Run straight down

>> Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An interesting video from NPR regarding studies demonstrating--although nobody seems to know why--that humans are apparently incapable of moving in a straight line without visual cues:

What I find most interesting about this is that it suggests that if you're ever stranded in a situation where you have nothing to home in on--lost in the woods on a dark, cloudy night with no hints (e.g. a stream to follow down, let's say)--the best thing you can do is stay put until the clouds break or the sun rises, since trying to get anywhere will only guarantee you get yourself more lost or, at best, end up in the same place if you happen to circle around enough. I realize this may seem like a commonplace observation (there are other reasons for staying put if you don't know where you are and staying put is an option), but what's interesting, really, is the demonstration of what actually happens: it doesn't "feel like" you're just walking in circles, you are, as a matter of fact, walking in circles.

Now, I'm a city boy who hasn't been camping in decades and hardly travels (i.e. little chance of being the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Pacific Northwest woods), so it's not like I'm personally planning on using this information in an actual how-to-avoid-dying sort of way. But it's the kind of thing the writer in me sees and tries to think of ways to use, you know? Our Hero, out in the woods, ends up exactly where he started. Does he starve? Does the monster catch him? Is there some symbolic irony as the great circle he walks comes to represent the repetitiveness of life or some such happy horseshit?

Again, you may find it less interesting than I do, but whatever. I thought it was kind of cool and something to play around with. Feel free to do the same, y'know?


"Famous Blue Raincoat"

>> Monday, November 29, 2010

A month early, being only the end of November, but a wintry song is a wintry song. Easily one of my top-five favorite Leonard Cohen songs, "Famous Blue Raincoat":


Quote of the day

>> Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'll acknowledge that anger is a difficult tool in a social movement. A dangerous one even. It can make people act rashly; it can make it harder to think clearly; it can make people treat potential allies as enemies. In the worst-case scenario, it can even lead to violence. Anger is valid, it's valuable, it's necessary... but it can also misfire, and badly.

But unless we're actually endangering or harming somebody, it is not up to believers to tell atheists when we should and should not use this tool. It is not up to believers to tell atheists that we're going too far with the anger and need to calm down. Any more than it's up to white people to say it to black people, or men to say it to women, or straights to say it to queers. When it comes from believers, it's not helpful. It's patronizing. It comes across as another attempt to defang us and shut us up. And it's just going to make us angrier.

-Greta Christina, "Atheists and Anger"

The thing is, I wouldn't consider myself an angry atheist. And strident atheists frequently annoy me. For that matter, I have issues with atheism as a "social movement." But even as someone who has relatively modest interest in the so-called "New Atheism," who has never been a member of an atheist organization and would be disinclined to join one, even so, I react to that idiotic question, "Why are atheists so angry?" much as Greta Christina does. I didn't think I was angry, but if I was, what of it? Why wouldn't I be? Shouldn't I be? I could think of all sorts of reasons to be.

The thing is, what Greta Christina is most right about, though she ultimately sort of glances off it in my view, is that people who ask "What are atheists so angry about?" and similar questions really aren't asking that at all. The people who ask that, as a rule (though I'll allow there might be rare exceptions) aren't really concerned with what atheists' grievances might be or why an atheist might be outraged; generally, what they're really saying is, "Shut the fuck up."

This is obvious, in part, because the question, "Why are atheists so angry?" frequently follows an atheist listing his concerns or issues or grievances, and not always in an angry fashion. "I am tired of civic institutions promoting religious belief by beginning a secular government event with a Judeo-Christian prayer," the atheist might say, and someone says back, "Why are you so angry?" What is the atheist expected to do if he is angry, repeat himself? "I'm not angry, I'm bothered by the fact they began a school board meeting with a prayer; it made me feel disenfranchised and unwanted in my own community and I'd imagine there were even some religious individuals who felt the same way, or would have if they were there, if they happened to be Muslims or Buddhists or whatever." And the likely reply is going to be, what? It's likely to be something like, "I don't see why you atheists are so sensitive and get so upset over everything." Well, our atheist just explained why he or she was upset, either you weren't listening, or, more likely, you don't care why the atheist was upset, you just want to belittle his or her opinions until he or she ducks his or her head and shuts up like a good little tolerated-when-ignorable inconvenience.

If you genuinely don't see why some atheists are angry, and are asking the question honestly and not as a "fuck you," all I can say is that you aren't paying attention. No, seriously: I mean, you may take it for granted that so many civic events bring with prayers or that the laws that remain on the books precluding atheists from public office aren't generally enforced, or that national leaders who fail to make a due showing of religiosity (whatever their beliefs might be) are barked at by baying dogs, and so on, etc., etc., ad nauseum--but this doesn't mean that people who are paying attention aren't entitled to feel a little miffed or even completely outraged. For that matter, don't assume that because there are some of us who have decided to choose our battles or who strive to be gracious or good-humored, that those who accept things with less equanimity (or even, I'll confess, less subservience) are somehow the extremists or margins or fringe (I may have reached a point after many, many years where I accept a blessing with humor and grace, but it doesn't mean I've come to be comfortable with the presumptuousness involved in the gesture). Perhaps, anyway, the problem isn't that some people are hypersensitive, but that your senses have been dulled.


They'd be right to take offense

>> Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's inaccurate to claim man descended from monkeys--all science teaches us is merely that we share a common ancestor. But those who would be offended by even this notion, that man is related to beast, perhaps are overlooking the fact they're not the ones who ought to be offended. They're not the ones who are being insulted by the claim we're cousins with the monkeys. They're not the ones with a right to be angry and in denial.

No, Dave Bartholomew is dead-on. If anyone ought to be offended, it's monkeys.

Dave Bartholomew, "The Monkey":


Just remember: both those guys were elected President. Twice.

>> Friday, November 26, 2010

Much of the lab was underground. There was a cement cap on top of it and then they shoveled in several feet of the rich, rainforest loam and stuck a few trees in it; the trees died and bent over sideways like old men walking into heavy winds that somehow came from all different directions, but the main thing was they provided shelter for the ventilation shafts and assorted pipes that had to come up through the surface, mostly to inhale fresh air and exhale bad.

Inhale, exhale. The lab was a living thing, if an artificial one. It had a vast stomach that digested the fuel brought in covertly from miles away, long pipes that excreted its shit in the muddy Amazon miles away, a million eyes secreted throughout the woods and a massive ear suspended over the shack of a poor Tupi-descended farmer in the guise of a mighty, rusted satellite dish--he got all the football games played in São Paulo and the enormous digital brain of the lab got everything else in the world.

The lab was a mother. She was meant to give birth.

Having not come into the world in the usual way, she couldn't give birth in the usual way. Teams of scientists, Republican fugitives from the Christian-Right crowd, huddled together over long benches and row after row of beakers, burners and Erlenmeyer flasks. And, of course, the most precious items that had been brought down to Brazil from the United States: red and gold stoppered vials containing the biological essences of two great men, Richard Milhous Nixon and Ronald Wilson Reagan. All overseen by a malevolent genius, a brilliant mad scientist with no ethics, no scruples, no humanity to speak of.

"Vhat ve need," Herr Doktor said, "is a vay to combine Herr Nixon's strategic gifts for ze realpolitik unto ze volksy charm of Herr Reagan and ve shall haf ze perfekt candidate vor American politiks!" Herr Doktor was a white-haired man of indeterminate age and shadowy origins who'd arrived in Brazil in 1946 and started a thriving dentistry until dark-suited American men with briefcases full of money had arrived to offer him a choice between even more briefcases full of money or having his residency in Brazil challenged--not that he would have a hard time finding a new home, they allowed, as the Israelis were known to have extended an open invitation to Herr Doktor to come to Jerusalem to address certain legal questions pertaining to his previous career and affiliations. He wasn't necessarily sympathetic to the Republican cause, it must be said, but he did like a challenge.

And so they labored, in the lab in Brazil, for decades.

There was a stormy night, blasts of white lightening playing hell with the lab's communications to the outside world, when an aide came into Herr Doktor's room and knelt beside his sickbed. "Success," he whispered in the ancient one's ear and Herr Docktor opened his pasty blue eyes and opened his gumless mouth and howled in triumph, and died.

