Monday, December 19, 2016

Are We Madly Insane?

Dr. Dog
Shame Shame
2010, ANTI-
produced by Rob Schnapf
Tony Leaman - bass, vocals
Scott McMicken - guitar, banjo, vocals
Frank McElroy - guitar, vocals
Zach Miller - pianos, organs
Juston Stens - drums, percussion
Erik Slick - drums, percussion

  • Stranger
  • Shadow People
I heard this band do an interview for the Bonaroo festival for NPR, which included a version of Jackie Wants a Black Eye. They played that festival on Friday in The Other Tent. Of course, I looked the band up and found this record.

It's their first album on ANTI- records after spending five years with Park the Van. The album has a throwback sound that reminds me of the Byrds, CSN, and the Band. It is light and folksy, the kind of songs that are easily reproduced by open mic warriors. They are a product of the 90's jam band scene that produced bands like Guster, Dispatch, and Wilco. This one may be their best. Also, it comes with a fold out poster!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why Do You Hate Me So? I Dont Know

Hootie and the Blowfish
Cracked Rear View
1994, Atlantic
produced by Don Gehman

Darius Rucker - vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion
Mark Bryan - guitars, mandolin
Dean Felber - bass, piano, clavinet
Jim Soni Sonefeld - drums, percussion, piano

  • Hold my Hand
  • Let Her Cry
  • I Only Wanna be with You/Use Me
  • Time
  • Drowning
This band stormed onto radio in 1994. After the pop-synth, glam rock of the late '80s and the thrash metal, grunge of the previous few years, the Hootie and the Blowfish released a debut so different and refreshing that it climbed the charts.

If I had to describe a distinguishable 90s pop rock sound, I'd say Hootie and Blowfish nailed it. They are bouncy and fun and happy-go-lucky, light with a hint of gospel, but also had a roots blues sound that will break your heart. Darius Rucker's baritone was something rare in rock music. I think, in retrospect, the band always had a country cross-over feel, so it is no surprise that Rucker made a career in country.

This record sold 10.5 million copies in its first year. It went Platinum 16 times. It is the 16th best selling record in the US of all time. It was number one on Billboard 200 five times and also was number one in New Zealand and Canada.

As quickly as this record rose, there was an equal and opposite backlash. I found this odd at the time, and still find it odd now. Was it because radio overplayed it? Was it because there were unfounded rumors they were gay? Was it because the front man was black in a predominately white man genre? I'm not sure, but the record still holds up as a genre melding eulogy to a loved one. Haters, predictably, were wrong.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

What Have We Done?

So, a crazy thing happened the other day, something that appeared to only happen in dystopian fiction, or in other countries far far away. This guy, this dumpster fire of a caricature of a human being, yelled and bullied and smeared his way into the presidential election and won.

The Donald, or as Jon Stewart once called him, Lord Fuckface Von Clownstick, is now the president-elect of the United States of America.

There has been a lot of articles, blogposts, statuses, memes, etc about Trump, Trumpettes (I refuse to call them anything else), and the horrorshow that may become the new reality in America. I think, for anyone either in the Trumpette basket, or willing to try get along peacefully, there are a few things to remember.
What I think of when I say Trumpette
Thing One: Trump is still the Right's fault.

I have seen a few articles trying to pin this election outcome on Liberal Elites who weren't paying attention. This may be true, if rich white people cared about poor stupid white people, the Democrat agenda may have been changed to reach this terribly misinformed and angry base. But then again, rich white Republicans have been jerking the poor stupid white people around since Nixon for the expressed purpose of misleading them to vote against their self interests. So... this probably wouldn't have made a difference.

There is evidence that a large slice of the voting public relishes in their ignorance. The Uneducated White Man has become a focus after this election. Anti- Intellectualism should not be a thing to be proud of. We ought to continue to invest in education and foster the scouting mind, and other good learning habits. This is difficult when we continue to slash education budgets, affecting teacher salaries, but still expect schools to perform well and retain quality teachers.

See this for more on celebrating the uneducated.

It is much more important to look at how certain groups vote solely based on one issue. For example: Evangelicals supporting Trump because they believe Democrats like Hillary want to kill babies instead of banning abortion. Or any redneck militiaman who is convinced Democrats want to take their guns away, even though there are no Democrats on record ever saying that, nor did it happen under 8 years of Obama, or 8 years of Bill Clinton.

See here for more thoughts on Religious zealotry.

Thing Two: Trump doesn't get a free pass now that he's been elected.

