Thursday, September 11, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Human Cannonball

Via Instapundit comes the following, rare, video of Webb Wilder's Human Cannonball, a taut, tough-as-nails Southern rocker from the Eighties with the style's characteristic satirical edge.

I saw Webb Wilder and the BeatNecks live at the first Sloss Furnace KudzuFest in Birmingham, back in the day. They were headlining with Guadalcanal Diary. What a show.

The highlight was both bands coming together to play a slow-grind version of Johnny B. Goode. Whew.

And don't forget to live by Webb Wilder's credo:
Work hard
Rock hard
Eat hard
Sleep hard
Grow big
Wear glasses if you need 'em


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Advice for Bloggers

Say Uncle, who blogs from Knoxville mostly on 2nd Amendment issues and Tennessee sippin' whiskey, has a great post filled with plenty of sage advice for bloggers and public relations types. An excerpt:
First, automatically sign me up for your newsletter. That’s right. I love getting newsletters I never, ever signed up for. I love it like all other spam. And that’s exactly how I treat these. I label them as spam in gmail. Gmail remembers that and also uses that to classify your item as spam by other readers.

Send me your off-topic press release plugging a political candidate or political position. This is particularly effective when you can read my blog and tell pretty quickly that I find that particular candidate to be a shit head and that particular position to be retarded.
And from the Insurance Journal, of all places, comes some very serious advice:
With legal trouble and the resulting expenses potentially just one mouse click away, individuals and business entities creating, sanctioning and/or hosting blogs should apply basic risk management to the posting of a blog. Following are a few questions that every blogger should ask of the content contained in their blog:

• Do readers consider the blog a credible source of information and depend on it for up-to-date information (a matter of opinion that can be judged based on analytics and comments)?
• Is information in the blog accurate or is the blog rife with mistakes and misstatements?
• Have facts been checked (as required by due diligence standards) or have they simply been accepted as heard or read elsewhere without further verification?
• Have facts been attributed to the original sources?
• Are information sources reliable?
• Are rumors and gossip printed as fact?
• Are opinions labeled as such?
• Are comments in news and opinion pieces fair and based in fact or could they be considered malicious, libelous or defamatory?
• Is the information original work or plagiarized from another person or entity?
• Has permission been secured to include content or photos found online (leads to the possible charges of copyright infringement)?
• Are paid advertisements clearly separate from news and editorial content?
• Are procedures in place to allow quick response if someone demands correction, retraction or removal of information?
• Is the source of the blog clearly decipherable or is it written anonymously (hiding behind anonymity brings the veracity and intent of the blog into question)?
Read and heed.
Hurry! Right Now! Go Go Go!

Hulu is, for some reason probably having to do with its popularity, again streaming Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog for free, today only. Go here. Otherwise you have to pay for iTunes or wait for the DVD.

If you are a Joss Whedon fan, or like comic books, you need to see this. Highly recommended. My previous rave is here.

Also, more stories may be coming. Whee!

And yes, I promised a deeper review of Dr. Horrible; I hope to have that in the next couple of days. The past week has been strange and busy for Mr. Mike.

Go! Watch! Enjoy!
OK, A Moo

Fun with sedation dentistry, via James Lileks. With addlepated photos!

Favorite line: Nature may abhor a vacuum, but it loves a gradient.
You Know It Won't Happen

Via BoingBoing, a link to Radley Balko's "A Few Questions for Barack Obama." Read them! Here's one example:
In your autobiography, you admit to using marijuana and cocaine in high school and college. Yet you largely support the federal drug war — a change from several years ago when you said you'd be open to decriminalizing marijuana. Would Barack Obama be where he is today if he had been arrested in college for using drugs? Doesn't the fact that you and our current president (who has all but admitted to prior drug use) have risen to such high stature suggest that the worst thing about illicit drugs is not the drugs themselves, but what the government will do to you if you're caught?
I hold no hope these questions, or their pale imitations, will ever be presented to Obama, especially in any debates. The networks have already been caught being used and abused by the Democrats with planted questions.