You didn't tell him, an accusation came as soon as the aide was beyond Herr Doktor's door. The women, oh the women were wailing beyond as they gathered round Herr Doktor's bedside to mourn and prepare the body for cremation, not burial, because evidence must be destroyed and such had Herr Doktor become now he was gone. You didn't tell him, and the aide said, "I told him enough. I told him we succeeded."

"You didn't tell him we only managed a partial blend. That we only managed to distill Nixon's paranoid vindictiveness and obsessive desire to avenge himself against any imagined slight, with none of the original Nixon's sly acumen or comprehension. And that all we could salvage from Reagan was his folksy, anti-intellectual charm with none of his naïve idealism. In short, all we have created is a charismatic, insipid, paranoid, hateful, ambitious, malicious creature with no merits beyond a certain photogenic quality.

"What's she going to do," the accuser sneered, "I'm sure she could get elected governor somewhere as Reagan did, but then what? Resign amidst vague criminal and corruption charges midterm as Nixon did? Become a Vice-Presidential nominee who embarrasses a decorated military veteran running for President? Become a divisive influence within the Republican party as Reagan was in '76?"

"I don't know," the aide said, suddenly exhausted. "Now that Herr Doktor's dead, the project is finished. Destroy the lab, Situation Omega. Evacuate, activate the self-destruct sequence."

"And the woman?"

"I don't know...," the aide said, wearily rubbing his eyes, "send her to Alaska or something."


Happy Thanksgiving From Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets!*

>> Thursday, November 25, 2010

*Unless you're in one of the one-hundred-eighty-odd countries that aren't the United States Of America, in which case, ummm... have a nice day. How are you? Are you having anything special for dinner? I'm roasting a duck. Lots of people here are having pies and cookies, not to mention the traditional turkey. Anyway, hope you're having a good day and all that.


"Dirty Old Town"

>> Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pogues came up talking to a friend on Facebook, and then I stumbled across the video for a classic--"Dirty Old Town," from the Elvis Costello-produced Rum, Sodomy And The Lash. Here:


Gorgeous, glorious stuff from Sigur Rós

>> Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Have some glorious Sigur Rós, on Jools Holland's show performing "Hoppípolla" and "Með blóðnasir" (per Wikipedia, those titles translate out of Icelandic and into English as "Hopping into Puddles" and "I Have a Nosebleed," respectively). That's obviously Amiina providing support (the lovely ladies on strings, vocals, and several other instruments), along with a horn section and additional chorus that may or may not have a separate identity. And it's gorgeous, gorgeous stuff.


Quote of the day

>> Monday, November 22, 2010

I'm re-reading The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings--well, actually, I just finished re-reading The Hobbit and have picked up LOTR, and found that this still moved me:

"I am sorry," said Frodo. "But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum."

"You have not seen him," Gandalf broke in.

"No, and I don't want to," said Frodo. "I can't understand you. Do you mean to say that you, and the Elves, have let him live on after all those horrible deeds? Now at any rate he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death."

"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement....

Gandalf goes on to talk about whether or not Gollum has a purpose, and of course the point of the conversation much later becomes evident when Gollum indeed serves a purpose perhaps predestined for him or at least foreseen by greater powers. But Gandalf (and, one suspects, Tolkien) makes his point right there and then: Gollum certainly deserves death--Gandalf has just described just prior to this passage not only how Gollum killed his best friend for The Ring, but how Gollum also killed and ate babies. (I shit you not: "'The wood was full of the rumour of him, dreadful tales even among beasts and birds. The Woodmen said that there was some new terror abroad, a ghost that drank blood. It climbed trees to find nests; it crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles.' [emphasis added]")

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?" There are those for whom the main argument against capital punishment is the fallibility of human judgment, but here, in a fantasy novel, is as eloquent a statement as any as to how I'd be against it even if humans could get it right every time, and never prosecute or convict or execute an innocent even once. Because it's not just the limit of human judgment but of human wisdom, of the power we ought to exercise; if I were a religious man, as Tolkien was, I'd say that life and death were the provenance of God and God alone; as I'm not a religious man, I'd have to say it rightly belongs to nobody.

I suppose I could go along like that for awhile in ever-widening circles, but we can leave it there for now. I give you the quote of the day for today, though it's somewhere around seventy years old. A reminder that humility is an element of pity, and pity of compassion.


In which I fix a famous scene from Star Wars...

>> Sunday, November 21, 2010

General Tagge: What of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical reading of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, they might find a weakness and exploit it.

Darth Vader: The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.

Admiral Motti: Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they have obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.

Darth Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of The Force.

Admiral Motti: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fortress...

(Vader makes a pinching gesture with his fingers and Admiral Motti begins to choke)

General Tagge: Wait--that's it?

(Vader, startled, releases Motti.)

Darth Vader: What?

General Tagge: That's it? That's the power of The Force? You're going to choke people? One at a time like that?

Darth Vader: I... I also have a lightsaber.

General Tagge: So you're going to choke people. And cut them into pieces with your lightsaber. And that's the power of The Force. Darth. Darth, baby. Darth, Darth, Darth. Do you have any idea how big the galaxy is?


Darth Vader: Yes.

General Tagge: Alright. How big is it?


Darth Vader: Um.

(There is a much longer, awkward pause, during which the only sound is the stentorian rasp of Vader's life support system.)

General Tagge: Well--

Darth Vader: (interrupting) A day.

General Tagge: A... day....

Darth Vader: I can fly across the entire galaxy in a day in my TIE fighter.

General Tagge: You... you do understand that that's because your ship has a hyperdrive system that allows it fly many times faster than the speed of light, right? Your ship enters hyperspace and--

Darth Vader: (interrupting again) I know what a hyperdrive is, General. It's the button next to the radio.

(There is another awkward pause.)

General Tagge: Lord Vader. The galaxy is 120,000 light years across. There are 400 billion stars. 180 billion systems. 20 million known sentient species. In excess of 120 quadrillion estimated sentient inhabitants. And you're going to do that little pinchy thing to them. Oh, and cut them with your laser sword.

Darth Vader: Lightsaber.

General Tagge: Vader, this battlestation can destroy entire planets, billions of people at a time, with one single shot from its primary turbolaser. It takes a second. You, on the other hand, hang on. If we assume you can choke someone, oh, once a minute... 1,440 minutes in a Galactic Standard Day... hold on a minute while I bring up a calculator... let's assume an average planetary population of six billion, Galactic Standard Year of 368 days... yes, if nobody has any children, you could wipe out an entire planet in over 11,300 years... assuming you don't waste any time sleeping or whatever it is you do in that... egg... thing that lets you take off your hat.


General Tagge: Well?!

Darth Vader: (mumbles)

General Tagge: I'm sorry, I can't hear you over your breathing.

Darth Vader: Your lack of faith--

General Tagge: (interrupting) My lack of faith? Lord Vader, trust me, I have little doubt you can do your little pinch-the-air business and choke anyone as soon as look at them. But can you do a whole planet? All at once? Quicker than this Death Star can go vreee with it's big enormous gun and blow the whole thing to smithereens? Well?

Darth Vader: (mumbles)

General Tagge: I'm sorry, you're doing it again.

Darth Vader: I said, yes. Yes I could.

General Tagge: Oh. Really. Alright, do Alderaan.

Darth Vader: I don't feel like it.

General Tagge: Uh-huh. Sure. Right. You don't feel--

Darth Vader: I don't feel like choking a whole planet right now--

General Tagge: --like it. Gentlemen, Lord Vader doesn't feel like--

Darth Vader: --but I can choke a whole planet any time I want to--

General Tagge: --it, and that's why the Empire spent gajillions on a giant laser instead of sending Lord Vader around in a little shuttle to pinch every--

Grand Moff Tarkin: Gentlemen! Stop this squabbling at once! This is getting us nowhere!

Darth Vader: I've just been really busy.


