Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Answers to Everything, Coming Full Circle

When I was in 9th grade, I decided that I didn't believe in God.  This felt like my biggest step of rebellion at that point, living in an affluent Northern California suburb along a street with about a dozen churches in the half mile going south.  In retrospect, I wasn't really rejecting all definitions of God, just the Christian one as the only one I was really familiar with.  I was both finding that model both uncompelling and easy to rationalize as filling a human need as that handy answer to everything for the living conditions and community fundraising needs people experienced for a millennium and a half.

As I've aged, and noticed the fervor of which atheism has received vocal and popular support this century, I've kind of flipped about what position is actually the rebellious one.  I live in a time and place where scarcity is a non-issue, science explains a vast majority of what we face in our daily lives, and questions about the source of everything don't feel all that disconcerting or unreasonable to not know the answer to.  Frankly, atheism is much more likely to be the default position for today's upscale American in exactly the same way Christianity was for the less fortunate European of yesteryear.  It is a luxury to live in a world where man has control over enough things that we don't need the bigger answers.

In that context, I have to appreciate the efforts of any group who puts a huge amount of energy into developing a model for the universe that makes a serious effort to have internal logical consistency and also address the holes that others try to punch in it.  When it comes down to it, atheism isn't so much a belief as it is a rejection of other beliefs, and I no longer feel as proud about rejecting others if I'm not willing to bring my own project to the science fair.  I think my father was trying to tell me this once, but he couldn't articulate it in a way that registered for me.  But then again, his model of God was so not fleshed out that I've never found it much of an explanation either.

Today, at six years and one month, my little girl asked the big questions: "Where did the first people come from?" When given the theory of evolution, she followed up with "Where did the animals come from?" When given the theory of creationism, she said, "Then where did God come from?"

After some consideration, she decided that science sounded more likely than magic, and I assured her she was free to decide whatever she wanted and she could change her mind any time she wanted.  I think that kind of liberty is the greatest gift, and I hope she will always care enough to keep asking smart questions and looking for answers just because she can.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Why Christians feel that they MUST demonize homosexuality

Back to that baseball/politics forum I mentioned a couple posts ago. The arguments over the appropriate treatment of LGBT's have continued, and taken a stroll through parenting, in which our honorary wingnut has been arguing that parents of the same sex are necessarily "sub-optimal" to parents of both sexes. I offer my last post tonight below.

------

Venice Glenn:
Sure. It's worthy to boil [disagreements] down [to the level of faith/core belief] though. Your arguments against gay parenting really have been about function and effectiveness though, not religion.

duckboy:
There's a lot more about my religion that you'd have to accept before the rest of that argument could hold much meaning for you.


Actually, on my way home after asking this question, I figured out the answer myself.

If you're a serious Christian, you want to follow the mandates of God, which essentially means the dictates of the New Testament, as interpreted by the leaders of your church for the most part. You've probably got contempt for the "Cafeteria Christians" who pick and choose the parts they want to believe, and don't really have a cohesive story about how it all hangs together. As far as you're concerned, your virtue hinges on being on following the party line seriously and consistently, and this extends to philosophical consistency in your world view.

The church believes that homosexuality is a sin, and afflicts people just as gambling, abuse, and addiction afflict others. As such, gay people are expected to battle against their sin, if they care about following the Lord's word, and straight Christians are supposed to help them fight. If this is what you believe, then you can't see it as a good thing that gays accept who they are and make choices that make them happy accepting it. If they can do that, then where's the penalty for sin? Where do these sinners get off, flaunting the Lord and having repercussion-free lives?

The serious Christian is stuck. If he supports gay rights, he's going against the church. If he fights against gay rights even though he doesn't think they're harming anyone, then even the most hardheaded person has to realize he's being a dickwad. The only way to feel better about it is to convince himself "Gay people harm society." If he does that he can take such weird positions as "Gays provide sub-optimal parenting" and "Redefining marriage is bad" without examining the lack of logic too closely. It's easier to believe it on faith than to watch it collapse under the weight of reason. That's why duckboy's response is honest... even if he didn't consciously mean it that way. His seemingly contradictory assertions that the arguments against gay parenting are practical, yet the true basis of the stance is religious are dead on.

Regardless of how well this has him pegged, the duck cannot respond to this post in any other way than to deny its accuracy. He cannot afford to be seen as someone whose faith trumps logic, fairness, and compassion. But I'm pretty sure I'm onto something worth discussing in forums beyond here.

-----

And that's what I'm doing. I think this is big. Won't change anybody's mind, but understanding the other side is better than just not getting what their problem is.

Glenn

Friday, March 06, 2009

How WATCHMEN the movie is different from the comic

I saw "Watchmen" today on opening day. I loved the 12-issue comic series (decidedly NOT a graphic novel at the time of release) back in 1986, and recently re-read the stories before seeing the movie. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't (as I didn't for "V for Vendetta") because it put me in a position to vividly know what was going to happen and also constantly compare the two.

Alan Moore is consistent about hating the movies adapted from his comics, and considering how crafted his work is, I understand why any change is a bad change from his point of view. What follows is my take on the biggest changes.

[Big spoilers to follow.]

