Bruce Springsteen, "No Surrender"

>> Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ah, what the hell?  Past five days, it seems, I've managed to post something about fandom and growing old and being in bands and things like that, accompanied by appropriate videos, etc.; so I might as well round it all up with Bruce Springsteen remembering a promise a lot of us made when we were kids with guitars: that we wouldn't compromise, wouldn't surrender, wouldn't grow up.

Of course we all did, or most of us.  But The Boss is reminding us not only that we didn't have to, but that it's never too late to embrace some form of that youthful romance.  Maybe not quite as viscerally, but we don't have to totally give up on those dreams.

Maybe that would be the best note to go out on.  That it's only nostalgia if you have the romantic dreams in your rearview.  If they're in the windshield, it's hope.

Heck, give me enough time, I can probably talk myself into buying that one.


Art Brut, "Formed A Band"

>> Saturday, September 29, 2012

But it really is that simple, isn't it?  You form a band ("Look at us!") and then world peace breaks out.  Of course it does.

There's a great bit in the Ben Folds Five song "Army"--
Citing artistic differences
The band broke up in May
And in June reformed without me
And they'd got a different name

--That happened to me in college, more or less, and that was, so far as I recall, the last band I was ever in.  There were some abortive sorts of things before that, in high school; a bunch of kids in a garage and maybe two, three of us had instruments and were serious about it in any way, and I don't know why the rest of the kids were there.  They thought it would be cool to be in a band, I guess.

I was always a little stage shy.  I could play in a bedroom, a dormroom, an attic--all a little, I never played much or well.  But I never got so far as playing in front of a group.

But I recommend being fired from a band at least once in your life.  It builds character, or something like that.  Probably not as good as staying in a band, but I wouldn't know.

That great old line from Morrissey always comes back again and again: "I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible."  It wasn't, though.  Other things were, but as far as getting fired goes, I wasn't good enough to take it personally.  And we weren't much of a band anyway; you know, I don't even remember if we had a name, thinking about it.


The Kinks, "A Rock & Roll Fantasy"

>> Friday, September 28, 2012

It just seemed like this was the logical third panel for an almost accidental triptych I started Wednesday and continued with Thursday.  I guess this would be a statement from the middle-aged schlubs as they're approaching middle-age.

I think everybody probably understands this one as Ray Davies talking to his brother and bandmate Dave.  I don't know how accurate that really is; it's probably covered in some biography or interview I haven't read  Everybody knows tensions came to be fraught between the Brothers Davies as the Kinks' career went on and on.  Here's a song, it seems, where Ray is asking his brother not to leave the band, or trying to plead the case for The Kinks kontinuing indefinitely into the future.  If I'm reading the Wikipedia entry correctly, Misfits, the album "A Rock & Roll Fantasy" originally appeared on, this was The Kinks sixteenth studio album in fourteen years; a lot of their peers had pretty much packed it in at that point, or were about to.

Listening to it, I don't know how well "Fantasy" holds up from the other side.  What I mean is, it's a phenomenal song, Ray Davies at his hook-writing best and solidly-framed lyrics, but I'm not completely sure if Davies was saying quite what he might have meant.  I don't know that saying a fan is "spend[ing] his life in a rock & roll fantasy... on the edge of reality" is necessarily doing your fans justice; though, then again, if he knows the world is "closing in", he may not be that deep into a "fantasy" to start with.
I might be overthinking it.  And if I'm not, Davies certainly isn't expressing the contempt for his people that Roger Waters hurls at Pink Floyd fans in The Wall (for that matter, it definitely isn't John Lennon suggesting Beatles fans are "fucking peasants" in "Working Class Hero", though we ought to be clear that Lennon is being more sardonic than vitriolic).  But I would also have to say Davies is being less empathic than Sean Nelson in "Little Round Mirrors", which I think is a song only a fan could have written.  (An interesting question: as much as rockers of Davies', Waters' and Lennon's generation admired American rock and R&B, were they ever fans, seeing as how modern rock fandom didn't really exist until Lennon's outfit basically invented--or at least catalyzed--it?  I think I intentionally phrased that in a way that it answers itself: no.)

While I'm overthinking it, I also can't resist pointing out that there may be something mildly patronizing in Ray Davies shaping his kase for The Kinks around how needy Kinks fans are.  I don't mean that there's anything wrong with looking out for your fans--lots of bands might do more of that--but there's probably a major difference between (for instance) Bruce Springsteen giving his fans the show he'd want to see if he was still out in the mob and Ray Davies suggesting to Dave that even if Dave's right that The Kinks are creatively bankrupt, they still need to keep putting out records because "Dan's" life will be so impoverished without a new Kinks record every year, who knows what he'll do in a life without meaning?
Only, of course, I guess we also have to consider, in light of the previous two panels of our accidental triptych, that maybe Ray's right.
Or a little right, at least.  I have to admit that even though I hadn't bought an R.E.M. album in more than a decade, last year's news that they were throwing in the towel did leave me feeling a little thinner in a Ringbearer kind of way (if you're not grokking the Tolkien reference, I guess you could replace "thinner" with "spiritually sucked-out", maybe).  And there's a certain sorrow in knowing there will never be another Pink Floyd studio record, even if my intellectual mind knows that this is really a very good thing.  So "Dan", if he's out there (and he is, though that may not be his name, or even her gender), probably does feel a little empty contemplating the hiatus The Kinks have been on since the mid-'90s (it's not officially a break-up, it's just Ray and Dave bouncing back and forth between a reunion's "possible" and they just can't stand each other for more than an hour).

I don't know.  But I think--and this is just speculation--I think the real answer on all this, the real final word, is that I just need to take Muswell Hillbillies for a spin this weekend and crank it.  It ain't their rockingest, but it is my favorite.



Harvey Danger, "Little Round Mirrors"

>> Thursday, September 27, 2012

Posting LCD Soundsystem's "Sound Of Silver" yesterday reminded me, inevitably, of Harvey Danger's "Little Round Mirrors", a song riffing (somewhat more elaborately, at least lyrics-wise) on the same basic image.

Those little round mirrors played a substantial role in getting me through the eighties.  I grok what Sean Nelson is singing about, from the material angle--"Quite the collection, divided by section"--to the presumptuousness that comes with rabid fandom--taking "what they make twice as seriously as they could ever hope to do."  A funny thing about being a teenager, you know, the way you love well and not at all wisely; it isn't just what the artist is trying to say (or you think he's saying, anyway), but also where he ate on June 4th, 1982, and whether firing somebody was a dire necessity or the worst provocation since Gavrilo Princip got a little trigger-happy one fine morning in Sarajevo.

There is a wistful part of me that misses that passion.  A small wistful part of me.  There's an older and wiser part of me that thinks of guys with guitars working for a living.  Contra the character in the old song (and as Mr. Knopfler knows perfectly well--he was assuredly being sarcastic), it ain't money for nothing or anything for free, it's driving around in shitty secondhand vehicles and playing the same fifteen songs night-after-night-after-night for what amounts to spare change after you get your cut, unless you've put in so much time paying those dues (if you want to sing the blues, you know) that you can play the same fifteen songs in a stadium where nobody can hear you.

One of my comfort movies, I don't know why, that I like to pop in the DVD player on a weekend night the ScatterKat's out of town and watch while I scarf down something she can't share (e.g. Buffalo wings; the ScatterKat's soul would be willing, I think, but her flesh is weak when it comes to very spicy things) is the Wilco concert film/documentary Ashes Of American Flags.  Sort of an odd thing to be comforted by, especially in the context of what I'm about to mention, so maybe "comfort movie" is the wrong phrase; I mean it's one of those DVDs you go back to again and again and again for whatever reason, until it's more familiar than your Tabasco-and-blue-cheese-coated fingers, but that's part of why you go back to it.  And anyway, one of the things I just find remarkable to watch is just how much these guys suffer for their art, and I don't mean in some melodramatic hand-to-the-brow way, I mean Jeff Tweedy needing a steroid shot because he's blown his voice midtour, and drummer Glenn Kotche having to wrap his hands and hold them in ice water, and the amazing Nels Cline prostrate on the dressing room couch because his vertabrae are trying to fuse on him (Mr. Cline has a very physical way of playing his guitar, always reminding me in physical style, if not necessarily musical style, of Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood--who has frequently been seen playing his axe with a wrist brace because he's fucked up his arm attacking the guitar strings).  I respect that.  I maybe even envy it, wonder why I didn't throw myself into music like that instead of toeing around the edges of the pond, always terrified to go in deeper than the ankles.