They are already sympathetic to Obama. Look at this report of his reception by a group of reporters. The Commercial Appeal's Wendi Thomas was there and this is what she had to say:
Yes, many of us are journalists who try to keep secret our political leanings. But many in the room were students. Or PR professionals. Or invited guests from Chicago with no ties to the media.

You’ll hear no scrutiny of how many white journalists applaud when McCain shows up (he was invited but did not attend UNITY). Still, the UNITY president, Karen Lincoln Michel, felt it necessary to deliver a warning.

“This is a live event on CNN,” Michel told the audience just before Obama took the stage, “The whole world is watching.”

Watching to see if we’d applaud, and if we did, if we’d do so too enthusiastically. As if our silence is proof of our professional pledge of objectivity and clapping means we’re Obamaniacs.

Thing is, I can be quiet on the outside and jumping for joy on the inside. Most black folk who work in corporate America have mastered what W.E.B. DuBois called “two-ness,” this deft dance between who we are and who white America wants us to be.

“I would ask that I am treated like other candidates in terms of expectations,” Obama said, and with that, summed up the trials and tribulations of many of us who labor to represent our communities accurately in predominately white newsrooms — even in predominately black cities.

So no, I didn’t clap. On the outside. I know how to be two in one, how to deal with the double-consciousness of which DuBois wrote.

But on the inside, I was beaming. And no number of lectures can dampen my pride, if only at the historic essence of the moment.
After all, donations that can be identified as coming from media workers favor Democrats 100 to 1!

So, no, I don't expect those folks to behave indifferently and even-handedly. How can they? And I don't expect those great questions -- and their counterparts for McCain -- to be asked. Ain't gonna happen.

By the way, read the comments in the BoingBoing post. It's amusing to no end to watch the lefties who make up a majority of BB's readership tie themselves up in knots over this. Great questions ... but, but, but....

INSTANT UPDATE: But wait! There's more.

Dana Milbank has a piece in yesterday's Washington Post where he expresses some of the peeve of the reporting classes that Obama isn't treating them with the proper intimacy:
Another reason for Obama's confidence -- the press -- is also an unfaithful partner. The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported yesterday that Obama dominated the news media's attention for a seventh straight week. But there are signs that the Obama campaign's arrogance has begun to anger reporters.

In the latest issue of the New Republic, Gabriel Sherman found reporters complaining that Obama's campaign was "acting like the Prom Queen" and being more secretive than Bush. The magazine quoted the New York Times' Adam Nagourney's reaction to the Obama campaign's memo attacking one of his stories: "I've never had an experience like this, with this campaign or others." Then came Obama's overseas trip and the campaign's selection of which news organizations could come aboard. Among those excluded: the New Yorker magazine, which had just published a satirical cover about Obama that offended the campaign.

Even Bush hasn't tried that. But then again, Obama has been outdoing the president in ruffles and flourishes lately. As Bush held quiet signing ceremonies in the White House yesterday morning, Obama was involved in a more visible display of executive authority a block away, when he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani at the Willard. A full block of F Street was shut down for the prime minister and the would-be president, and some 40 security and motorcade vehicles filled the street.
It's a cult of personality.

Don't take that article as a sign that the media will turn on Obama. All it takes are some small adjustments from the campaign and they'll swoon even more.
Fresh from his presidential-style world tour, during which foreign leaders and American generals lined up to show him affection, Obama settled down to some presidential-style business in Washington yesterday. He ordered up a teleconference with the (current president's) Treasury secretary, granted an audience to the Pakistani prime minister and had his staff arrange for the chairman of the Federal Reserve to give him a briefing. Then, he went up to Capitol Hill to be adored by House Democrats in a presidential-style pep rally.

Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president's. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him. His schedule for the day, announced Monday night, would have made Dick Cheney envious:

11:00 a.m.: En route TBA.

12:05 p.m.: En route TBA.

1:45 p.m.: En route TBA.

2:55 p.m.: En route TBA.

5:20 p.m.: En route TBA.

