Thursday, February 27, 2003

There Goes the Neighborhood: The news saddened me, strangely, profoundly. I used to love watching Mr. Rogers. It didn't have the freaky, psychedelic qualities of "The Electric Company" or the range and depth of "Sesame Street", but damnit, this was a guy you could look up to and trust. His show was the same, which was reassuring, but different enough to keep your interest. The puppetry was strictly amateur, and the "special effects" anyone could replicate, but the tone and delivery really set his show apart. Lastly, he never was caught killing puppies; never endorsed products on infomercials. Basically, he never let you down. For a guy on public television, he had more impact than any primetime sitcom. R.I.P.
Rock me Amadeus: Ahh, you are arguing literal relevancy, I'm arguing Grammy relevancy, meaning who can still sell records. The Boss still can, for some reason. Bowie sort of still can, and if he can't he has this aura about him that make people still look at him, if not listen. Again, Costello keeps popping up (did you see The Simpsons "Rock and Roll Camp" with the Stones, Petty, Kravitz and Costello [among others]? - they really gave it to Elvis, which was fun), but only in Vanity Fair. Plant and Gabriel are just walking corpses. Your bigger point is simply inarguable, but I refuse to say that there has been no innovation if perhaps in less dramatic fashion. Simply put, the Beatles mastered the 4-person band, and in terms of melody, lyrics and arrangement, they're unbeatable. So, anyone playing a band with 3-5 members, featuring guitar, drums and bass, cannot escape comparison. However, what we all see today is that music, in the popular sense, will never be born of four guys (or girls) working the small clubs up to fame based on a loyal following and good music. Today, music is created in a lab, and then reproduced, given asthetically pleasing faces, and sold to Clearchannel for distribution on the airwaves.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Gods, Grammies, and Geritol: I hate to harumph... Ok, I love to, but the point is, rock and roll was dead well before Johnny Rotten delivered the news. His statement implied that punk was the stake of holly, but really it was dying all along. From the very beginning, there was a separate stream of imitation pop that piggybacked the creative forefront, whether it was Pat Boone covering "Tutti Frutti," the Crew Cuts singing "Sh-Boom," or Bill Haley "inventing" rock and roll by playing jump blues so white people could dance to it. You like the Beatles? Well here are 500 more "Merseybeat" bands you're gonna love! You like Jeff Beck, the Stones, the Faces? Well 25 years later we'll sell you a genuine pawn-shop zircon called the Black Crowes. The reason why Don McLean called the death of Buddy Holly (and Richie Valens and the Big Bopper) the "day the music died" was that nobody but Holly was innovating. Who was left? Fabian?

Down to brass tacks: Is anyone in your list still relevant? Close call. Bowie was irrelevant by 1980, so he put out a pop album and cruised on royalties. Gabriel was irrelevant by 1983; he made "So" (which was short for "So Lame I Didn't Bother with a Title") and cruised on the royalties. Plant was irrelevant in 1969, when Zep xeroxed the Jeff Beck Group (who were already harder, louder, and more accomplished musically, plus not dorks); he and Page became re-issue kings and cruised on royalties. Bruce was irrelevant in 1982. "Nebraska" and "The River" (both great records) confused his core audience, so he made "Born in the USA" and cruised on the royalties. (He did later return to his darker, slower stuff on "Tom Joad," but the Jersey meatheads still weren't buying. Kudos to Bruce for trying again, but he's still irrelevant.) As for Costello. He made a bunch of trashy, fun shit in the 70s, tried to get pop-sophisticated in the 80s, tried to get respect in the 90s, then made some more trashy, fun shit on "When I Was Cruel." Have you heard "Tear Off Your Own Head" off that particular record? It's got a great riff, a great chorus, a great beat, and it sounds wicked good cranked to eleven.

Re your second point (no more rock, only subgenres), it's bracing to consider rock's history. Very few artists in the past 30 years have done anything the Beatles didn't do first or better. Like REM? Listen to "We Can Work It Out." Like Soundgarden? Listen to "Helter Skelter." (About the only thing the Beatles didn't do well was country, which always came out sinding a little too Wild West rather than Nashville. On the other hand, they started their career doing Buddy Holly covers, so they knew the form.) I think of the Beatles as the great vertical axis in rock, and nearly everyone else as lines on the horizontal axis, emerging from some point on the vertical.