But maybe I changed the subject.  Here, sort of bringing it around again, kind of:

A couple of weekends ago--the ScatterKat out of town again--I watched loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies while it's still available on Hulu (I don't think you've missed it yet).  And this is another movie, another documentary/tour film about a rock band that's working very hard at being a band, though in this case it's a band working very hard to be a band after fucking it up the first time through (the film is about their reunion tour in 2004, more than a decade after the band was broken up in a radio interview where the lead singer announced without bothering to mention it to his bandmates that they were finished--he did follow up with a fax; things, as you can imagine, were not going terribly well between the members at that point).

But one of the really touching/sobering things--and this brings us back around to all the kids with their little round mirrors--is this fifteen-year-old girl we meet halfway through the documentary.  Way too young to have remembered The Pixies from high school or college, obviously, but she fell in love with a book--some YA thing--where a character was into The Pixies, so she (the real live fifteen-year-old) went and checked out the Pixies and became obsessed.  She's telling the documentary crew about the Pixies cover band she's trying to form, and when one of the filmmakers suggests she can play bass and be the band's Kim Deal, the kid gets absolutely mortified, horrified: how could anyone say that to her, how could anyone suggest such a thing, Kim Deal is, like, god, and there's no way she could ever live up to anything like that.

And the thing that makes this so sweet and awful is the context of this, which is that when the documentary begins, Kim Deal is just a kind of, well, mundane middle-aged woman, trying to stay clean after a really debilitating drug-and-alcohol problem and staying home to take care of her ailing mother (who really wants her daughter to go on the reunion tour because, honestly, Kim needs to get out of the house more and have something else in her life), Kim Deal is anything but a god, she's just a regular person trying to get along as well as she can despite the fact she was a member of arguably the most important post-New Wave band in music history at one point.  (C.f. that famous line from Kurt Cobain about "Smells Like Teen Spirit"--that he was just trying, honestly, to rip off The Pixies.)

A little while after we meet the kid, we catch up with her after the show, getting Deal's signature and wanting to give Deal her copy of that book that got her into The Pixies in the first place.  Which ends up in Ms. Deal's hands despite the fact Deal has to walk away from the group of autograph seekers, and we see Deal on her tour bus paging through this book and looking stricken; it's hard not to read the look on her face as a kind of pride and horror that she's so important to someone when she's just, you know, kind of a fuckup like everybody else.

That this kid takes what Kim Deal was trying to do twice as seriously (at least!) as she could have ever hoped to do, you know.

I saw this kid, and I vaguely remembered being that young.  Not in specific frames, as I think I might have suggested, yesterday, I can no longer do; but in the kind of general sense of remembering how vitally important these mortal gods were to me when I was barely holding on and kept alive--I think I would have to say that literally, though I don't wish to elaborate--by what Sean Nelson called "little round mirrors"; and you know, I think if you'd told me that these people were all middle-aged schlubs trying to get along best they could, just like I would be in twenty-two years (give or take), I'm sure I would have said something like, "Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm not stupid", but the truth is I'm even more sure I wouldn't have really understood what you were saying or what I was agreeing with.  When you're young, all of that stuff is an abstraction.

Maybe that veil of ignorance is just as important to survival at that age as forgetting becomes later.  I don't know that I could have stood what all that ordinariness really portends.


LCD Soundsystem, "Sound Of Silver"

>> Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's about that simple, you know.  You hear some song on the radio and it afflicts you with nostalgia, a dreadful amnesiac's disease.  Or maybe it's the sound of silver on your shelf if you came from that era when the compact disc was supposed to be the Final Format for all recorded music for all time.  So you remember how young you were and how passionate everything was--

--and then recall how much it sucked.

At least it did for me.  Those were the worst years of my life, hands down, no doubt about it, and it's hard to conceive of a year being any worse without an actual death being involved.  I don't want to be too broad in scope--there could be a worse epoch, if death were involved.  But injury or sickness, I don't think that would do it, because being a teenager was a disease I went through, and eventually recovered from.

A long while back, a very old friend posted very old photographs to Facebook in which I appear as a child, as a teenager.  And I look at that stranger and I'm a little grateful I don't know him.  Very little clue who he is.  Depresses me to think about him, really.  I don't know that I want to elaborate; I hate to parcel out these tiny teasers and not deliver.

But then, one reason I don't want to go any further is that I think this stranger who used to be myself is somebody I've put so far back behind me, it's subjectively discomforting to think about him at all.  I can tell you objectively what he felt, as if I read about it in a book about someone else, a piece of fiction in a magazine most likely, but telling you why this person felt that way is so much harder to get into, because I don't know if I still have any subjective knowledge of this person at all.  Anyway, he lived a long time ago, and perhaps in a foreign country, and I heard a rumor he died.

I don't know if this is just me or if this is how we all obliterate parts of ourselves to survive.

(fan video for "Sound Of Silver" by gigi46)


Dumb quote of the... good gods. Seriously? What is wrong with this man?

>> Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I appreciate the fact that she is on the ground, safe and sound. And I don't think she knows just how worried some of us were. When you have a fire in an aircraft, there's no place to go, exactly, there's no--and you can't find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don't open. I don't know why they don't do that. It's a real problem. So it's very dangerous. And she was choking and rubbing her eyes. Fortunately, there was enough oxygen for the pilot and copilot to make a safe landing in Denver. But she's safe and sound.
- Mitt Romney, as quoted by



The Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There"

>> Monday, September 24, 2012

I find myself having gotten through the day sans inspiration, sans anything to say.
This song was stuck in my head at some point last night when the ScatterKat and I were driving home, and when we got in much Beatles was queued up while I made our dinner.  So here we are again, and why not?  Live in 1964, according to the information up at YouTube, and that looks and seems about right: big crowd, still wearing the matching suits and hairstyles, and of course it was crowds like that that drove The Beatles into becoming mostly a studio band.  They were good kids, crazy young, this would have been forty-eight years ago; nearly half-a-century ago, but I find myself distressed to realize that was less than a decade before I was born, implying I'm closer to the half-century mark than I'd like to be (albeit a decade away, must remind myself; still, closer than I am farther).  Time is a strange, strange thing in the way it not only flows but in the way it puddles then pools around our legs when we aren't looking, rising up to submerge us without our noticing until we're waist-deep in it.


Genesis, "The Musical Box"

>> Sunday, September 23, 2012

Peter Gabriel isn't dressed up like a flower or anything.  No, wait--he's possibly supposed to be dressed up like Joan Baez.  Or he stole her hairstyle.  Man, that's just weird.  Peter Gabriel looks like Joan Baez and Phil Collins looks like this guy I knew in college.

Nursery Cryme is a lot more fun than you might think from the twee title.  I always think of it as the first Genesis record, but it's really the third--the first two are from a lineup you've never heard of unless you're a Genesis obsessive and the first of those was a record that sold 650 copies on its original issue and has occupied a weird legal place since then.  I think one of the little record stores I frequented in high school used to have some kind of off-brand reissue or maybe even bootleg on vinyl that I never bought, though in retrospect I should have; now, what would the point be?  I'm sure I could get it on CD, but I hardly listen to all that much prog anymore.