Obviously, the most most conspicuous change was to make the big disaster at the end be energy explosions in five major cities blamed on Dr. Manhattan instead of a giant dead squid-like creature dropping on half of Manhattan, but only Manhattan. The change makes some sense in that more of the world will join together if more is affected. But I don't know that it's more believable that Dr. Manhattan's turned into a threat as opposed to a giant squid portending an alien invasion. Kind of a push. I suppose that gives Jon more of a reason to stay gone from earth (protecting the charade), as opposed to his "less complicated" reason offered. But perhaps the main reason I don't like the change is that cinematic explosions are a dime a dozen. When will we get to see a giant squid crush Manhattan?

The non-Rorschach scene whose changes I liked least was the fire rescue. I liked that the comics had Nite Owl treating the whole thing like a full-service plane flight the whole way, complete with announcements of coffee service and moving himself to atop of Archie to make room. Plus, it would have been a great visual to have him flying it while standing on top. They do show the coffee cups being thrown out, but the effect just isn't the same. Furthermore, when he and Laurie finally consummate their relationship (successfully), the comics point out that the costumes helped. It's important that their costumed identities make them feel more powerful and confident.

However, the more I think about it and review the source material, the more I think the character who got the worst end of the adaptation was Rorschach.

It starts when he's being picked on for his mother's profession when he's a kid. In the movie, he jumps them and somehow takes two older, tougher bullies apparently out of surprise and a kind of rawness. He does bite the ear in the comic, but I think it's more significant that the way he gets the upper hand in that fight is by starting it by taking one kid's cigarette and sticking it in his eye. That not only makes the victory more plausible, it shows the extent to which he was willing to resort to out-of-proportion violence at a young age if he needed it to reach his goals.

The other thing that happens to him as a kid is that his mother loses a trick and therefore money when he interrupts her with a john. In the movie, the money is not referred to at all. I think it's important that it's shown he's taking a beating from his mother because of cash, not some other emotional disappointment.

The sessions with the shrink are compressed into one session, which shorts Rorschach in several places. First, in the comic he doesn't give the bullshit answers to the blot test until they've been doing this for a while. It's not until a future session that the shrink prods him to say what he really saw in those blots, and then he gives the explanation. In one of those sessions, he has a critical line about "masked adventuring" that doesn't make the movie. "We do not do this thing because it is permitted. We do it because we have to. We do it because we are compelled." He's saying "we," but in reality, he means himself. He's the only one who doesn't quit when the government tells him to. He also explains how and why he made his mask. He made it from a dress that was never picked up at a dressmaker because of its interesting shape shifting capability. It wasn't until he found out that the dress belonged to a woman who was brutally murdered that he "made a face [he] could stand to look at."

The story of converting from Kovacs to Rorschach is changed in an important way. It's when he realizes the dogs are eating the kid that he splits them open and then completes his transition to Rorschach. It's important that it's the realization of what man is capable of completes the transition and makes him capable of killing any life, even dogs. In the movie when he doesn't realize it until he kills the man, it's possible to believe it's his first human killing that transforms him. He has to wait for the guy to come home in both media, but in the comic, he doesn't cut him up, he doses the guy in kerosene, and leaves him a hacksaw. The guy's only chance to survive is to cut through his own arm, and he can't do it, or is too cowardly to choose to. This is critical. Rorschach is now an avenger who believes that treating miserable people miserably is a part of justice.

Finally (in the shrink sequence), his conclusion about the self-damnation of humanity gets to his shrink. The guy shocks his dinner companions with these stories, and comes to believe what Rorschach does. How many patients change their doctors that way?

At the same time, his compassionate side is almost removed from the film. In the comic, when Laurie and Dan spring him from jail, he does address her respectfully ("Miss Juspeczyck", not "Miss Jupiter"). Subtle, but remembering her real hard to remember name rather than a stage one makes this doubly respectful, on top of the formality). He also says that he never liked her uniform, saying "Nothing personal," which shows that he recognizes that her sexually-charged outfit was unnecessarily inappropriate and sent the wrong message. He's the only guy in the whole story that can be called a women's libber! Then, when they go back to his apartment to get his backup gear (which was not recovered in jail), he confronts his landlady, who lied to the cops and said he sexually harassed her. He's ready to punish her too, but she begs for mercy because her kids are watching, and he leaves her alone. All this compassion is missing from the film.

The worst offense is when he's killed by Dr. Manhattan. It's critical that he's been crying when he removes his mask. It's the only time we ever see him cry, and it's because he just watched thousands of innocents die in Manhattan (and only Manhattan in the comic), and the other people who know are willing to cover it up for the sake of world peace. He's moved to tears because he is moved by the deaths and believes with all his core that the cover up is wrong.

Through all these things, we know he's not a crazy vigilante with no heart. He has a very strong code of ethics that is arguably better, more compassionate, and more consistent than anyone else's. The movie doesn't give him that.

It does, however, give the certainty that his journal is published. In the comic, it's on the pile to be possibly selected by the newspaper flunkie. In the movie, the voice-over of the first line heavily implies that it got selected. Rorschach wins.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Mormon case against the gays

I participate in an online community that is ostensibly about baseball, but the most heated discussions there are about Dubya Bush and Proposition 8. The most vocal person on the right pointed us to this screed from the Mormon (Latter Day Saints) church on the latter issue.