How about apologists who claim that the media has misconstrued Trump's stand on racial equality, and women's rights? The hypocrisy of this astounds me. Democrats come right out and speak of equality for all and they're called "libtards", like its retarded to want everyone to have an equal chance at a good life. But when Trump mocks the physically disabled, questions the patriotism of a Gold Star family, values women based on their looks alone, and pledges to ban immigrants based on religion, he's just joking and talking in hyperbole. Words have meaning.

A common mantra for Trumpettes is "he says what I think". Ok, but presidents don't say those things, even if they believe them. Woodrow Wilson was a huge racist. But he managed to keep any crazy racist things he may have been thinking from slipping out during public speeches. Kanye West once said Bush hates black people. But there was no evidence other than how long it took for FEMA to handle the Katrina disaster. Bush wasn't habitually tweeting with Klan members.

My point is, if you truly want to "make America great again", and you want to compare contemporary America with any other era in American history, Trump is unacceptable as a president in comparison to any other of the 44 you have to choose from. Except maybe Andrew Jackson and Herbert Hoover. Jackson helped murder millions of Indians and gave Nazis the blueprint for their final solution. Hoover loved the free market so much he led the economy right into the Great Depression. Not very good role models.

It may be true that white people in this country have felt pushed back to the margins and made to feel ashamed. No one should feel ashamed of being themselves... Unless being yourself means you habitually make other people feel afraid and keep them from being themselves. Hatred never gets a pass. There is a group of Liberals that have worked very hard to expose white male privilege. It has been aggressive and oppressive, and it has helped breed a contempt for feminists and humanists seeking equality for everyone. No one likes being called the bad guy repeatedly. This doesn't really matter. Bottom line, no one argues: Stop being shitty elitists! White men aren't superior. Rich suburban college grads aren't superior. Right Wing Free Marketers aren't superior. Stop it. Period.

Societies and economies are much better off and stronger when diversity is protected. We can all win. stop being shitty.

More on how things have meanings.

Thing Three: Taxes are important and necessary.

Get Government out of my life!

No one likes being told what to do, right? I mean, just about everyone between the ages of 12 to 18 cant wait to get out of their parents' house so they don't have to follow ridiculous rules. The problem is, adults should be way past acting like adolescents when it comes to politics. Once again, I blame the Right for fostering this idea that taxes are theft, and government is corrupt and wasteful.

Corruption definitely happens. There are no term limits for Congress, and these politicians all had lives before in communities throughout the country. There are plenty of opportunities to make deals in Washington that favor the politician. There are plenty of opportunities for corporations to grease palms and make deals that favor both the politician and the corporation and screw the US citizens.

Lobbying is a problem. Gerrymandering is a problem. Pork barrel spending is a problem. Obstructionist legislative tactics are a problem. Citizens United is a problem. Taxes are not a problem.

In fact, recently the great state of Kansas had a chance to slash business tax rates, with the hope of stimulating growth. Local businesses save money on taxes, invest in themselves, grow their businesses, create jobs and therefore grow state taxes and build the economy. Trickle down economics finally realized.... Except the exact opposite happened. Business owners saved money on taxes, for sure, but they had no obligation to reinvest that money, they just kept it as profit. Businesses did not grow or create jobs. Kansas did not slash budgets enough to handle the revenue shortfall, they relied on economic growth that never happened. Predictably Kansas couldn't balance the budget. In short, taxes matter.

Societies and economies are better off and stronger when everyone pays their fair share. A government that doesn't work because it is underfunded is no help to anyone.

See this for more about taxes.


There is, and has been a Republican agenda that has plans to shrink government beyond usefulness. I believe the Koch brothers put it this way: make it small enough to drown like a baby in the bathtub. Now that Trump is president, and the GOP has control of both chambers of Congress, with the ability to nominate and approve Supreme Court justices that lean conservative, the Republican agenda has a real good chance of becoming a reality. This means rolling back the Affordable Care Act, defunding Planned Parenthood, rolling back civil rights afforded to homosexuals, defunding the EPA and deregulating environmental protections.

This last is probably the most devastating. Under the guise of stimulating economic growth, ecological protections will be scuttled. Plenty of GOP legislators don't believe climate change is real. We sure don't like spending tax money, but if the climate continues to warm, there will be considerably more natural disasters. More disasters means more to clean up. Disaster relief costs money. Tax money. Repealing regulations that protect water and timber and fish resources will lead to increased climate damage.