I didn't delve too deeply into prog back then, either.  I think--I have to admit this, though I don't think I ever quite realized it until I started writing this paragraph--I think I've never quite liked actual prog as much as I liked the idea of prog, and I didn't even quite like the idea of prog nearly so much after I kicked some of my own musical pretensions and realized how awesome punk and new wave were, which was something that dawned on me fairly late.  I think my earliest formative tastes had me on a steady and excessive diet of what I guess would be called classic rock these days, with a steady evolution towards college or alternative that started in high school, which is really very late to notice college rock when you realize this would have been the late '80s and all sorts of cool stuff had been going on for nearly a decade already; I'm proud to brag that I found out about R.E.M. before Document but embarrassed by and reluctant to admit that it was well after Murmur.  (I blame my parents, who either should have allowed me to be born earlier or should have provided me with a cool older sibling with awesome taste in music; no, they were way too young when I was born as it is, I guess that wouldn't have worked.  Dammit.)  But yeah, prog seemed like something I should have liked and I may have even claimed I was a big prog guy at some point when I was young and thought Pink Floyd was proggier than they ever were (they get labeled "prog" a lot, but it doesn't really fit them very well); in retrospect, not so much.


The Kinks, "Sunny Afternoon"

>> Saturday, September 22, 2012

I find meself in the mood for some Kinks.  Or I would if I were here--I think I'm supposed to be doing stuff by the time this airs, and I expect to be a little busy and not around much through the weekend.  Hope you're having a good one.


Stewart Copeland and Stan Ridgway, "Don't Box Me In"

>> Friday, September 21, 2012

Not what I was looking for.  I was looking for Ridgway's cover of "16 Tons", which I heard a couple of nights ago and was a little bit ambivalent about whether it worked or not, but it did describe my mood pretty well this morning.  Couldn't find that, but I did stumble on this.  I didn't know about this.

And now I have this awesome fantasy of a parallel universe where The Police fired Sting and went on with Stan Ridgway at the mic.  No, seriously, listen to "Don't Box Me In"; the reason it sounds exactly like a Police/Wall Of Voodoo mashup, i.e. awesome, is completely self-evident but nevertheless kicks ass.  Sure, what else would it sound like?

Though, to be fair, maybe that wouldn't have worked out so well in the mid-'80s, not because it wouldn't have sounded exactly like... well, exactly like a Police/Wall Of Voodoo mashup (i.e., reprise, awesome) but because it's not like anybody knew that Sting would turn out to have two-and-a-half good albums in him (scattered, sadly, across more records than that) and otherwise would kind of... you know... suck.  I mean, in retrospect, sure, it's kind of obvious that there was something completely calculated and more than a little phony about a bunch of jazz guys slumming as reggae punks, no matter how much they rocked (and don't get me wrong: The Police rocked), so there's the template kind of already in place for the jazziest of them to get kind of pretentious and pointy-headed to the point of being kinda offensively boring when he's off on his own with nobody to check his head.  But at the time, I'm sure we all would have been really pissed The Police even thought they could go on without Sting, if they tried that.

And let's be fair that while Stan Ridgway brings something totally weird and Southwestern to the table, I don't know if we were ready to embrace it.  Wikipedia says "Don't Box Me In" got "significant radio airplay", but I have to admit I don't remember it at all and I think I would if it did.  Even so, Wall Of Voodoo was best-known for a song that was almost treated like a novelty song instead of the quirky postpunk wonder it really was, so I'm further inclined to say the world wasn't quite ready for something so awesome as my fantasy version of the post-Sting Police.

Whatever.  Guess I'm just kinda skylarking.  Hey, it's Friday, y'know?

I feel obligated to confess, as part of all this, that I also missed "Don't Box Me In" by never seeing Rumble Fish.

Avoided it, actually, because I was forced to watch The Outsiders around the same time an English class I was in was forced to read it, and I never understood Francis Ford Coppola's infatuation with S.E. Hinton.  She wasn't, so far as I can recall when I dredge the muddy abyss of my memory, a terrible writer, I just didn't find her particularly interesting and what she was writing about committed a worse offense than the easily-forgivable crime of not speaking to me: it didn't speak to me even though it obviously tried to in a heavy and ham-handed way.  I mean, as a reader, the majority of books aren't written for you, and that's alright: you don't like horror, or you don't like legal dramas, or you don't like literary postmodern angst, or, whatever, and so you pick up such-and-such a book and you put it down (finished or not, depending on whether you were raised to clean your plate or to abandon lost causes early), and you say, "Ah, well, I never liked ______" and move along.  But every now and then you're reading a book that is the literary equivalent of someone with personal space issues; and you aren't captivated by its charms but it keeps trying to get into your face to say, "No, really, you love me because I'm about you and how you feel and the commonalities of people like you", and it's really sort of presumptuous and insulting, and what's worst of all is when it's assigned reading and you can't get out of it even if you aren't a plate-finisher who feels obligated to finish a book you started however tedious you find the whole damned thing.

This is all subjective.  Your mileage, as the Internet kids like to say these days, may vary.  But I was woefully underwhelmed by the novel The Outsiders and the movie--well, the movie became a bit of an ironic in-joke for Gen Xers of a certain age-range, I think.  "Stay gold, Ponyboy."

So I avoided Rumble Fish.  I also avoided Tex, which wasn't a Francis Ford Coppola film, but I think I saw quite a lot of it on television before the Eighties ended.

You know, some really great music aside, the Eighties really, really sucked.  I'm getting depressed now.

Subject change: is "Don't Box Me In" around forty kinds of awesome, or what?


Bob Dylan, "Duquesne Whistle"

>> Thursday, September 20, 2012

I've been listening to Tempest, the new Dylan album a little. Not enough to say a whole lot about it, or anything profound, least of all.

But I do have to admit: I think I kind of like Dylan's new old man stuff more than his old young stuff. (Ahem.) Don't misunderstand me: I loves me some classic Dylan, first off, and (secondly) there's no way that Dylan's current stuff could ever approach the earthshatteringness, the groundquakingness of something like Highway 61 Revisited or any of those classics.

The thing about that latter point is exactly what's problematic, though. Dylan can't be as game-changing now as he was in his twenties or thirties because nobody can be: this kid named Bob Dylan already did that stuff, already shook everything up. David Bowie has the exact same problem, right? You're never going to be as radical and innovative as you were when you were young because, well, sort of paradoxically, you already were that innovative. You can't do it again, it's been done, you did it.

But what you can do, if you're lucky--and this gets back to the second paragraph, supra, is you can have a good time doing what you can. Dylan, these days, sounds loose. Sounds like a really great musician who's had his glory days and is more than happy to just kick back and be natural. Something to be said for that; no: there's really almost everything to be said to that. Back to the second paragraph, exactly: Bob Dylan these days is really just a lot more consistently fun to listen to these days, even if he isn't shining nearly as brilliantly as maybe he did all those years ago.

I don't know that hardcore Dylan fans grok this, ironically. I was listening to a Slate podcast a couple of weeks ago, where they were talking about Tempest (this was part of what inspired me to download the album from Amazon, matter-of-fact), and there was a good bit of navel-gazing about whether Tempest was, I dunno exactly how they put it, I think they were trying to get at whether Tempest was relevant or Dylan was relevant or whether he was still doing important work or work that said anything or whether the only reason anyone would listen to this was because they were old, they were Baby Boomers and this was Dylan and was he saying anything to kids now who were as young today as the folks talking about Dylan were young then--you know, a whole bunch of horseshit in that kind of vein, really. And I couldn't help thinking as I was listening to them prattle that, crazy as it might be, I really think I'd rather take "Love And Theft" on a roadtrip than Blonde On Blonde; not because there's any way on Earth "Love And Theft" is a more vital record or essential record or important record than Blonde On Blonde, or even a better record than Blonde On Blonde. But because I'd just really rather listen to "Love And Theft" almost any day of the week over Blonde On Blonde. I don't know if I could even totally articulate why I'd rather listen to "Love And Theft", so, you know, if you want to question that for whatever dumb reason, fuck you, that's why I'd rather listen to "Love And Theft" than Blonde On Blonde, okay? That's why.

So, anyway, I haven't had a lot of time to listen to Tempest, but it's in that vein. Dylan swings, he grooves, he screws around a little. It isn't Dylan ca. 1966 (or The Beatles ca. '67; or David Bowie in... enh, we'll go with 1980; or Beastie Boys ca. 1989; or Beck ca. '96; or Radiohead ca. 2000; or, I dunno, Jack White ca., what?, yesterday maybe), but what is? That may not be good enough for you. Me, I think I might give it a couple of spins 'round the hard drive tonight.