This person claimed we "might be surprised" by what we see there, and he was right, I was. I could not believe how completely wackadoo their position is. Check it out for yourself, but I think I'm paraphrasing it fairly as follows:

"Although we consider homosexual behavior a sin, we do not hate gays. We do not even find it sinful that they experience homosexual urges. They are facing temptation from the devil, as we all do, and whether that temptation is being quick to anger or acting gayly, it is a virtuous person's goal to defeat sinful temptation. If a man can not muster attraction to women, then he should live a celibate life... suck it up and play the hand God dealt you."

Yeah that's right, you heard me. "Being gay = just not OK." I appreciated getting the link to some source here, because the guy we talk to is much much cagier than this. He'll go on and on about how he thinks he supports equality with regard to civil rights, just not marriage, but he skips right over points he can't win and never comes right out and says anything as blatantly condescending towards the gay failure of will as my paraphrase above.

So I just wanted to write down my take on that position, right while I'm quick to anger, as that's often when the main points are the clearest. If you are a member of a church, then that's your choice, and it is protected by our constitution. If your church wants to have rules on gay marriage, multiple wives, or extended bong hits, you go right ahead. Gopod knows I've seen too many people tortured by their own church, but at least it's their own choice to participate.

But where does your jurisdiction end? Right outside of your fucking church! In a constitutionally secular country like ours, your church should have no legal impact on anybody who chooses to reject it. Isn't that why you numb nuts came to America in the first place... to escape religious persecution? Nothing, not even your God, gives you the right to force your crap on anyone who doesn't want it!

It's time we separated church and state from the business of partnership once and for all. Let religion have "traditional marrage." Let them define it any way they want. Hell, I don't even care if different religions agree. But that definition should have no impact on America's laws. If you want the legal benefits accorded to "marriage" today, then straights, gays, omnisexuals, and polygamists have to answer to the same rules.

I'm even for instituting this retroactively. Pick a date in the future in which all marriages are legally null and void. Give everyone time to apply for the new credentials before that date hits. Heck, you should be able to do it online in ten minutes if you can supply some information about where your current legal documentation is on file.

The wackadoos are entitled to their own lives. But they should stay out of everyone else's. Hell, if Republicans understand that about money, surely they can grasp the concept when it rises to subjects that are indisputably more personal.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spoon-feeding the non-techies

The alleged talent of a product manager is to be able to bridge communication and thought between technical and non-technical people. This talent was best mocked in the movie "Office Space," and yet it is a valid yet ephemeral plus.

Occasionally, I like to roll it out in full bloom, and foist in on a user population who hopefully get as much entertainment out of reading it as I do writing it. Here's my latest offering:
Team,

A long time ago, perhaps centuries in dot-com years, a substantial portion of our Customer Support time was spent assuring clients and publishers that the variances between publisher-reported impressions and MOJO reported impressions were either minor, publisher mis-implementations, or simply misunderstood. To illustrate this, I made an “Error Analysis Tool” (dart board) of six causes and said, “If you need an answer for your case right away, you can choose one of these because I assure you that one of them is right.”

It wasn’t long before the clamoring for a less flippant and more elaborate (albeit not any more accurate) version of these cases moved Barak Ben-Gal, Director of No-One-Really-Knows-What, to write the original Discrepancies white paper. This was pretty – it had pictures and text boxes. It had credibility – it was thick. More importantly, Account Managers had something they could throw over the wall to clients and many times it answered their questions. Victory!

Fast forward eight regular years to today, and the treasured white paper has become a relic. Much more has developed in our industry requiring explanation or analysis yet still falling into the big bucket of discrepancies. A young knight named Michael Hauptman joined the Company and has proceeded to deftly dispose of the old and write a completely new version of the document. This version is, I am pleased to say, delightfully concise, yet detailed. Accurate, yet comprehensible. It has a full mid-palette highlighting pepper and nutmeg with a long, lingering finish of smoky elderberries. In short, those of you faced with either diagnosing discrepancies or educating clients on them will find this one satisfying read.

Accordingly, I have placed it on the client-facing Adserver documentation tab of Sharepoint. The direct link is here. If, as a creature of habit you cling to the Internal Documents link of Adserver, I am one step ahead of you. If you do not have the Firefox plugin for reading PDF’s, you can get that here.

But if you ever want to see the original dart board, you’ll have to come by my office.

Thanks Mike,
(achiappanza)
As my wife often says, I like turning something mundane into something fun.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Baseball. No longer the national pasttime, but still great

OK, I'm back. It wasn't an intentional hiatus, but I got lazy about handling it when Google released the new blogger and then things got busy.

Viewership for the World Series has been sinking like a stone for decades, and this year's matchup between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays continues the trend.


It's a crying shame because baseball is a terrific game, and this year's matchup is one of the most appealing in years. I'll expand on both of those points.

Baseball is a terrific game. Anyone who's been raised to play it or at least has seen "Field of Dreams" has some idea of why that is. It is extremely different from most sports in that most others have a few things in common:
  • Rectangular field with scoring at the ends
  • Game clock
  • Same equipment (or lack of) on offense and defense
Baseball has none of that. As such, there's a real barrier to entry for fans, especially if they haven't grown up playing the game. And as that requires special equipment and fields, the effort to do so becomes more and more to overcome.