Societies and economies are better off and stronger when integrated with a strong and healthy ecosystem.

Bottom Line: I sincerely hope this next four years turns out better than expected. But, I fear the next election will have the same slogan. Make America Great Again may actually be a real goal.

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 (which became a major plot point in Star Trek The Next Generation) 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
1972, Reprise
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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

You Must be Wondering What Type of Creature am I

This picture is from the "Shit I See at Work" folder. It is common for this guy to rest on objects near the water, or on the ground, which is where I found him. Although, there wasn't any large standing bodies of water around.

The Common White Tail dragonfly, also known as the Longtail Skimmer, plathemis lydia, can be found from the East Coast of North America all the way to the West. I posted about other dragonflies before. The Common Whitetail and August Meadowhawk are from the same Libellulidae family, although the whitetail is at least three times the size, one of the largest in the family. Some classify the Common Whitetail in the genus libellula, but others contend that it is a separate genus and should be classified as genus plathemis.

Check out those cool wing patterns!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Poll Position: Too Good to be True?

Recently there was a poll taken regarding the name of the Washington, DC football team. It pretty much matched a similar poll conducted in 2004 which showed a large number (9 out of 10) of American Indians support the mascot and don't find it offensive. The poll was conducted by the Washington Post, the hometown paper of the Washington football team. They polled 504 American Indians from all over the country.

The full story as reported in The Washington Post, the International Business Times, and Market Watch is linked below.

There are a few things I noticed about this poll:
  1. The Washington Post claims responsibility for the poll, however, it isn't clear if the franchise had a hand in it also.
  2. 504 people doesn't necessary make a good survey size, especially since the registered Indian population is closer to 3 million (Yes, we make them register). Also, The Post claims the 504 people were polled all over the country. But what is the demographic background of the survey size? How many are urban Indians? How many live on reservations? How many from the Oneida Nation that strongly oppose the name? Age demographics? Education level? Are they football fans? What tribes are they from? Are they 100% card carrying Indians, or people who may have one half-Cherokee great grandfather? These sorts of things make a difference.
  3. I find it very interesting that this poll seems to exonerate Dan Snyder from looking like a heartless racist opportunist.
It is easy to read a headline and take it at face value. People do this all the time, and never bother to read between the lines, or realize what the story leaves out, possibly on purpose. According to this poll, the Washington football team has been vindicated. They have proof again that they aren't in fact racist, despite all of the other facts to the contrary. They polled a few actual Indians and those they polled almost unanimously said Redskins is not a racist term. Awesome! Story over, bring on the new stadiums and jerseys and put away those protest signs and radio ads!

Except, the fact remains the team is named after a skin color. It is a team owned and run by non-Indians who make a lot of money off an image of a person that does not represent them in any way. There is no poll that will change that, no matter how high the percentage.

not actually what Dan Snyder looks like...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sorority Slump? Fuck that Noise

Dead Sara
Pleasure to Meet You
2015, Pocket Kid Records

Emily Armstrong -- vocals, guitars
Siouxsie Medley -- guitars
Sean Friday -- drums
Chris Null -- bass

  • Suicidal
  • Mona Lisa
  • Something Good
Bands with such strong debuts sometimes struggle to follow up with another hit record. Redoing what was successful never seems as genuine, and recapturing any sort of magic can often be difficult. Successful follow up efforts are usually not just copying what happened on the last record, but learning and evolving musically into something better. Dead Sara's second record is definitely not a carbon copy of the debut. Produced on their own indy label, and funded by Pledge Music (just like Better Nature by the Silversun Pickups), Pleasure to Meet You shows how the band has expanded their songwriting to incorporate other rhythms, sounds, melodies not heard on the first record, but still reflect the personality of the band.

This album is as optimistic and uplifting as it is devastating. Some tunes are much more positive and happy than their first record. But there are still songs that cover some of the darkness found on the debut. I think, as a whole, these songs cover the spread on who Dead Sara is, and what they are capable of.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nerds Cannot be Satisfied: Star Wars Edition

Man oh Man, did I enjoy the new Star Wars movie!

Episode 7: A New Hope The Force Awakens was pretty brilliant, all things considered. Not only did we receive a new start to a stagnant franchise mired in controversy (those prequels still piss me off), we also received a rebuttal to this joke:

The fact that there are almost no other women in the entire first trilogy didn't occur to me for a long time. Now that I'm aware, I can't watch it without finding it strange. Most of the characters and extras are all dudes. The abundance of female speaking and non speaking parts in The Force Awakens make the older trilogy all the more weird. I found this more realistic dynamic made the whole film much more enjoyable.