POSTSCRIPT:  Oh yeah, I can't tell you how much I fucking hate the new Blogger interface.  I'm finally stuck with it.  It's shit.  If you're using Blogger, you know what I'm talking about.  I hate to complain about something that's free--though it's also not quite as "free" as it might seem superficially, seeing as how I'm adding value to the Google Empire with every post; but the ugly facts are, this thing is now counterintuitive, hard to use, and just a general pain in the ass.

If you tried reading this post while I drafted this postscript, you suffered a symptom of that shittiness: I've gotten used, over the years I've been blogging here, to drafting posts in Blogger's HTML mode because--as hard as it can be to use, and as pain-in-the-ass as it can be to learn even the little bit of code you need--it just makes formatting so much easier to be able to do it yourself instead of using a GUI and hoping the interface will understand where you want a space to go or how you want a link to work.  Apparently, though, Google wants you using their shitty, half-assed, underpowered wordprocessor "Compose" mode, so now when you try to draft in HTML mode it can seriously fuck your formatting up unless you're especially scrupulous with typing in your breaks--which you didn't have to do, previously.  You could just hit the return and the HTML interface, name notwithstanding, treated it like a carriage return.  (For you kids: "carriage return" was how we used to describe what you call the "return" or "enter" key on a machine called a "typewriter"--look it up.)

This is seriously going to chafe me, man.


The Smiths, "Bigmouth Strikes Again"

>> Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Naturally, this one's for Mitt.

Over at Stonekettle Station, Jim Wright says something else I wish I'd added yesterday. He phrases it as "a sure test of a man’s character is how he treats the waiter"; a similar sentiment that was running through my own mind while I was yammering away yesterday is, "character is how you act when nobody's looking". Or, in Romney's case, how you behave when you think your only witnesses are a crowd of your best friends donors. Commenter timb111 asked if Romney's sin was getting caught; well, that's a big part of it, as I (hopefully) covered in my response in the comments, but there is a character angle, whether it's "this is what Romney believes in (relative) private" or "this is just how two-faced this cat is, above and beyond the usual political pale" or whatever else you want to say; the two I just mentioned, by the way, aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

One of the other things that I sideslipped the other day is merely the observation that so many Republicans have hungered for the debates, I think because they've swallowed the GOPTV meme promoted by intellectual heavyweights like Limbaugh and Beck that Barack Obama can't function without a teleprompter. If Mitt Romney debates the same way he holds press conferences, I don't think the debates are going to be the rout they're expecting. I dunno: on the one hand, the debates are basically kabuki at this point, and what I would have expected a couple of months ago would be both sides coming away thinking their guy won, regardless of how he really did by any objective standard; on the other hand, Romney has shown himself so incapable of handling even simple questions like, "So, how do you like our Olympics?" much less hard ones like, "What's the best way to deal with a minor international crisis like an American consulate being overrun by a local mob?" that one starts wondering what he's liable to blurt out in the middle of a debate. "Thank you for asking that question, Jim; I believe that as long as this country feels the power of Moloch in all our hearts and provides Him with the blood of innocent children He hungers for, as I did when I murdered an orphan before coming here tonight, there is no limit to what American exceptionalism can achieve... I'm sorry, I didn't phrase that as elegantly as I could have, what I meant to say was, my opponent promised to keep the unemployment rate below eight percent, and has failed to do so, it's time to elect somebody with business experience. Thank you."

Hrm. I may have overreached for that joke. Oh well.

I have to admit, the first thing I think when someone wants to suggest the President can't think on his feet and articulate a powerful response, is that the people saying that clearly know nothing about law school in general and Harvard Law in particular. A big part of law school, maybe the biggest part, especially first year, isn't sitting around doing anything as useless as learning the law. Nor do I mean that ironically (or not very ironically, anyway): when you consider that the students at any fairly big, well-regarded law school are going to scatter, after graduation, to various states and even countries with their own distinct laws and legal practices and to a variety of legal careers and specializations, getting them all to memorize some arbitrary local statutes and cases really would be almost totally pointless. No, what some place like Harvard does is "teach you how to think like a lawyer," and that includes the whole quasi-pseudo-"Socratic" method particularly associated with Harvard, where the professor has the class read some old case from somewhere that perhaps illustrates some common (or at least frequent) principle and then singles out individual students to stand or sit and suffer a cross-examination about the case, sometimes an abusive one, in which the professor commonly adopts the mantle of devil's advocate and disagrees with much or all of what the student says about the case, calling upon his (the professor's) superior knowledge and experience to poke, poke, poke variously-sized holes in the student's hastily-cobbled arguments. I'm not being wholly fair: they've softened the whole business up quite a lot since the Paper Chase era, perhaps because they've decided traumatizing mostly-twenty-somethings isn't "nice", but the general shape remains. It's boot camp for legal academics, is what it really is.

Getting back to the debates--and to Romney's big mouth, for that matter: the funny thing here is that Mitt Romney, of course, went to the exact same boot camp the President did. And so why is it he isn't responding as brightly as one might expect someone who's been through the wringer to respond? And I suppose one answer is to confess that, yes, some people who make it through law school--even some people who made it through Harvard Law School--aren't that bright. But a better answer, I think (though the "some-lawyers-are-dumb" answer is perfectly true), is to go back and watch those Mother Jones videos of Romney amongst his own again, when he's supposedly (per his response earlier this week) not saying things "elegantly" or "clearly and effectively"; well, no, actually, he seems pretty elegant and clear and effective to me--it's the most comfortable and right-at-home I think I've ever heard him sound.

So I don't think the problem the GOP may end up having at the debates is that Obama's a bright and eloquent Harvard-educated lawyer and Romney's a not-bright and not-eloquent Harvard educated lawyer. I think the problem the GOP may find itself with is that Obama is a bright and eloquent Harvard-educated lawyer who is discussing policies and positions that come naturally to him and reflect who he is or at least what he can agree to whereas Romney is a bright and educated Harvard lawyer who is trying to think about what his loose coalition of religious fanatics, businessmen and libertarians want him to possibly say and whether he can phrase it in a way that isn't wholly inconsistent with the many other things he's said at various times. Or, in short, Romney has to decide which lie he's going to tell.

Though, you know, I realize I say in the above paragraph that Romney's "bright" and then I think I've said in the past he doesn't know what he's talking about and doesn't care. I don't know if I'm being inconsistent (very possible) or if it's merely that there are different kinds of "brightness". Or it may even just be that Romney's dumb in a very self-inflicted way: i.e. he'd be a smart man if he were honest, but as a two-faced opportunist he's in way over his head. You know, it may be that there's a particular kind of stupidity (stupidity comes in flavors, you know) where somebody hasn't given any thought to what he is saying because he doesn't understand what he's saying because he's just repeating what somebody told him it would be a good idea to say; so what you have as a final product is an inarticulate something that the declarant can't explain or elaborate on because it's coming from someplace external to him--he's as incapable of explaining "his" neocon-scripted foreign policy as a radio is of discussing the rhythm and dynamics of the song it just played.

Well, I guess we'll see.


Demon said

>> Tuesday, September 18, 2012

It's been pointed out to me that everybody is demonizing Mitt Romney by focusing on what he says, and this is terribly unfair. Being a bleeding heart and all, and priding myself on the notion I have an open mind and critical judgement and whatnot, you know I do want to be fair. So when you have things like secret video from a Mitt Romney fundraiser posted here and here and the latest in what now seems to be a recurring series of press conferences to explain that he didn't say what he meant or mean what he said posted here... well....

So, okay, to be fair, maybe I could go back through and watch the clips again and read the transcripts and go with what Mr. Romney meant, and....


Nope, not helping.

It's possible that Mitt Romney's campaign has stumbled across a brilliant strategy for the final two months of the campaign: walk into every lamppost on the street until people start feeling sorry for their man, or at least stop looking. "Did you hear what Romney said today?" "No, probably something dumb and then he had a press conference." "Yep. What's for dinner." It's like talking about the weather, eventually.