Despite the ratings decline, the game itself has been doing very well for a few decades as you can most evidently see by attendance numbers and team sale prices. This can be attributed to a few things:
  • New fan-friendly ballparks with attention to the quality of the experience beyond the game itself (food, views, attractions, location, luxury levels)
  • The home run boom of the 90's, regardless of its various reasons. As the commercial says, "Chicks dig the long ball."
  • Wild card teams in the playoffs and intraleague play. This is something Bud Selig got right.
But still, the game is hard to understand at its fundamental level, which is the batter-pitcher matchup. The best book I've ever read on the subject is Keith Hernandez's _Pure Baseball_, which is out of print, but you can still get a copy on Amazon.

This year's matchup is pretty good. Aside from rooting for my home teams (Giants and A's), I generally like teams who make the World Series that don't meet any of these criteria:
  • A team with a top payroll, especially when that money was used on free agents. Money still has too much influence in baseball, and I don't like teams that have spent their way there.
  • A team from a major media market, especially New York, because those teams get disproportionate attention anyway.
  • Natural enemies of my favorite teams. That's pretty much just the Dodgers.
  • Teams that have won more than one title any time recently.
Both the Phillies and Rays pass my test. They have acquired some players shrewdly (trade or medium-cost free agents), but for the most part they are homegrown players whose team is finally making it. The Rays in particular are a great story.
  • The last expansion team to make the World Series. They've got a big history of not-so-loveable losing.
  • Last place in baseball last year; chance to make first this year
  • Great trading: Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir was a steal from the get-go, though Met fans who don't follow the minors (like my father in law) didn't realize it. Also, Delmon Young for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett was gutsy, as Young was the #1 prospect by consensus a few years ago.
  • Low payroll. All these guys came up with them. If they spend a little, they can keep that team together for years.
Right now the Phillies have the upper hand, and they have great players to root for too. Ryan Howard was asked his opinion of the Rays' five-man infield late in game 3 and he said, "Wow, I thought they were going to blitz." Off the cuff, and it's the funniest thing I've heard from an active ballplayer since hearing Mark Grace's explanation of slump-busters on Jim Rome's show. Chase Utley is not only a terrific hitter, but he made a fantastic tag and throw double play last night.

So I could be happy for either team. I hope it goes seven.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

You wanted the best, you got the best!

(I just posted the following review of a KISS tribute album "Kiss My Ass" to Amazon. Just my little part in participating in Web 2.0. I gave it three stars.)

I've had this album for a while, but hadn't listened to it much. Now it's in my car and I'm developing stronger opinions about it.

First of all... I don't think there's another album where I disagree with so many Amazon reviews.

Second of all... some explanation of my grading. I believe that if you're going to do a cover, you have to bring something to the party to make it an interesting version and in some way better than the original. Note for note copies are worthless. Did you ever hear Poison's cover of Loggins and Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance"? This to me is the worst cover of all time. They do nothing new, except smooth over any actual articulation of the lyrics, and they don't even bring the high heat. Frankly, if you can't rock harder than Kenny Loggins, then for God's sake, DO NOT COVER HIS SONGS! Please. This is not a high bar. Bottom line... three stars on my scale means "worth listening to" and five means "You just have to hear this."




OK, on to the review...

1. Deuce - Lenny Kravitz (Four stars)

The crutch to avoid on this song is depending on the percussive effect of the main riff. That is what makes this song unforgettable and distinctly KISS. Lenny not only doesn't lean on it, he omits it entirely. Instead, he puts in his thing: Those self-harmonizing two-line vocals. Keep the critical steady hard drumbeats and add the harmonica solo, and you have a song that enriches the canon. Good job.

2. Hard Luck Woman - Garth Brooks (One star)
I can't believe other people like this cover. By my criteria, it absolutely bites. Garth's version adds nothing. I have the distinct impression that he was so happy to be on a tribute album of a band he liked when he was a kid that he picked one that he could do in his style and "respect it" by doing nothing different. What would have been much much better is if Gene had landed Rod Stewart to sing it, as the original intention was to get him to record it in the first place. Gene's got such good business sense that I have to think he tried and it just didn't work out.

3. She - Anthrax (Three stars)
I don't remember too much about this song except that I felt that it was probably a pretty fair infusion of style and trademark sound of a band I don't listen to. Good drumming. Actually, there's good energetic drumming on this whole album.

4. Christine Sixteen - Gin Blossoms (Three stars)
Like "Deuce," it would be easy to lean on the piano part, but the Gin Blossoms pay proper respect by keeping it out of the intro and saving it for the chorus. You can't take it out entirely... it's just too important, but you can dial it back a little for flavor, and so they did. The readings of Gene's talking lines are a little drab, but they redeemed it at the end with, "I don't usually say things like this to girls your age... well, maybe sometimes."

5. Rock And Roll All Night - Toad The Wet Sprocket (Three stars)
This was the song I was most interested in hearing when I got the album. At first, I was very disappointed with the tempo change and the overall treatment. But then I decided that it was a bold move, and there's no point in trying to rock harder than KISS on this song. So Glen backed away from that challenge and went the other way entirely. Good for him.