The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, as if for the State of the Union. Capitol Police cleared the halls -- just as they do for the actual president. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door -- just as they do for the actual president.
Milbank explains it all for you, if you read carefully. It's all about making Obama look presidential now so that he feels presidential to voters by Election Day. Never mind that he's not got the experience, track record, or rising level of accomplishments; he seems presidential on television. The media treat him as presidential and that will help sell him to American voters.
Don't Talk to the Police

These two videos, a paired lecture to a Virginia law class, have been out there a while now, but there's a recent resurgence of interest in them that makes this a good time to post them here. The professor and the police officer offer compelling reasons why you should never talk to the police without first obtaining counsel, if you are the subject (or potenially will become the subject) of an investigation.

In the post's comments, there are the usual Internet dolts who take the advice literally -- that you should never, ever talk to the police, not even to report a crime or to provide a witness statement. Of course, they are dolts.

However, if you are involved, you should heed the videos' advice. Remember, the job of the cops is not to find and arrest the guilty. Their job is to identify likely candidates and close the case. From their point of view, it's the job of prosecutors to produce convictions. The police have a job to do, which they do day in and day out. It's work, often hard, dirty and demoralising, not a mission of sustaining constitutional principles.

And thanks to the Drug War, the deck is often stacked against you in very dangerous ways.

Suppose you're out with some folks and y'all smoke that joint in your pocket. You're in a safe part of town, but have to cross through a Blue CRUSH© monitored neighborhood to get to your destination, something not-uncommon in the patchwork that is Memphis. Cops catch you and pull you over. All you've got is the half-smoked joint, so you're clear, yes?

Maybe not. What if someone with you has crack in the bottom of their backpack, or a large bag of weed or you're with a musician who has her heroin Muse with her? If it's enough -- and how would you know? -- you cross into the land where you become an accomplice to a felony and will have your vehicle and laptop and all the cash on you seized. The presumption these days is that seizure can happen right fucking now and then you have to go through a long -- and usually unsuccessful -- process to get it back, even if you are innocent!

Cops have a motivation to seize, since they get to sell the seized items and keep that money. They have a motivation to close the case, since more cases are constantly piling up.

So, you see why getting a lawyer involved in your protection from the start is almost always a good idea.
The RAND Research Report and the GWOT

The just-released RAND Research report on "How Terrorist Groups End" is getting a lot of play today for allegedly saying that the way to end Al Qaeda is to stop the War in Iraq. (PDF Download) But read the abstract again:
How do terrorist groups end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that terrorist groups rarely cease to exist as a result of winning or losing a military campaign. Rather, most groups end because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they join the political process. This suggests that the United States should pursue a counterterrorism strategy against al Qa'ida that emphasizes policing and intelligence gathering rather than a “war on terrorism” approach that relies heavily on military force.
And these paragraphs from the introduction to the report:
A recent RAND research effort sheds light on this issue by investigating how terrorist groups have ended in the past. By analyzing a comprehensive roster of terrorist groups that existed worldwide between 1968 and 2006, the authors found that most groups ended because of operations carried out by local police or intelligence agencies or because they negotiated a settlement with their governments. Military force was rarely the primary reason a terrorist group ended, and few groups within this time frame achieved victory.

These findings suggest that the U.S. approach to countering al Qa'ida has focused far too much on the use of military force. Instead, policing and intelligence should be the backbone of U.S. efforts.
And this:
religiously motivated terrorist groups took longer to eliminate than other groups but rarely achieved their objectives; no religiously motivated group achieved victory during the period studied.
And this:
What does this mean for counterterrorism efforts against al Qa'ida? After September 11, 2001, U.S. strategy against al Qa'ida concentrated on the use of military force. Although the United States has employed nonmilitary instruments — cutting off terrorist financing or providing foreign assistance, for example — U.S. policymakers continue to refer to the strategy as a “war on terrorism.”

