, who wrote the ad, was just savvy enough to be doing this on purpose--it's hard to tell because he's written some dumb things in the past): if you read Springsteen's endorsement of Senator Obama, you may remember this quote:
At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision....

What the Senator has been criticized for has been, in part at least, a characterization of working class folks as "bitter" and a statement to the effect that they "cling" to certain things--I think what he was trying to get at was that a lot of folks hitch their wagons to politicians who shift the blame for economic problems and such to subjects like gun control or prayer in schools, but he did an admittedly lousy job of phrasing it, phrasing it so it came out as "people are bitter so they cling to religion and guns" or something to that effect. And the clamor has been that folks aren't "bitter" at all.

Now, here's the interesting thing that the Slate piece highlights: Springsteen is often considered a voice of the working class. There's been a little debate among music critics over whether Springsteen's fanbase is really that blue-collar, or if he just appeals to intellectual liberal types like me who maybe just think they understand the working man. But let's just assume that Springsteen's record sales aren't the sales of someone who only appeals to the intellectual elites and that Springsteen does tap into something of the American experience for a wide range of backgrounds (I happen to think this is true); assuming that, would you say that Springsteen has written some "bitter" songs about the American experience?

Hmmm. Let's see.... "Born In The U.S.A." (Vietnam vet can't get work)? "Murder, Incorporated" (pervasiveness of urban violence)? "Youngstown" (steeltown economy so far under that steelworker decides "them big [corporate] boys did what Hitler couldn't do" after WWII)? "Johnny 99" (convenience store robber so mad at the state things are in, he asks judge to send him to Death Row for his feelings)? A little bit of bitter here and again? Should I continue? "Sinaloa Cowboys" (Mexican immigrants who are swept up in the meth trade discover "for everything the north gives, it exacts a price in return"), "Atlantic City" (man loses everything, makes a deal with the devil), "Meeting Across The River" (man who never had anything in the first place makes similar deal with similar devil)? Etc., etc., etc.

Bitter? Sometimes. And hopeful, sometimes, too.

There are Americans who have good reason to be bitter, you know? That's the thing. And Springsteen has often articulated that and that's been a major part of his success and his brilliance as a lyricist.

One of the things that troubles me about my country is that we've reached this point where we're supposed to lie. A similar thing came up with Michelle Obama's somehow infamous "proud of her country" comment. It still doesn't strike me as controversial. I'm ashamed of the way my country imported human beings as chattel until the Civil War, I'm ashamed of the way we treated Native Americans since we got here, I'm ashamed that we turned away Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s, I'm ashamed that we bombed Cambodia in the early 1970s, I'm ashamed that we torture prisoners of war right now. I'm ashamed that somebody had to write a song like "Strange Fruit" or a song like "Ohio." I'm ashamed that we interned Japanese-Americans during WWII and arrested Americans who marched for voting rights in the 1950s and 1960s. I'm ashamed that the President of the United States in 1914 decided Mexico was his backyard and the President in 1973 was a lying crook and the President in 2008 thinks he has a magical extralegal power under a "unitary executive" theory that has no basis in the understanding of Constitutional law that has prevailed in this country from 1803 (the year Marbury v. Madison was decided) up to 2001. I'm ashamed that this country will impeach a President for getting blow jobs and then name every fucking airport in the United States after another who illegally traded arms for hostages and criminally authorized secret wars in Latin America. Sometimes, sometimes I'm proud of my nation's Constitution, ambition, success, ingenuity and resilience--and sometimes I'm ashamed when we fail to live up to those mighty standards.

But to acknowledge those things is treated like an act of suicide, of treason, of cowardice. No, no--we must not say that any American is bitter or betrayed or ashamed. Everything is fine, boss, going to get some water, boss, I wasn't complaining, I was just digging, boss. Everything is just peachy, and damn anyone who doesn't agree.

We need, we really, really need to admit that there are a lot of things we've failed to do, and other things we keep failing to do. Not for the recriminations or to wallow in our guilt over our sins of commission and omission, but because we will never get our feet clear of those things if we don't step up and acknowledge they're there. Yes, some of us are bitter, and some of us have found it hard to feel pride in the country we love. Are we going to keep hiding, or are we going to do something about it?

So let's call things what they are. There are bitter Americans who have a reason to be bitter. Springsteen has often tried to vocalize that. I think maybe Barack Obama was trying to give voice to that too, albeit in a clumsy and ill-phrased way. To hell with the attacks on that statement of fact and to hell with the attackers, too. Some Americans are justly bitter, and they cling to what they've got. It's about time we offered ourselves something better.