Roger Waters, Philips Arena, November 18, 2010

>> Saturday, November 20, 2010

I have a troubled relationship with The Wall. I'll readily admit that; it's something I think I'd like to elaborate on in a blog entry sometime--I even started one earlier in the week that I wasn't happy with. The shortest version would be that The Wall is an album that was a lifeline that I clung to when I was a teenager--it's not an exaggeration to say that coming home after school, bleak, angry, depressed, miserable and alone, it was cranking up The Wall that kept me from hurting myself in some stupid way; when I got older, though, and grew up, I couldn't help finding much of the sentiment expressed on the album by The Wall's primary creator, Roger Waters, to be hopelessly childish, selfish, narcissistic, juvenile.

Also, The Wall was really a low point for a band I still love and have loved for three decades, now; it was the first Pink Floyd album I ever heard, but it was also an album that I would come to realize marked the band at a creative and personal low, a time when their friendships and professional relationships with each other were breaking down, their marriages and finances falling apart, their creative impulses hitting (pardon the expression) a wall of commercial expectations and interpersonal competitiveness. It's an album that shouldn't have happened at all; the band should have taken a break from each other and from being Pink Floyd after their disastrous In The Flesh tour in 1977, and then maybe they would have figured out how to stay friends and how to work with each other again. Instead, they found themselves pressed to record another album for the cash after their accountants ripped them off, and to meet the various deadlines involved the guys not only had to get back together before they were probably ready, but they didn't really even get back together for it: instead of getting together and jamming and experimenting until they had something cooperative, you'd have one member laying down tracks in France and another mixing things in L.A., and none of them getting to spend any time at home in England or much time using the studio they bought for themselves there because the financial bind they were in forced them to be tax exiles while they were making the record.

And yet The Wall has its powerful moments and I still listen to it sometimes, though not often.

When I heard Waters was touring it this year, the thirtieth anniversary of the album's release, I almost didn't want to go. The album, as I said, is one I have a troubled relationship with, a bit of love and a bit of hate, you know; plus, when Pink Floyd went through an ugly separation in the 1980s, Roger Waters going his way and David Gilmour and Nick Mason--eventually rejoined by keyboardist Rick Wright, who Waters fired during the recording of The Wall--I was a Gilmour partisan, because picking sides is how you know who you are when you're a teenager. But then it also crossed my mind that Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright passed away two years agoWright died two years ago and maybe this is his last tourthis may or may not be Waters' last tour, or last big tour, and he's getting old anyway, and I'd kick myself if I didn't see it.

And I'm glad I saw it. But I don't know how I feel about it.

While this tour is an anniversary tour featuring a performance of the whole album, with a similar conceit and a few updated props and reused animations, Waters isn't actually recreating the 1980-81 concerts and he's revised the concept--but I'll be talking about that some more shortly.

For those unfamiliar: the album, the original '80-'81 live show, and the 1982 film all relay the story of one "Pink," a jaded rock-and-roll superstar who feels alienated from the world. The first set/LP/half of the film flashes back to Pink's childhood--an overprotecting mother, the absence of a father who died at Anzio in WWII, the abusive English school system, a wife who gets sick and tired of Pink's abuse and begins cheating on him, the general loneliness and angriness and angst of being a rock-and-roll superstar; the second LP (it's a double album)/live set/half of the film covers Pink's nervous breakdown, culminating in a hallucination that his concert is a fascist rally, he's a rock-and-roll Fuhrer, and--at very last--that he's on trial for his sins and sentenced to having the wall he's erected between himself and the whole world, "To be exposed before his peers." There are flaws in the whole idea that I don't necessarily want to get into here (though I may touch on some of them), but the most important thing to understand right now is that the whole thing makes exceptionally good theatre (or flawed-but-interesting theatre in the case of the movie, which really is a failure all-in-all, but that's another topic). In the concert versions of the '80s, for instance, stagehands build an actual wall out of cardboard bricks between the band and the audience (the symbolic made actual, natch) and bits of animation related to Pink's decaying mental state--cartoons of his mother or animations related to the fascist rally, for instance--projected onto it; parts of the wall were designed to open out, revealing little sets (e.g. a hotel room about to be trashed by a petulant Pink), and sometimes Roger Waters, in the character of Pink, would be menaced by inflatable puppets of the schoolmaster, Pink's wife, etc., all designed by animator Gerald Scarfe (who, after making himself famous with vicious political cartoons and animations done for Pink Floyd of fucking flowers and decapitated drones, ended up working at Disney for awhile; go figure).

Waters isn't really recreating that show, although this is ostensibly a thirty-year-anniversary tour for that purpose. The conceit is still there: the songs are still about Pink's misery as a rich, famous rockstar, a stage is still built in front of the band as the show progresses, inflatable puppets still appear and disappear to menace and threated, etc. But in terms of message or concept, Waters is focusing on the political more than the personal: the primary purpose of the physical wall has become not so much a symbol of division (and, when you think about it, sort of a "fuck you" to Pink Floyd fans), but an enormous screen for antiwar and anticonsumer messages. Which, in many respects, is a good thing: Waters doesn't seem to be nearly as unhappy as he was thirty years ago, and seems happily less-interested in gazing at his own navel and screaming at it than in using The Wall as a platform for claiming that the world could be a better place if we stopped sending people overseas to kill and die and maybe bought a little less, trusted the government a little less, and loved each other a helluva lot more. For the record and before we go on any further, I'd like to be clear that I wholly approve of that message.

The thing about this is, unfortunately, that I'm not sure The Wall is necessarily the best vehicle for what Waters wants to load onto it at this point. The antiwar message has always been a part of it, true, whether one's talking about the mournful "Goodbye Blue Sky," a song about the WWII bombing of Britain, or the painful cry of "Bring The Boys Back Home," a song whose title is pretty self-explanatory (and is also pretty much the song's only lyric, actually). And those parts of the new show are affecting. But then there's another three-quarters of everything that's about being suffocated by one's mother or abusing one's wife or hallucinating that one is about to be shat upon by a ginormous ass in a judge's wig, and glomming the left-wing message onto these parts of the show ends up being a bit screwy. And sometimes the message even trips over itself, I'm afraid: "Goodbye Blue Sky" is a sad, terrifying song about having bombs dropped on you that effectively sends the message "dropping bombs on people is bad" (lest that message seem painfully self-evident, I'd like to point out that nobody's actually stopped doing it yet so apparently it isn't); the new show has added an animated bit to go along with the song in which bombers drop... corporate logos, religious symbols, currency icons... hmmm; as one sympathetic to--probably, actually, largely in large agreement with--Waters' public views on capitalism and religion, I think I'd probably agree with whatever message those images with that song are trying to send, if only I felt certain I understood what he was trying to say. That we are bombarded with destructive symbolism? That propaganda is as bad as tons of heavy explosives? That the pain caused by Shell Oil lingers on?

It's things like that that don't work. They look great; the concert is full of these beautifully rendered visuals, and projection technology has perhaps finally caught up with the pictures Waters always had in his head when Floyd would design a stage show only to have brightness problems and overheating projectors and melting film and whatnot.

The other thing that I found myself getting a little leery of, especially when the show made use of the infamous leaked video of a journalist being killed by Americans who misidentified him as an armed insurgent, was whether or not the message becomes exploitative of its subject. Waters has been asking people to send him names of fallen soldiers and videos of homecomings for those who have been luckier, and these are displayed on the wall throughout the show and during intermission (e.g. a particularly touching segment of footage projected--it's actually making my eyes water a little to write about it--shows a little girl breaking into tears and practically overturning her desk to get to her daddy when her father, in uniform and just returned from Afghanistan or Iraq, makes what was obviously an unexpected visit to her classroom). Projected identification cards aren't confined to America's most recent wars: some of the names and images are clearly of those who served in past wars, and indeed the first identification card to appear projected in front of the audience is that of Eric Fletcher Waters, Roger Waters' own father, who died in WWII at the Anzio bridgehead (the inspiration for the character Pink's loss).

The question one finds oneself asking, at some point, and that I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer, is whether there's a point at which this shifts from a memorial of those who shouldn't have been killed if human beings were better creatures into becoming popular, mass entertainment? Take that video of the little girl I mentioned in that previous paragraph: it's a beautiful, tear-jerking moment, and it means something to me to have been vicariously a part of it and to be reminded that this is one of the main things we're talking about when we're talking about service and sacrifice to one's country; it's also, though, a personal moment (even in a classroom in front of a teacher and a dozen students) between a child and her daddy, being broadcast for throngs of people, twenty thousand at a time who paid and came to be amused, set to musical accompaniment. Or take that controversial video of the journalist being killed by mistake: sure, there's a sign projected on the screen afterwards saying we won't forget him, but what does that mean and is the audience really cognizant of the fact they're watching somebody die, watching somebody kill, while the music plays?