We've gone beyond gaffes, anyway. It's one thing to be dog-tired and say you've visited fifty-seven states. Some people will think it's funny and some people will forgive you for it. And George W. Bush had a habit of inventing felicitous malapropisms ("food on your family," or my own personal fave, the "fool me once... can't get fooled again" word salad). Those were pretty generally situations where you could sort of unravel the words and figure out what the then-President meant to say when it started upriver and see how it went awry on the many miles between Bush's mind and the sea. But Romney isn't exactly committing gaffes, he's saying what's in his mind and then saying it was just badly phrased or he could have said it differently, as if it's a problem of style over substance. "I didn't mean to say what I said; I meant to say it differently." You can watch the Mother Jones footage yourself and tell me if Romney seems tired or underprepared to you; I see a guy who looks and sounds more comfortable than I've ever seen him, though maybe that's because it seems what I've mostly been seeing from him lately are all the awkward attempts at damage control.

Not to demonize him, or anything.

UPDATED TO ADD: Slate's William Saletan can be an irritating git, but I thought his perspective on how the Romney tape compared to Obama's long ago "guns and religion" comment was insightful:

Conservatives find Obama’s line about guns, religion, and immigration patronizing. They’re right. The recording exposes Obama’s assumption that blue-collar conservatism on these issues should be taken not at face value but as a psychological symptom or rationalization.

But notice what else the recording shows. Obama tells his audience not to write off any group. He recommends humility and openness. Even in the most unlikely neighborhoods, among "people of every background," he tells his volunteers they’ll find supporters.

He also advises the volunteers not to write off every voter who seems unreceptive. The tough reception, he suggests, might be just a "layer of skepticism," a "part of them that just doesn't buy it." Beneath that layer, the whole voter is more complicated.

In particular, Obama rejects the caricature of hostile white voters as racists. Instead of assuming that they just "don’t want to vote for the black guy," he asks his volunteers to focus on these voters’ economic concerns. He counsels empathy.
"They feel so betrayed," he says.

The whole thrust of Obama’s answer is persuasion....


...Romney, unlike Obama, writes off skeptical voters: "They will vote for this president no matter what." He simplifies and caricatures them: They "believe that they are victims... I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility." He counsels not empathy but indifference: "My job is not to worry about those people." And he speaks this way not about a fringe constituency, but about 47 to 49 percent of the country.

I think Saletan nails it. And what Romney's doing there isn't just bad leadership--which, ask yourself if you want that in a President--but also bad politics.

One other bit of irony that I should have also pointed out in the main post, and didn't get around to: one of the other problems with Romney's 47%/53% pitch is that it ignores the fact that not only are the 47% not all Democrats nor all Obama supporters, they're also mostly located in the red states, as Dashiell Bennett points out over at The Atlantic. Bennett includes this map from the Tax Foundation, which you may have already seen making the rounds:

Quite a lot of those "non-payers" are also old folks who collect Social Security, a demographic famous for skewing Republican. I don't think the Romney tapes are going to cause Alabama to suddenly flip for Obama, mind you; I do think, however, one of the worst things Romney could do for himself if he really wants to be President is piss off so many elderly and lower-income conservatives in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Colorado (say, for instance, and in that particular order) that a substantial number stay home rather than vote for either guy, tilting or even throwing those states to the President.

Not that I'd mind if that happened, or anything.


U2, "Van Diemen's Land"

>> Monday, September 17, 2012

I wouldn't say this was what I meant to have up here today, although I adore the song and didn't have anything else intended. I looked around for something to wax indignant or comedic about, found myself scoping YouTube to see if there was a video for a song I hadn't heard in a while, found myself watching the video for a different song I only half-liked before it aged badly in twenty intervening years, ended up with "Van Diemen's Land" from the Rattle And Hum soundtrack. Ah, well.

Rattle And Hum doesn't stand out as a high point in the band's biography, if you ask me. Some okay material on the soundtrack, but a lot of it seemed like warmed-up leftovers from The Joshua Tree and a lot of it--along with the entire documentary/concert film accompanying it--came off as naïvely pretentious. I guess you might wonder what I mean by that last part: well, y'know, it was both charming and irritating, watching U2 "discovering" the United States or whatever it was they were being documented doing. "Congratulations, Bono, on your discovery of blues music--but did you know Americans have been playing this music for almost a whole century? It's true! And that other European acts before you, like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton also learned about blues music and copied its form and stylings? Really! Look it up!" I know they didn't mean to be annoying and you're supposed to be caught up in their youthful exuberance and all that, it's just that even when I was a teenager I was dimly aware that one of youth's most irritating qualities is the way kids always think they're the first people to find out what everybody already knows about.

And then, along with that, there's the fact that what made U2 great in the day was fusing postpunk guitar atmospherics with an obviously Gaelic sound. Bono working with Clannad or The Edge working with Sinéad O'Connor were right in ways that U2 working with American blues artists (B.B. King, "When Love Comes To Town") or folk-rock legends (Bob Dylan, "Love Rescue Me") don't quite manage (don't get me wrong: I'll crank "When Love Comes To Town" as much as the next guy when it comes on the radio, it ain't bad at all; as for "Love Rescue Me"... well, yeah, that's a song, alright, yep). And Bono name-checking Billie Holliday, John Coltrane and Miles Davis (et. al) on "Angel Of Harlem" just sounds forced, a songwriter in his late 20s (old enough to know better) pulling the equivalent of a high schooler sketching band logos on the cover of his five-section ring notebook; again, there's this forced earnestness to the affair, this ostentatious enthusiasm that plays against the band's actual strengths.

This is where I think I have to say that Van Diemen's Land" ends up being one of the strongest tracks off of Rattle And Hum even if it's kind of a throwaway. There's a lot of earnestness in this song, maybe, maybe too much earnestness, this is not a folk song--but it does call back to classic U2.

Of course, what goes to show I'm entirely full of shit is that the band's very next record would leave Dublin behind entirely to embrace Berlin, and would be one of the band's strongest catalogue entries. So I think that disproves everything I might have just said about Irish soul being the essence of the band, or tries to.


Queen, "Flash's Theme"

>> Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oh, hell. You know, why the hell not?

We went with Queen the other day. I could follow it up with something righteous from Queen's A-list--"Rhapsody," for instance, or "Fat Bottomed Girls"--but there's something so joyously, gorgeously cheesy about the Flash Gordon soundtrack; like the movie itself; this is the cinematic equivalent of a grilled cheese sammich, and I don't mean a good grilled cheese, something hoity-toity with smoked gouda and tomatoes on one of your fancy-shmancy breads, no, I mean one of your grilled cheese sandwiches made with cheese food product, your Velveeta® on white bread grilled cheese sandwich, your soul food grilled cheese that shreds five years off the end of your life but gives you back five years from the front. Something that melts in your mouth and clogs in your arteries.

With canned tomato soup. Campbell's®, are you kidding me? What else would we be talking about? Campbell's® condensed, none of that fresh, "from scratch" crap, not even one of those elite organic brands with delicious chunks of tomato floating around in the soup. Something not wholly dissimilar to ketchup, but we will wash it down with milk.

Flash Gordon was a terrible movie, of course. It's hard to tell how much of that was on purpose--some of it was absolutely on purpose--and how much of it was accidental (I'm guessing more of that was accidental than anyone will ever know). Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who was the guy most responsible for the Adam West Batman being what it was, but before you think that seals the deal for knowing camp (and there's a lot of knowing camp in Flash Gordon, admittedly), Flash was a Dino De Laurentiis joint, Dino being a guy with a sort of... let's try "interesting"... an interesting reputation, to put it diplomatically, in terms of the way so many of his films seemed to, eh, conveniently lose money (he did produce a few hits, though some of those might have been accidents causing some grief).

Regardless, it's hard not to have some awful fun with Flash. Tempered with a tiny amount of resentment that Alex Raymond's iconic comic strip sort of gets pissed on a little in the process--I really wanted someone to do a straight-up big budget version until John Carter's flopping took the taste out of my mouth. (Still haven't seen JC, but the whole disaster of it makes me think maybe some pulps ought to stay in the pulps.) It's always good for some laughs, anyway, down to the cheesetacularness of the soundtrack, which is so knowingly over-the-top I'm not sure it's ever managed to come down anywhere.