6. Calling Dr. Love - Shandi's Addiction (Four stars)
This song starts with an entirely unrecognizeable intro, then clears the deck for one lone overdriven guitar than bangs out the main riff. Then they let the cowbell fall in ("I need more COWBELL!") and then a switch to a modern headbanger style; quite different from the original. I think with that you have the finest four-bar instrumental tribute and update to KISS on the whole album. That pretty much sums up the exultation of loving KISS as a kid and taking it home with the air guitar. Another treat is the odd vocals on the chorus. It's a call-and-response with one voice singing the line straight and another responding through a CB radio. I don't know who came up with that kooky idea, but it grabs you by the short hairs and makes you listen.

7. Goin' Blind - Dinosaur Jr. (Three stars)
This song is much heavier than the original, and that is for the better. The weight of the instrumentation and the vocals is an improvement for a song that depends on the sickness of the line "I'm 93, you're sixteen, and I think I'm goin' blind."

8. Strutter - Extreme (Three stars)
I have to say that I think Cerone and Nuno stole the show at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert with their version of "Love of My Life -> More Than Words." I think they have a perfect balance of respect for the source material plus adding their own emotion to the songs. Nuno changes the main riff to be unrecognizable, and he delivers on the solo. You think no one but Paul Stanley can bring it on "I know a thing or two about her" but Cerone does a good job.

9. Plaster Caster - The Lemonheads (Three stars)
I like that this song draws attention to an underrated KISS song. I had no idea what this was really about when I was a kid, but the idea and subtlety of "The plaster's gettin' harder and my love is perfection" and "And if you wanna see my love, just ask her" is great rock and roll lyric writing. Plus, coming from Gene (who cataloged all his conquests with Poloroids and notes about each girl's proclivities) it's perfectly ironic to write a song about a woman collecting her casts.

10. Detroit Rock City - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Four stars)
This song has several brilliant turns. The first is that it opens with the sound of a guy coming home to an answering machine message from Gene saying that they can't do this song because it's spoken for. When he gets to "You can choose ANY OTHER SONG and it'll be fine" they cut him off with the famous intro riff. Kudos to them for telling Gene to shove it on his own product, and to Gene for having a great sense of humor about it. Second, the vocal is a great tribute to Gene singing. I don't mean Gene Simmons' actual voice, but what The Demon would sound like if he actually sung. This isn't a Paul song at all in this version. Thirdly, any band that can pull off horns on the chorus and solo of Detroit Rock City has basically figured out how to jack into the Matrix. Good move.

11. Black Diamond - Yoshiki (Three stars)
Honestly, I think an orchestral treatment of Black Diamond is not all that inspired and misses the point. But they peg my own meter on doing something different, and I can imagine being a teenager again and putting it on for my classical-loving Dad just in hopes of having the joy of having him admit he likes a KISS song. Heh heh. You go, Yoshiki.

While this album has no five star tracks in my opinion (examples: "Top of the World" on the Carpenters' tribute or "U.S. Blues" on "Deadicated"), it is nonetheless a pretty good product. It does the job on having a lot of worthwhile covers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

There’s been something bugging me about a buzzword I’ve been hearing for years. People refer to “verticals” all the time. What they actually mean is “industries,” such as travel, auctions, clothing, whatever. You might think that I’m just mad people are using an economic term to sound smart when there’s a perfectly good familiar word to use. Oh, if only that were all.

The problem is that they’re using the word wrong! In Economics, they taught us that vertical integration is the practice of buying up companies that are further upstream or downstream in the product process than you are. That could be an oil refinery buying up gas stations, or a clothing store getting into manufacturing their own lines. Horizontal integration is the practice of buying up companies that serve different segments of the same market you’re already in. Examples include AOL buying TimeWarner as another media company, or Honda deciding that they need to make an SUV too. If you’re talking about marketing web services to the travel industry, you’re only concerned about people selling to actual travelers. You don’t care about selling to Boeing because they make the planes or GM because they make the rental cars! Verticals is the wrong word! It’s horizontals!

Of course, people who use the term “verticals” can’t even tell you what a “horizontal” is. They’re stupid and they deserve to be punished. Or as Anton Le Vey said, "It's too bad that stupidity isn't painful."

Feedback?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Impeach Bush


Today's post is just a few sympathetic links to a new Harper's article suggesting that it's time to impeach Dubya as well as the corresponding item in the Daily Kos. If Clinton can be put on the stand for the Lewinsky trivia, then certainly Dubya ought to be facing at least as tough a gauntlet.

Let's all buy a copy of this Harper's issue and let the sale numbers speak for themselves.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Hello Joisey! Hello Philly!

This past trip back east gave me my first visits to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So here's some observations:
  1. Jersey isn't as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Well at least this little town called Cranford is kinda cute.
  2. East Coast train transit just kicks butt over California. Just like in Boston, Jersey is set up to take some big trains from the city, then explode them out in many directions. It is very practical to commute by train out there.
  3. At the same time, these people clearly aren't interested in socializing on their train trips. If they can at all avoid sitting next to someone, they will. Check out this pic:


It's a perfect allocation of every three-seat row on the train with not a single person willing to sit in a middle seat. Nicetameetcha. Have a nice day.