But military force has not undermined al Qa'ida. As of 2008, al Qa'ida has remained a strong and competent organization. Its goal is intact: to establish a pan-Islamic caliphate in the Middle East by uniting Muslims to fight infidels and overthrow West-friendly regimes. It continues to employ terrorism and has been involved in more terrorist attacks around the world in the years since September 11, 2001, than in prior years, though engaging in no successful attacks of a comparable magnitude to the attacks on New York and Washington.

Al Qa'ida's resilience should trigger a fundamental rethinking of U.S. strategy. Its goal of a pan-Islamic caliphate leaves little room for a negotiated political settlement with governments in the Middle East. A more effective U.S. approach would involve a two-front strategy:

* Make policing and intelligence the backbone of U.S. efforts. Al Qa'ida consists of a network of individuals who need to be tracked and arrested. This requires careful involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as their cooperation with foreign police and intelligence agencies.
Part of the problem here -- I've read the abstract and the summary but haven't completed the actual 253 page report yet -- is some seeming confusion within the report itself.

Most of the terrorist groups studied are nationally internal groups, ie. groups of terrorists defined within a nation. The IRA (get England out of Ireland) and the Salafists (get France out of Algeria) would be two examples. Al Qaeda is, by definition, trans-national and malleable to any number of local variations to their central theme of a pan-Islamic Caliphate. The report talks about national efforts, specifically mentioning the US and Britain among others, but since they aren't an international, unitary effort that cooperation isn't seen within the report's scope.

The other problem is the way the report seems to miss the obvious. Reread this section again:
This suggests that the United States should pursue a counterterrorism strategy against al Qa'ida that emphasizes policing and intelligence gathering....
Well, correct me if I'm wrong here, but that's exactly what we are doing inside the United States! The FBI, CIA, state and local authorities, the theater of the absurd that is airport security, and Homeland Security are doing that every day. FISA, wiretapping, surveillance, all the things the Left is in such arms about are part of the very strategy RAND espouses. Why don't the recognise that?

Now, in Iraq specifically? That's a different animal. Could we have gone to Saddam Hussein back before 2003 and said, "Hey, dude, we want you to find and arrest all those Al Qaeda n00bs. Cool?" Of course not. It's laughable to even think it.

What about Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Tougher answers. Saudi Arabia is the source of much of the money and brain-power for Al Qaeda. But America, by dint of the Bush family relationship with the Saud family and our increased dependence on Saudi goodwill to keep the oil flowing, can't really do anything against Saudi Arabia nor do we have leverage to make them do anything.

The Saudis may have broken that by allowing the price of oil to rise to $140/barrel. It's angered enough Americans to begin to pay attention and ask questions. It's spurred demand for new, American-controlled sources of oil, meaning taking a hard, clear look at why we've increased our dependence on foreign oil since the gas crisis of the Seventies. People are wondering who created the situation we're in that seems seems tailor-made to have made things even worse. It's also pushed Americans to move to smaller, more gas-efficient vehicles; pushed manufacturers to produce those vehicles; and given alternatively-powered auto manufacturers a foot in the door to the American auto market. It's all been upside for the US and bad news for OPEC.

Back to the report. We invade Afghanistan and have broken Al Qaeda there. Problem now is that they simply retreated into "Waziristan," or Al Qaeda-controlled western Pakistan. Why haven't we just pushed into Pakistan, as Barack Obama has suggested? Because, unlike dictator-controlled Iraq and Al Qaeda's theocratic dictatorship in Afghanistan, Pakistan is a democratic, elected, republic; it has a nominally credible government. It's true that the government is thoroughly corrupted, and the military (which is also corrupted) seeks to install itself as the dictatorship with Al Qaeda's help and money in exchange for the Waziristani lands. It may be teetering on the edge of viability and stability, but it's hanging in there.

There is also the problem of India. If America decided to push ahead into Pakistan, without discussing it with India, we alienate a powerful and necessary and welcome ally. We can't negotiate with India on this because they don't want Pakistani and Al Qaeda terrorists fleeing into their country, using India as a proxy battlefield for their fight with the US or as an actual battlefield; nor do the Indians want to be drawn into a war with Pakistan. There are the nuclear weapons in the area to consider.

