We are mice

>> Friday, February 29, 2008

I'm not up for anything substantial tonight (this will be the third and final short post for the evening). I wasn't even up for walking down to see the Les Claypool show I mentioned. I'm just weary tonight, and that's as good a reason as any to share one of the saddest videos ever made, by a band that I've adored since I saw them open for Moby many years ago--the now-defunct Azure Ray. Don't worry, I'm not really depressed, just super-duper-mellow. But I hope you enjoy this: Azure Ray, "We Are Mice," from 2003's Hold On Love (and if you're not up for a really sad song and video, maybe you should come back and watch this later, eh?):



(Oh, and if I really want to depress you, I'll embed the video from Sigur Rós' gorgeous "Viðrar vel til loftárása." Some have said it's the saddest music video ever made; they may be right. But not tonight. Some other time, for sure. But not tonight.)





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I'm shocked, absolutely shocked....

The RIAA says they're going after alleged copyright infringement to help artists.


But according to at least one source, the artists aren't getting any of that money the RIAA has been winning in its lawsuits against its customers.


I'm shocked. Absolutely, utterly shocked.





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Hello, Cleveland!

It appears that Seth MacFarlane and Fox will be giving Family Guy's Cleveland his own show. I haven't seen a new episode in an extremely long time, but I know there's at least one fan who swings by here--he may have heard the news already. If not, there it is.


It might be noted that there's already precedent for spinning off a show about a black dude from a successful series about a fat, loud-mouthed, super-obnoxious fat white guy who isn't half as smart as he thinks he is. Speaking of which, maybe I should start a betting pool: how many seconds will it take for MacFarlane to make the obvious cultural reference that's sitting right there?





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By request

>> Thursday, February 28, 2008

This is the Week Of Jim, it would appear. Sometime, there will surely be an entry on the fortieth anniversary of Night Of The Living Dead and an "Oh By The Way" on Ummagumma (double album, will take a little longer to re-listen and write). Maybe not tomorrow: I might (or might not) go see Les Claypool when he plays up the street. But tonight, tonight we have a sort of "by request" entry that wasn't really requested.


The origin goes something like this: Jim, over at Stonekettle Station, posted an entry that attempts to promote an internet meme--tell the world about yourself in thirty-five questions. In the comments thread to the post, I raised a question about the significance of honesty in answering such a quiz, and provided honest, heartfelt, completely legitimate, and totally above-board answers to three of the questions. Jim and Janeice were extremely supportive, and suggested I should answer more of the questions with the same ruthlessly introspective honesty I applied to the three I attacked. I assume they are masochists of some sort. In any event, I have gone on to answer the remaining thirty-two questions (the three answers I left in Jim's thread are also reproduced here).


I can only hope that my difficult, solitary journey into the realms of unsparing self-reflection and candid examination of not just the ego, superego and id, but also of the sort of smudgy stuff that gets jammed between the id and that little nubbly whatchamacallit will in some way help advance civilization, bridge the gaps between people, and fill in the yawning voids between things that are not close together but can be made to appear adjacent if you close one eye and stand so that one is slightly in front of the other.


To those who may read the following and question whether I am in fact being honest in my responses and perhaps I'm not taking things sufficiently seriously or that I am in some way being a coward by not sufficiently exposing my inner self to the world, I can only say: yes. When you understand what drives you to project your own self-consciousness upon one as fearlessly fearless as myself, you too will have achieved the kind of enlightenment that has taken me years of sitting in a dark room crying and drinking cheap scotch while watching blurry porn meditation, exercise and healthy diet to achieve.




1) Ever been in a relationship lasting over 5 years?
No, my probation officer keeps taking me to court and getting my sentence activated. You might say she has commitment issues.


2) What was one of your dreams growing up?
The moon low over the twice-burnt wood
Birds circle 'round the fallen keep
The Prince hides no more, flashing his mail
Overseas the wolf stirs in his slumbers.


3) What talent do you wish you had?
Corey Feldman and/or Corey Haim. Those guys are due for a comeback, and whoever is representing them will be rolling in it.


4) If I bought you a drink what would it be?
How the fuck should I know? What is this, “You'll never guess what you're getting for Christmas...”? Yeah, somehow every time Mr. Grudder at the orphanage asked me that, the answer always turned out to be “Put your hand in my pocket and see!” I must have fallen for that four times before I finally said, “I'm not touching your penis this year, Mr. Grudder!” And that was the Christmas Stinky Wertham became Mr. Grudder's favorite orphan, which made it the worst one ever. So screw you and your... I'm sorry, what was the question?


5) Favorite books?
I'm a big fan of anything featuring Russian women and ponies. Especially in color.


6) What was the last book you read?
I've been trying to finish this dippy little play called The King In Yellow, but this weird, pasty-looking man keeps driving a hearse around my block and shouting things like, “Hey, hurry up in there, I'm coming for your Yellow Sign as soon as you're done!” Which is a huge distraction and so I haven't been able to get much past the part where Camilla actually gets Dmitri to tell her what he dropped in the Lake Of Hali during the new moon. I keep having to put the book down to shout, “Why don't you just steal the fucking 'yield' sign up the road if you want one so bad?” the next time he drives by. I've called the cops, but they just laugh at me. I swear, if I had a gun. But I gotta tell you, the play really isn't that good. I just wanted to read it before the movie version with Will Smith and Robin Williams comes out next year.


If you mean the last one I completely finished, it was Death of a Transvestite Hooker by Edward D. Wood, Jr. There's a real writer.


7) Astrology: Menace to science education or entertainment?
Neither. Look: when is Great Cthulhu coming? When the stars are right. How will you know when the stars are right? Ask an astrologer. Duh.


8) Any tattoos and/or piercings? Explain where.
My soul has been tattooed by the weeping of the widows and my heart pierced by the wailing of the orphans of the five men I had to kill on my way to Silverton. Nah, I'm just joshing. The look on that one little girl's face when I did an impression of her daddy falling underneath that train was just priceless.


9) Worst habit?
Bringing gruesome death to my enemies before they have made peace with their deity, with the unfortunate result that I am constantly plagued by a horde of mewling, dismembered ghosts bent on a revenge they will forever be denied.


10) Best attribute?
Dex, since it can improve your AC, Reflex saves, and several useful skills like Move Silently. Also, it provides a combat bonus with ranged weapons and also mêlée weapons if you take Weapons Finesse.


11) What are your favorite hobbies?
Merry was totally the coolest, and then maybe Sam. Frodo got kinda whiny towards the end and Pippin was a jerk.


12) Do you have a negative or optimistic attitude?
No.


13) What would you do if you were stuck in an elevator with me?
Clarification: do I have a Coleman stove and barbecue sauce?


14) Worst thing to ever happen to you?
This lottery check is much smaller than I expected.


15) Best thing to ever happen to you?
The mysterious, gruesome, and poetically apt lamentable and accidental deaths of the other five people in the tontine my friends and I formed after successfully recovering the elusive treasure of Oak Island. I'm sorry, I meant to say that this was the worst thing that ever happened to me. They were very dear friends, and I miss them greatly. Also, eight people saw me ordering wings at Guffy's on April 17th of last year, and anyway, I don't know anything about electrical wiring. Just thought I'd mention that for no particular reason.


16) Tell me one weird fact about you.
Although I did not actually invent the internet (contrary to what it says in Kitty Kelley's unauthorized biography, American Legend), I was the first person to upload pornography onto Arpanet in 1969, almost two full years before I was born in '72. Although the image was rather unimpressive (the 80px x 60px 2-bit color render looked like a tiny rectangle full of polka dots, frankly) and took three hours to download, I had 2,231,567 hits on the first day alone.


17) What if I showed up at your house unexpectedly?
Clarification: do I have a Coleman stove and barbecue sauce?