New Jersey transit does a pretty good job though. You can get from Grand Central Station to Philadelphia for about seventeen bucks on NJT. That's a pretty good deal. Of course we only realized it after spending a lot more on the Amtrak ride.


Well, of course upon visiting Philly I had to do what every tourist does. Run up the Rocky steps and jump around.


That was goal #1. I also accomplished the other goals of seeing the Liberty Bell, the open market, and having a Philly Cheese Steak. The market was pretty cool (especially seeing the Amish run a pretty smooth operation), but the cheese steaks are nothing special. I prefer Jay's Cheesesteak on Divisidero.

The Liberty Bell is now housed in a full-blown Liberty Bell museum, complete with metal-detector security. It's nice to see the history of the thing, but unimpressive that all it's stature is purely iconic. It was just a city hall bell until it started going on tour and being pumped up to be some great symbol. And then it's got that big crack because it wasn't made right in the first place. And it's only about four feet across.

Still, I'm up for visiting just about any new place. I'd gladly spend more time in Philly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

12/31/05 New Year's Eve with Gov't Mule

OK, I'm going to finally get around to talking about my New Year's this past December. Wife and I spent late December and early January in New York City. I have always loved seeing a band for NYE, since doing with the Grateful Dead for their last ten years of it was so much fun. So I lined up tickets to see Gov't Mule, Warren Haynes' band at the Beacon, which is right on Broadway.

The Beacon is a fine old place, much like the Orpheum in SF with all permanent seats, a loge, and a balcony. We were in the loge, slightly stage left, row F. I had never seen Gov’t Mule before, but I’d seen Warren Haynes with the Allman’s, Phil and Friends, and the Dead. The only Mule tune I knew was a cover, “Soulshine,” although I know from setlists they do a lot of covers. The warm up wasn’t an opening band, but they did show video from an old ‘60’s show called “The Beat.” It was hosted by a white guy but almost all the performers were black. I saw Dusty Springfield and what looked like young B.B. King and Albert Collins. The cool thing was the girl dancers in the white go-go boots.

The band came on around 9:26. They’re a four-piece band, drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards. I didn’t recognize the first two tunes, but they seemed a little boring. But then they got loosened up, and a stagehand came on to flash us huge cue cards like “Don’t be such an assh*le, Sam” so we could sing along with the chorus. They played a very sweet slow tune that built up that we really liked, including a drift into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” at the end. Then Warren switched guitars to another Gibson and he started noodling around, sounding like Jerry when he’s got the “waka-waka” sound going. I mentioned to Wife that he was sounding like Jerry, and then Warren launched into “Loser” and the place went nuts. “Loser” was great… it really rocked the house. They stuck a “Terrapin” jam in the middle, which was pretty cool. They finished the first set with “Train Kept a-Rollin’ All Night Long” around 10:35.

When the second set started at 11:10, we were completely taken by surprise as the curtain lifted to reveal a stage set up like the one from “The Beat.” The band all had black suits and ties on, and the keyboard player was wearing a big rasta wig. There was a four-piece horn section and two go-go dancers in white boots and colorful vinyl dresses (one red, one blue). There was one guest member of the band… a guy named Jimmy Vivino who sang and played a red and white Strat. Warren still hadn’t taken the stage, but after all the rave-ups, he walked on sans guitar, and also wearing a black suit. The place went nuts! The band kicked in to “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and he sang a killer lead on that. They followed with another old R&B cover, and then “I’ve Been Loving You (For So Long)” and Warren got handed his guitar from Jimmy mid-song so he could tear up the solo. This set went on and on with great covers, including “What Is Hip” and “The Letter.” That was a smokin’ great surprise! At midnight they counted down between songs and then balloons came down and they played “Night Time (Is the Right Time”) and Warren played the woman singer’s parts on his guitar.” The set closed with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” at 12:15.


The third set was back to normal, although all the musicians eventually came back. They started at 12:50 with “30 Days in the Hole” and eventually covered “Folsom Prison Blues” as an instrumental jam and then “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” The encore was “Hurts Me Too” and finally the second encore and last song gave me “Soulshine,” leaving no stone unturned, as far as I was concerned. I don’t think there could have been another place in New York that gave me as much as I wanted as this. They f*cking delivered! It was finally all done just before 2 AM.

Full set list
12.31.05 Beacon Theatre - New York, NY
Set 1:
Bad Man Walking
Lay Your Burden Down
About To Rage
Don't Stop On The Grass, Sam
I'll Be The One
Life Before Insanity
I'm A Ram
Loser >
Terrapin Station >
Loser
Train Kept A Rollin' w/ Danny on Guitar

Set 2(w/ Ron Holloway's Holographic Horns* and Jimmy Vivino on guitar):
Intro Theme (San Ho-Say) No Warren
Can't Turn You Loose Warren on Vocals Only, no guitar
Shake Warren on Vocals Only, no guitar
I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now) Warren back on guitar
Down & Out In New York City
What Is Hip?
Thelonius Beck Interlude
I Shall Return
Thelonius Beck Interlude
The Letter
Thelonius Beck Interlude
I Believe To My Soul
New Year's Countdown
Night Time Is The Right Time
Bad Little Doggie
Papa's Got a Brand New Bag w/ Danny on Guitar