"Time is Running Out.": Hans Blix, Jr. was quoted as saying in response to questions from pool reporters in Baghdad. Carrying on where his father left of 22 years ago, Mr. Blix's latest report is believed to carry a strongly worded chastise aimed at Saddam Hussein that if he does not give back Qatar, he faces the possibility of his long range catapults (200 meters) being confiscated. Now in his 58th year of rule, the reclusive Hussein [insert AP pic of Hussein circa 2013 - last known picture] has maintained his iron grip over Iraq, including the recently annexed, former sovereign nation of Qatar, and shows no signs of breaking under the latest and 93rd resolution to be issued by the United Nations (currently comprised of France, Germany and Syria) that he must allow tour groups from Disney to inspect the presidential palaces. Comments from President Santorum were not available at press time.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Rock of Ages: Here was the field for the 2003 Grammy Awards for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance:
"Slow Burn", David Bowie
"45", Elvis Costello
"The Barry Williams Show", Peter Gabriel
"Darkness, Darkness", Robert Plant
"The Rising", Bruce Springsteen*** (denotes winner)

By virtue of this list, we left to presume that rock is effectively dead. When the last 70s rocker expires, there will be no more rock, only pop, "alternative" or metal. I mean, does anyone listen to Peter Gabriel or Robert Plant anymore? And I know that Elvis Costello is god to rock geeks, but that is all. Only Bowie and of course Springsteen can really make an argument that they are relevant any more, and with Bowie, you're pushing it. This is sad.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Oddity: I'm seeing a lot made of this fairly meaningless story. Why? I'm not trying to get off on a media rant here, but the headline misleadingly lends credence to the general idea that "inspections are working" as the French might put it. Why should we care about some stuff that was already quarantined and marked for disposal? What about all the other stuff? I don't buy this idea that Iraq has just been sitting quietly in the corner since it last kicked out the inspectors. Why push the UN weapons authority out of Iraq if you're going to comply (all of a sudden) with their demands? I think we need to send some 60 Minutes-style investigative team into Baghdad. They get the goods on Ford, Phillip Morris, etc. I'm sure Saddam's regime can't be much better organized in its deceit than an American corporation.
Left-handed support for Bjorn? You've done a good job of attempting to temper my widely-shared fear of massive global warming, now, I'm starting to believe. Recently, the Economist has written a brief piece on why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projected figures are also wrong. But, this critique is based on economic data, which is easier for me to buy into. What the IPCC does is estimate industrial growth in the world to project what emission output will be. Clearly, how fast, and in what manner, the developing nations achieve industrial independence is of vital importance to the study. The Economist shares two economists' viewpoints on why the IPCC is using bad data and coming to wrong conclusions. Now, this is not to say global warming, as a whole, is dismissed, but rather that its acceleration is not all that significant.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Thompson and the Dems: I've read Thompson's '72 ramble during each of the last three presidential races. It's good for keeping the bullshit-detector oiled. I think that your interpretation is pretty correct. Move ahead 30 years: The biggest Dem boosters are union members and blacks. Do you see any intertwining of ideology there, other than these being two groups that vote Dem out of sheer habit? The Democrats have too many bases to cover, nationally speaking -- always have, in modern times -- and it takes a feat of Clintonian proportion to cover them (which is to say, you swear loyalty to each group face to face, then screw them in the budget talks). The GOP is actively trying to hoist itself by the same petard, since "middle-aged white guy" is not what you might call a growth demographic. "Compassionate conservative" is a pre-emptive strike in the media wars. It allows Bush to tag himself as something before the media does (like when it called Bush 41 a "wimp") and before the right-wing nutbags do (like when they called Bush 41 a "liberal").
Is the Democratic Party inherently doomed? I just finished reading Hunter Thompson''s account of the '72 Presidential Race alluded to here earlier. Near the end he comments on why he didn't think any Democratic candidate could have beaten Nixon given the way things were that year (although he admits there could have been a better showing by another candidate). Then he makes a very interesting observation. He says that it wasn't so much the Party's ideals that cost it the victory (although he foresaw the death of Kennedy liberalism), but the people running the party. He said since the power base rested in the hands of those that resembled Mayor Daley from Chicago and other party hacks, they wouldn't have been able to mount the kind of challenge to Nixon that was required. Why? Because they too closely resembled that which they were seeking to replace, and in the period of unrest that existed in '72, people figured they'd go with the devil they knew as opposed to the devil they didn't.