18) What was your first impression of me? (Answered as if I was asking you,so that you are you and me is me... um... okay.)
I think you started with the one of me ordering a pizza, which was kind of funny, but the one you do now of me haggling for a date with a pre-op tranny hooker is just mean and I wish you'd stop doing it.


19) What scares you?
The Clowns. Especially Steve Clown, you know, Gene Clown's “brother” who keeps dropping off those duffel bags once a week, after two a.m. I thought drugs, at first, but I swear I saw one of those bags dripping the last time he stopped at their house.


20) If you could change one thing about how you are, what would it be?
I'm too honest. Also, my modesty: sometimes, when I'm telling people about how awesome I am, I start leaving things out so they don't feel as inferior. Sorry, I guess that was two things.


21) Would you be my crime partner or my conscience?
Hey pal, what's this "partner" shit? You work for me. I'm keeping an eye on you, bub.


22) What color eyes do you have?
I'm still missing a set of hazels, if you want to trade sometime. (In all fairness, the blue-and-gold ones I have to trade have gone off, so if you want those I can throw in an extra set of greens.)


23) Ever been arrested? If so, what for?
For telling truth to power. By urinating on a statue on public display. In front of a bunch of little kids on a field trip. In a museum. Hey, I thought education was supposed to be important, okay? Also, I was drunk.


24) Favorite dessert?
Kalahari.


25) If you won $1000 today, what would you do with it?
Invest it in cheap hookers. I could probably get somewhere between 20 and 50, depending on what they thought I was asking for and how coked up they were. Then I'd see how many of them could fit in a phone booth. Then I'd take a picture and post it on flickr with the caption “Off The Hook(ers)” or some lameass shit like that.


26) Tell me something you want me to know about you.
This isn't a gun in my pocket, but I'm not actually all that happy to see you. I've been thinking about going to the doctor about it, if you really want to know.


27) What's your favorite place to hang out?
Someone told me it's all happening at the zoo. I do believe it. I do believe it's true. Woo-oo-oo.


28) Do you believe in ghosts? Aliens?
The idea of ghosts is absurd, and there's no such thing as aliens. Ghost aliens, however, are a distinct possibility. Unlike alien ghosts. Your philosophy, Horatio, and all that shit.


29) Favorite thing to do in your spare time?
Take my iPod out to the park, put in some earbuds, cue up “Yakety Sax” and then use my mental control over the space-time continuum to cause joggers to run backwards and forwards or at exaggerated rates of speed, just like in a Benny Hill sketch. But I have to be careful not to drink anything while I do it, because it would make a terrible mess.


30) Do you swear a lot?
Yes. I've been an expert witness at over 230 trials, even when nobody has asked me to.


31) Biggest pet peeve?
George. But the two littlest peeves (Sam and Diane) managed to have a litter last week, and Philbert is a healthy eater, so you might want to ask me again in about a month.


32) In one word, how would you describe yourself?
Fructose.


33) Do you believe in/appreciate romance?
Well, I think it's well-established that Latin is a real language, Dr. Everett Billbeck's assertion that the Roman Catholic Church had made it up having been contradicted by Professor Aberstradding's discovery of an ancient, 2,000-year-old 45 called “Areolas Magnas Amo”* by Brutus And The Dreamboats.


34) Most unusual place you've had sex?



35) Do you believe in an afterlife?
No, you go first.





And that's it. Wow, are my arms tired. Once again, it would have been easier to just do it right, but I'm an asshole. Goodnight.

*EDIT, March 1, 2008: Wellsian fixed this joke. Thanks, dude. I know that's why you spent all that time learning Latin--for the smutty jokes.




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Neverwednesday filler

>> Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wednesdays I'm usually online with my old buddy Wellsian, playing Neverwinter Nights. So no real blog entry (in fact, I need to get the game server launched).


Plan A: link to a Prince video. But I don't see what I'm looking for on YouTube.


Plan B: link to Michael Hedges' cover of "A Love Bizarre" (written by Prince). No luck there, either.


Plan C: the late, great Hedges performing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps":






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While my guitar moans, shudders and wails...

>> Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Okay, so Jim has provoked two posts today. I just read a comment on Stonekettle Station where he knocks Prince. Which prompted me to see if this was still on YouTube, and it is:



Say what you want about the man. (Boy George's infamous description of Prince--"a midget dipped in oil and rolled in pubic hair"--is pretty funny, I have to admit.) The dude can play guitar. He takes that solo to places Eric Clapton fears to tread. And he recorded a string of really, really brilliant albums. Okay, not everyone gets the funk, I understand that. But....


Oh hell, I can't even think of anything clever to say. Just watch the damn clip again.


Wow.


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Y'know, I have always had an inordinate fondness for raccoons...

Jim, over at Stonekettle Station, has too much time on his hands. Today it's the "Which Horrible Disease Are You" quiz over at Rum & Monkey. Which provided me with a much-needed laugh, because I gotta say, I did not see this one coming:


I am Rabies. Grrrrrrrr!
Which Horrible Affliction are you?
A Rum and Monkey disease.


What can I say? Sure, I'm treatable. If you get to me in time.


But it's gonna hurt like a motherfucker. Just so you know.







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Oh look! Now you can pretend you're playing Falcon's Eye! No, I don't know why that's a good thing at all...

>> Monday, February 25, 2008

Boing Boing has a preview of the new D&D Insider application that will allow players with more money than sense turn their old-school RPG sessions into... Falcon's Eye sessions?


I'm sorry, can you tell I'm not impressed?


Okay, I know that there are D&D players out there who are thinking the whole online D&D aspect of Insider will be great for older gamers who are separated by distance--I can sympathize, I have a weekly Neverwinter Nights game with an old college buddy who now lives in a different time zone... of course, the thing is, that's why we play Neverwinter Nights. It's not like reverting to a pen'n'paper incarnation is faster and smoother than what we can do with the BioWare adaptation. And I know there are those who think Insider will draw MMORPG kids into the old school tabletop--I think those people are... let's call them "naive" to be nice about it.


I'm not tech adverse: the last D&D campaign I ran, I ran from behind my laptop at the table, with eTools and Campaign Cartographer up and running with the Hypertext d20 SRD in a browser. But what is Insider offering that is necessary or useful or (if useful) that third-party vendors weren't doing better before Wizards decided to shut them out?


Virtual minis? I'm just not impressed. I don't want to sound like some of the whinier naysayers out there, though I'm sure I do anyway, but this isn't a product I want to play. I'm not going to knock anyone who wants to. Everyone has their thing, and that's all good. But I don't see anything here I'd want.


Anyway, there it is. Judge for yourself.





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Singularly biting

I'm not a big fan of the whole "Technological Singularity" hypothesis. It's not because I don't think anyone will ever make a smart machine--it could happen. It's more because technology rarely obliges the futurists. Atomic powered vehicles? No, try fuel cells and advanced batteries. (Yes, I have a thing for that damn car. It's pretty and I would own one if I had an extra $200,000 lying around.) City-sized computers? Flying cars?


And it's usually not just that technology is different. People never behave like the futurists expect.


Which is why I think today's Pictures For Sad Children is pretty funny even though I'm a total nerd. Sorta sums up the whole thing pretty well, I think.




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Fairness, equality, humility versus false modesty

>> Sunday, February 24, 2008

A number of years ago--four, actually--Dahlia Lithwick wrote a fine piece in Slate about Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, responding to a speech Justice O'Connor gave while awarding a scholarship to a high school senior in Charlottesville, VA. It's worth reading.


The speech that Justice O'Connor gave was one in which she spoke of her life. Justice O'Connor graduated third in her class from Stanford Law (O'Connor, incidentally, fails to mention her class rank; Lithwick fills in this detail for us) but was unable to get a job as an attorney. Not because there weren't any jobs available in the field: a woman who went on to be a remarkable Supreme Court Justice was offered work as a legal secretary.