Of course there are detractors. Fans can not be satisfied, remember? It has been pointed out that The Force Awakens follows the plot to A New Hope almost exactly. The main character tries to get off a desert planet to join a rebellion, ends up storming a castle, and ultimately blows up a superweapon. Sounds familiar?

This doesn't bother me though, as Star Wars is, above all else, an homage to classic mythology. Hero stories are often cyclical, so it makes sense that the modern version would be also.

There have been complaints about the villains. Kylo Ren is kind of a big baby. I'm okay with this. The dark side embraces hate, anger, and fear. They aren't exactly characteristics of strong, intelligent individuals. It would be surprising if the next sith lord wasn't an unhinged cry baby.

someone has daddy (granddaddy?) issues
Snoke and Hurr and Phasma didn't get truly developed. I'm ok with this also. In the original trilogy, we didn't even see the emperor up close until the 3rd film, and he's the most important villain. In the prequels (shudder) we received a new villain in each film, and they were introduced and dispatched before being developed at all. I'm sure these new bad guys will be fleshed out as the films roll out. I'm not worried.

Also, I have seen Daisy Ridley thrown under the bus as being not a good actress. Wooden acting and flat dialogue delivery are major concerns for these critics. However, if we are going to compare this new lead character to other Star Wars films, she is lightyears ahead of Hayden Christiansen. Even young Mark Hamill had similar issues in his first major role. This complaint could be chalked up to sexism. Besides, I'd take Rei in The Force Awakens over Luke in A New Hope in a second.

Personally, I think it is awesome that female fans finally have another Star Wars character they can identify with, who isn't a damsel in distress half the time. Strong female characters matter. If you don't believe me, check out the link below.
Click for Nerdist article
Despite the obvious reprisal of the original film, I think overall The Force Awakens was a success. It provided everything Star Wars fans needed. We needed assurances that the franchise would be in better hands than George Lucas's. We needed good connections between the original trilogy's characters that we loved, and new ones. We needed a strong compelling story to propel us into new adventures. I feel like this is a good beginning. The nay sayers can all go to hell, nerf herders.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Another TV Party!

A while ago... a looooong while ago, I wrote a post about television shows that I watch. Like the Time Hop feature from Facebook, I found it interesting to reread that post and see what exactly I was watching several years ago. Only one of those shows is still on. This post is a follow up.

Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands

Right away, this show is kind of suspect. The subtitle is awkward. A show about Beowulf could go either way, epically awesome, or shallow and lame. The show was made for the British network ITV, but is also broadcast on the Esquire network in the US.

The show is loosely based on the epic poem. It takes place in the fictional Shieldlands (obviously). The sets and costumes have a middle ages Germanic/Norse quality to them. The basic plot so far follows the politics of the Shieldlands following the death of their jarl, Beowulf's adoptive father, and the power struggle that ensues. Also, there are non humans called the mudborn that are feared and hated by people, but are uniting for war.

This series is clearly a response to HBO's Game of Thrones. But it is still quality. The characters are interesting and complex, there are plenty of strong multidimensional female characters (actually the best characters), and there are plenty of subplots that keep things interesting and set up future story lines.

There are connections to the actual epic poem. Beowulf is the main character, obviously. Heorot is the village he returns to, once ruled by Hrothgar. The Wulfings are a thing in the show too, and are depicted as Viking raiders. There also seems to be a monster character who may eventually be Grendel. Other than that, there are no other connections from the original poem.
Rick and Morty

Animation stopped being just for kids sometime in the early 90s. This show follows in the footsteps of Futurama and Back to the Future. This is certainly a show for science fiction dorks. Rick is a Doc Brown-esque mad scientist, and Morty is his grandson. The show follows their balance between domestic life and space/time travel. It's super clever, funny, and Ren and Stimpy disgusting. There are only 2 seasons, but each episode is totally rewatchable over and over.

Brooklyn Nine Nine

I was a huge fan of Super Troopers when it came out in college. I was excited for Reno 911 when it debuted too, because I figured it was piggybacking on the success of the Broken Lizard movie. Apparently there is a difference between funny slacker cops, and cops that are funny because they're stupid and behave like Kindergarten was yesterday. Basically Reno 911 makes the Keystone Cops look like Dragnet. It's terrible. So, when Brooklyn Nine Nine debuted I was skeptical.