Things maybe break down again in the concert's final act, Pink's descent into madness and hallucination that he's a fascist and the concert's a rally and then he's on trial and then he's free. The material, lyrically speaking, is dark and cruel and really only acceptable when one understands that the vitriol and loathing--including racist and homophobic ranting at two points--is ironic and the externalization of self-loathing (the character hates others exactly because he hates himself, and when he threatens, "You better run," he means himself).

This is pretty clear on the album and the movie presents the idea fairly well; I can't say how well the original stage show got it across. It doesn't really come across in the current tour, and it doesn't really fit in with the message Waters wants to push now.

I've had problems with the song "Run Like Hell" for a very long time now: I feel uncomfortable watching Pink Floyd close with it on the Pulse DVD or listening to various post-Waters Floyd versions on official live release or bootleg concert recording. Musically, it's an anthem, and musically one understands why Floyd would have closed with it throughout the '94 tour or why it would be a big dramatic moment when Waters performs it. But lyrically? I mean, lyrically, it's fascism and incitement to riot, and of course it's ironic, and artistic and self-loathing fascism; when I say "lyrically, it's fascism," I don't mean Roger Waters and David Gilmour were fascists to write it or bad or wrong in any way to do so. In the context of the record, it actually puts its point across very well.

The problem I have is when the song gets brought into the context of this arena show, when it's in a venue that tends to dwarf irony and depersonalize self-flagellation, when it's a big bass drum keeping time for 20,000 screaming people, some of whom may have the sense to know that you're supposed to find the song appalling and some of whom... well, maybe don't, it's hard to tell.

And I mention this because it's sort of a problem with the last act of The Wall in general in the live context, and maybe even moreso when Waters is stripping the show of much of its drugged-out-psychotic biography elements and replacing them with footage of fallen soldiers and in favor of a "be better humans" sentimentality. When one hears folks in the bathroom line during intermission quoting parts of Pink's last-act homophobic screed with what sounds like approval--or at least without an apparent trace of irony, one wonders if the message that's being sent is actually being received. (And if it isn't: whose fault is that?) When one sees more than a few people in the audience during "Run Like Hell" making the crossed-arms "hammer" gesture used in the film version of The Wall as Pink's version of the fascist "Heil Hitler" gesture, one wonders, "Are they doing that ironically? And if they aren't, what am I doing here?" There were moments at the show, during that last bit of business between Pink's last attempt to cling to reality ("Must The Show Go On?") and final absolute break ("The Trial") when the whole thing seemed a little less like an ironic hallucination being acted out and more like a facsimile of a real and terrible event.

At which point, suddenly, the younger, unhappier Roger Waters' imagining of a rock stadium show as being the modern, postwar equivalent of Hitler's Nuremberg rally seems less like a childish conceit and more like an accurate description of events. And the older, happier Waters who says at the end of these Wall shows--sincerely, I really do believe--that he no longer feels alienated from his audiences and in fact feels a real connection to them, well, he seems like a man who has somehow lost touch with what he's doing, a man vainly subverting his own good intentions.

It doesn't have to be that way: the younger, unhappier Waters was being childish in his conceit when he stood up in front of thousands of people and imagined them, as he once said, cheering wildly while being bombed into bits or pictured the whole affair of a big rock show as being essentially Nazistic. That was Waters projecting his own internal discomfort onto the crowd; I don't think anybody, for instance, feels like a Bruce Springsteen show is going to devolve into a march downtown with waving flags and subsequent Kristallnacht (BYOB, but rags and kerosene will be provided on site). A Springsteen show feels like several thousand people having a really good time, and if a cynic might wonder what a man with Bruce's charisma could do if he possessed the ill-will, the honest observer realizes that Springsteen long ago accepted the thing that Waters maybe has struggled most to accommodate in his own life: that first, foremost, and above any message he wants to slip in while he's doing it, he's a guy who gets paid a pretty good bit of money to entertain people for a few hours at a time. Which may be why, love it or hate it, Springsteen mostly saves the irony and subtlety and dark moments of the human soul for the occasional smaller-venue, mostly-acoustic tours (e.g. the Devils & Dust Tour) while painting in the broadest gestures possible when the E Street Band is playing a really big house. And if an audience misreads "Born In The U.S.A." as chest-thumping patriotism, it's a good bit less frightening than an audience misreading "Waiting For The Worms" as celebration of ethnic cleansing.

Which may or may not be something that was happening at the show. I hope not, but the fact it was hard to tell, the fact that there was this enthusiasm, this rapture filling Philips Arena while Waters strutted the stage in black broken only by an armband, clearly relishing playing the part of an exaggerated, cartooney caricature (he obviously was having fun and not taking the depiction seriously, at least)--the fact that there was this audience reaction that didn't quite seem in keeping with what was supposed to be happening.... Well. One hates to think, but then can't help thinking it.

The question might boil down to: at what point does a parody of something become what it parodies? Not a new or novel question, I know, but there it is. Is there some kind of Poe's Law in play for hatred, for fascism? It bugs me, obviously. Has it occurred to Waters to bug him, I have to wonder?

In all this I find I'm not talking much about the technical merits of the show, which are admirable. The digital projection system they're using for the visuals is fantastic, and the sound was as any show I've seen in a similar venue, if not better; even sitting up in one of the wings, the quadraphonic system being used had nice clarity and definition. The musicianship was just fine, although I find it's surprisingly hard to really evaluate the performance on those merits: the project being one to faithfully recreate an album experience and/or prior concert tour (and, it should be pointed out, to create an experience that's timed to video and special effects cues), the arrangements hew fairly closely to their originals and the musicians largely work to recreate familiar sounds with only occasional room for anything improvisational (solely for comparative purposes and not to rekindle any sort of Waters-versus-Gilmour debate, but c.f. performances of "Another Brick In The Wall (pt. 2)" and/or "Run Like Hell" from Pink Floyd's 1994 tour or even, for that matter, performances of those cuts on prior Roger Waters tours; Floyd's 1994 performances of "Brick" particularly come to mind, however, simply because the arrangements gave Guy Pratt, Tim Renwick and Jon Carin a few bars apiece to jam out, something that didn't seem to happen the other night, although Jon Carin is playing keyboards on this tour, as well). I also feel obligated to say--and I feel bad, writing it, as if I'm being needlessly negative or lingering childhood biases are coming up--that there are points in the show talent seems wasted: tour personnel include the aforementioned Jon Carin (who has toured with both Floyd and Waters since the late 1980s), G.E. Smith (the famous former Saturday Night Live bandleader and frequent touring guitarist for Bob Dylan, among other accomplishments) and Snowy White (the Floyd's backup guitarist on the original In The Flesh and The Wall tours in 1977 and '80-'81 and Waters' main go-to guitar guy since then); hardest to evaluate on this front is a gesture that is somehow simultaneously awesome and disappointing: in every city, Waters enlists the aid of kids from a local school's chorus program to join him onstage for "Another Brick In The Wall (pt. 2)", an awesome and exciting experience and undeniably neat--except they're there to lipsync to the Islington Green School chorus recording from the original album, not to sing "We don't need no education" themselves (disappointing, though one concedes prepping and miking them would be a logistical nightmare if not outright impossible).

But, all-in-all, it is a spectacle and worth the money. I just wish I could give it an unapologetic and unconditional rave, and if I could look at the whole thing solely from the technical side, I would. It's just very hard--too hard--to let the overall effect slide, and the effect was one of awe and excitement gradually slipping into a quiet queasiness high up in my perch in the nosebleed seats. I wanted, indeed, to feel that "warm thrill of confusion and space cadet glow" somewhat mockingly referred to in the very first song on The Wall, "In The Flesh?" In the end, what I felt was far more ambivalent, impressed by the technical spectacle, moved by what I think Waters' motives are, and appalled by what, in the end, I actually think I saw.