Justice O'Connor went to work as a prosecutor, then a private attorney, then for the AG's office, then became a state legislature, a judge and at last a Supreme Court Justice. She started this trajectory in 1952, a year when men worked outside the home and women worked in it, when women were largely considered too emotional for smart jobs (other than schoolteacher) and too inattentive for complicated tasks like driving automobiles. You know, an era when an economist who was on the Stanford Law Review and who graduated third in her class at law school could be offered a job as a typist.


But what might be the most remarkable thing about Justice O'Connor, Lithwick notes, is that Sandra Day O'Connor doesn't think she's an extraordinary woman who overcame cultural barriers against women to rise to the top of her field against all the odds. Justice O'Connor thinks she's an ordinary woman who was at the right place at the right time. And while modesty is often thought of as a virtue, it can be a terrible, terrible flaw. I agree with Lithwick's conclusion about a Justice who is one of my favorite Supreme Court Justices of all time:

There's a contradiction implicit in O'Connor's view of herself and her view of others. She is deeply impressed by these extraordinary young women [the scholarship recipient and finalists] yet unable to accept that she and they are truly unusual. This expectation of extraordinariness—natural, perhaps to one born on a ranch in Arizona and having the heart of a prizefighter—animates her strange hybrid jurisprudence, of infinite compassion in some cases and almost willful intolerance in others. One of the reasons audiences across America lose their hearts to Sandra Day O'Connor is that she seems to have no idea how extraordinary she is. One of the reasons people across America sometimes lose their cases before her is that she has no idea how ordinary the rest of us are.

Justice O'Connor is an extraordinary woman. And it's one thing to be humble about being extraordinary. But it's a different thing altogether not to realize that other people in the world aren't as smart, or lucky, or capable--that not everyone can achieve what you've been able to achieve, and for reasons that may not even be their fault.


Justice O'Connor reminds me a lot of my Grandmother on my Dad's side. My Grandmother turns 93 this year, and is a woman who will tell you how upset she was when she couldn't go to college a year early. She was raised by parents who valued education, and when so many young women of her generation went to college to get a MRS., she went to get an education. And she did, and worked a number of jobs in psychology and education and was fortunate to meet a man who was looking for a peer and not merely a helpmate: to this day, my Grandmother is thrilled that my late Grandfather refused to let her win a game of tennis half-a-century ago, when so many men would have gone easy on the girl. But my Grandmother, who has spent much of her professional and private life trying to serve the communities she's lived in and is a Republican, doesn't seem to get that not all women, or even all people, are like she is, and that she had unusual parents and a rare mind and a little bit of good fortune, and like a lot of conservatives she sometimes judges folks who haven't done well a touch harshly, not seeming to understand that not everyone in the world is as smart or aggressive or bold or lucky as she has been. She's modest about her achievements, not recognizing that they are achievements. She thinks she's ordinary. She isn't.


I mention all of this because of a blog post John The Scientist wrote over on Refugees From The City, in which he defends anti-intellectualism. John's a smart guy--as much as he denies, it, he's an intellectual--and he makes some good points, but he's wrong about this one. What he's really decrying is intellectual elitism, in fact what he's most upset about are the missteps that various members of the intelligentsia have made in various times and places. And that's more than fair: members of the intelligentsia are human, and can be just as naive, wrong, or even plain dumb as any other human being. He's right that intellectuals need people to call bullshit on them sometimes.


But there's a difference between asking smart questions as you go and taking an anti-intellectual position, which is really the position that intellectuals aren't different from everyone else. Everyone is different from everyone else.


At the heart of this is a common flaw in conservatism that's noble in spirit but crummy when applied to the real world: this is the idea that we're all created equal, which sounds wonderful and works as a good starting point for trying to create a perfect society, but isn't actually true. Well, no, it is true in a fundamental sense that every single person shares a vast percentage of their DNA, descended from a common lineage, and is human. But beyond that, some people are better at math than others, and some people are better at sports, and some people are generally accepted as being more attractive than others, and some people have trouble speaking in public and others have a predisposition to substance abuse addiction. Within that common human genome there's a lot of variation.


Much of modern conservatism in America is based on the notion that you ought to treat everyone equally, that anyone can achieve in America by dint of hard work if they just put their minds to it. It's a version of the Prostestant Work Ethic that's been secularized by capitalism: the only difference between someone who sweeps floors and the person on the top floor of the bank is that the CEO worked harder. The perversity of it, of course, is that this noble idea (equality) ends up being a rationalization to ignore inequities within the system: if the janitor hasn't achieved as much as the executive, surely it's the janitor's fault because he could have done better if only he had tried.


Well maybe he could have and maybe not. We don't all start on the same square on the board. Some people get to go before others do. Some players start with a little more money or with better connections. Some people start with better parents. Some people are born into the world with a skin color that's been targeted for discrimination, or on the wrong side of a river or other national border. Some people are born in poor counties and some in rich counties, some go to good schools and others go to bad ones, some get excellent medical attention as children and some get none. And the list goes on. You have six billion individuals on this planet who were born into slightly different circumstances--even those who share parents had, as a matter of course, a different number of older siblings and parents of slightly different ages when they were born. You have six billion people who are all human, but other than that they're not the same.


Equality is a chimera. The crucial thing isn't equality. It's fairness.


Because the world will never be fair, but a society can decide to make it more fair. A society can recognize that it's treated some of its members badly and try to make up for it. A society can try to balance the opportunities people have for education and medical attention and enough food to eat. A society can try to protect its most vulnerable members, the young and the sick and the old. But it can't make everyone equal.


No, that's not true, either. Once upon a time, there was a land that had been ruled by its largest ethnic group, the Khmer, and was known as the Empire of the Khmer. And then the French came and called it Indochina, and then it got splintered off in the collapse of colonialism and called Cambodia. By many accounts, it was a poor country, but beautiful. But in the northern part of the country a group of Cambodian leftists, who were dubbed the "Red Khmer" by Cambodia's ruler of the time, Prince Sihanouk (that's "Khmer Rouge," in French, as you no doubt already know) fought a little war to take over the country and install an idealistic regime where everyone would be equal.


In time, that little war became a big war. Prince Sihanouk had dealt with the war in a neighboring country, Vietnam, by pretending that the North Vietnamese weren't straying into Cambodia to bring supplies and troops to South Vietnam. This policy made the United States, which was supporting the South Vietnamese, unhappy, and one of the things we did about it was to try to bomb camps the North Vietnamese had installed along the border, with the unintended consequence that the North Vietnamese troops went deeper into Cambodia, where they met the Khmer Rouge and decided it would be amusing to train and radicalize them even though their Cambodian counterparts had a centuries-old hatred of all things Vietnamese. And then the United States decided to expand the scope of the bombing strategy and support the ouster of Sihanouk in favor of leaders who would be more active in taking on the border problem despite their terrible lack of actual competency, and the upshot was that the Khmer Rouge became even crazier and better armed (largely on equipment abandoned by Cambodian regulars who were underpaid, underfed, undertrained and forced to the front at our behest), and they took over Phnom Penh, the capitol, on April 17, 1975. And that's when they started to make everyone equal.


They said:


Whereas the entire Kampuchean people and the entire Kampuchean Revolutionary Army desire an independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign Kampuchea enjoying territorial integrity, a national society informed by genuine happiness, equality, justice, and democracy without rich or poor and without exploiters or exploited, a society in which all live harmoniously in great national solidarity and join forces to do manual labour together and increase production for the construction and defence of the country

...and they said:
There must be complete equality among all Kampuchean people in an equal, just, democratic, harmonious, and happy society within the great national solidarity for defending and building the country together.