While watching the first episode, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is this show hilarious, but the police officers aren't ridiculous stoners, or incredibly incompetent idiots. The captain is a gay black man who takes his job very serious. There are good detectives who do good police work. The personalities are what make the comedy. This show proves that a cop show can be funny and still be about professional policemen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Got Milk?

Here is another post in the "stuff I find at work" category. Today's fun new friend is far less terrifying than he looks. This dude is a baby lampropeltis triangulum, or eastern milk snake. Milk snakes are a species of king snake, and can look like corn snakes, fox snakes, and scarlet snakes, but are the only snake that looks like this north of New Jersey.

Young milk snakes, like my friend here, are non venomous and feast on slugs and earthworms, and insects like crickets. Adults mostly eat small lizards, frogs and rodents, but will also go after birds and their eggs and other snakes.

The snake gets it's name because they hang out in barns during the day. Apparently there is no other reason to be found in a barn unless you feed on cows milk... so because people are stupid, we created this myth that milk snakes suck on cow's udders. Idiots.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Poetry Slam: What Was is Again

The current state of things in the United States can seem overwhelming. It's election season. The country is reeling from a number of mass shootings, a water crisis in crumbling urban sprawls, protests for racial equality, and rallies for the underrepresented working class. There is an unpopular president in the White House, a tense relationship with Russia, and international terrorism. The country is wrestling with it's identity, progressing towards a more accepting diverse culture, but still attempting to cling to it's predominantly white, Christian roots.

Allen Ginsberg wrote a poem in 1975 about American involvement in nefarious acts foreign and domestic. The poem critiques capitalism, calling it's competitive nature fuel for anger. The themes of privilege, money and power, and inequality echo the present day and could just have easily been written in 2016. Themes from Black Lives Matter, I am the 99%, and the threat of the Islamic State fit right into the narrative. We still have drug problems. We still have a prison problem. We still have a rich banker problem. We still have a police brutality problem. After reading this, the parallels are very interesting. Those garbage cities are Detroit and Chicago. Those gangsters and goons and strong arm squads are the GOP, the militarized police, the lobbyists and SuperPacs that "got rich on wanting protection for the status quo". You could even swap out Kennedy for Obama in the line "Kennedy stretched and smiled and got double crossed by lowlife goons and agents" and it would make sense.

I've added the whole poem below. Enjoy.

Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox

It had to be flashin' like the daily double
It had to be playin' on TV
It had to be loud mouthed on the comedy hour
It had to be announced over loud speakers

The CIA and Mafia are in cahoots

It had to be said in old ladies' language
It had to be said in American headlines

Kennedy stretched and smiled and got double crossed by lowlife goons and agents

Rich bankers with criminal connections

Dope pushers in CIA working with dope pushers from Cuba working with a big time
syndicate from Tampa, Florida

And it had to be said with a big mouth

It had to be moaned over factory foghorns
It had to be chattered on car radio news broadcasts
It had to be screamed in the kitchen
It had to be yelled in the basement where uncles were fighting

It had to be howled on the streets by newsboys to bus conductors
It had to be foghorned into New York harbor
It had to echo onto hard hats
It had to turn up the volume in university ballrooms

It had to be written in library books, footnoted
It had to be in the headlines of the Times and the mind
It had to be barked on TV
It had to be heard in alleys through ballroom doors

It had to be played on wire services
It had to be bells ringing
Comedians stopped dead in the middle of a joke in Las Vegas

It had to be FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and Frank Costello syndicate
mouthpiece meeting in Central Park, New York weekends,
reported Time magazine

It had to be the Mafia and the CIA together starting war on Cuba,
Bay of Pigs and poison assassination headlines

It had to be dope cops in the Mafia
Who sold all their heroin in America

It had to be the FBI and organized crime working together
in cahoots against the commies

It had to be ringing on multinational cash registers
World-wide laundry for organized criminal money

It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI together
They were bigger than Nixon
And they were bigger than war

It had to be a large room full of murder
It had to be a mounted ass- a solid mass of rage
A red hot pen
A scream in the back of the throat

It had to be a kid that can breathe
It had to be in Rockefellers' mouth
It had to be central intelligence, the family, allofthis, the agency Mafia
It had to be organized crime

One big set of gangs working together in cahoots

Murderers everywhere

The secret
The drunk
The brutal
The dirty rich

On top of a slag heap of prisons
Industrial cancer
Plutonium smog
Garbage cities

Grandmas' bed soft from fathers' resentment

It had to be the rulers
They wanted law and order
And they got rich on wanting protection for the status quo