This then raised an interesting question in my mind. If we accept, for purposes of argument that the GOP platform is "[personal] greed is good" (meaning more for us, less for the government), then a politician is, by nature, perfectly in line with that role (no one would argue that politicians aren't greedy - for power, approval or money). However, if we also accept that the Democrats say that "[personal] greed is bad" (meaning more for the government, and hence more hand-outs and wealth re-distribution), then you have a politician who is by nature, greedy and vain (give me votes because I'm the best!; let me spend your money on things I like) who has to pretend to be something other than what he is. The Democrats, then, have the handicap of having to do their job while maintaining that they're out for your best interests. It's much easier for the GOP politicians to simply say, no taxes, more income, than for the Democrats who have to justify more taxes with byzantine programs to spend the tax money on. Anyway, it's just a working hypothesis.

As an aside, I was finishing Thompson's book whilst sitting next to a fellow who was halfway through Peggy Noonan's "When Character Was King", her ode to Reagan. That's called juxtaposition.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Dante and the death penalty: Thanks to Arts and Letters for this piece on what Dante has to teach us concerning the death penalty. The author's point is that Dante was concerned with the contrapasso as the best method of inflicting true pain on the damned; by hitting the sinner with what got him there in the first place. Whereas we treat all our prisoners alike (except for length of sentence and degree of security), Dante wanted each sinner to have his punishment individualized to match the sin he was in hell for (leaving aside for effect the argument that it's more likely to be a combination of sins). The author provides the example of the McVeigh execution and how not even the families of the victims could agree as to what was most appropriate for him. Some wanted him to suffer as the victims did, some wanted remorse, some didn't know what they wanted. It seems that the death penalty, although certainly harsh in its overall effect, is considered too easy vis-a-vis the physical impact on the criminal (simple needle in the arm vs. stabbing, drowning or explosions). Imprisonment, as we now know it, also seems pretty cushy (libraries, recreation, civil rights). Bill O'Reilly advocates a return to "hard labor" to at least get some sweat equity out of the imprisonment.

What it all boils down to is the essential unanswered question: punishment vs. reform? The Quakers thought the "penitentiary" would provide the solace necessary for the prisoner to reflect and pray, thus becoming repentant. It turns out it just made them crazy. The failure of this style of imprisonment led to what we see today, although at the time, the penitentiary was viewed as a giant step forward over the fractured, unorganized jail system that existed at the time which usually led to prisoners being let out without concern over trying to improve them, thereby providing no real relief from crime (the prisoners could often get "better" after discussing what they did wrong with some other similarly-situated cons).

It therefore seems logical that for all prisoners, other than those in for life or on death row, some reform is necessary. If we want to decrease crime, then we need those who are incarcerated not to repeat when they are released. This then leads one to look to a mixture of "hard labor" (punishment) with some rehabiliation included. If one is in for life or on death row, reform would appear useless (unless you want a more peaceful prisoner to decrease in-house violence) and the state should see fit to make the prisoner's life a living "Inferno". While Dante had the right philosophical idea, can you imagine budgeting for gold cloaks encased in lead?

Friday, February 07, 2003

That said, the shuttle program is, quite literally, running laps. You can argue that that's what "shuttle" means. But the shuttle was shuttling before there was anything to shuttle to, only an Earth to shuttle from. The name finally had some meaning when we began to build a space station. NASA's shuttle program is perfect for building a space station: big payload capacity, spacewalk capability, reusability, durability. Yes, very durable. One re-entry accident in 20 years? That's a fine record. No, this accident won't shelve the shuttle. But, in a way, it should. Having these people go up and do some science work that could be done here is unworthy of the loss of life. I'll cut to the chase. The only reasons for the shuttle, the only reasons worth the risk, are maintaining the Hubble and building a space station. And, if that space station is not being built primarily as a launching point for a man-on-Mars mission, it should be scrapped too. I'm not interested in seeing the affects of zero-g on aging or any crap like that, except as incidental research on the long trips to other planets. We should be exploring, challenging ourselves. The shuttle we lost, Columbia, was named for Columbus, an explorer. But if Columbus had followed the same path that the shuttle program has, it'd be 1514 and he'd be running a middling spice-shipping outfit in the Caribbean. Bush needs, after the investigation, to decalre a Kennedy-esque goal: Mars by 2010. If we are to risk human lives in the exploration of space, let's get something in the bargain, other than an overpriced ride to high-Earth-orbit with some science-fair-style equipment on board.
Been trying to keep my mouth shut on the shuttle, but it's not gonna happen. Let's get this straight up front: These austronauts are brave people, and I feel awful for their families. They died in what they surely thought, in those moments late at night, was a sacrificial death, giving for science, exploration, etc. I honor that, and I honor them.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Another look at Secretary Powell's Presentation: Powell: Okay, is everybody here? People, please. We'd like to get started. Could you all just take...yes Kofi, we will need the slide projector. Yes. The remote is broken again? Okay, could you just stand over by it and when I do this *motioning with finger* you go to the next one, okay? If you see any that are upside down just got it. Okay, settle down. Right, now this first one shows unequivocally that Iraq had this truck next to this oil barrel in October and nowww...Kofi .... it's gone. Just gone.We're told it was overdue for inspection. Right. Iraq worrying about overdue inspections. *Chuckle* Right, *motions*. This next slide shows these two [makes motion with fingers] "soldiers" -- no Kofi, that wasn't the signal...back please -- talking and in the next slide *motions* you can blatantly see the guy-on-the-left's mustache practically falling right off. What a cheap disguise kit. If Iraq can afford these highly anodized aluminum tubes (we're talking aluminum here people), you'd think they could get better spy get-ups. Obviously, we can't trust these people. Okay, this one...hmmm, oh, ha-ha, must be Rummy playing a joke. Right, good one. I think my legs look in good in bermudas, but I can see that is not universally shared by everyone in this room, notably France. Moving on. You can see ...

