Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lost in the Supermarket

The Clash
London Calling
1979, CBS/Epic
produced by Guy Stevens
Joe Strummer - vocals, guitars
Mick Jones - guitars, piano, vocals
Paul Simonon - bass, vocals
Topper Headon - drums
Mickey Gallagher - organ
The Irish Horns - horn section

  • London Calling/ Armagideon Time
  • Clampdown/ Guns of Brixton
  • Train in Vain/ London Calling
Probably one of the best Clash records, if not at the very least the most recognizable, this record is ranked by Rolling Stone as the best album of the '80s (it came out in '79), number 8 on their list of 500 Greatest Albums of all Time, Q Magazine named it the 4th best British album of all time.

The cover art is super punk rock, an homage to Elvis's 1956 record with an out of focus Simonon smashing his bass. Aside from that, the album is probably as far from a typical punk rock album of the time (or the next 10 years). The Clash changed their sound from the British punk aesthetic (or lack of) to a rockabilly/ska/reggae infused sound that either departed from the punk, or diversified a genre that previously relished in its lack of talent and void of musicality. Either way, who cares? The record is great, fun to listen to, and absolutely a must-have.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Nostalgia Check: Sci-Fi, Love, Death and Transformers

Like many kids from the 80s, Saturday morning cartoons were a weekly feature. The routine probably went something like this for everyone: wake up stupidly early on Saturday, quiet as to not wake up your parents, pour your favorite ridiculously sugary cereal, and turn on the television to catch hours of kid friendly animated programming chock full of targeted advertising.

Even the shows themselves were essentially advertising for toy lines. Pretty formulaic, the shows themselves were poorly written 30 minute spots. Usually each episode was a self contained story, but sometimes there were two part cliffhanger episodes (we had to wait an entire week to get a resolution). and each episode focused on some sort of moral quandary, or held a special message. Some of the shows from this era have become pretty legendary among nostalgic fans, but most were completely forgettable. He-man and She-Ra, GI Joe, My Little Pony, The Care Bears, Rainbow Brite, and the Thundercats have transcended into the pop culture ethos. But there were plenty of other similar pulp trash cartoons like MASK, the Silverhawks, The Galaxy Rangers, the Centurions, the Moon Dreamers, and the Visionaries that are better left forgotten.

And then there was Robotech.

The vision of bringing Japanese animation to western television wasn't a completely novel idea. Voltron was a success the year prior. And shows like the 8th Man and Speed Racer had been around for a long time. But Robotech was something different.

For starters the show wasn't necessarily episodic. This was a long narrative, with a plot that continued to build without resolve for several episodes. There was no such thing as binge watching back then either, we received one episode a week for 36 weeks.

The characters were totally relatable. They had complex relationships. They were people of color. There was a reasonable ratio of male to female characters in a variety of roles. They joked, and argued, and grieved, and crushed on each other. This was the first cartoon with multiracial couples. This was the first cartoon where major characters died on screen. and stayed dead.

I loved this show as a kid. It had the look of an adult show. It had cool characters with cool hair. They fought alien invaders from space, and had planes that transformed into robots!

Rewatching it now, I realize some major flaws with the plot. The show was originally a Japanese show called Macross. The plot of the show was changed when dubbed into English in order to tie in two other unrelated Japanese shows so it could be one entire super show. The reason for this was pretty ridiculous. The broadcasting company wouldn't greenlight a 36 episode show. They needed more episodes. No new show today would get a 36 episode season.

So, instead of a clever science fiction plot that makes sense about humanity discovering they were created by an ancient planet-seeding culture, we got a story about Earth caught up in the middle of an interstellar struggle for a renewable energy source.

The first few episodes deal with the crew of the giant reclaimed alien spaceship trying to get back to Earth after stranding themselves by mistake near Pluto, and taking an entire island city (Macross) with them. Realistically, picking up an island and dropping it in the middle of the Kuiper Belt, even with the population hiding in bomb shelters, should end in death for all people involved. But somehow the population of Macross not only survives, but rebuilds the city inside the massive spacecraft. They are able to relocate everyone, rebuild the city, and set up an intricate infrastructure within two weeks.

Speaking of realism, the giant battleship has to travel back to Earth presumably at less than light speeds, fighting a hostile alien fleet all the way there. But even though they are outmanned and outgunned, they manage to continue fighting with seemingly unlimited resources. How do they maintain supplies of ammunition? or food? Especially for a city of people that aren't supposed to be there? The alien navy should have been able to just wait it out until everyone on board starved. The city seems to be self sustaining, with simulated weather, unlimited supplies, and sophisticated broadcasting abilities. But the crew of the battleship can't figure out how to communicate with their own planet. Also, apparently a movie star somehow gets onboard for a beauty pageant. Has she been there this whole time?