And then they said that everyone was now a peasant or a soldier, and if you didn't already fall into one of those two categories, you were a peasant. Or dead. Dead was equal, too. And if you didn't know how to do peasant things, like tiling fields or digging ditches or growing rice, the Khmer Rouge was more than happy to oblige you by clubbing you to death with a rifle butt or garotting you with a bit of rope if bullets were scarce (and bullets were always scarce). Your aptitudes or training might be for speaking other languages, thinking deep thoughts, painting pictures, explaining things to others, writing interesting things--no, you were a peasant. And you were equal.


Very, very equal.


No, a society based on equality doesn't really work, and when we talk about our society being based on equality, we don't really mean equality. We mean a society that tries to be fair, a society that doesn't discriminate by race, gender, age or class. A society where there's due process of the law, where everyone gets a vote, where everyone gets a fair shake, or as close to it as we can manage. And some would say that's equality, but it still isn't: a mentally retarded man accused of a crime isn't tried like a capable man and a convicted felon may lose her vote--because we've agreed it wouldn't be fair.


I don't want to sound conceited, and I don't think I'm proud, or at least not vain. But I have smart parents who enjoyed reading and thinking, and who passed those traits on. I had some good luck in going through the Charlotte schools in an era when they were really under the gun to make up for past inequities of a southern school district, and live in a state where affordable higher education has been a traditional priority, resulting in some excellent public universities. I'm not as good-looking or physically fit as some people, but I'm smarter and better educated than many, well-trained for my career and I've had some luck here and there whether I recognized it as such at the time not. It's one thing for me to be humble (I hope I am): but it would be cruel and unconscionable for me to think that everyone had those opportunities. Five days a week I see a lot of people who are the same as me, but different: they're human and they deserve whatever fairness this world can scrape together, but many of them, to put it bluntly, aren't smart, or well-educated or had basically decent parents, or are capable of making good choices, or even had the chance to make good choices. You'd better not look down on any of them--however I may sound in this post, I don't and I'm telling you not to even think about looking down on my people. But I'm not evil or blind enough to think every one of them could have done better but for some mystical failure of will or labor on their part. Some of them are only doing the best they can.


We're not all equal, and never will be. Maybe we can try to be fair instead.




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Reasons to believe

>> Saturday, February 23, 2008

It's hard not to get increasingly cynical about the whole political process as you get older. For instance, one might look at the gerrymandering of voting districts in Texas and conclude that the deck is well-stacked.


So I'd like to thank the students at Prairie View A&M in Texas. It appears that the students have responded to the gerrymandering of their district so that the only polling place is seven miles from the school by marching the 7.3 miles to vote early. (Early voting starts today in Texas.) There's even a video of them marching down the highway, peacefully tying up traffic as they exercise their right and privilege to vote:



Thank you. There's hope for us.


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Something else to expect in the 2008 elections

Obviously, it's hard to make predictions in this campaign season. Candidates have been up and they've been down. Winners have lost and losers have won. Dogs and cats have, in fact, been observed living together in harmony (with mice, no less), and I'm pretty sure I saw Gozer The Destructor buying cigarettes and a skin mag at the gas station when I filled the tank earlier today. But I think I may be able to predict one thing.


It seems that Tom Scholz, the man who was Boston, is kinda pissed off that Mike Huckabee has occasionally been using the Boston song "More Than A Feeling" at campaign rallies. Indeed, it seems that Mr. Scholz is a teeny bit left of Huckabee, preferring Barack Obama as a candidate. So he's asked Huckabee to just quit, already, and stop using his damn songs.


Now, I have to be honest here: I really dislike Boston. Behind every cool album cover showing a guitar-shaped spaceship raining flames down on the world was a piece of vinyl with some of the lamest, wussiest, cheesiest ballads ever used to peel off a high school sophomore's panties in the back of a 1973 sedan during Carter's last year in office. And the biggest ripoff wasn't the cool album cover implying world-destroying cosmic guitars that never came through: the biggest ripoff was that the guys in Boston--or Tom Scholz, who basically was Boston on their first album--were pretty talented musicians who had a propensity for starting a song with a pretty cool instrumental that promised something harder-rocking than the pansy pop ballad that you got 45 seconds into the song. But I think it's pretty funny that Scholz is telling Huckabee to, in so many words, kiss his ass and go to hell. He may write some lame-ass songs, but hey, go Tom!


It appears that this tiff is occurring in the wake of John Mellencamp telling John McCain to stop using "Pink Houses" and "Our Country" at McCain rallies. Coincidentally, Mellencamp is another performer I don't have much use for. But once again, I think it's pretty funny. Go "Jack And Diane"-guy!


But here's the really funny part:

Scholz, in a telephone interview Friday, said he understands “More Than a Feeling” has been a centerpiece at some rallies, and said Goudreau is identified with the band in an endorsement video.

“Whenever a campaign publicly exploits a well-known song, there is some inference of support” by the band or artist, he added.

He recommends that Huckabee “stick to music recorded by far-right Republicans.”

What's so funny about that, you might ask?


Republicans have a problem. I know, there are many problems, but we're just talking about this one: they don't have very many cool rock'n'rollers. Not very many live ones, anyway. I guess they kinda had Elvis, at least during that phase when Elvis was so stoned he thought he would make an awesome DEA agent with his karate skills, music industry connections, and passion for shooting holes in things. I mean, when you get right down to it, the conservatives pretty much have Ted Nugent and Damn Yankees (and please don't leave a comment pointing out that Ted Nugent is a member of Damn Yankees--that was the fucking joke... great, you made me ruin it, thanks a lot). And liberals? We pretty much have everybody else.


I've long suspected that the reason you see so many conservative types saying musicians (and, for that matter, actors and writers in their respective gigs) should "shut up and sing, I don't listen to them for their politics" is sour grapes. One can't help thinking that if Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about how the flat tax saved his baby, conservatives would be all about how everyone should embrace The Boss' political anthems. Ditto if U2 did a song about the sinfulness of homosexuality or R.E.M. did a song about reading your Bible everyday.


Is there some kind of mass-media conspiracy? No, I think it's that one of the central tenets of liberalism, "question everything, especially authority," goes better with the rock'n'roll ethos of rebellion, originality and novelty. You see more conservatives in country music in part because country music attempts to hew to an ethos of tradition; rebels and iconoclasts in the country genre often find themselves more welcome among rock fans (and the politics of iconoclasts can be awfully hard to pin down--take Willie Nelson, for instance, who's kinda liberal and kinda conservative and kinda in his own world). That's not to say you can't have conservatives in rock--hi, Ted--I'm merely saying it's not as natural a pairing of instincts.


So here's the prediction (remember, I said I had a prediction to make): from now on, all Republican rallies will feature either country music or The Nuge. Long shot prediction: every single public appearance by McCain or Huckabee will feature "Don't Tread On Me."


That's all.



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Billy's Balloon

>> Friday, February 22, 2008

As I mentioned in an earlier post that appears later in this blog (temporal... paradoxes... of... linear... post-by-date format... causing... time... distortion...), I'm going out tonight so I won't be writing a real entry. But I have a treat for you, something better than a blog entry.


I have Billy's Balloon for you.


This is an award-winning Canadian animated short by Don Hertzfeldt that has all the hallmarks of Canadian animated shorts: it's bizarre, cruel, surreal and extremely funny. I had the privilege of seeing it at a local film festival last year. If you've seen it before, I hope you enjoy it again. If you haven't, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Now....


Lights down, no smoking, no cell phones, remember you can get delicious snacks at the concession stand in the lobby. Also, if you take your ticket stub to Hermann's Delicious China Cuisine after the show, you can get 10% off any single entrée priced at $12.95 or more. And now for our main feature... Billy's Balloon:






CORRECTION 02/23/2008: Michael asked if I made up the claim that Billy's Balloon was Canadian. The answer is no, I didn't make that up, not exactly, but I was wrong. I may have misremembered, or I may have been erroneously informed. I went back and checked, and according to IMDB and Wikipedia, Hertzfeldt made Billy's Balloon at UC-Santa Barbara. My bad. But you have to admit, it is very Canadian for a not-Canadian animated short.