They wanted junkies
They wanted Attica
They wanted Kent State
They wanted war in Indochina

It had to be the CIA and the Mafia and the FBI

Multinational capitalists
Strong armed squads
Private detective agencies for the rich
And their armies and navies and their air force bombing planes

It had to be capitalism
The vortex of this rage
This competition
Man to man

The horses head in a capitalists' bed
The Cuban turf
It rumbles in hitmen
And gang wars across oceans

Bombing Cambodia settled the score when Soviet pilots
manned Egyptian fighter planes

Chiles' red democracy
Bumped off with White House pots and pans

A warning to Mediterranean governments

The secret police have been embraced for decades

The NKVD and CIA keep each other's secrets
The OGBU and DIA never hit their own
The KGB and the FBI are one mind

Brute force and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money
Brute force, world-wide, and full of money

It had to be rich and it had to be powerful
They had to murder in Indonesia 500000
They had to murder in Indochina 2000000
They had to murder in Czechoslovakia
They had to murder in Chile
They had to murder in Russia

And they had to murder in America

New York, May 30, 1975, 3 A.M.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nerds Cannot Be Satisfied: Superman Edition

The new Warner Brothers/DC movie just came out this weekend. The reviews were much like Man of Steel reviews from 2013. No one has anything good to say about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Basically, if you believe all the reviews, this movie is an overhyped, gauche trainwreck.

To be fair, we kind of all saw this coming as the movie was being made and stuff was being leaked. My first clue that Warner Brothers was going to not be successful like their competition (Marvel Studios and Disney) was their shared universe plan. Instead of doing a few solo films which culminate in one big super team-up (like the Avengers) they were going to do the team up first and then split up into solo films.
Apparently the WB never learns lessons from past experiences. The large team-up movie always sacrifices something that makes a movie good. There are so many characters and so much going on, that either plot, character development, or dialogue (or all three) suffers. Marvel found a solution to this by developing characters in their own solo films, and then combining those characters later on. The characters continue to develop relationships in subsequent movies. Warner/DC decided they had to be different, and their film suffered.

The reviews hate on basically two fronts. The first being the pace and plot of the film, which on the surface doesn't seem to make sense. The second is how uncharacteristic the characters are.

I agree with the first point. There are basically two stories being told in this movie, the Batman story, and the Superman story. Two main plotlines are being told at the same time from two different perspectives. These perspectives then collide in the first part of the third act. The reason the plot makes no sense is because it's two stories being told at the same time, and neither has enough time to establish itself. So instead of one good well rounded plot, we have two semi-realized stories competing with each other. Both of which create their own plot holes. On top of that, there are other side plots and half plots thrown in to add to the confusion.

So, there are problems with the film and it's writing, and plot. However, how the characters are portrayed is not one of them. Comic book fans are the loudest, most difficult to please critics in the history of media. This film once again proves it. The main complaint seems to be "Superman is not Superman enough".

The Man of Steel has had a publication history of 78 years. Since his inception in 1938, Superman gained the powers of flight, xray vision, and heat vision and became bullet proof in addition to his super strength and super speed. He was joined by other super family members like Supergirl, Superwoman, Powergirl, a super dog and a super horse, a few clones, and an entire miniature Kryptonian city in a bottle. He married Lois Lane. Superman died in 1992, came back to life in 1993, and lost his powers altogether for a time in 2006. Superman evolved from an aggressive vigilante who killed, committed arson, and fought the police and national guard to a reserved, responsible protector of justice who upholds the law and works with the authorities.

My point to all this is Superman, like anyone who has been around for almost 80 years, has not been the same and deserves to be written as a more complex, multidimensional character. The fact that Superman has so many superpowers, and is essentially unflawed and indestructible has set him up to be an uninteresting and unrelatable failure. Writing interesting Superman stories is difficult. There are really only two stories to tell. The first is Superman meets another overly super powered man/thing and they punch each other silly until Superman comes out on top. The second is Superman has an existential crisis about how he's the last of his kind, or wrestles with his absolute power and responsibility.

Fans of comics want to see the comic up on a big screen. But which story? There are 78 years of Batman and Superman stories, and not all of them are good. The Superman in Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice is certainly the same Superman from the comics, it may take some looking, but you'll find bits and pieces of him popping up in storylines all throughout his publication history. Personally I would rather have the Henry Cavill Superman badass than the Christopher Reeve no personality Superman, or the Superman straight outa Dragnet that was on television in the 50s.