The second season was a giant waste of time. So I won't say anything about the Southern Cross. I'm sure the original Cavalry Southern Cross show was a good stand alone series. But it made no sense as a sequel to Macross.

The 3rd season was originally Genesis Climber: Mospeada. I'm sure the original show is a much better overall experience. The plot seems to make more sense. This show, like Macross, had some things that no other animated kids show dared to do. There were complicated relationships among characters, and stages of grief just like in Macross. There was a transgendered character, and no one thought it was weird.
Regardless of the logistics of the series, or the messy legal battles between studios that leaves reboots or sequels doubtful, there is no denying the Robotech series helped create a subculture in America devoted to anime. Robotech led my family to discover Appleseed, and Project A-ko, and all sorts of other cool things. On top of that, it was also proof that the race, gender, or sexual orientation of characters, or who they dated didn't matter to the success of the show. Robotech was proof that sci-fi wasn't just for boys, it could appeal to everyone.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Yellow Moon on the Rise

Neil Young
Reprise, 1972
Neil Young - guitars, vocals
The Stray Gators:
  Jack Nitszche - piano
  Ben Keith - pedal steel
  Tim Drummond - bass
  Kenny Buttrey - drums

  • Heart of Gold/Sugar Mountain
  • Old Man/Needle and the Damage Done
This is one of the first records I ever bought. I got it in middle school, mostly because Neil Young got a lot of radio play, but my father, who was a big classic 60s/70s rock guy didn't like him, but he had Crosby Still and Nash records. I had Old Man stuck in my head for an entire summer in high school.

Many consider this record to be one of his best. It's essentially a country album, back when country, bluegrass, and folk often blended boundaries, and Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams were kings. There is an overall melancholy that permeates throughout the record, even the uplifting love songs are tinged with a sweet sadness. The record became a pillar of Young's career, and he released a sequel record Harvest Moon in 1992 which also featured the Stray Gators.

Alabama is on this record too. It is Young's rebuttal to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama, and reminds me of Warren Zevon's song Play it all Night Long. Actually all four of these songs (including Young's Southern Man) should all be played together and called the Fuck the South Suite.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Nerds Cannot be Satisfied: Ghostbusters Edition

-Tell him about the twinkie.
-What about the twinkie?

The Ghostbusters is one of the most beloved science fiction franchises in all of Nerddom. It's not really much of a franchise. Two movies were made in the 80s. The first film is a masterpiece of science fiction comedy, it basically wrote the book on comedy science fiction. The follow up was not as good, and although there were plenty of plans for a 3rd installment, Bill Murray could never be convinced to join up and the movie franchise fizzled. There was a really great, pretty successful animated television show though, from 1986 to 1991. I loved that show.

Finally, the new Ghostbusters remake opens today. Paul Feig had been working on this since 2014. An all new cast would take the mantle of Ghostbusters from the original cast members. Finally, fans can rejoice, this beloved franchise will get a new life!

Except they didn't rejoice. They vehemently rejected the entire project after it was revealed the cast would be all female. That's right, nerds are actually terrible people. There is an obvious reaction to being labeled a misogynist, and plenty of people attempted to hide their obvious distaste for this film yet to be made by declaring the cast didn't bother them, but remakes are the worst.

This argument does have traction, given the responses to other nerdy franchise remakes, like the Ninja Turtles, and Superman. I'm sure some of the nerd rage was from regular critics aware of the long history of Hollywood screwing with science fiction, comics, and fantasy properties. But the response to this particular film goes far beyond normal critic skepticism. The level of vitriol and disgusting rhetoric I've seen posted about this film is far higher than films like Straw Dogs, The Thing, Conan the Barbarian, Star Trek, or True Grit. Here is some evidence... beware, the following screen captures may be nauseating:

These are just the comments I could find through a Google search. The film's Facebook page has each and every post trolled with similar mean spirited, misogynist, hateful comments. I have never seen the kind of bile spewed at a film that hadn't even been released yet. Alicia Malone from Fandango hasn't "seen this level of hatred by an extremely vocal group before a movie came out or before anyone even saw it. It’s unprecedented”.

I was perplexed at first why people feel the need to share their feelings about the directions this film decided to take. After all, a new Ghostbusters film is better than no Ghostbusters film. Since the original cast are all super old (or in Harold Ramis's case, dead), a direct sequel didn't look like a good idea.