Home, daily placeholder, more to follow, etc.

>> Friday, November 19, 2010

I've written most of my review of the Roger Waters show I attended last night, but I don't have the wattage tonight to finish it, proof it, add in any links and blurry cameraphone pictures, etc. It should post tomorrow. In the meantime, what I wanted to do was post a video of something I heard driving home, but I couldn't find a good clip, so I'm posting a different song by different artists that has little to do with--well, you don't care about that, do you? Nevermind. Point is: review tomorrow, my beloved Azure Ray this evening. Have a great night, y'all.


What I'm doing now--and it's not treating people as pets, training dogs or racing rats...

>> Thursday, November 18, 2010

This is a pre-post, but I'm assuming that at the time this hits the net, I'm in Atlanta, watching or about-to-watch Roger Waters opening The Wall live.

By way of an appropriate post, here's the trailer for the movie version of The Wall, directed with much difficulty by Alan Parker, followed by the animated sequence for "What Shall We Do Now?" created by Gerald Scarfe for the movie and the original tour; I'll go ahead, I guess, and proffer the warning that the "Now?" sequence, amongst Scarfe's best work for the Floyd (he also provided animation and art design work--including the inflatable puppets--for the band's 1977 In The Flesh tour), isn't the least bit safe for work: it's the infamous fucking flowers sequence, for starters, though I think that part is ultimately less disturbing than the climactic orgy of violent imagery that follows--infants mutating into fascist thugs, pricks that become machine guns that become hypodermics that become guitars, piles of consumptive consumption ephemera that become the backdrop for soul-swallowing, devouring winged monsters of prey; in many ways, I would rank the animated sequence for "What Shall We Do Now?" as one of the most effective pieces of horror filmmaking ever.

That aside, hopefully I'm having a blast. See you on the other side of the wall.


The Seventies

>> Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Driving home tonight, I was flipping through channels on the satellite radio. The wonderful range of channels is why the satellite radio is worth paying for, it also creates this cable channel-type situation sometimes where there's a hundred channels and nothing on, or at least not the right thing on if none of the few stations you inevitably settle upon as favorites aren't playing the song you want to hear. So I went down the dial to the low end and started dialing up, and here I found the '70s station playing C.W. McCall's classic, "Convoy":

I found myself laughing so hard I almost had to pull over. This is--as you may know, if you actually clicked on the embedded video above--a terrible song. An epically bad song. Just under four minutes of insanity that somehow became part of a brief trucking fad. I know, perhaps it's not fair to judge an obvious novelty song on it's merits; then again, it's also hard to understand how something like this becomes a number one song in two countries and inspires a feature film.

I made an observation on Twitter about how "Convoy" was an example of why it's hard to take the '70s seriously, and my friend Jim Wright replied:

10-4, Good buddy, but I respectfully submit "Disco Duck" as a better example of 70's irrelevance.

...which was funny, because I'd already decided I'd do a blog post about how the '70s was an underrated decade but for the fact that you had hysterically awful crap like "Convoy," and I was already planning on mentioning Rick Dees' terrible novelty cash-in, "Disco Duck." But I also suggested, responding to Jim, that it was a tough pick between them.

I stand corrected. Jim, you win:

C.W. McCall inspired a Sam Peckinpah film, Rick Dees inspired... this:

The '70s was arguably the last great decade of American cinema and as much as it gets knocked musically (largely and unfairly due to the backlash against disco), it's the decade that produced punk rock, launched Bruce Springsteen's career; the list of number one albums in the U.S. in the 197os starts in '71 with George Harrison's All Things Must Pass and ends in 1980 with Lennon and Ono's Double Fantasy.1 It's a decade that you can go back and find some damn fine creative work in a range of media.

All of which somehow gets eclipsed by... this:

You know, it isn't fair. And that may make the 1970s the greatest decade in human history, now that I think about it. No, bear with me: the fundamental truism of the world, actually, is that life isn't fair. You can be damn good at something and not get the breaks, awful people triumph, good people suffer, heroes can have their reputations wiped out by one awful act and villains rehabilitated and enshrined in statuary . You can produce a string of powerful creative statements and notable achievements and when people think of you all they can think of is:

...because, good gods, how can you possibly unsee a thing like that? You can't. It will haunt the dark alleyways of your brain and no matter how quickly you walk past, you'll know it's back there in the darkness somewhere. Like failure, like regret, like guilt, like humiliation and all the things that will ever taint the best you could do and all you would have been remembered for it if had been up to you and you were actually judged on your merits and not your most ridiculous and worst moments.

1If you begin the decade in 1970 and end it in '79, you start with Abbey Road and end with The Eagles' The Long Run, which either makes or breaks my point depending on how you feel about The Eagles. I'll admit I sort of cheated in the '71-'80 sentence because I don't think there's a lot of argument about the merits of All Things and Fantasy and there's poetry in the Harrison/Lennon symmetry of it; I'm alright with The Eagles, but I think it's fair to say they were or are a polarizing band that's both revered and reviled, the latter to the point that some folks will hold them up as an example of everything that was allegedly wrong with '70s rock-and-roll.

Which isn't fair, really, for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that KISS was a better example of what was wrong with '70s rock. I sort of regret having to write that, because I was cluelessly on the KISS bandwagon as a little kid in the '70s and, as an adult, am capable of relishing the cheesy goodness that KISS brings to the table. Whatever else they were (or are), KISS was a fun band and their stuff remains great stuff to crank up on the road, shouting, "And party ev-er-y day!" at the top of one's lungs at the appropriate moment of that song. But, let's be frank: KISS was also a pretty mediocre band that made up for deficits in ability with a lot of empty flash (although that flash did provide plenty of entertaining bang-for-buck) and succeeded largely through relentless self-promotion and promotional shenanigans by their management and label that made KISS successful more as a quote-unquote "phenomenon" than as a band that was actually doing something, for want of a better word, essential. I.e. The Beatles were a phenomenon and Velvet Underground frankly weren't, but what the Fab Four and the VU had in common was that they made it impossible to listen to music in the same way or for being in a band or to play rock-and-roll to mean the same thing, whereas is anybody going to seriously claim Destroyer changed their life forever and would you still respect them if they did?


"This Is A Low"

>> Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I was working on a blog entry for today. Nothing real exciting, just some thoughts related to the Roger Waters concert I'll be seeing Thursday, but I had a few hundred words and realized it sucked. I may try to salvage it or I may just give up on it.

I've struggled a bit for content of late. I'm not about to abandon the minimum-post-a-day policy, but it seems that quite a lot of what I could write about here isn't stuff I want to write about; life is okay on a personal level, maybe even good, but the world has me down in some respects. It seems to me, for instance, I ought to be bitching about the President's continuation/condonation of the previous administration's human rights violations, or the hypocrisy of jerks like Andy Harris or the various other evidences of the decline and fall of civilization, but it wears you out, right?

I feel like content may be sparse in coming days; then again, I've felt that way before and the following day ended up with some epic rant or another. There may be some inspiring news item or really good piece of spam in the old junkmail box. Guess we'll see.

Anyway, if it is a low, it can't hurt you, speaking of which--here's Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon of Blur performing one of my favorite Blur songs. "This Is A Low":


"Down By The Water"

>> Monday, November 15, 2010

Cool! A recording's surfaced of Bruce Springsteen jamming with R.E.M. in 1983!

No, wait, that's not what it is at all--it's actually the new track from The Decemberists. Y'know what? Still cool!

"Down By The Water":


Dumb quote of the day

>> Sunday, November 14, 2010

That scene and others are sure to suggest to some viewers that the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is positioning herself for a 2012 presidential run.

There are other messages that seem to conflict with those ambitions, though. Palin talks about her love of wild Alaska, offering in one well-known homily, "A poor day of fishing beats even a great day at work."

-Rachel D'Oro, Associated Press,
"Palin's show might set up a run",
syndicated by Salon, November 13th, 2010.

Sorry, I hate to do this to Ms. D'Oro, but seriously? Those messages are in conflict? Really?