Instead of complaining about Superman, fans ought to be excited about the awesome Wonder Woman performance. Saying she stole the show and saved the film would be an understatement. I'm kind of disappointed we have to wait until 2017 for her solo film.

The more I think about this film, the less I believe it to be a bad movie. Could the writing have been better? Probably. Could the reason Batman and Superman stop fighting and team up been more realistic? Yes. Are there parts of the film that seemed unnecessary? I can think of a couple dream sequences that could have been left out. But otherwise, the film holds up, and delivers what the obvious title promises.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Feeding Frenzy!

Nature can be terrifying! Look at these monsters, devouring everything in sight! Horrifying! It's a good thing there was a screen between me and these insatiable birds.

These are American Goldfinches, spinis tristis. They don't look very yellow, but it is February, and goldfinches are the only finch to undergo a complete molt. This means they are super bright and yellow in the Summer, and boring and olive colored in the Winter. They like to hang out and feed in groups, like my picture suggests.

I was really hoping these were chicadees, because then I could use a bunch of homonym puns (genuses in the Paridae family are also known as tits or titmice). But, maybe I'll be able to get pictures of that kind of bird another time.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Doggin My Soul Since the Day I was Born

Ray Lamontagne
2004, RCA
produced by Ethan Johns
  • Trouble/Burn
  • How Come/Crazy
  • Forever My Friend
  • Jolene/Crazy
This album proves anyone, even a shoe factory worker from Maine, can be the next great singer/songwriter. Ray Lamontagne debuted with this record, and it's amazing. He clearly shows parallels to his influences, Crosby Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Dylan, and Otis Redding. He has a distinct voice, giving off Van Morrison vibes.

Lucy Davies from the BBC wrote in 2004 that Lamontagne "manages to make typical singer-songwriter 3 chord fodder, with subject matter heard a thousand times before sound interesting and fresh". His approach to songwriting, and the way he delivers has helped revitalize the blues genre. Much like Ben Harper and Nathaniel Ratliffe, he plays the blues, but just differently enough to make it new.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Winter is Here. Make Some Soup

I like to cook sometimes. Usually, I don't make a big production out of it. Stir fry and oatmeal don't take very long. But sometimes I remember I can do more than easy 20 minute meals, especially if the recipe is mostly tossing stuff together and letting it sit on low heat forever.

My soup recipe is one of those. Like my chili, it is always open to changes based on what I have available, or whatever. Here is an easy step by step recipe:

  • Quart of chicken or vegetable stock (I use Swanson's with less sodium)
  • smoked pig's hocks (only 1, but you can buy a bunch and freeze them for other soups)
  • 1 Onion (or several scallions, whichever you prefer)
  • 1 whole garlic (don't remove the cloves)
  • a few chopped carrots
  • a few chopped celery
  • 1 can diced tomatoes (I use sun roasted ones)
  • 1 can beans (you pick. I like kidneys or red beans, but whatever)
  • meat (whatever you have available. I've used lamb, veal, and chicken before)
  • Your favorites spices. add whatever, make it hot, make it mellow, whatever you want.
  1. preheat over to 400
  2. put whole garlic, beans, vegetables, can of tomatoes in pan and roast that in oven for 40 minutes
  3. while that is going on, cook your meat of choice. If you have something leftover from another meal, like Thanksgiving turkey, Easter lamb, or something from a roast, cut that up and put it aside. Cut up cooked meat of choice into manageable pieces, preferably bite size.
  4. heat stock in a pot with the pig's hock.
  5. When vegetables are done roasting, add them with your meat of choice to the stock. Squeeze the garlic out into the stock also, removing the cloves from their sleeves. Throw the empty garlic clove out.
  6. Turn the stove down low and cover the pot. Let the soup sit on low heat for 2 or 3 hours or until you're hungry. Stir periodically.
  7. When ready to eat, take out the pig's hock. There isn't a lot of meat on that, but if you like, you can cut off what you can and add that to your soup too. Throw out the bones.
  8. Serve your soup hot, or let it cool and freeze it for later. Enjoy.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Nerds can not be Satisfied: Ninja Turtle Edition