So, in working out the calculus on how to fight Al Qaeda, the Bush administration decided to attempt to bottle up Al Qaeda into Pakistan. Remove them from Afghanistan and then deny them their western escape route and back-up base in Iraq. Once in Pakistan, as they are now, with a secured Iraq and a cowed Iran, we can then begin to work on them there. We had the necessary preconditions in Iraq, thanks to Hussein's constant evasions and escapades with the UN and the IAEA. (Remember that years-long farce?)

Hussein was playing them for fools because they were willing to be played. Everyone made money and kept their jobs, the situation was ugly but stable, so it was all good. Until the US and the Bush administration decided to not dance any more and not accept the status quo. Was it for an ulterior motive? Sure; we wanted to invade as part of the plan against Al Qaeda, to force them to move east into Pakistan.

I was never a big supporter of this plan for the simple reason that President Bush pointed out himself: it was the work of nations and generations. It's a risky adventure to commit the world to that path. Look at what happened with the United Nations, after all. Once a way for the developed nations of Europe, North America and the Anglosphere to dominate and guide the rest of the world, under cover of "world peace," it is now a money hose from the rich to the greedy, a bulwark for petty despots and Communist regimes to hide behind, and finally a lost battalion for Eurocrats and socialist-utopian one-worlders.

In other words, the Global War on Terror was doomed to diversion and perversion, never mind the question that the RAND report asks. If everyone signed on. And of course that wasn't going to happen because President Bush had an army of people who would oppose anything he did simply because it was him asking it to be done.

Never mind that Democratic President Woodrow Wilson had done pretty much the same thing a century earlier. Wilsonian internationalism had a long vogue among Democrats, until they got serious about Civil Rights and "discovered" what a monstrous racist Wilson was. Then down the memory hole with him and his ideas! Around the same time (the late Seventies) the Democrats became a haven for American isolationists. Away with strong-on-American-defense Democrats like John Kennedy and Scoop Jackson. (I'm still not sure why or how that happened and welcome anyone who can explain it.)

I still respect those Congressional and leadership Democrats who opposed the war on principled argument, who questioned sending America into the path outlined above with reason. There are precious few of them, but some are out there. I respect folks like former Democrat Joe Lieberman (a Kenndy/Jackson-style holdover) who supported the war and withstood the abuse from fellow Democrats. I utterly despise those who voted "for" the war only to about-face afterwards to oppose it, and have since nickel and dimed the war effort itself, all in the name of craven office-keeping.

And so it was necessary to reconstitute Iraq into a sovereign, democratically ruled nation with its own trustworthy and effective police and intelligence agencies so it could do as the RAND report suggests: effectively fight Al Qaeda. And the evidence is very strong indeed that we're doing that right now. That's why we went there.

Like I said, I didn't really support this grand plan, for the reasons I just outlined. But I haven't been an anti-war critic either. Our nation was committed to a huge understaking and the time to stop it was in the offing; now that we are there in Iraq we have an obligation to our soldiers and to the Iraqis to complete the task. When we reach the planning point for the next stage, that's the time to re-examine things and maybe find a new direction. Until then, we fight the hardest and most uncompromising fight we can. And then we hand off the sovereignty of Iraq to the Iraqi and let them take up the duties of nationhood, and their role in the larger fight if they want one. Then we decide which way to go next.

It's a similar plan for nations like Iran and North Korea in the near future, too, possibly. That's what the Axis of Evil warning was all about -- setting up markers for the next fronts and warning Al Qaeda where not to go. When a new political generation comes along, without ties to Saudi Arabia like the Bushes', I believe we'll see action against them, too, and a new energy policy that is serious about American energy independence. We've needed that since the Seventies.

So, folks will focus on the part of the report that says, to them, "leave Iraq" while passing right over the part that shows we're doing precisely what the report argues we should be doing!

Predictable and a shame.

Now, a related observation. I'm very surprised that so many people seem to have forgotten America's recent war with Serbia, barely a decade ago. American troops are still there to this day! No exit strategy either, not from the Clinton and Bush administrations, and certainly not from the Clintons today.