But then I realized this makes perfect sense. The backlash isn't about remaking Ghostbusters, it's about the women cast as the heroes. I completely forgot that nerds are extremely sexist. These are the same dudes who hate female cosplayers, and Gamergate after all. This reaction to the movie is so bad, IMBD suspects that after the release in the UK, American fans were giving the film poor reviews before they even saw the film (the US release happens after IMBD opens the film for review). Anyone who hates an idea so much they have to try to sabotage it; ruin it for everyone else, not only smells of crazy desperation, but is also indefensibly mean.

USA Today ran a story about the backlash, and included Paul Feig and Dan Aykroyd's reactions. Aykroyd stated, "If they are hardcore misogynists and against the women’s participation, they’ll stay home. It won’t affect us".

I agree Dan, fuck those guys.

I saw the film. It is an exceptional science fiction comedy. Women can be funny and play interesting multidimensional characters. Ghostbusters may be an unabashed reboot full of cameos and easter eggs. But it's a fun, well written comedy with upgraded special effects, and quality acting from quality actors.

The best part, I thought, was the characters. Most of the time in rebooted franchises, the characters stay the same. But these characters are not gender swapped Venkman, Stantz, Zedmore and Spengler, they are entirely new individuals with their own personalities, quirks, and ways they interact.

See this film. It's good. It's funny. It defies all the negativity and hate poured on it by lame, sexist fanboys. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

That's No Barren Wasteland

Recently I read a first-hand account of property maintenance in the suburbs. A couple moved from the city into a more rural Ohio suburb and decided to let the property “go natural”. The town zoning commission, though, forced them to mow. The home owner described the experience as “a massacre. I ran over a snake and killed it. I killed a toad. I cut down all of these beautiful native plants and wildflowers”.
Fighting against routine residential property maintenance is probably a losing battle, especially when involving community health and safety, aesthetic, and property values. However, this idea of empty space having value beyond aesthetics deserves attention. Residential property is only one example. Other open spaces in our communities not tied to residential property values do exist and can be better managed.

Like what our family from Ohio realized, these manmade grassland areas do create their own unique ecosystems. Land cleared for several different reasons requires routine maintenance to remain open space. These areas include airports, capped landfills, croplands, abandoned lots, and hayfields. If not maintained, open areas grow back into forest. Cultivating small biodiverse habitats within our highly managed and sterile residential environments has its benefits.

Empty lots allowed to “go natural” can seem from the street as desolate, unkempt property. But from the inside, they can be bustling with activity. Plants and wildflowers grow here, attracting bees and other pollinators. Birds nest here, raising their young. Predators stalk prey seen as vermin that use the tall vegetation to hide. Safely maintaining these systems can potentially boost bee activity, encourage bird populations, and manage pest problems. In short, an area kept clear for a pragmatic reason still lives.

The important term is safe maintenance. Mowing, as our Ohio couple discovered, can be extremely devastating to a grassland system. Developing a maintenance plan coinciding with flowering seasons and nesting times, as well as deciding on best practices for maintenance methods helps protect and develop these exciting backyard ecological systems in harmony with our need for aesthetically pleasing suburban communities.

The University of New Hampshire recommends regularly mowing areas like this every three years at six inches or higher, and physically removing shrubs or young saplings. Mowing ought to be done in autumn, after the nesting and flowering seasons, and during the day, as birds roost in the grass at night. In addition, controlled burns may be used as well. Not only does mimicking this natural process enrich soils and spread native grasses, but also provides valuable practice for local fire departments.

Cleared sites don’t have to just sit idle and foster biodiversity either. In addition, grassland areas can work for their communities. These areas can host the space needed for renewable energy sources, such as wind farms, and provide biofuels.

Regularly scheduled mowing does provide waste. Biomass fuel from haying and grass silage provides a cheap energy alternative while dramatically dropping greenhouse emissions and protecting soil and groundwater. The surrounding community benefits from an otherwise wasted space that could potentially keep land values down, and seem unsightly. The funding saved can then be reinvested into the grassland habitat, strengthening the ecosystem.

Invasive plant species thrive in these environments, the one drawback to open spaces. The best way to manage this issue combines targeting these destructive species for removal and fostering a healthy turf stand capable of defending itself. The money saved with biofuels will pay for all of this.

In conclusion, the importance of open space turf areas goes far beyond residential aesthetics. Communities have an opportunity to create their own system within areas like these. A system that can benefit local ecology, fulfill its role as a necessary open space, and also benefit the community’s energy needs is most certainly worth exploring.