Not really a Friday night movie

>> Friday, April 18, 2008

This afternoon I discovered something utterly perfect. I doubt I was the first person to discover this perfect thing, but no matter. A perfect thing is a perfect thing is a perfect thing.

Top down, 84° weather, Beauty And The Beat cranked up on the stereo.

It's possible that album should have Play In Convertibles printed right on the cover. Ye gods.

Related note to self: when you go to the PD conference at Wrightsville Beach, make sure you have some Dick Dale with you.

Oh, by the way (an administrative note): there is a short I have in mind to present for a Friday Night Movie if it's still available on AtomFilms, but I'm finding it's sometimes hard to think of movies to show. I thought I'd do a sort of thing with a short every Friday, but now I'm thinking, nope. Not gonna work. I also don't want to do a full blog entry every Friday, though--I want to post every day, but not necessarily spend much time on Friday nights with it. My cake, eat it too, you know. So I'm thinking maybe sometimes I'll put up a music video or concert bit instead of a movie? I know, I'm not sure the dozen-or-so of you who drop by regularly at this point actually care what I put up here on Fridays, but still.

So anyway, this is kind of the inaugural of Not really a Friday night movie, which might or might not become some sort of feature, maybe. Just in case you care to know.


RIP Danny Federici

In the wake of the cool news yesterday about The Boss' endorsement of Barack Obama comes sad word on NPR this morning that original E Street Band member Danny Federici has died. Federici, who'd worked with Springsteen since 1969, had to take a leave of absence beginning late last year to try to deal with melanoma, which he'd been fighting for several years. Subsequently, he did appear irregularly in shows on Springsteen's current tour as his health permitted.

Federici was a skilled organist and accordianist (among other instruments).

This is one of those news items that's a hell of a bummer even if it wasn't wholly unexpected. Mr. Federici will be missed not just by his family, but millions of us fans. My best wishes and thoughts to his family and friends.

(Photo from Rolling Stone)


Boss Endorsement

>> Thursday, April 17, 2008

I feel obligated to start this post with a disclaimer: I don't particularly care who actors and musicians endorse in political races insofar as it influences me. It's not like I read, "Actor Michael Dorsey, in a move surprising to many, has endorsed Senator Robert Roberts in the former singer's ambitious dark-horse bid for the Presidency," and immediately vote in sync.

That said, it's nice when your views happen to fall in line with a favorite performer's. Given my parents' politics and the atmosphere I grew up in, I probably would have been a liberal even without Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and other bands I grew up with--but my nascent political beliefs had a voice that might have been harder to define otherwise. It's not an intellectual thing, it's a poetic thing, a visceral and emotional thing that grabs you by the guts. I'm old enough and overly-educated enough that I could sit down and give you the historic and logical reasons for limiting war or educating kids or providing a social safety net for those down on their luck, but I'd still rather turn up the volume on Animals or The River or War and let those rhythms and notes carry it. You know I'm a big fan of capital-R Reason. But let's be honest: the most reasonable arguments I, myself, can make about justice issues, will never be as heart-wrenching or immediate as "Mother Of Violence" or "Black Boys On Mopeds" or "Rider Pass By" or a host of others, I could go on and on and on. (I haven't even gotten to, say, every single Clash record ever made; no wonder conservatives get so antsy and indignant about liberal musicians airing their views--we liberals get to have every Clash record ever, and they get, like, The Nuge. WE WIN.)

Anyway, the introduction and pseudo-disclaimer is now longer than the news, which is that one of my all-time-favorite musicians and songwriters has officially endorsed my favorite candidate for president: Bruce Springsteen is officially for Barack Obama, thank you very much. Which is awesome to me not so much because of what it says about Obama as for what it says about The Boss--I think I would have been disappointed to have it any other way. ("Springsteen supports Ron Paul?! But I have a ticket to his show on the 27th! Noooooo!") I mean sure, who else would he support? But that's exactly it. I have awesome taste in music and political candidates....

Huh. Wait a sec. It's not about Obama or Springsteen. It's all about me. Well then. Alright, me, way to go, guy! Good one, dude!

Anyway, coolness.

Springsteen's open letter, which I wanted to share because I think it's a pretty cool endorsement letter (I'm stretching, if not breaking, Fair Use, but I'll be happy to pull it in the unlikely event someone notices and gets pissed at the posting):
Dear Friends and Fans:

Like most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest.

He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."

At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams From My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment.