I don't have the DVD; I might need to get it, and an equally yellow box of synthesized orange gold and a loaf of Wonder® bread. Yes. Yes I might.


Queen, "I'm Going Slightly Mad"

>> Saturday, September 15, 2012

This was me yesterday, actually. But then somebody said something clever about Mitt Romney saying something stupid, and we went with that. But I figured, "Hey, set it to go tomorrow."

There's a certain ambivalence watching the video again after all these years. The campiness is grating, but you're watching a dead man walking (and crawling, and mugging, and all that), which gives the thing a gravity it wouldn't have if Innuendo hadn't been the band's final album.

Final album for all intents and purposes. The survivors staggered on, sort of, with various tribute-ish products, though I don't think they ever really tried to put out any new material under the Queen band. Hard to know what to do, I guess: it's sort of obvious, and probably was obvious to the remaining members of Queen, that Freddie Mercury defined the band, somehow, even if Queen was one of those rare acts where all the individual members not only got single songwriter credits, but each of them even had penned at least one number one hit for the band. Sort of hard, though, to just give up on something you've spent your whole life building, though.

And it's impossible to define why some bands can go on without a core member with equal or greater success (e.g. Genesis, post-Peter Gabriel) and some bands can't (e.g. Genesis, post-Phil Collins). You might suspect it has something to do with charisma, but then you'd have to account for why any band with Robert Fripp is King Crimson even though Robert Fripp just isn't a particularly magnetic personality. You might suspect it has something to do with creative genius, but Pink Floyd did very well for themselves without Syd Barrett. (I was tempted to use Fleetwood Mac for that example, but I have to be honest: I consider replacing Peter Green with Lindsey Buckingham a trade up, and I can't even think that's a controversial opinion beyond a small clutter of crazed zealots living in some kind of bunkerlike Green temple waiting to be swept up in the Grapture during the Greenpocalypse.)

I also have a little bit of a hard time deciding if Innuendo was really ever as good as I thought it was when it came out, or was my judgment of it fossilized when Freddie Mercury semisuddenly died? Semisuddenly. Because it was out of nowhere and yet you saw him and heard him during the year he stuck around to promote the new record, and you knew he wasn't well and had it in the back of your mind what the cause of death was going to turn out to be. He kept it a secret, but I don't think it was much of a secret. It's a measure of how things have changed for the better, not just that people live longer and better, but I don't think he would have felt condemned to silence in this day and age, could have just said, "Yeah, I'm HIV positive, doctor says I'm doing well, thanks for your concern." Back then, well, you know--we were pretty stupid. Twenty years, a long, short time. But, yeah, I think the songs mostly hold up. It's no Night At The Opera, but nothing else ever was, was it?


Quote of the day--the problem with Bain edition

>> Friday, September 14, 2012

Romney has managed, in a couple of short vignettes, to showcase so many of the qualities that make people doubt him: the eager opportunism; the indifference to the truth; a certain arrogance; his clumsiness and near-incompetence as a diplomat; the sense that he doesn’t understand what it means for a person to be in hard circumstances, or even danger. The stakes here though, unlike with Bain, are not just people who are losing their pensions—-though that is bad enough-—but wars that could start, governments that could fall. What compass would he have if he had to manage a major crisis? In addition to Yemen, there were reports of demonstrations in Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco (where Ambassdor Chris Stevens, who died in Benghazi, taught English thirty years ago), and Iraq. And as Romney was babbling about apologies, two navy ships, armed with Tomahawk missiles, had sailed away from Norfolk, Virginia, headed for the Libyan coast.
- Amy Davidson, "Treating Benghazi Like Bain";
The New Yorker, September 13th, 2012.

Davidson's piece is short, to-the-point and very good, and I suggest you check the whole thing out. Romney, of course, having faced nearly as much criticism from within his own party for his comments earlier this week, has been trying to temper his comments at subsequent campaign stops. A little late; I don't want anyone to think I'm criticizing him no matter what he says, it's just the problem is that expressing sympathy for the fallen and resolution and national unity, etc., was not just before he made an ass of himself, but in lieu of it.

One of the things about being President--you'd think this was obvious--is that you don't always get do-overs. Sometimes, maybe, but the President is in a special position to do irrevocable things like, f'r'instance, starting a war in the Middle East. That may sound like some kind of under-the-table George W. Bush slam, but that's really not (entirely) what I mean: I mean that one response to American citizens being murdered in an assault on one of our consulates might be to send in the Marines, or at least the drones, but these are things you can't take back and might be horrifically bad ideas, especially if there's confusion and conflicting details about who is actually responsible for the attack. I still think it was underhanded of the Administration to initially distance itself from the early tweets issued by the Egyptian Embassy prior to the Libyan attack--especially since those 140-character comments paralleled Secretary Of State Clinton's thoughtful and eloquent comments on the situation--but it's more important, I think, to notice that the Administration's overall response has been deliberate, considered, measured, thoughtful.

I think, ultimately, the worst thing about Romney's Benghazi comments may not be the way he disparaged the dead, insulted civil servants in a dire situation, mauled the few facts he had available and unintentionally put himself on record for supporting bigoted douchebaggery as an American value by omitting all the wholly appropriate disclaimers regarding the ways a free society can allow hate speech without condoning it; the worst thing may be that he just didn't know what he was saying and he didn't care and he didn't take five minutes to think about it, either. I think I said this the other day. And closely related to that is that he didn't think about what he was doing when he said all those stupid things, either: it doesn't appear he spent any time asking himself if his comments were a good idea before he made them, as evinced by the fact he made them at all. Much like the way he insulted the British when all he had to say was, "I like the Olympics," this was an unforced error on Romney's part: all he had to say was, "I'm appalled by this violence directed at Americans" and, after the news of the deaths, "I stand with my fellow Americans at mourning the loss of lives in Benghazi."

I think it has to be admitted, there are ways a competent politician could have capitalized on the tragedy, whether we like or condone that kind of thing or not. A competent politician might have used the opportunity to express compassion, confidence, and comprehension; a display all the easier if he actually possesses any of those qualities in even meagre measure. An incompetent politician might demonstrate naked opportunism, an inability to go off a stale script, and a general cluelessness about the complexities of foreign relations.

Then the question you want to ask yourself is what kind of politician, if you have to have a politician, talking to foreign leaders and giving instructions regarding the deployment of ships with cruise missiles. If he can't handle the basics of holding even a banally empathic press conference, why would you trust him with the bomb-squaddish job of dealing with complicated, failing petrocracies?

UPDATED TO ADD: Or maybe I'm kinda wrong and it's worse than that:

Obama's subsequent jibe that Romney "shoots first and aims later" hit home. But perhaps the most disturbing thing about this whole incident is that it wasn't simply a spontaneous gaffe on the part of the G.O.P. candidate. It was debated and thought through. According to the same report in today's Washington Post, Romney acted on the "unanimous recommendation of his foreign policy and political advisers."

Think about that for a moment. Sometime on Tuesday evening, presumably, the best minds that Romney has gathered around him, convened by conference call, or offered their thoughts individually, and all of them thought it was a capital idea, solely on the basis of statements from the Embassy in Cairo, to accuse Obama and his Administration of expressing sympathy "with those who waged the attacks." Not only that, but there's no suggestion that the following morning--as Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and others were busy paying tribute to Ambassador Stevens--any of these sages thought to call Romney up and persuade him to zip it.

This is my head. This is my head hitting my desk. Hear my head make a thumping sound. My head sounds like a cantaloup! Thump! Thump! Thump!