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Dirty bird

Not much time to do any real writing--I'm hanging out with friends this evening, so I'm just popping up two or three cool things I ran into today, one of which is this amusing movie short over on Boing Boing, Kung Fu Fuck You by the Ministry Of Unknown Science. You have to sit through an ad, but it's kinda worth it.


The second half of the double feature, The Falipornia Speak Therapy Institute is also cute. Enjoy.





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I want this desk

This custom desk by Tom Spina is freaking sweet:

'Nuff said.


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I'd like to think of it as the Perfect Blue of blogs: arty, disturbing, dreamlike. As opposed to the Showgirls of blogging...

>> Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nathan, over on Polybloggimous, brought my attention to a blog rating system over at Just Say Hi. Plug in your blog's address, and it spits out what your blog would be rated if it happened to be a movie. Shoulders Of Giant Midgets:



That's right. We're adults only over here. Five uses of the word "dead" (who knew the MPAA had a thing about that one?), three asses, two shits and... only one "fucking"? That can't be right. I'm losing my touch for sure.


I don't mind being an NC-17 blog. Not one bit. Okay, insofar as it might create a bit of trouble if I ever pulled the mediocre YA novel out of its hidey-hole and edited it and sent it away to be rejected, I suppose that it might make some trouble for me. Then again, I think I'd need to come up with a vaguely effeminate pseudonym if I did that, anyway--I hear that men really aren't supposed to write books for kids, tho' Philip Pullman certainly puts that one to the test. (Yes, I know there's Lemony Snicket and Lloyd Alexander, etc.; I was being slightly facetious about a sometimes-alleged bias, anyway....)


A deeper lesson might be that the MPAA rating system is quite absurd. Dead is a word that elevates things towards an adult rating? So much for Old Yeller, eh? ("It's alright, ma, I'll --bleeep-- Yeller, he's my dog." And then he bought the dog a chewtoy. The end.)


Not that there's anything interesting or insightful in that observation. I'm just saying.


Of course, the other observation is that rating systems are ineffectual, not because of the industries involved or the pitfalls of self-regulation, but because there are a lot of consumers who... why be nice about it? There are a lot of consumers who are stupid. Unbelievably stupid.


I remember, many years ago, seeing letters in the local paper complaining about the violence in the PG-13-rated movie Batman Returns. "I took my wee child to this movie, and I was appalled," people would write. Which confused the hell out of me: I could understand someone who took their child to the first Batman movie expecting Adam West being a bit shocked when Jack Nicholson gases his girlfriend and whatnot, but Batman Returns was a sequel for crying out loud. It's not like you couldn't go and read reviews of the last one, observe that the new one has the same director, basically the same cast and even some of the same crew and say, "Hmm, I wonder if this movie will have the same disturbing gothic sensibilities of the first movie? I wonder if the 'parental guidance under age 13' rating is some kind of hint...?"


(Before someone tries to tell me that Batman Forever and Batman And Robin took the series back in a more "kid-friendly" direction, let me ask what, exactly, is "kid-friendly"--or human friendly about bat-codpieces and batnipples? Seriously. I want someone to explain that. Also: notice that Batman And Robin was such an awful movie that the featured photos on the main IMDB entry are mostly drawings from the storyboards of the movie. Because a pencil sketch of a scene from Batman And Robin is actually less offensive than a real still.)


Where was I? Oh yes, idiots who don't pay attention to ratings systems. Two years ago, you may recall, a woman sued Take-2 Interactive over the notorious "hot coffee" hack in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The 85-year-old crazy bat was upset that she purchased a game disc that had porn on it.


Let's set aside, for a moment, that the only way to get at the "hot coffee" material was to install a patch (on a PC) or hack the motherboard to accept a mod to access the material (PS2). Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was rated "M," which, according to the label on the box, meant it wasn't suitable for anyone under the age of 17 even without considering the additional material in the game that you had to, you know, totally void the warranty on your PS2 to access if you were playing the console version. The lady's grandson, you may recall, was 14. So I think we may safely infer that the old woman is, I don't know, blind? Illiterate? Easily confused? What more, one wonders, did she want? The game to be titled, Grand Theft Auto M, As In "Mature," As In Little Old Ladies Shouldn't Let Their Grandkids Talk Them Into Buying This Unless Their Grandchildren Are 17 Years Of Age Or Older, In Which Case It's Okay (Except Why Aren't The Blighters Buying Their Own Videogames)...?


Of course that label is a bit small. The words "Grand Theft Auto," however, are rather large on the box front. If you saw a game called Grand Theft Auto, do you expect it would be about:

  • a) Raising ponies on a farm and learning about the intricacies of raising adorable animals and managing an agricultural business, or
  • b) Stealing cars and fucking shit up?
Take your time to think about it, if you need to.


Oh, and one more thing. Yeah, there's more. Yeah. San Andreas was the fifth game in the franchise. So, if you were wondering what the game might be like, oh, I don't know, how would you find that out? I understand that some members of an older generation are uncomfortable looking up such things online... if only there were some kind of old-fashioned method of communicating information about games in a written format, available in some kind of, I don't know, physical repository of printed documents. Alas! Who will invent such a thing, and how long must we wait?


It might be even funnier if you didn't have folks like Joe Lieberman or (and I hate to say it) Hilary Clinton making a big fuss about how the entertainment industry is failing to regulate games and/or movies and/or music and/or TV. (Oh, you conservatives can quit laughing about the foibles of liberals--if it was up to some of your Republicans, it would be JeebusVision on all the channels and mandatory viewings of Expelled between church services. There's no shortage of well-intentioned asstards who want to stick their noses in everyone's business on both sides of the aisle, so everyone can get over themselves right now, or I swear I will turn this blog around right now, and you can just write off going to Wally World this year! Did you hear me?)


Anyway, we're an adult blog now, so I'm going to have to see some IDs. Meanwhile, it's been a rough day, and I've been typing this instead of sitting down with a white russian and a really heavy book for a bit before dinner. G'night.





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He's got them fired by the no-good, low-down, parasite-on-society's ass mass-media blues

>> Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Things I learned today: today I learned that a man I'd never heard of was fired by his employer for writing a blog.


This isn't an unheard of story. In fact, this kind of thing has happened before. What is unusual, and interesting, is that the blogger in question is a 16-year television veteran and his employer was CNN.


Now, at this point a lot of people would talk about freedom of speech. And I suppose I'll end up mentioning it too, but there is something fairly crucial that needs to be said up front. CNN firing this guy isn't a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment prevents state actors--specifically the Federal government--from restraining your freedom to express yourself. Technically speaking, the First Amendment doesn't keep any of the fifty States from restricting speech, or at least it didn't used to: the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution is now understood to apply the Bill Of Rights to the States through the Due Process clause:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Unless you happen to work for the government, your employer can attempt to censor you in all sorts of ways and fire you for noncompliance with company policies that affect your ability to say what you'd like. Your employer can, for instance, fire you for saying nasty things about the company or for leaking the company's trade secrets. (It might be noted as an aside that things can get complicated even if you're a government employee, depending on whether your employed directly, at-will, under contract, or as a member of the armed forces.)


Contrary to what some folks believe, you're also not entitled to First Amendment protections when it comes to private forums: of course the moderator of a blog can delete your witty and clever post. Of course the owner of that house can tear your flier off the tree in his yard. No, the newspaper isn't obligated to print your letter to the editor in full, or at all.


But I digress. The point was that CNN is almost certainly within their rights to fire someone because they don't like what he says at home. Unless the employee's contract specifies otherwise, or the employee is covered by some other legal protection (e.g. a whistleblower statute).