After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans.

Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President.

Bruce Springsteen


Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Your mommy's alright. Your daddy's alright. The kids are alright. We're all alright. (Well... all of us except the soldier whose penis fell off from that Indonesian junk that's going 'round. He's not alright at all.)

And Cheap Trick in their prime were fucking incredible, okay? And so is this song:


Small, round and green

>> Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No real blog entry today, because I just got home at around 9:30 and I do have news that's big for me (at least): for the first time in four or five years, I have a car payment again.

Meet the newest addition to the family, born in 2004, with 30,000 miles on her:

(At the CarMax lot.)

(The parking lot of my condo.)

(Suddenly, my garage has become ginormous. Was there
some strange rift in the space-time continuum?)

I thought about a hybrid, but they're still to pricey for me and also insufficiently fun--I'm kinda at a point where fun is a very major consideration. Heh. Listen to me, like I bought a fucking SUV and not a totally awesome bug. And she's the first car I've ever owned that was actually my favorite color, too.

Anyway, that's the big deal in my evening. How are you?


A man who saw the light... falling past the event horizon....

>> Monday, April 14, 2008

Dr. John Archibald Wheeler, the man who invented the phrase "black hole" to describe a supermassive collapsed star, crony of Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein, mentor to Richard Feynman, and brilliant physicist whose work in quantum mechanics and nuclear fission was instrumental in the birth and development of both fields, died yesterday at age 96. Thought I'd pass that along, not merely for the benefit of any of my fellow science geeks out there, but also for the benefit of any of my fellow science fiction geeks out there--as the Times obituary notes, Professor Wheeler was the father or godfather to many of the big, brilliant, imaginative ideas that became tropes of the genre. A genius and visionary, a great man of science, whose accomplishments have often been overlooked. Thank you, Dr. Wheeler.


Culture shock

Here's a piece from The Guardian UK that's worth reading: six Maasai warriors were to run the London Marathon yesterday to raise money for a well in their village and one of the runners kept a short diary of his experiences in London.
Our elders told us we can do the marathon because we have been running all over, killing a lion and herding cattle. I sometimes run for two or three days with my cattle, and I have to protect them from lions. We can help the village by raising money to drill for clean water, so all of us have trained hard.

Heathrow was very busy and it was difficult to walk on the floor because some of it moved. You're walking along and the next moment it's whooosh! It's difficult to get on and off but very good when you're on.

It's worth the read. It's easy to forget how what is commonplace and what's exotic is wholly a matter of perspective--some people take motorized walkways for granted, others take running down a lion to save their cattle as a part of the daily grind. Anyway, go take a look.


Speaking of cats on the internets....

Here's a video of a cat playing a theremin. It's not exactly "Good Vibrations" or the Forbidden Planet score, but the feline's natural affinity for the electronic instrument should be pretty self-evident.


It's cold and wet today

The weather has been incomprehensible. After an unseasonably warm winter, today we had rain and temperatures in the fifties--it's in the forties now. (Yes, I know, there are colder people in, say, Alaska. That's not the point.)

The point is that happily I found something warm and fluffy to rub my face with when I got home this evening:

He's like a little mobile towel with a wet nose.

(Alright, I don't have anything to say, so I decided to take a picture of my cat and put it on the internets. I'm not the first, and I certainly won't be the last! Mwah! Ha-ha! Hahahhahaha!)


G'night, everybody.


In (kinda), and In The Flesh (maybe)

>> Sunday, April 13, 2008

I decided I didn't feel like walking up the street for brunch and coffee today.

One reason for that is I got to a late start because I decided to go ahead and watch Roger Waters's In The Flesh, a DVD I recently rented from CafeDVD. I've sort of put off renting this because while I've felt obligated to give it a shot since Pink Floyd's Live8 reunion in 2005, I'm also not really a Roger Waters fan. Roger Waters without Pink Floyd is a helluva lot less interesting than Pink Floyd without Roger Waters: The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking is an abysmally bad record, Radio KAOS is better but still mediocre, and Amused To Death is... well... actually, it's an album I don't own and never listened to because I was so burned by The Pros And Cons Of Hitchhiking and Radio KAOS (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fuck you and your third album).