I mean, look, I realize that the comments quoted above are fluff to set up some small discussion of whether Palin's show is being subsidized by Alaskan tax incentives for film productions (answer: the reporter wasn't able to find out, making the whole thing even more of a non-story, thanks for nothing), but part of Palin's pitch to the faithful if she runs--and I think it's very likely she will--is going to be, "I'd rather be at home with my family in the glorious wilds of Alaska, hunting and fishing and raising my children and helping raise my grandchild, but if God calls me to be President and the people of this great country need me, I'll make the necessary sacrifices to answer that call, God Bless America." And some people will eat that bullshit with a spoon, like it's chocolate ice cream and not one of the hoariest old clichés in the demagogue's playbook while a more sophisticated audience from both sides of the aisle throws up--as much over the way people are chowing down on cow flop as over the sulfurous reek of the excrement itself.

"She's a good women," her supporters will say. "She don't want to be President, but she knows she's needed. Unlike that Obama who's just had things handed to him, she's willing to give things up."

Which is the exact opposite of actuality: in the non-Bizarro world, Sarah Palin has been living a life of political entitlement from the time Nick Carney plucked her from the street, mistakenly thinking she'd be a tractable political ingénue he could do the whole Svengali bit for all the way through John McCain's chowderheaded decision to catapult her to the national stage in a fit of childish pique because his advisors said he couldn't have his friend Joe on the ticket because having Al Gore's former running mate would undeniably look funny.

A runner-up for dumb quote from later in the same piece:

The intent of the series is not clear--is she merely showing off a state she truly loves with off-the-cuff remarks, or are these the opinions of the paid Fox News consultant subtly laying the groundwork for a presidential bid?

Of course, with a production of this magnitude, money also could be a powerful motivation.

Again, I realize we're talking fluff to set up another pointless discussion about how much Palin is getting paid for this gig (again, the reporter wasn't actually able to pin down numbers, making the article a big, useless, unnecessary zero), but again with the false choices. I'd be ecstatic to be wrong, but I have little doubt that Palin is setting up a Presidential bid and grabbing up whatever spoils she can get. The sense you get from Going Rogue (her own "memoir"!) and from all the mean stories that have leaked from the McCain camp and elsewhere is that this is a supremely narcissistic and smugly self-entitled woman who is finally basking in attention that she has long felt was hers by right and was long denied to her.

This is a woman, let's recall, who was apparently a biggish fish in a... well, it wasn't even a little pond, was it? More of a tiny fishbowl for Sarah Barracuda. She went to the University Of Hawai'i at Hilo, almost half as big as her whole hometown and transferred to a school likely as big (as of this writing, Wikipedia puts the population of Wasilla at 10,256, the student body of UHH at 3,974 and the student body of Hawai'i Pacific University, Palin's second school, at 9.000; I can't say whether these numbers were in similar ballparks in the early '80s, when Palin was in college), where she almost certainly was nobody special--much as practically any incoming freshman is nobody special. Let me repeat: Sarah Palin went from being a beauty pageant winner and star athlete in a microscopic Alaskan outpost to being a college freshman at schools where she was almost certainly mundane, at best, just like you (probably), just like me (I can vouch wholeheartedly). After a college career spectacular only for the number of schools she attended, she eloped with the solidly blue-collar Todd Palin and was well on her way to, frankly, a trailer-park level of existence, working odd jobs and having babies, before Carney spotted her. Her story, in other words, was (up to that point, at least), the opposite of Cinderella's: the coddled and admired princess who becomes an unappreciated and abused servant--no doubt through the agency of supernatural forces and not any particular choice she made about school, love, marriage, career, or family.

All this admittedly armchair analysis being important because Palin is a princess again, and you bet your ass she knows it and you'd better act like you do, too. Palin isn't Sharron Angle, who seems to be a true believer, or Christine O'Donnell, who likes being paid attention to. Sarah Palin is getting what she deserves, she has a mental book with columns for what she's given up and columns for what she's owed, and nobody is near balancing the books; Sarah Palin, you see, never stopped being a princess even when she was cleaning house and changing nasty diapers and wondering why nobody was showering her with the adoration and material things the universe promised her, so there's interest on that unpaid, unacknowledged principal, you bet'cha.

Does she want the talk show or the Oval Office? The answer is yes. Does she want to be a rich celebrity or the leader of the free world? Yes. Does she want a million followers for her pithy Twitter feed or the respect, recognition and attention of America's intellectual caste? Yes. People who think that Sarah Palin has to make a choice don't understand the question: they're right, but Sarah Palin doesn't know that and she doesn't care. It's her time, and she wants what's hers. All of it.

Let me get something else across before I shake my head again and wander away: I hear a lot of people saying they hope the Republicans nominate her for President in 2012 because they think she'll get brutally trounced. They're fools, even if they're probably right. Is Palin a divisive prospective candidate who would drive away droves of sensible Republicans if she secured the nomination? Sure. But, know what? There's a helluva lot that can happen in a Presidential campaign, and history is full of strange twists and oddities; sometimes those oddities look inevitable in retrospect, but some of them remain boggling no matter which angle you try to sneak up on them from. President Palin may be improbable but it isn't impossible, and that should scare the piss out of any reasonable human being on the planet. Any Democrat, any pundit, any person who relishes the notion of Palin on a Presidential ticket is a fucking idiot, no uncertain terms and no two ways about it, who ought to consider whether they'd still be laughing it up if some terrible chain of events led to her standing in front of the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court with her hand on a Bible one wintry morning.


An open letter to the United Nations

>> Saturday, November 13, 2010



Sent: Thu 11/11/10 4:34 AM

The Desk of Secretary-General
United Nations
New York NY 10017

Attn: Beneficiary,

We have been having general meeting for the past couple of weeks with the delegates of the United Nations and prominent members of the World Bank Assisted program which ended on 20th August 2010 regarding issues of unclaimed fund; However the United Nations has instructed us to bring back list of those beneficiaries who are yet to receive their payments due to one issue or the other from agents and nonchalant bank officials.
It has become imperative to contact you on the subject matter "Overdue payment notification", as your name and internet address was discovered in our Central Computer among the list of unpaid beneficiaries originated from Africa, Europe, Asia Plus Middle east and Americans. However, during the auditing of files today at my desk it appears that you fall among the top 20 beneficiaries that will be receiving part-payment of US$2.5Million due for transfer. Thus, you are advised to re-confirm the following information:

• Full Names:
• Postal/Mailing Address:
• Marital Status/Sex & Age:
• Occupation:
• Phone and Fax Number (for merit reach):

Having said that, proper arrangement has been made for your payment to be remitted in whatever manner you deem fit, thus, two payment method are listed below for you indicated which payment terms is suites you or preferable for payment as agreed upon by the following nations; Federal Republic of Nigeria, British Government, US government and delegate from the following organization “United Nations & World Bank”.
Payment Mode:

• Payment through Certified Bank Draft {Yes or No}
• Payment through ATM Card {Yes or NO}

For redemption of your claim, you are advised to contact our representing authorizing officer saddle with the responsibility for claims/clearance of your ATM CARD with the under listed contact information.

Dr. Harry Marton
Director United Nations
Regional office United Kingdom.
Phone: +44 702 401 7830

Note to see this as our last correspondence as your response to this e-mail notification is of paramount importance to help facilitate the immediate release of your long due payment without further delay. Thus, for your better understanding, we advise that you click on the useful link below.

Finally, we are sorry for any inconveniences caused by agents/nonchalant bank official who have delayed your payment for one reason or the other. We the honorable delegates and board of directors of the United Nations sincerely apologize and assure you that your payment will be released to you with immediate effect immediately you forward same the requested information so that the transfer can undergo normal fund acquisition protocol and the procedure can take its due course.
Thanks in anticipation and co-operation.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General UNITED NATIONS).

Dear Mr. Ban Ki-moon,


I have to say I am appalled, utterly appalled and miserably dissatisfied with your unprofessional handling of these matters. You, sir, are an idiot, and the whole lot of you in the United Nations are morons, fools, ninnies, complete and utter incompetents. I have been stymied, delayed, held at arm's length, and when you finally respond, it's with this ridiculous boilerplate nonsense pretending that the monies which I have insisted upon receiving have been held up in some sort of computer error is insulting, grossly insulting, sir!

I am angry enough to vaporize a mid-sized city.