That said, it's more than a little ironic when the press decides to fire someone who expresses controversial opinions outside of work without referencing his employer or claiming to represent the company with his opinions. I don't know if any of you have had the, ahem, "pleasure" of dealing with the press. Never will you find a group of people who feel more entitled to say and do whatever the hell it is they want without regard for any other human consideration, running to hide beneath the skirts of a Constitution they haven't read and hardly understand to hide whenever someone dares to challenge their sacrosanct right to sandwich gossip, tragedy, scandal and humiliation between advertisements for hygiene products and car dealerships. And heaven help you if you think they're going to report on something significant to the Republic like liars in the executive branch and pandering incompetent tools in the legislative branch when there are dead models and wasted pop singers visiting the halls of the judiciary.


Because the public has a right to know, even if it endangers someone's right to a fair trial or humiliates someone who might have expected a moment of privacy in their shame. (No specific Amendment to cite there--I'm a penumbra of rights kind of guy, myself, I'd cite them all right there.)


No, CNN didn't violate anyone's rights. But it was the bad form one might expect from a bunch of whiny losers who spend most of their time failing to justify their existence.


I don't have cable, so I guess there's no sense in saying I'll boycott CNN. Hey, CNN, I'm still not watching you, so there! (And I suppose I might have to visit their site for news sometime--I'm not going to cut my nose to spite my face--damn them!) But I did go take a look at the former CNN employee's blog, and it looked kinda neat and I added it to my RSS reader. Apparently he's mildly famous or something--but if he's new to you as he is to me, you can check out his blog here.





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LEPER-HEALING DRAGON BURST WINDSTRIKE ACTIVATE!

>> Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And now we have a manga version of the Bible.

Yeah.

I always thought we needed one of those. Yep. Back when I read the Bible, the one thing I definitely thought was, "This needs more giant robots."

(Must... be... ... nice... must... restrain... snark....)




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Goodbye, Fidel

It looks like time is finally doing what the CIA couldn't: Fidel Castro is stepping down. Sort of. He'll still be a member of Cuba's parliament, and First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party; he'll remain an influential policy leader (and, I suspect, continue to protect Cuban children from the depredations of Walt Disney's head).


The United States was on the wrong side of the Cuban revolution. Batista was a corrupt bastard, but he was our corrupt bastard, and we backed him long past the point of reason. And then, when he was rightfully removed from power, instead of trying to engage Cuba, we acted like prize assholes. We bought into the lousy myth of the communist monolith--partly because we managed to purge nearly all of the State Department's Russia experts during the McCarthy years--and missed opportunities in our own hemisphere in much the same way we missed opportunities to engage China and Vietnam. It was stupid, perpetrated by leaders from both parties for a variety of reasons that often had very little to do with America's long-term interests and a lot to do with the exigencies of the next election cycle.


Maybe Castro's retirement will allow some of those blockheads from both parties to engage Cuba without losing face or overly antagonizing the dwindling pool of Cuban expatriates in Florida who are still fighting a battle they lost half a century ago. One can hope. But sanity often appears to be in short supply.


None of this is to minimize Castro's human rights abuses or to glorify a regime that was only prosperous as long as someone could afford to pour money into annoying the United States as a key element of foreign policy (it's very strange: for twenty years or so, the Cuban economy thrived, their healthcare system was renowned, they were able to send military advisors abroad, and then the Cuban economy abruptly and mysteriously crashed sometime around 1991--and we may never know the reason why). But our Cuban policy never even had the potential to repair those harms. We took Castro's continued rule as a personal affront to our nation's dignity and took on a personal vendetta against Castro the man without ever even considering any alternatives, or the possibility that we might have made things worse if we'd actually succeeded in murdering the man. (There are far worse dictators than Castro in the world.)


In closing, I'd like to include this clip from a 1971 documentary (courtesy, as usual, of YouTube) in which we see how Castro's success influenced a generation of bold Latin American leaders. Watch, and learn:





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Goodnight, sweet prince...

>> Monday, February 18, 2008

HD-DVD is dead.


No, really dead. Not resting. Not stunned. Not pining for the fjords.


Dead.





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If you're not a pnp RPG gamer and/or Star Wars nerd, you might as well skip this one

So, let me see if I understand this:First, LucasArts is suing GenCon, claiming that GenCon for various problems with Celebration IV, the big Star Wars convention that GenCon apparently was hired to organize. My first thought when I heard this was (naturally), "Oh noes! LucasArts is doing eebil things to the GenCon!" Then I read the actual announcement, and it appears that LucasArt alleges that GenCon stole money from dying children.

Seriously. Paragraph 10 of the complaint:


To quote the most famous line from the prequel trilogy:

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

And then the news just gets worse and worse: GenCon's response was to file for Chapter 11.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Y'know, I've never actually been to GenCon, and I can't really imagine going to Celebration. So in a lot of ways, all this is kinda academic. But there was still something special, something Mecca-like about the idea of GenCon.

A little perspective: this is back in the early 1980s. Technically speaking, yes, there is an internet--if you're a nuclear physicist, computer science major, or home computer enthusiast who has built your own 8086 speed demon from plans in the back of a cheaply-printed magazine. This was before you had the global community of ideas that the internet has created: human interactions, for better or (usually) worse were defined exclusively by who lives in your neighborhood, who goes to your school, who is nearby. And if you were the least bit geeky or weird, you were stuck with the people you could find.

Charlotte, NC was a mid-sized city and so it wasn't as bad as most if you were a nerd--but it wasn't like a big city or a college town. As late as '89 or '90 the big game store downtown that had a weekly game night could get maybe thirty people on a really good night, and it would be a motley gang of roleplayers, minis wargamers (mostly Battletech) and a half-dozen hardcore nerds playing Diplomacy. (How nerdy was I? I worked at that game store for a few months, 'til I quit because the boss was an ass; the place closed a few weeks later. Eventually the downtown mall the store was in became a parking deck.)

At the beginning of the decade, though, you had nothing. Maybe you could get the neighbor kids to attempt a D&D module. Maybe. ("No, it's cool! The numbers represent how tough you are and you roll dice to see if you can beat up monsters! Where are you going?") But there, in the back of the rulebooks, were advertisements for GenCon. A reverent whisper in the wilds of Wisconsin. A distant place where Gygax debuted PC-slaughtering bloodbath of a module after PC-slaughtering bloodbath.

Sigh.

Of course it hasn't been like that in years. Wizards Of The Coast bought GenCon when they bought the rest of TSR's IP, back at the beginning of the '90s. And now, allegedly, they steal from sick and dying kids. Sheesh. But we have the internet now, so who needs them: the lucky geeks today can take for granted that you have an online family, three generations of gamers and counting, from a hundred countries.

Yeah, I know. It's a rambling post. So sue me.




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"Rented Rooms" and no real entry

>> Sunday, February 17, 2008

Right. I don't have anything particular to blog about right now, and I really need to try to, you know, write. So watch this Tindersticks video. "Rented Rooms." Incredible song, off Curtains. And the edited line is "And when the cab ride ahead seems too long/We go fuck in the bathroom," not that you can tell. (They did a clean job of the edit, at least; parenthetically, the worst radio edit ever might be the radio version of Kirsty MacColl's "Free World," where the line "Gotta get it up and shag it" is changed to "Gotta get it up and wag it"... which, let's face it, sounds a hell of a lot more vulgar than the original line--I mean, the edited version conjures images of flashers in the park, no?)

The video version of the song is kinda interesting. The original album version stays to the same low-key, cabaret vibe from start-to-finish. The video version lurches surprisingly into a big-band version, which is kinda startling when you hear it the first time, if you're familiar with the original album track.

Anyway, a grainy video of a fabulous song:








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The plan

>> Saturday, February 16, 2008

The original plan was to buy Radiohead tickets and go to the coffee shop, but it's 60 F° and sunny. I have the tickets, but instead of going to the coffee shop, I think I will drive out to the fake woods and take a walk. It's kinda nice to have fake woods relatively nearby: I might as well use 'em.