This emergence of geek culture has been pretty awesome for everyone that enjoys comics. We have actual well-made films adapted from comic book heroes now. Which is huge. In case you forgot, before Marvel started taking more responsibility for their live action properties, we had to watch crap like Captain America, and Lou Ferrigno's Hulk tv show. And the Super Friends. And Joel Schumacher's garbage bin of Batman films.
This exists.
My point is, die hard comic book fans had much to complain about up until recently. Now there are actual comic book writers producing comic book movies, and although there are things that need to be changed and rearranged for film, there are fewer executives forcing major changes to characters and plots that they don't care about or understand. Comic nerds ought to be rejoicing. But, as with everything, people forget things. Like how much progress has been made.
maybe this will help those memories...
I bring this up because, recently the trailer for the second Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released. Predictably, it was met with disdain from old school TMNT fans. I don't understand any of the arguments meant to smear the film that hasn't even been released yet. I get why fanboys distrust Michael Bay (the Transformers franchise sucks). But I really can't understand what fans of the original Turtles comics, or cartoon show, expect. Eastman and Peter Laird created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic in 1984. Soon this comic was turned into an animated cartoon series in 1987. The comic (and cartoon) is about four people-sized mutated turtles who live in a sewer in New York, and practice martial arts with their surrogate father, a giant talking rat.

The plot of this story revolves around their unending battle with a secret ninja cabal led by The Shredder, an evil samurai warrior who is also in league with a race of extra-dimensional talking brain aliens. Also, there is a rotating cast of anthropomorphized mutants that all seem to know martial arts, both villains, and allies.

There is a full list of supporting characters on Wikipedia. Click the picture to the left to see for yourself. It's pretty nuts. Aside from four giant ninja turtles, a rat kung fu master, and a race of brains, there is a mutant mosquito, sentient garbage, a giant talking eyeball, Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs, a sumo wrestling hamster and several other mutant lizards, frogs, and small woodland creatures. Clearly, this series is a well grounded, realistic comic book franchise that's not at all silly or ridiculous.

Critics of the 2014 movie didn't like how the new digital turtles looked compared to the rubbery suits worn by actors in the 1990 film. This is a little like Godzilla fans pining away for the days of b-movie magic. These new turtles actually look like turtles, instead of green blobs with masks.

a little side by side comparison...
Perhaps nostalgia for the "good ole days" gets in the way of actual honest criticism for older films. 
Not only did the 1990 film showcase actors in foam suits with goofy fish mouths, but the plot itself doesn't really make any sense either. Four giant turtles are required to stop a crime wave in New York City? Pretty sure if the largest police department in the United States is having trouble with a gang of criminal ninjas, four freaks with ancient hand combat weapons isn't really going to make a difference.

To be fair the plot to the 2014 remake isn't much better, but at least there is a super villain with a super villainous scheme, one that is far better than just leader of a gang of pickpockets. The Shredder in the 1990 film is no better than samurai Fagin covered in knives.

The 1991 sequel is even worse. As I recall, fans were expecting Bebop and Rocksteady from the comic and cartoon show. But what we received was The Secret of the Ooze with Tokka and Rahzar, quite possibly the worst comicbook movie villains of all time. This new film, Out of the Shadows, promises to have the real Bebop and Rocksteady, and Krang. So... we finally get what we asked for 25 years ago.

The franchise has always been about silly nonsensical adventures of teenage, pizza eating, sewer dwelling, ninjitsu testudines, and their giant rat karate master and all their various mutant allies and enemies. Of course the films are going to reflect the source material. Is the 2014 movie perfect? Probably not. Is it better than the movies from the early '90s? Absolutely. Does it follow the source material in all it's wacky, cheesy glory? Not completely, but that's ok, because we all want an actual good movie, not Batman and Robin.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's February. We're so Eft.

It's February. For such a short month, February takes so long to get through. Lewis Black once said things get so grey in February, that by the end, you just want to slit your wrists to see color.

To help with our collective Seasonal Affective Disorder, I bring you a dash of color. No self mutilation necessary.

This little guy is known as the Red Eft. The eft is the juvenile stage of the Eastern Newt, notophthalmus viridescens. There are four subspecies, since this is New England, his is most likely the red spotted variety. 

They live through three stages of life, the larva tadpole stage, the eft juvenile stage, and the adult stage. The eft, pictured here in its glorious color, is terrestrial, unlike the other two stages of its development. The tadpole will shed it's gills when becoming an eft. They travel in order to spread the species, and then redevelop gills and become an aquatic adult newt. 

The peninsula sub species skips the eft stage altogether, because its boring. Don't be like the penisula newt subspecies. February is boring enough, but just think, Spring is around the corner. I promise.