The fact that I won't should not be taken as an indication I am kidding around or joking. In fact, I believe you know exactly what I am capable of and that's why you've been stalling, yes, stalling! I am not a fool, sir! I note that in the time you've spent having "meetings" and so on, my home has been assailed no less than four times by burglars, common ruffians, whatever their governments might prefer to call them if they could be bothered to acknowledge their existences. You may, if you will, inform the delegates from the United States and France that their "visitors" from the CIA and DGSE will be returned in very small boxes; the delegate from Russia you may give my insincere regrets, as I wasn't going to skim the piranha moat for the remnants of their SVR employee; finally, the British delegate may be informed that their gentleman from MI6 is dying a very slow death from poison gas in his unmonitored cell at this very moment and will be returned to his masters in due course.

Now, on to more important concerns. First, the amount requested from your organization was $2.5 billion USD for transfer, not a mere million. Don't be coy. You idiots are perfectly aware that $2.5 million wouldn't even cover the power bill from one good, city-leveling orbital laser blast, much less the operational expenditures of my organization.

Second, an ATM card would be fine, thank you.


• Full Names: Dr. Henry Fidellius Basterdo D.B.A. "Dr. X" a.k.a. "Number One."
• Postal/Mailing Address: an airdrop at -32.078851,-129.565431 is fine, or you can mail the ATM card to my mother's residence at 120 Wilson St. in Green River, Ill.
• Marital Status/Sex & Age: I don't see the point of this question, but alright: as your intelligence agencies probably are already aware, I am an unmarried male, 57 years of age, involved in the latest of many polyamorous relationships with a succession of evil, beautiful, exotic young women prone to dying violent deaths years too young.
• Occupation: Psychotic Megalomaniac Executive of Global Consortium bent on extortion and world domination.
• Phone and Fax Number (for merit reach): try my cell, (777) 555-3845

I hate having to cut this missive short, but it appears an alarm has gone off in the prison section and my main indicator board suggests there's been some sort of fault in the poison gas system again. This happens periodically--tell the Americans that I shall deal with their Microsoft Corporation in due course! And now, until next time!


Dr. X


An ATM card worth $2.5 billion USD or I tell my minions to fire the orbital superlaser at will! This is your last warning!

Have a nice day.


Quote Of The Day

>> Friday, November 12, 2010

"We have different personalities. When he talks, he's talkin' to say something. Y'know, he's not just yappin' his jaw."

Sarah Palin explains how Todd's actually
the smart one and she's just a gasbag,
as quoted by Troy Patterson in his
review of Palin's new TV show.
-Troy Patterson, "Sarah Palin's Alaska,"
Slate, November 11th, 2010.


The Wisdom Of Warren

I am a pop-culture kid, especially re: music; where some folks might read The Bible for wisdom and solace, I'm liable to pop on The River, let's say. Where some people might quote the Qur'an, I know every discernible Pink Floyd lyric. (Discernible? Hey, I'm not sure anybody actually knows the lyrics to "Crumbling Land" anymore.)

So when I was thinking about credit reports and such earlier this week, and what one is supposed to do when the shit has, as they say, hit the fan, naturally my mind flew to the Wisdom Of Warren, the great mutineer, genius, and occasional bad example. He hath instructed us that three things, and but three things are needed in a time of crisis: first, one must have lawyers. Second, guns. And third, completing this necessary trinity, money, for while money is surely the root of all evil, sometimes an evil must be set upon an evil, lest one become embroiled in a cage of bone or forced to wearily resort to laying one's head upon the railroad tracks. (And, most importantly, do not drink all the money with those phonies in that Hollywood bar. She may be an actress, but she isn't really a star. Not really.)

Just Warren and an acoustic guitar--"Lawyers, Guns and Money," friends:



>> Thursday, November 11, 2010

I don't have anything profound to say about Veteran's Day this year, but that doesn't mean I overlooked it or anyone else should. Happily, Vince's post today is excellent. Go read it.


And who wants to know?

After that business with the uncanny phone call the other day, I went ahead and did what every responsible person in this information age ought to do up to three times annually (once per credit bureau) and I always dally about and checked my credit report. You go to the website, pop in some information, and it tells you a ridiculous amount of information you're supposed to know about yourself and some things you probably didn't or had forgotten about; if you're fortunate, I mean--if you're unfortunate, it tells you your alternate mailing address is a cybercafe in Abuja and that you somehow and for some reason obtained a mortgage on a fix'er'upper in suburban Detroit located between one of the last great American tire fires and a yawning pit of capitol-"D" Despair full of Skeksis and their Gelfling slaves and all that.

On one level, checking my credit report moments after a weird phone call is knee-jerk paranoia and seemingly counterproductive insofar as, if the caller was phishing, surely they'd be doing mean and nasty things to my electronic, imaginary, financial self after talking to me, if I said anything, instead of before. But, thing is, if they already had information or were already poking around, maybe there would be some activity to be on the lookout for. And the credit report thing, as I understand it, lets you get one report from each of the agencies, meaning I can go back and check out a report from one of the other two agencies. Anyway, it seemed prudent and I thought it would maybe set my ill heart at ease a little.

Everything seemed fine, except one curious thing--or set of things--that probably means nothing but it gives you the Spocked eyebrow: payments are in order, there aren't any items I'm responsible for that I don't know about, nothing is tardy and I don't see any mysterious disasters, but I did find that at least two agencies I've never done business with have done frequent credit checks for whatever reason, and this is super-odd, maybe frustrating, and probably not anything that can be dealt with and we hope it doesn't turn into something terrible and painful.

First USA has pulled my credit report three times this year. This doesn't, according to the credit agency I pulled my report from, hurt my credit score, but who the hell is First USA. And it turns out if you Google First USA, one of the top results is this page at Consumer Affairs, full of comments from people complaining that First USA has made unsolicited credit report requests.

One commenter at the site, in two comments, alleges that First USA is technically defunct and the brand name may be in use by a "junk debt buyer" or collection agency; which is disturbing, if there's any truth to that. And one wonders why they're poking various folks' credit reports. What are they looking for? Who do they think you are? And who wants to know? I'm not exactly going to get stressed over this--I don't believe I actually have anything to worry about--but it's still the damnedest thing.

More explicable but still an irritant: the fine folks at Citi poked my report every month for more than a year. Considering that the time period coincides with the many months during which my mailbox inevitably had dozens of junk mailers from Citi that ended up torn up and stuffed in a garbage can outside so they never even entered my home, I do believe Citi was making unsolicited requests for my credit report to gauge my suckerocity.

Well, fuck 'em.

Why mention any of this? Well, one, if you're living in the United States, and you haven't checked your credit report lately or this year--and I imagine most of my regulars are more diligent and responsible than I am, knowing that crowd--go do it. And, two, sort of a "what the fuck?" again: I don't know that there's anything to be done about First USA or Citi or whomever doing this kind of thing, but it certainly seems squirrelly as hell, doesn't it? Precisely why it seems squirrelly isn't something I can quite buttonhole, honestly, at least not until or unless something outrageous happens.

Until or unless--I suspect one is impotent until the shit hits the fan, and maybe still even then. But this thought also leads to an answer to the rhetorical question asked in the title: I imagine you and I want to know, ought to know, need to know.


And if you're in Durham tomorrow...

>> Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ah, I should probably make an announcement about this. All professional-ey, etc. If you're going to be in the Raleigh-Durham area on Veteran's Day, Thursday, November 11th, 2010, this year, this decade, this century, this epoch in the great history of mankind, this--where was I?

Ah. Yes.