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(This is really a one-word title starting with "f" and ending with a stream of exclamation points)

It seems like I may have good news and bad news with my finicky internet connection.

I was futzing around with the Windows machine for some reason--normally it just sits there and serves music--and I decided to check the ol' blog and see if anything new had happened. Because that's one of the bad things about a blog, you develop this sense that you ought to be checking it a lot, just in case someone accidentally left a comment or something. (I feel like I need to add: I'm not trolling for comments, I'm just saying that's how you--by which I mean I--end up feeling when you have one of these things. Perhaps you--by which I don't mean I, I mean you--don't get that compulsive feeling. It wanes as you--or I--get used to having a blog, it becomes something that's simply there and mostly takes care of itself, doing what it does best: merely existing.)

But, as I was saying, I went online using the Windows machine and I discovered, almost to my horror, that I had a reasonably fast connection, much faster than the internet connection I was getting from the Linux machine just a little bit earlier. So I booted Neverwinter Nights just to see what that looked like. (The only reason I really need a reasonably fast connection, to tell the truth, is that an old buddy of mine in Tennessee and I have been playing the classic G/D/Q-series modules online every week.)

What did I see? Game rooms. Reasonably low pings. Son of a bitch.

So the problem isn't Road Runner. And the problem isn't with the AirPort Express. The problem is something with the way the Linux machine is talking to either Road Runner or the AirPort. Which narrows things down to where they can be fixed. Maybe.

I said I had good news and bad news. Well, the good news is obviously that I actually have "hi-speed online." The bad news isn't so much that I may have to use Windows more--I'm really not that much of a partisan--but that the Dell with Kubuntu is my main machine. I write on it, surf the web on it, and yes, to the tiny extent I still game, I game on it. The Windows machine is an inexpensive Gateway that I bought almost a year-and-a-half ago when I was having problems with the Dell and needed a computer right now. The Dell, purchased almost two years ago, was a serious upgrade--fast processor, fast graphics, decent memory; a heavy desktop-replacement laptop. Now that it finally works it's a brick in more than one sense: it's heavy as hell, but also it's solid, reliable, you can build things with it.

So that's where things stand. The good news is making me want to bang my head against a nearby wall.

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Oh By The Way: soundtrack from the film More

>> Friday, February 15, 2008

In 1969, Pink Floyd released their first album.

Some of you may have just scratched your heads. If you have been following this series at all, you may be thinking that there have been two earlier entries, one for an album called The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, released in 1967, and one for A Saucerful Of Secrets, released in 1968. Or possibly you just came in, or stumbled across this blog, and you read that first line and thought, "What the hell? This guy's an idiot; Pink Floyd released their first record in 1967."

No, they didn't. It was 1969.

In 1967, a band called "Pink Floyd" released an album full of material mostly written by a young man with nascent psychological problems that would eventually kill him after a fashion, leaving him a shell of himself for almost 40 years until complications from diabetes would finish the job. And in 1968, the surviving members of that group struggled to record a follow-up record under the name "Pink Floyd." Sure.

But in 1969, Pink Floyd recorded their first album, the first one that anyone might recognize as a Pink Floyd record. The one that someone who only knew The Wall or Dark Side Of The Moon might say, "Hey, is that Pink Floyd?" The first album where the guys who would record Meddle and Wish You Were Here would collaborate on assembling a record.

It was a soundtrack, music for a movie called More, directed by a guy named Barbet Shroeder, who had produced a few things but hadn't previously directed a feature. I haven't seen it, so I can't say whether it's any good or not. Indeed, one gets the sense that if it hadn't resulted in a Pink Floyd album the film might have dwindled into semi-obscurity, notwithstanding Shroeder's subsequent reputation. But it's purportedly a very dark film, about a young man who takes some time off only to hook up with a young lady who gets him addicted to heroin, which (I've read) kills him. A comedy, in other words.

It is here, I suppose, that I should make a confession of sorts. Nothing major, like a murder, but to a lapse of judgment.

As I probably mentioned at the start of this series, I've been a Pink Floyd fan since a ridiculously early age. My parents bought The Wall when it came, and I--only eight years old at the time--fell in love with the rich layers of sound. The music that I may have loved the most at that age was John Williams' soundtrack to Star Wars, and The Wall was a record (two records!) full of the same bombast, the same use of leitmotifs (a word I didn't know, but would have understood)--I don't think I had a clue as to what the record was really about: madness, drug abuse, violence, angst, war. But I loved it all the same. The first record I bought with my own saved-up money was The Dark Side Of The Moon, and when I decided I wanted to play guitar it was because of how I felt when I listened to "Comfortably Numb" when I was 15 or 16. When I was in high school, depressed and fit to murder myself (oh literally, I must have thought of suicide every day), it was cranking up my cassette (and later CD) of The Final Cut after I got home from school, before anyone else got home, that kept me from walking into the bathroom and finding an off-label use for the disposable blades that went with the razor I used for my adolescent stubble....

But there was one Pink Floyd album I had absolutely no use for.

The soundtrack from the film More.

I checked out the CD from the public library. This was a fine way, back in those pre-internet days, to rip music you couldn't pay for. Check it out from the library and tape the shit. I had a ton of records on 90-minute cassette tapes, two albums a tape. (If you were clever, you could try to make sure both sides were by the same band or at least thematically related--and yet I still had Born To Run and ...Famous Last Words... on the same tape for no particularly good reason. I still can't hear the end of "Jungleland" without anticipating the opening chords of "Crazy.")

I checked out the CD from the public library, and I didn't even tape it. What was this shit? The only good songs on it also appeared on the compilation album Relics, which I already owned. How was the great Gilmour letting me down with this noodling on "A Spanish Piece"? Where were the big sounds, the epic themes, where was the angst and rage?

Let me mention a minor thing that you might not grasp from the previous paragraph: I was an extremely mentally retarded teenager. In my defense, let me add that all teenagers are mentally retarded, even the ones (especially the ones) who think they aren't. A likely explanation is that all the blood that is supposed to feed the brain is going to the groin, resulting in hypoxia.

And yet I somehow persisted in this hideous delusion that More was a mediocre and unnecessary album. I might have even mentioned, if the subject somehow came up, that I had every Pink Floyd album except two compilations (later three) and More, and who needed More when "Cirrus Minor" and "The Nile Song" were both on Relics?

It was about a year-or-so ago that I started to download Pink Floyd ROIOs--"Recordings Of Indeterminate Origin." Bootlegs of concerts and studio demos and lost singles, in other words. It used to be, back when I was a kid, that getting a prize boot of an old concert meant knowing someone who knew someone who maybe had a copy of an old reel-to-reel or scratchy Italian LP, and maybe they'd make you a copy or you'd take a chance on a $20 vinyl you found in a kinda shady record store (keep in mind, this was when albums cost $10-$12). There were probably tons of these things in record stores in LA or NY or SF; but this was in Charlotte, NC, a town that (in those days) could have been compared to an armpit but for the fact that armpits are generally an erogenous zone--you might have compared Charlotte to a square inch of skin located on the leg approximately three-point-five inches directly below the taint, maybe. Charlotte is a city that has long yearned to be Atlanta, for pity's sake. (Have you been to Atlanta?)

The thing that was kind of funny, was I kept hearing two or three songs in the 1969-1970 setlists that were pretty awesome and I couldn't place them. Moody pieces, evocative of some of the Ummagumma stuff, a lot of acoustic guitar and keyboards and interesting percussion. Beautiful songs about yearning and loss. I'd get up and check the computer serving the digital files, a Windows machine running Winamp, and I'd look:

"Cymbaline"

"Green Is The Colour"

And here was the tipoff, the one that left no doubt where these mysterious and gorgeous tunes were coming from: "Main Theme From More".