But seriously--if this is the kind of thing that happens when they're thinking it through... well, no, I'm still lost for words, frankly. Cassidy goes on to point out that Romney's foreign policy inner circle includes such rocket scientists and boy geniuses as Dan Senor and John Bolton; there's no level on which that can be described as "good," whether it's the fact these men are obvious idiots or that, even if you somehow miss that salient point, it should also be obvious that these guys reek of the Bush Administration's foreign policy blunders and need to spend more time in the wilderness--even a number of Republicans keep their distance, if not for ideological reasons, at least because they value their own political fortunes. What kind of man wants to be seen with "Moustache" Bolton these days?

A man who doesn't want to be President, one might've thought.


The Inconvenience Of Tutankhamun

>> Thursday, September 13, 2012

For Immediate Release
Staff - Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets

SCHENECTADY, NY--Respected and widely-read blog Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets is pleased to be the first news organization to break the exciting discovery of a team of Egyptologists regarding a nearly-two-centuries-long misunderstanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Linguists and scholars at the Cryptic Underground Remnants Scientific and Educational Society, based in Schenectady, New York, have discovered that an Egyptian hieroglyph depicting three birds, a human figure with arms crossed and a chair, and previously collectively translated by scholars as "curse" or "hex" in fact should be more properly translated as "inconvenience".

This collection of symbols, the word "inconvenience" or its derivatives and related words, appears within a number of tombs associated with ancient Egyptian royalty, most notably the tomb of the young Pharoah Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt for approximately one year in the Fourteenth Century BCE.

A collection of symbols appearing near the entry way of Tutankhamun's tomb, discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter and the Earl of Carnarvon, and appearing prominently in site photographs, has therefore been mistranslated for nearly a century. Rather than saying, "Let he who enters and desecrates this tomb be cursed evermore," as usually rendered, the warning ought to be phrased, "Let he/they (who) disturb this place of the dead (suffer) many inconveniences."

Further investigation by the historians and scholars of the Society have confirmed that the archaeological team led by Carter and Carnarvon did, in fact, amazingly enough, suffer a series of otherwise inexplicable inconveniences following their breaching of Tut's tomb and removal of artifacts and attributable to the irritating warning therein.

For instance, a study of Carter's diary shows that on November 27th, 1922, the day immediately after Carter and Carnarvon first entered the tomb, Carter spent nearly fifteen minutes looking for the key to a travel locker he had with him, only to realize the key was still in the pocket of a pair of pants that were at the bottom of a laundry bag full of dirty socks, intended to be sent back to town for cleaning. At almost exactly the same time, Carnarvon was having difficulty making exact change for a delivery person who'd brought an important package out to the dig site, and ultimately had to borrow fourpence from his personal secretary. (The Society is currently trying to verify an allegation that the personal secretary was exactly fourpence short of the price of a cup of coffee he tried to order the following morning, and had to break a shilling.)

Before his death in April, 1923 from an infected mosquito bite, Carnarvon recorded in his diaries and reported to friends a long series of petty irritations and small delays that were probably almost certainly a result of his intrusion into the tomb. On several occasions, he missed phone calls. Several times, messages were taken for him by household staff in which the contact information left behind was omitted, obscured, or hard-to-read. A houseguest borrowed a book Carnarvon really needed and Carnarvon couldn't immediately find it (it was discovered in the guest bedroom the houseguest stayed in, but only minutes after Carnarvon returned from the library he visited in order to consult their copy, and Carnarvon's household insisted they'd looked there several times). A pair of favorite shoes got very muddy. His car fell prey to an unusual number of flat tires. His hat fell off while it was raining and he got very wet. He misplaced the notes he'd made for a public address on the discovery of the tomb, and was forced to go back and get them. One of Lady Carnavon's dearest friends, referred to in Lord Carnarvon's diary as "That Hideous L. with her grating laugh that drives me MAD" came to visit and missed her departing train, resulting in her overstaying her welcome by one entire day and part of the subsequent evening.

This is only a partial list.

Carter, for his part, spent the next sixteen years until his death in 1939 acquiring a reputation for never having exact change, needing rides from friends and associates, locking himself out of his office, and annoying telephone operators when trying to place phone calls by misremembering the name of the person he was trying to reach and having the operator he was talking to try several similar-sounding variations which were usually way off or attempting to get the operator to identify his intended recipient by describing to the operator what they looked like or the kinds of clothes they sometimes wore. (A professional associate who received one of Carter's infamous calls in error remembers hearing the famous Egyptologist on the other end of the line, saying, "Drat--no--I didn't mean--did I say 'Hodgins'? I think I must have meant Watts. Big fellow, wears those hats, you know, the ones with the brim? No, wait, he hasn't got a telephone, has he?")

A typical diary entry from Carter during the post-discovery era:

Wednesday, 16 May 1928--Arrived at hotel late, lost reservation. Room obt. in hotel cross street, not nearly so nice. Upstairs neighbours stompy people, sound like g-d- elephants. Found packed mismatched pair of shoes for tomorrow lecture, similar tan colour, but both lefts. Suit wrinkled. Rained. No umbrella. Naturally.

The above entry, curiously, begins to fade midway through before resuming in a different shade of ink.

Society researchers continue to collate data, but it seems a significantly similar trend afflicted all of those associated with the 1922 Carter/Carnarvon expedition. We have reports from individuals at many levels of the expedition of lost subway tokens, prolonged visits by family members, unfulfilled catalogue orders, forgotten-until-the-very-last-minute birthdays, neighbors throwing late parties the nights before important events, arrivals just after somebody else just left, last-moment substitutions, hidden fees, misfiled papers, retyped pages, spilled beverages, et cetera. Taken individually, any one of these occurrences might be an ordinary fluke, the minor annoyances that afflict any one of us once or twice a day; taken together, they form a vast network of inconvenient events beyond mere coincidence, a measurable synchronistic web of irritation and aggravation.

It is not clear whether or not the threatened inconveniences affect institutions as well as individuals, but it does seem noteworthy that preliminary inquiries to the Cairo Museum, where the Tutankhamun relics were stored and displayed from their discovery, show an abrupt drop in complaints of stopped-up toilets in the public restrooms subsequent to 1961, when a number of the relics first went on traveling display and spiking again whenever the exhibits are returned. Data is inconclusive, however, as janitorial records prior to 1937 are sparse and it appears many of the Museum's relevant documents were actually lost in 1952 during a period of civil unrest, a circumstance only discovered when they were asked for.

(For the ScatterKat, who inspired this, went along
with it in banter while we were getting ready for work,
and who seems to think I'm amusing for some reason.)

Photograph, "Tuthankamen's famous burial mask, on display in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo," by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, ©2003; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Dumb quote of the day--every single thing that comes out of this man's mouth edition

>> Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My question is whether this man thinks before he says a single goddamn thing. I'm not nearly as upset he wants to politicize the death of an American envoy to Libya and three other Americans as I am about the sheer cluelessness of the substance of his comments. If Romney wants to raise questions about whether our embassies abroad are sufficiently secure or somesuch--I'm not saying such criticisms would be valid, but they would at least be less incoherent and insane than what Romney is saying, which largely seems to boil down to it being disgraceful that the American embassy in Cairo issued a placating statement to Muslim protesters angered by a low-budget film produced by a real estate developer and promoted by infamous Quran-burner Terry Jones (not the British comedian) which, "portray[s] Muhammad as a pedophile-appeasing, bumbling spreader of false doctrine". That statement, far from being an "apology" for American values, appears to be a sympathetic statement referencing the American values of religious diversity and sectarian tolerance; per the New York Times:

The Embassy put out a statement condemning the "continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims--as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

Elsewhere in the Middle East, rioters gathered outside the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and subsequently breached the premises and four Americans were killed, including Envoy Christopher Stevens. The riots and deaths were roundly condemned by the State Department and the President stated that the United States would work with the Libyan government to bring the killers to justice--over-optimistically going so far as to say "Make no mistake. Justice will be done." (If you want to criticize the President, feel free to observe that the United States has no power to exert any authority within Libya and little capability to pressure, coerce or beguile the Libyan government into doing anything it doesn't want to, short of military action vastly disproportionate to the loss of life and property, and that the promise that "Justice will be done" is essentially empty, though I obviously wish us good luck with that.)