Anyway, In The Flesh isn't a bad show. It's not a particularly good one either. I know, I'm not really unbiased. But I actually did use the bathroom without pausing it and wandered downstairs at one point to grab my wallet and checkbook so I could balance my checking account. In some respects, Flesh is a pleasure: Waters has removed the stick from his ass and seems to be having fun in front of a crowd, his backing band (particularly Andy Fairweather-Low, Jon Carin and Graham Broad) is excellent, and it's a good setlist. Several songs--"Shine On You Crazy Diamond," "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun," "The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range" and "Each Small Candle"--are well-rendered. Other songs drag, however, and effects are used to rather little... effect. For some reason, Waters decided to project slides behind the stage in lieu of the films and inflatables associated with Floyd and Waters shows; sadly and predictably, pictures of giant pigs and frighteningly overprotective matrons aren't nearly as impressive as something bobbing menacingly over the stage or audience, nor are slides of a chrome dinosaur-cockroach stalking the viewer or of a reactor cooling tower cracking and spilling blood as ominous as Gerald Scarfe's original animation.

And the thing about that is the visuals aren't really necessary when the music strong--David Gilmour eschewed projections and props in his Meltdown and On An Island shows, and you don't particularly notice they're missing. Waters, for his part, is an engaging enough performer pacing the front of the stage and interacting with the crowd that he might have trusted himself and his band to carry the show without the need for half a lightshow.

But then this is another problem with Waters that he hasn't shaken--that he's an overly literal kind of guy who has trouble trusting the audience to get it and to have a good time. Take The Wall, for instance--one of the problems with The Wall is that "the wall" isn't a metaphor at all, although it's usually described as one. No, really "the wall" is a kind of concrete image that Waters wants to impress on the audience--hence the physical wall that was built on the stage during The Wall concerts in '80-'81 and in Berlin in 1990, and the imagery of the movie Pink Floyd--The Wall. The wall isn't a representation, it's a thing or a picture of a thing. Waters wasn't really saying it was like there was a wall between himself and Pink Floyd's audience--he was saying there was a barrier between them and it might as well be made of cinderblocks, too. At the beginning of the 1970s, Pink Floyd could represent the concept of dying with a film of a man surfing; a decade later, the Floyd would be smushing everyone's face into Hey, look! A big fat wall that represents a wall! That was 100% Roger Waters.

So anyway, that's how my morning was spent. Then I made brunch for myself, but my omelet turned out badly. My egg, mushroom, shrimp, cheese and chorizo concoction was extremely tasty, but it was not pretty.

And now I'm going to see if I can actually write anything before perhaps hanging out with a buddy this afternoon. Have a happy Sunday, folks.


Modestly proposed

>> Saturday, April 12, 2008

Over at Slate today, Dahlia Lithwick ponders Kennedy v. Louisiana, a case that raises the question of whether rapists can be executed if the victims are children. As with all of Ms. Lithwick's columns, her analyses is thorough and well-written; in my opinion, she is far and away the best columnist Slate has to offer, and if or when she decides to move on to bigger and better things it will be a loss the webmagazine will have difficulty recovering from.

Nonetheless, Lithwick misses a rather crucial issue, one that has me thinking the State of Louisiana might be dead-on in their arguments.

This will surprise readers who know me--I'm bitterly opposed to capital punishment in general. There are quite a few reasons for this opposition. It's wrong to kill people, even when the State assumes the mantle of killer. The justice system is not reliable or accurate enough to guarantee that every sentence is just or even correct--but where an unfairly-sentenced inmate may have his sentence modified or an innocent inmate may be released (perhaps even compensated in some form for the injustice), the death penalty is, obviously, irreversible. Even when a capital sentence falls upon an individual guilty of heinous crimes, the death penalty silences, making it impossible for society to ferret out co-conspirators or better understand (and avoid) the issues that lead to individual crimes (a prime example is the late Timothy McVeigh--not someone anyone except his mother might feel sorry for, but the rash decision to execute him means there's no possibility now of him ever opening his mouth in ten or thirty years or on his deathbed to identify any other men who might have helped him murder 168 people). On the other side of this scale, the death penalty accomplishes little or nothing: there's no evidence it deters murders, it doesn't magically reincarnate the victims; and to the extent it may satisfy some irrational and primitive urge for vengeance, one might note that the entire reason a civilized society creates a legal system of almost any kind is so that an objective third party may settle disputes--I might indeed want the person who killed a loved one of mine to die, but that's exactly why I should play no role in making that decision.

There are other issues I'm overlooking, I'm sure, but that's enough of a place to start. And yet I have to wonder if killing child molesters isn't a good idea. Not in a particularly serious way--note the title of this piece again--but in a somewhat cynical way influenced, probably, by the abortive satellite-based monitoring hearing I was sort of vaguely a part of earlier this week. (Since people will ask: ten minutes into the hearing it had to be suspended because of an evidentiary issue, and I will say no more tho' I am sorely tempted.)