Set 3:
30 Days In The Hole > w/ Jimmy Vivino
I Don't Need NO Doctor w/ Jimmy Vivino
Beautifully Broken w/ Jimmy Vivino
Effigy > w/ Jimmy Vivino
Folsom Prison Blues > w/ Jimmy Vivino
That's What Love Will Make You Do w/ Jimmy Vivino and Ron Holloway's Holographic Horns
Blind Man In The Dark w/ Ron Holloway

Encore:
Hurts Me Too w/ Hook Harrera and Alvin Youngblood Hart

Encore 2:
Soulshine w/ Ron Holloway's Holographic Horns and Jimmy Vivino on keys

*: Holloway Horns are:
Chris Battistone on trumpet
David Zalud on Trumpet
Chris Karlic on Baritone Sax
Ron Holloway on Tenor Sax

Links: More pictures and the music download.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Willie Mays Field at AT&T Park

Around the time that Pacific Bell Park (home of the San Francisco Giants) was getting rebranded to the parent company's name (SBC), my friend Daniel approached me for support on his grassroots idea to have the sponsors change the name to "Mays Field." Actually, his initial effort was to have everyone call it that regardless of what the owners name it. We're both longtime Giants fans, and naming a the park after Willie Mays certainly has a fan-pleasing air about it. However, it surprised him that I wasn't in favor of the idea.

It seemed to me that if SBC/Pac Bell was willing to kick in $50 million over 24 years to help support a privately funded ballpark in downtown San Francisco, then I'm all in favor of it. Why should I begrudge them their marketing value for the money? Willie Mays isn't ponying up any dough. I'll defend their right to have it called what they want just like I'd defend a kid at school to be called by his rightful name even if everyone else wants to call him "Dicknose." Principles aren't a question of scale, people, they're principles.

Well with the SBC acquisition of AT&T, the sponsors now want to re-brand it again, this time to AT&T Park. Daniel has similarly modified his plea, and is now asking for it to be officially renamed "Willie Mays Field at AT&T Park." So now I signed his petition and teased him that he finally realized my greater wisdom. He, in turn, said that he was so moved he had to lie down. He said he hasn't been so moved since Dravecky broke his arm. I'm sure his change of heart had everything to do with principles and nothing to do with having a snowball's chance in Hell of getting taken seriously by AT&T.

You can check out the Mays Field site here.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Billy Crystal - "700 Sundays" in San Francisco


One of the great things that Aforementioned Wife has brought into my life is theatre. You could count the number of professional productions I'd seen before meeting her on Mordecai Brown's hand. But since her family is so into the theatre, I've had many more occasions to go, often thanks to them. One such occasion was this past Tuesday, when Julie's father gave her a pair of tickets to the Billy Crystal "700 Sundays" show at the Golden Gate.

I knew I liked Billy from his work in TV and movies, but I enjoyed this immensely because it was so personal. It's Billy talking about his life experience growing up. By doing that, he connects to all of our experience growing up. As a person who likes to remember personal history (I've kept a journal every day since 8/31/76), I really appreciate the effort he put in to recapture that experience and share it with us. What I ended up seeing was not so much "Billy Crystal doing his professional entertaining thing" but "Billy Crystal using his talent and skills to reflect on the past the way I wish I could." He made a very stout effort to ignore his professional success and focus on his experience as Everyman. Probably especially more so if you grew up Jewish in New York in the 50's, but still. A notable and well-chosen exception to mentioning his celebrity was when he spoke about seeing his mother in the hospital when she had some memory loss. She said to him, "Hey, you're Billy Crystal. What are you doing here?" Man, I'm tearing up just remembering that.

It just so happens that his life as a kid had some exceptional moments too. His uncle was a visionary who ended up turning an electronics store into the Commodore Record label, thereby making a huge contribution to New York jazz and bringing that influence into Billy's life. He watched "Shane" while sitting in Billie Holliday's lap... how cool is that?

It was a great show. If you get a chance to catch it, then you should. If not, his book is probably a decent substitute and they've got it at Amazon. We sat in the front row of the loge, but I expect even the worst seat in the house is still fine.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Effective phone messages

I remember when phone answering machines were invented. Well, I don't actually remember when it was, but I remember the experience of everyone getting used to them. It takes several repetitions before you're comfortable with the idea of talking on the phone with no one talking back. My parents still leave messages that sound like they just realized they're on Candid Camera and they can't wait to hang up. But that's OK... they leave short messages that get right to the point. I, in turn, believe in a similar principle: most phone messages can have their meaningful content condensed down to ten seconds or less. It's in everyone's best interests if you just do that.

My wife is from an entirely different school of thought. She sees leaving phone messages as akin to having a captive audience. I'm pretty sure she gets it from her mother. They both start their messages as if they fully expected to reach a live person, and the whole idea that they haven't has thrown them into a tizzy, forcing them to recalibrate and share their thought processes with the machine while they get their sea legs. Here's a made up example from my NY Jewish mother-in-law, though it's really not far from the truth:
Essential content: "Call me on my cell - I have a question."