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Alas, today I had to brush up on all the child-squelching lines ("Quiet, honey, that's the Secretary of State," etc.) while I watched Powell tell the Security council its business. The best thing about it is how humiliating it must be for countries like France and Germany. They have basically said, along with tens -- if not dozens -- of Americans, "Not in our name!" So why does it chap everyone's ass when we say, "Okay, we'll do it ourselves"? Do people like Jacques Chirac really think we're just dying to come back for one more round of "Mother May I?" at the UN? Well, this week I figured out that there is no answer to any of this. The UN has shown itself to be an irrelevant gaggle of cheap bureaucrats in ill-fitting suits, hanging stupid looking earpieces off their heads (guys, call Sony), and having chateaubriand and foie gras luncheons at the expense of me and some herdsman in Tanzania. The longer we pretend we give a good goddamn what these puffed-up peacemakers and dime-store diplomats have to say, the more important we make them. Today, Powell said, in diplo-speak, the UN is about to lose its last shred of respect. Why do you suppose North Korea is so comfortable telling the IAEA (and the UN) to pound sand right now? They know who they'll have to deal with in the end.
What a Week: I've taken another 4-week furlough from the job, so I'm spending my days with my boy. As you can probably understand, I'm loath to waste this time doing things like reading the paper, certainly not while the poop express chugs on. The headlines have come in like waves, and I watch them roll back again at the end of the day, too tired to listen to Chris Matthews shout like a 90-year-old with a bum hearing aid. I glance at the town's evening paper (AP, basically) when I step out for an evening smoke, and that's that. (Besides, the new Atlantic Monthly features Dr. O'Rourke giving Clinton the business, and why pass that up to hear about how France is such a stick in le mud?)
Neato Fighter Planes: This is why we need PBS! A wonderful 2-hour show on the competition between Boeing and Lockheed to develop for production the F-22 Joint Strike Fighter for the U.S. military. It was extremely interesting to watch the two teams go at it and see the budgets bloom (made even more interesting by Lockheed's $30MM accounting "oversight"). Anyway, many argue that this fighter is already not needed, but as long as there are lobbyists and Pentagon budgets to justify, we're going to have these types of planes.
Burden of Proof: Powell did a great job in his speech. Even Feinstein admitted that he made a great case. One of the most damning things is that Iraq is buying these metal tubes, that if used for standard ordinance, as Iraq insists to be the case, are way beyond the technical requirements needed, and much more expensive. They're for a centrifuge to treat uranium, make no mistake. In the CNN link, it lists each member of the Security Council's position with respect to force in Iraq. France must be so proud to see themselves so closely aligned with Syria. Anyway, if this doesn't mean we're going to war, I don't know what does.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

What to say: I was going to start by linking to the AP piece submitted shortly before the explosion, but, as usual, The Agitator beat me to it, so go there for the link, as well as some inspiring words from President Reagan when Challenger blew up. I'm sure many will try to find the terrorism angle due to the Israeli astronaut ("Hebrewnaut"??), but I would imagine, this is just one of those tragic accidents. I certainly do not wish to downplay what happened, but if one considers that our space program has really only had three fatal incidents in the past 35 years, one might suggest that that is a fairly good track record given how many things can go wrong with each launch/re-entry. Anyway, our prayers are with the families.