There are several points to be made about Romney's inept, shambling, smug press conference. First, one that's already been noted everywhere: his critique of the Administration's actions is factually wrong in almost every particular--there was no apology, the placating statement was made before the deaths in Libya, the placating statement was issued by the Egyptian embassy, the placating statement was clearly intended to defuse tensions primarily in Egypt, the placating statement was disavowed by the Administration, the assault on the Libyan consulate was condemned. Second, one that I alluded to in the previous paragraph: in truth, American power in these situations is shockingly limited--we can condemn, we can consider diplomatic and economic pressure imposed with or without the assistance of relevant mutual allies, we can bring the brute blunt force of our military to bear; in the context of Libya, it appears to me at this stage that all we can realistically do is the first while evaluating whether we have any leverage at all with the nascent government of what has largely been (and to some extent still is) a rogue state; the third option, military intervention, is for the frothingly insane.

I think this is possibly the right point to digress just a tiny bit and point out that Romney is sort of right that the Administration is, in some sense, responsible for everything that comes out of one of our embassies, whether or not it's been cleared or is later rescinded or disavowed: that's what Truman's famous Poker reference meant. Having said that, I also think the sitting President and Secretary Of State have the authority to withdraw or disavow the statements of their appointees and underlings: Presidential responsibility isn't a kind of irrevocable, suicide-pact-like kind of thing, and while an ambassadorial statement is a statement made by an extension of the Administration and by the United States, it's also trumped by final words of all the stops further up the pipeline from the relevant department head to the Cabinet Post to the Oval Office to the American People at large. But what's really most interesting, and what I really wanted to throw out there, is that it seems a bit funny to me that the guy who's made a big deal about when or if he was really in charge of Bain Capital at a time when he was receiving benefits and had a job title but was conveniently removed from the operations of the company (or so he says) wants to talk about the President's responsibility for the doings of his underlings and employees. It seems to me, you know, that there's some relevant wisdom about geese and ganders.

Third thing I'd have to point out is that Romney keeps talking about values, values and values, and fuck him and the horse he rode in on with that horseshit. This is one of those situations where he couldn't be picking a worse cause to try to bootstrap his electoral chances on, at least if he wants to appeal to anyone except the hateful religious bigots wing of the GOP, which is certainly a loud and prominent and influential division of his party but I'm reasonably sure it isn't enough to win a national election--those folks have a hard enough time winning state races or anything bigger than heavily gerrymandered local runs, and thank goodness we're not as awful as all that.

I will be frank that I'm a little tired of catering to the sensibilities and easily-hurt feelings of religious zealots, and maybe it's a question of geography, but they all seem to be Abrahamic zealots--you hardly seem to ever hear anything about rioting Buddhists or see Shintoists going on TV to whine about how their views are neglected in public schools, though maybe I'd see more of that if I lived on the other side of the world. I find it particularly offensive that there's one particular Abrahamic sect that gets especially aggrieved if you portray their founder in an unfavorable light--or at all, it seems--and ends up issuing calls for murder and mayhem, violence Christian fundamentalists reserve for abortion providers and occasionally Democrats.

But I also can point out that I don't generally go around publicly pissing on religions for no good reason, least of all do I knowingly create situations where I'm liable to cause myself as much grief as achieve anything else. I could write lengthy diatribes about how Lot, Patriarch of Israel and Prophet of Islam, was a pimp and drunken pervert, but what's the point? (Wait... did I just...?) Because the bottom line is that I believe I shouldn't really care what you believe so long as you aren't hurting anyone else with it. I even have a flowchart I like to follow:

I don't think I'm totally out of line with American values, or at least America's express values on this particular score: matter-of fact, you might've noticed my flowchart kinda goes back a littleways and has some small historical precedent. Ironically, it's probably America's tolerance for diversity of belief that's kept this country from secularizing to the degree a lot of other Western nations have--American religion has never been a binary proposition where people are largely set a choice between the national church, the residual minority sect remaining after the medieval wars or national purges, and some kind of vague agnosticism (possibly tinged with a contempt provoked by the blood spilled by the first two choices); American religion has been a surprisingly live-and-let live affair, despite occasional notable exceptions like the Mormons being driven from Missouri.

What I'm trying to get around to is this: while I think it's noxious for any religious group--Christian or Muslim or whatever--to get exercised by a shitty video, I also think it's pretty damn asinine to make a shitty video whose entire raison d'être appears to be pissing somebody off by going the extra mile just to shit on their beliefs.

Which is what I think we're talking about here. No, I haven't seen it: but the ScatterKat watched as much of it as she could stand last night to know what the fuss is about, and I'll take her word on it. Not to speak for her, but she seemed baffled, irritated and angry anyone troubled to create the damn thing, and I do believe "piece of shit" was the kindest thing she had to say about the production values and message of the piece. I'm not terribly surprised: the video has been promoted by Terry Jones (again, not the British comedian), a slimy little shit who has fallen beneath this blog's contempt in 2010 and in 2011 for such nadirs of douchebaggery that the 2011 post I just linked to was mocking Jones for being such a rat bastard bigot not even the Ku Klux Klan wanted to have anything to do with him (seriously, go back and read for yourself).

We're not talking The Last Temptation Of Christ, here. This isn't one of America's greatest living directors collecting an amazing cast of brilliant character actors to gorgeously film a screenplay by a justifiably-respected screenwriter in which the "Son Of Man" angle of the Jesus story is studiously examined beneath a soundtrack composed by a prog/alt-rock legend, and conservative Catholics get their cassocks and habits all twisted up and organize protests (which, justified or not, admittedly consisted of peaceful boycotts, far as I can recall).

No, we're talking about a hateful piece of propaganda evidently meant to insult an entire faith and for religious bigots to circle jerk to.

Which you've got a First Amendment right to do, mind you. It's just that the fact you can do something doesn't mean you should, especially when all you're really doing is being a dick. A dick, you know, who is potentially endangering people's lives, seeing as how the people you're being a dick to have a history of violently overreacting even to non-dickish portrayals of their belief system. (We're also not talking about The Satanic Verses, a serious literary novel that managed to trigger a fatwā that led to several violent incidents and deaths.)

And this is what Romney is going to defend? He doesn't have to, you know. He could, for instance, condemn everybody, taking the Voltairian stance he doesn't condone what anyone says but will defend their right to say it, peaceably, here or in the Middle East while condemning the video as bigotry and the violence as zealotry; or, for that matter, if he was going to say anything, he could simply focus on condolences for the families and friends of the victims and the hope the international community will join in strong, appropriate action, etc.

I want you to understand something here, which is that I'm not saying Romney condones religious bigotry. Regrettably, I think that's far too concrete a position for as inchoate and all-seasons a political whore like Mitt Romney to ever take. What I think is, "He doesn't have the foggiest idea what the hell comes out of his mouth, he's not thinking before he says it and he isn't listening to what he just said, either." Look at that video: he keeps talking about values; well, d'ya think he's really all in favor of dickishness as an American value? Listen to the way he seems to be squeezing religious freedom and freedom of speech together in a way that condemns Islam without taking a corresponding stand against Christian religion, that attempts to praise the right of free speech without getting into thorny issues of responsibility for what one says or respect for those who hear. He wants to conflate freedom of conscience and freedom of speech, and to do so in a jumbled way that that the filmmakers have a right to their faith and the offended faithful have nothing, and to call this amorphous blobby thing "values", but what values are we talking about, exactly? Conscience? Hate speech? Would Romney have defended a right of Libyan Muslims to assemble and protest outside the American consulate so long as they didn't break in and kill anyone, or do American values just extend to low-budget portrayals of religious icons as pedophilia apologists?

And this is why everything he says in the above video is the Dumb Quote Of The Day, every single damned thing that comes out of his mouth to circle round his head like dying moths looking for a lightbulb to kamikaze and coming up with impenetrable darkness. He doesn't know what the hell he's talking about, and I'm not even sure he cares.

It's stupid. It's reprehensible. It's insulting.

For Obama? Hell, I'd vote for a stale muffin to keep that jackass, Romney, from getting past the concrete baffles on Pennsylvania Avenue. Preserve us if he manages to get his sorry self elected.


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