If, as I was saying, you're in the Raleigh-Durham area on Thursday (Veteran's Day), I'm expecting to be in attendance at the NC Speculative Fiction Night at the New Hope Commons Barnes & Noble to do my bit to help promote Rigor Amortis. Things are scheduled for 7:00 PM, if you're in the area. Please come. There'll be candy.*

*DISCLAIMER: I just made that up. I have no idea whether or not there will be candy. Probably not. Well, it's a shopping mall, so I guess we could get some candy if someone was really insistent. I'm not saying I'd buy it for you or anyone else would; you might have to purchase your own candy, I'm saying. Although, you know, there's probably one of those expensive-smelling candy places down in the food court, one of the ones where every single chocolate they sell has nuts in it, which is great if you like nuts and/or aren't allergic to them.**

**Additional DISCLAIMER: The proprietor of this blog absolutely is not responsible if you eat a piece of candy with nuts in it and inflate like a rotting whale carcass and choke to death on your own swelling throat muscles. You know better than I do whether you have any kind of allergies that would cause you to die of candy poisoning. I mean, what the hell? Why would you even do a thing like that? Go down to the food court and buy a piece of candy that would kill you? Were you feeling suicidal? Was it a tempting-Fates thing like people ordering fugu in Japan because it's mostly safe unless you have a haphazard chef who nicks a bladder or liver or something and poisons you, so there's this whole bullshit I-ate-and-I-almost-died rush going on or something? Just don't, okay? Please? Your death would probably make it the worst authors' night ever, I think, even worse than the time Zelda Fitzgerald puked in T.S. Eliot's face while Eliot was signing copies of "The Hollow Men" at a Waldenbooks in Poughkeepsie in the Spring of 1926.***

***A DISCLAIMER to the additional DISCLAIMER: Having said that, I now feel guilty. I mean, what if you're not allergic to nuts? I'd hate to think that my harsh words for a candy-eater with a deathwish would discourage you from eating a piece of candy that would really have little or no ill-effect upon you so long as you're in the habit of regularly brushing your teeth, etc. I mean, if you really want the chocolate and it isn't going to kill you, knock yourself out.

A CLARIFICATION: Not actually knock yourself out, I mean. Metaphorically, I mean.

CAVEAT / An advance NOTICE: Having given some further thought to the previous, I will be asking Ms. Jaym Gates, the Damn Fine Co-Editor of Rigor Amortis, to request that no attendees be allowed into the Barnes & Noble on the 11th or, to be safe, the twenty-four hour period in advance of the authors' night events at 7:00 PM unless they are wearing football padding, bicycle helmets, a layer of bubble wrap, one of those safety-orange vests construction workers are required to wear and sign a complete waiver absolving everybody else within a fifteen-mile radius of any and all responsibility arising from tripping, falling, stumbling, lurching, bumbling, fumbling and/or the consumption of any kind of confection or comestible or mouth-sized non-comestible object like a Lego™ or pen cap.

Just to be on the safe side, you know.


The strangest damn thing

I'm not a hundred percent sure why I even have a landline, but I do. Very 20th Century of me, I know. Maybe it's a habit, a residual thing; I think I might be very nervous to not have a landline, even though my landline is a digital line through the cable company and therefore doesn't even have the passive power available to it that a good old fashioned copper wire Bell/AT&T line has.

Anyway, the strangest damn thing: I'm sitting at home, surfing the web and waiting for dinner to heat up in the oven, when the landline rings. "Unknown number," the display says, but I pick it up, figuring what the hell. If it's a pollster wanting to talk to me about the election last week, I might even talk to them, just so they know not every American is so bloody crazy they'll vote the party that screwed the country up back into power just because the party that let the party that screwed it all up can't fix the screwups fast enough or competently enough to matter much, it seems.

There's a young lady on the other end, who asks for me by my first name, which is usually a clue that the call is coming from somebody I have a credit card with, wanting to offer me additional services that I'll decline. I don't go by my first name otherwise, notice the initial in the sidebar before the "Eric." I gently correct the young lady's mispronunciation of my last name--and she does sound suspiciously young, like a teenager--and ask her who's calling and why. Come to think of it, I don't think she ever gave me her name.

But she asks me if I'm married, which is weird as hell, and I ask her how she got the number, which is unlisted, and she tells me she got it from her friend, "Mariah," and I tell her I don't know any Mariahs, which (as far as I can recall) is absolutely true, not a single damn one unless it was a client I represented some time in the longlongago, which isn't impossible. The young lady gets a bit nervous and repeats that she got the number from Mariah and I wish her a good evening and end the call.

This bugs the hell out of me, you know. This may sound weird coming from a guy who's on Twitter and who blogs bits'n'pieces of his life and what passes for a mind, and who has basically abandoned the idea of privacy as being nearly obsolete, but I'm a little insecure and paranoid. I mean, this may seem like a tangent, but with some of the recent controversies over the backscatter X-ray machines in airports and some flying planned for next year, I was even thinking about whether or not I cared about the TSA folks seeing an incarnation of my flabby body as a hairless Harkonnenic nightmare in grey and I figured, why the fuck not, seeing as how they can see the inside of my brain on Giant Midgets, and which is more personal. Anyway, seems to me the loss is more theirs (sanity, innocence, lunch) than mine (do I even know when I last saw my dignity?).

So, as I was saying: insecure and paranoid. I have, I think--and here we're back to that whole "privacy is meaningless business" with a public proffer of the private psyche--I have, I think, control issues going back to various childhood and adolescent thises and thatses that we won't go into, and having my "sanctum" violated with this girl saying Mariah (who?) gave her my number and am I married? perturbs me. Who is this person? How did she really get my number? Or, if there's some truth in her statement, who is Mariah and how did she get my number? Is this some phishing scam? Was I about to be socially engineered? In even answering the phone did I have my name checked off on some sort of list as a confirmed existence, a name-plus-number to be used in credit card applications and mail-orders? Have I given away too much or averted some disaster? I told her I wasn't married, didn't I, and corrected the pronunciation of my name, didn't I?

Or what if there's something darker and less-anonymous at work? It would be vainglorious to say I have "enemies," but it's also not unreasonable to say there are people who don't like me very much, witnesses or victims I've pissed off, former clients who blame me for some suboptimal result; a man sitting in prison for a number of years is, sadly, more likely to blame his lawyer than his judge or jury, much less his own mistakes in committing a crime or getting caught doing it. Indeed, it's inevitable that some folks will overflow with gratitude for their attorney the day they walk out of court with a plea deal guaranteeing a suspended sentence and probation and then nonetheless curse his name with a vengeance months later when they're facing a probation violation hearing arising from some subsequent misbehavior or failing.

These things we think of when we've been discomfited.

So what do I do when I get off the phone? I go to the computer and I do a Google search for my landline number, and here I get a nasty little surprise.

My unlisted, private number? It's in Google's phone listing. It's in AT&T's RealPages Live, i.e. the digital scan of the big fat phonebook nobody uses anymore. My number, it's everywhere. With my name. With, specifically, my last name misspelled the way it was originally misspelled by my current landline provider for quite a while before I finally got them to fix it. With my address. My address and adorable little maps pinpointing it. Some of the maps are made from satellite photographs and show my neighborhood as it appears from a telescope somewhere in outer space. Bloody hell.

Why do I even have the private listing, then? Why do I pay for it? What does it even matter.

So I canceled the private listing, saving me three bucks a month that I spent for no apparent reason and to no apparent good. I suppose I could cancel the landline altogether, but what's done is done. I could cancel my less-than-satisfactory-overall dealings with my phone-and-Internet provider, except, actually, I think my only other Internet option then becomes a return to AT&T, a company I loathe with the passion of a hundred white-hot suns... well, maybe not that many, maybe just, I don't know: the passion of a non-energy-saving incandescent lightbulb that's been left on for several hours; anyway, I don't like them and I had shitty service from them back in the day, which is how I ended up with the current provider. (I haven't dropped the name to protect them, by the way, but as one last shred of forcing someone to guess who my phone provider might be, not that it matters or would be hard to guess. And no, I'm not inviting people to guess. That game would just be stupid and pointless and easy.)

Why the post? Because privacy has become so pointless the pretense it has life to it should be abandoned and indeed it should be punctured, punched in the face, dropkicked to its knees, murderized like a horny jock working a summer job at Camp Crystal Lake? As a way of seizing back some pretense of control over my public incarnation by boldly announcing the privacy I unofficially didn't have left is now officially abandoned? Or maybe this is a post to help identify where the bodies are: when I am accused of a nine-state spree of bad checks and stolen rental cars and imprisoned for decades, my defenders should check the phone records of November 9th and ask around for "Mariah and her friend."

Meanwhile, it's a hell of a strange damn thing. I hope it doesn't keep me awake. Knowing me, it might.


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