Oh. I see. That's how it's going to be.

Well of course I felt stupid. No, not stupid: like a prize asshole. These were great songs. What the hell was I thinking when I was sixteen or seventeen?

Oh yeah: I was pining for a young lady whose name I'll omit in this blog though I remember it quite well, and feeling oppressed and misunderstood and angry and sad. Retarded, remember?

I bought the CD from Amazon, and only a few months later I bought the Oh By The Way boxed set with its copy of the album (the same remaster, but with the original cover from the vinyl LP).

The first half of the album largely consists of Roger Waters compositions, and the second half is mostly stuff by the whole band together, and it's all quite good in a way that's essential if you love Pink Floyd and admittedly skippable if you're a casual listener content with some of the later albums. And, oh yes, it's here that we have Pink Floyd coming into their own as a band and not merely Syd Barrett's backing musicians or surrogates. Here's David Gilmour's vocals and Rick Wright's harmonies and Roger Waters discovering his voice as a lyricist and Nick Mason truly being Nick Masony (and that's a good thing). Here's meddling and dark sides and delicate sounds and echoes and wishing and momentary lapses and walls of sound. Here are atomic hearts and empty spaces and meadows; fat old suns, time and Sisyphus waiting for one day when he can lay his head down on a pillow of winds. Here's regret, love, loss, hope and desperation. Here's the evolutionary forebears of what really would be the Pink Floyd sound. Here's pastoral folk-rock and heavy metal and spacey prog and old-school electric blues. Here's a band becoming a band, the first record where these four guys played together like a unit and sounded like it, everything coming together in a whole.

Eventually, I'm going to get around to writing an entry about The Wall, and I'm going to have some not-nice things to say about that classic. And someone may look at these entries and say "familiarity breeds contempt; here's love for the last Pink Floyd album he bought and ambivalence about the first one he ever heard." Maybe, maybe not. The things that I like about More are the things I love in my favorite Floyd albums, in Obscured By Clouds and Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here. These are records where four talented guys sat down and in the years 1969-to-around-1975/76 made incredible music as a band; and this is the dawn of all that. Even the string of Waters-credited tunes on the first side are enriched by Gilmour's smooth voice and Wright's layered organ sounds (as I write this, having hit "play" a third time, the room is full of the cathedral-like sounds of Wright's organ solo on "Cirrus Minor").

More. The first real Pink Floyd album. I didn't like it, and then I did; I was stupid once, but I'm less stupid now, and maybe I'll be even less stupid later. One can only hope.


Side One
  • Cirrus Minor (Waters)
  • The Nile Song (Waters)
  • Crying Song (Waters)
  • Up The Khyber (Mason, Wright)
  • Green Is The Colour (Waters)
  • Cymbaline (Waters)
  • Party Sequence (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)

Side Two
  • Main Theme (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • Ibiza Bar (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • More Blues (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • Quicksilver (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)
  • A Spanish Piece (Gilmour)
  • Dramatic Piece (Waters, Wright, Gilmour, Mason)



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For the other half

>> Thursday, February 14, 2008

Half the people (give or take one half) who visit this blog have probably already read Jim Wright's blog entry in which he puts a bigoted douche who kept spamming him with xenophobic junk mail in his place. For the other half (give or take a half), it's worth a look. Jim--who I've never met and wouldn't recognize on the street unless he happened to be dressed exactly as he is in his blog photo, which is unlikely since I live in a place that's roughly 60 F° warmer than his hometown (it's alright: if Jim goes by my blog picture, he thinks I'm a South Park character)--anyway, as I was about to say, Jim is a good egg. Go read the piece, and check out some of his other posts.


(Hint: A regular visitor who turns bowls might particularly enjoy some of the entries and photographs Jim posts of his own wood turning, e.g. this recent post.)





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Or you could just wait for it to hit cable

Another feature on Cracked worth checking out: 5 Ways Hollywood Tricks You Into Seeing Bad Movies. I laughed because it was all true. So, so, so very, very, very true.





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Your opponent isn't your enemy

Oh hell, I think I'm going to do it again. What I should do tonight is sit down with the soundtrack from the film More. What I'm actually going to do is comment on politics again, because there's something going on among a certain set of Democrats that's really driving me nuts.


I was annoyed enough yesterday that I even posted a few comments in Slate's "Fray" that I'm not going to bother linking to because it's just too much trouble for too little effect. We're talking about responses to one particular commenter who was being an ass the other day.


Except here's Erica Jong doing the same exact thing over on The Huffington Post yesterday. Doing what, you ask? Do I really have to go read it or will you just tell me?


Sure, I can just tell you: Jong thinks that people who support Barack Obama hate women. Hillary Clinton, especially and specifically, but the real root of all naysaying is that Clinton has a vagina. And all of the rest of those feminine parts, primary and secondary sexual characteristics.


If you weren't supporting Clinton's bid for the presidency, you might not have realized you hate women, you miserable, misogynistic bastard or traitor to your gender, you. You don't think you hate women at all? So can we put you down for a campaign contribution, or sign you up as someone who will boycott the general election if the Democrat's engage in a massive clitoral circumcision and widow-burning at their national convention?


If you ignore Clinton's gender and focus on her Senate record, her political associations, and an assessment of her strengths and liabilities, you might well conclude that there are reasons not to support Clinton in the primaries. She voted for the Iraq war, has strong associations with the crypto-conservative Democratic Leadership Council, and is a lightning rod for the inane knee-jerk rage of social conservatives who (a) believe that the Clintons are ultra-leftists who will tolerate abortion, legalize gay marriage, and socialize healthcare within minutes of a Clinton swearing-in and (b) that these are bad things (oh noes!).


And it's also possible to ignore Obama's ethicity and focus on his career as a community activist, background as a con law professor, relative disengagement from the centrist wing of the Democrats, apparently fresh perspective, and polls indicating that Obama will match well against John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and to conclude that Obama is an excellent presidential candidate.


So you end up with this perverse thing: to accuse Obama's supporters of sexism and racism (because they're endorsing an African-American male) is to engage in sexism and racism. Because it's possible that at least some of Obama's supporters are ignoring the very factors that critics like Ms. Jong are elevating above all else: Clinton is a woman, and women have been oppressed for so long that she should be treated differently, and not evaluated the way you might evaluate a male candidate, and anyway you were only supporting Obama because he's black, weren't you? You're either also black or you're a guilty white person, you bigoted jerk and traitor.


It's absurd, of course. Insane. Idiotic. You know, it's possible--perhaps probable--that your opponent isn't your enemy. Just because Clinton is someone's second choice doesn't mean that Clinton is therefore despised. Just as one can evaluate Clinton without regard to her gender and conclude she's not one's favorite candidate, one can simultaneously conclude that Clinton has merits: a record of public service, brilliance as an attorney, experience in dealing with Congress, and progressive positions on several issues (including healthcare). Although I will admit to having some reservations in the past--the Clinton circus and Bill Clinton's minor betrayals of liberalism still rankle me (perhaps, in all fairness, I shouldn't hold Mr. Clinton's failings against Ms. Clinton, though she did share in one of the first and greatest: the healthcare debacle)--I think I can vote for her in November without hesitation, with confidence that she is intelligent and qualified, and relatively liberal.


It should also be emphasized that Ms. Jong (and the Slate commentator I dealt with yesterday) have at least one point: there are critics of Clinton who prefer to attack Clinton's gender and not her policies or record. Does it need to be said that shouldn't be tolerated? That Clinton, like so many Senators, abdicated her legislative responsibilities when she gave George Bush a blank check to invade Iraq is relevant to whether she exercises good judgment; her choice of pantsuit over skirt or color of said clothing, not so much. If you see or hear some asshat focusing on such trivialities or commenting on a woman's ability to lead, I hope you'll rip them a new one even if you plan on voting for McCain come November.






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