See, allow me to explain something to everyone who isn't involved in the legal system. It's something that's pretty obvious, especially in a year like 2008, except that nobody ever seems to think about it. Even lawyers sometimes miss it--I had a good friend and colleague sort of rhetorically scratching her head, except her rhetorical question was actually one with an unfortunate and definitive answer. Her question, of course, was what do sex-offender registration and tracking statutes accomplish?

Some naive folks no doubt think these statutes somehow magically make them safer. That's funny. Because knowing that your neighbor was convicted ten years ago for an offense of which you know absolutely none of the details allows you to do what, exactly? Warn your child, tell your other neighbors? Throw rocks at his house? Well, alright, it'll let you do that last one, and any other vandalisms or assaults you wish to visit upon the person who did whatever it was that led to his sentencing for whatever. But aside from that, what do these schemes do? Zilch. And tracking these ex-cons with GPS--how high-tech, we really are living in the future!--what does that do? I suppose if the bastard decides he's going to re-offend and is too stupid to take off the fanny pack containing the tracker, and decides to abduct somebody, then it will make it easier to track the violated victim down? Right. No, that's not why we have these statutes folks! Here's why we have them:

We have these statutes so that when your friendly local elected officials run for re-election to the State House, they can tell you how tough they were on crime, much tougher than their opponent was or ever could be.

Seriously. That's it. Same reason we have all those horrible DWI/DUI laws--probably much worse than you think. (I can't speak for all states, only my own, but my guess is that when you think about DWI/DUI laws, you probably think about somebody you knew fifteen years ago who had a little bit of a run-in coming home from a bar one night, maybe when he was in college. Boy, are you probably in for a surprise!) Child-molesters and drunk drivers have the least effective lobbies in the United States of America. Every election cycle, there's somebody out there willing to put a picture of their dead baby on a poster. And nobody who's going up to the capitol to have lunch with Representative Schmucktard to talk about more rights for NAMBLA members. Does. Not. Happen.

Something to think about next time you're being manipulated by your elected officials. Just saying.

Of course, some of you may be thinking that these bastards deserve to be punished. Sorry! Sex-offender registration schemes aren't punitive, that would make them unconstitutional! I hate to disappoint you, but registration schemes are regulatory, just ask the Supreme Court Of The United States. (Or take a look at Kansas v. Hendricks or Smith v. Doe or any of the other fine cases on point: civil and regulatory schemes, good; criminal and punitive schemes, bad. Got it? So, if you are in favor of really cranking it to the pervs, keep that in mind when you're making your arguments to others. Instead of saying, "I really think that bastard who molested that six-year-old and plead to a reduced charge ought to pay for it for the rest of his life," say, "I really think that bastard who molested that six-year-old and plead to a reduced charge ought to be subject to a non-punitive civil regulatory scheme that meets the Constitutional requirements of Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez." Got it?)

But back to killing the perverts: thanks to these wonderful schemes to protect the public--you do feel protected, don't you?--even if one of these guys pays his debt to society, gets rehabilitated if he needs it and tries to make a fresh, not-gonna-be-a-pervert-anymore start in life, he's screwed. He's on a list, he's court ordered not to live anywhere where there might be a human being under the age of forty within a hundred thousand miles, and nobody's going to hire him once they've run a background check. Oh, and he may be tagged for the rest of his life with a satellite tracker, like a bear. Hey, I know, it's not the most sympathetic creature on the planet we're talking about. They're not pandas, whose sexual dysfunctions get them on posters and fundraising mailers. But the point is, what do they have to live for? Really and truly: we've decided they can't just pay their debts through hard time anymore, we don't want them living in civilization, we don't even want them working on our cars. It's only a matter of time before the only thing our elected officials can do to them during an election cycle is paint them blue and put them in a sort of leper colony that will have to be closed down when a high school opens two miles up the road from them a year later. (Heaven help our politicians when they no longer have drunks and perverts to kick around. I don't know how any of them will get elected. They may have to change the topic to something meaningless and distasteful like state healthcare reform or fixing the educational system, poor bastards; there may be a rash of suicides.)

That being the case, that writing on the wall, that bright light approaching on the tracks, why don't we do rapists a favor? They won't have anywhere to live soon, anyway. Why not just kill them and put everyone out of their misery, us and them alike? Not to punish them, oh no. We'd merely be regulating them out of existence. Seems simple enough.


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