Actual message: "Oh. You're not there. Where did you go? Did you go to work already? Well I guess it doesn't matter where you went... you're not there, that's all there is to it. I wanted to talk to you about something. Call me back later... oh wait, depending on when you call me back I might not be home. I might be over at Paula's... you remember Paula. We used to go walking together when you and her daughter were just little girls. Oh what's her daughter's name again? You know what it is. I can't remember. We'd dress you up in these little red dresses and spend a few hours walking around the park. You remember that. Oh what was her name? I should really remember before I go over there. So I just happened to run into her the other day, and I hadn't seen her in years. It turns out she lives just right around the corner, can you believe that? So I'm going over for tea; that's why I might not be here. So don't call between 2 and 4, or maybe really not even before 5 my time. Oh wait, you could just call my cell phone and then I'd get it no matter where I was. Yeah, that's a good idea, just call my cell, and if it happens to be a bad time, I'll tell you. Or I'll just take a few minutes to ask you this other question. OK, love you Sweetie, don't forget to call."
Seriously, I'm not gonna listen to all of that. I press "save" somewhere around "Call me back later" and she can listen to it all. Julie wants me to listen to it all in case it ends with something important like "Now press 5 on the phone and save a hundred childen," but come on, it never does. I'm not wrong, am I?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I have a theory...

As my friends know, I have many theories. There is almost no subject too trivial for me to have a theory about. Here's my latest one...
A key indicator of a successful (romantic) relationship is the willingness of each partner to use the other one's made-up words.
Now the words don't actually have to be originally made up by the person; they could be historical family words that s/he just brought into the relationship. Traditionally, most families have words made up for bodily parts and functions.

In our case, a recent example is a word I made up to replace "dogs." I like addressing our two dogs as a unit, and I just felt like "dogs" didn't have enough syllables. So I started calling them "doggages," as in "Come on doggages, we're going for a walk." Julie took to the term, and so now they are The Doggages. It is an important part of the theory that words have to come from both partners... one-sided word generation suggests imbalance.

I am interested in more data points about the theory. I invite you to post to the comments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Opening Day, part 2

Hopefully you either have worked in downtown SF, or you followed that Frank Chu link in my first post. Either one is key to getting the joke of my Halloween costume this year.


I've never been a big dress-up guy for Halloween, although I like the holiday. This year we were having a contest in the office, and I've been planning to do this eventually. When I walked into the main area of work, people didn't even say anything. They just applauded. That was cool.

At lunch time I took a walk down Market Street to see what kind of reaction I'd get. People either

1) Got the joke and smirked or commented
2) Thought I was actually Frank or
3) Had never seen Frank before and reacted accordingly.

I never did find Frank to take a picture with him.

Some folks on the WELL suggested that I get together a Frank Chu drill team for next year's St. Stupid's Day parade. That would be pretty funny. Post here with your contact info if you want to do it.

Opening Day

I had this experience on the bus a few months ago, and wrote about it on the WELL and e-mail. One person suggested I start a blog. I don't need all that much encouragement. So here's my true story from 9/29/05 to kick off my first blog:

Today on the 1 California:
I'm sitting next to the window and a large man, probably 50's with a grey pompadour and southern European descent sits next to me. He's got the kind of build that makes you think he may well have been Fabio-stunning a couple decades ago. And he's wearing what appears to be a weight lifter's uniform, complete with kneepads, Olympics-style. Dialogue, starting with him:

- May I sit here?
+ Sure. Are you going wrestling somewhere?
- No. Kickboxing.
+ Kickboxing? (Clearly too massive for kickboxing.)
- Yes. I fight people from all over the world. All over the galaxy. I have a license to kill.
+ Really?
- Yes. Humans are not good fighters. But Martians are.
+ Where are you from?
- I am from all over... Italy, France, United States. I am God. I’m from everywhere. I came here in 1947 and some people thought I was Jesus Christ. But I'm not; I'm God.
+ Well what are you doing here?
- I am fighting creatures from all over the galaxies. I am also bringing sunshine because sunshine helps clean up all the pollution. If I did not bring the sunshine, the pollution would kill everyone.
+ I suppose that's not very productive if you're God.
- Yes. I have responsibilities all over the galaxies.
+ Have you met Frank Chu?
- Who?
+ Frank Chu. He carries signs showing that he too knows about the galaxies. Maybe you should compare notes with him.
- Is he a big shot?
+ He knows about the galaxies, that's all I'm saying.
- Does he have bodyguards? I have hundreds, thousands of bodyguards, all beautiful women. Of all races and colors. I used to have more white women, but they got eaten by martians.
+ I don't know about the bodyguards, but he's not dead. That oughtta count for something.
- He can't be a big shot if he doesn't have lots of money.
+ What difference does money make to one who hops the galaxies? I gotta think that doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.
- I only talk to big shots. You should see the beaches on places like Venus and Jupiter. They're just like the south of France.
+ Venus I can see, but Jupiter's pretty cold. At least it was the last time I was there.
- When I go to Jupiter I look at the sun and bring more sunshine.
+ Say, why does God need to take MUNI?
- Do you know how many flying saucers there are out there, waiting to shoot me down with laser beams?
+ Ah, so you're on MUNI to protect yourself from being seen and targeted.
- There are a lot of flying saucers out there.
+ Are you saying that God can be killed by a laser beam?
- (Gets up for his stop, mumbles something nonsensical about the dangers of laser beams.)
+ Watch out for the laser beams!