So why wasn't Hillary Clinton ever asked about Serbia/Yugoslavia during the primary season? Why has everyone, Democrat and Republican, seemed to bury this one?

Even when the world's newest nation of Kosovo was recently created from Serbia, no one in the media that I saw even mentioned our continued presence and the anti-war goofballs didn't try to pin any of that on Hillary.

What am I missing?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nikki Tinker, Call Your Attorney

Sometimes, they don't even try. They just throw it right past you and dare you to call them on it. They know you're too busy to pay close attention and they hope their point will be made without your being aware of it.

This article from a recent Commercial Appeal is nothing more than a campaign donation to Steve Cohen:
All you insomniacs and public policy wonks can take heart. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., wrote to ask Comcast on Thursday to restore C-SPAN2 coverage of U.S. Senate debates and other programming when the Senate's not in session.

But the company has a better idea.

You can switch to its digital basic service and see it for the same price as the basic analog service from which C-SPAN2 was removed on May 22, said Sena Fitzmaurice, a government affairs spokesman for the company in Washington.
There might be a story in why Comcast (hack*spit*ptui*ptui) removed CSPAN2 from basic analog cable, or in what's the difference between "analog" and "digital" cable, but the hook is Steve Cohen.

I looked at the byline and sure enough -- Bart Sullivan! If that guy were any more biased for Democrats and against Republicans, he'd bleed blue. Sullivan's work since taking over the Washington "bureau" has been notable for its use to basically hammer Republicans.

Seriously, if I were Tinker I'd use this within the black community as proof of what many believe anyway, that Sullivan -- and through him, the CA -- is deeply in the pocket of Cohen.

Speaking of Comcast ... dear god but they suck. It's like Time-Warner level service taken down two notches. They've eliminated all the weather services. Channel 75 used to be nothing but current conditions and weather radar; and now News Channel 3 Anytime has removed their real-time weather info. They added a bunch of Arkansas stations to the basic service for some reason, but not West Tennessee ones. (Which is why CSPAN2 went away.) There are more "Signal Quality" warnings and drop-outs than every before. I thought you only got those with dish antennas and that was the selling point for cable television?

And there's my personal gripe: sound levels. Used to be that most channels were levelled off to roughly the same volume in the production studio before being sent to subscribers. That way you didn't get blasted by a different channel when you were switching around, say, very late at night.

Not any more. Not only is every channel at a different volume -- some very loud indeed -- but now whenever Comcast inserts one of their own ads within a channel, it's at a different volume as well -- sometimes very loud indeed.

It's annoying and amateurish.

JULY 30 UPDATE: Comcast's channel 20 (NC3A with real-time weather and radar) seems to have gone back to "normal" in the past day or so. So ... yay?
It's In The Paper, It Must Be True!

Here's an example of some really sloppy thinking and writing that I truly deplore in newspapers:
What many locals long suspected is now official. Memphis is one of the least-walkable cities in the nation, according to

Memphis ranked 35th out of 40 big cities on its America's Most Walkable Neighborhoods list released earlier this month. Unswayed by Marc Cohn's anthem "Walking in Memphis," the Web site found that 71 percent of Bluff City residents live in "car-dependent neighborhoods."
Some website with a press release said it, it must be "official." Gah.

Newspapers (and television) are forever taking whatever press release is sent out and shoving it at readers (and viewers) as though what's contained within it is true, is good science, and is unblemished by ulterior motive.

But almost immediately, if we bother to read past that opening headline and graf, we learn that the "results" are skewed by the website's owners' biases and their methodology is completely hopeless:
"We did not visit the cities as part of the ranking," said Walk Score executive Matt Lerner.

The findings were based on maps of how close residents lived to parks, stores and jobs. Street designs where compact grids were favored over winding roads. And the reported availability of public transportation, bike lanes, sidewalks and sophisticated crosswalks....

Lerner said one reason the South didn't fare well is because our cities are characterized by sprawl.

Lerner and friends Mike Mathieu and Jesse Kocher started the Seattle-based company last year to promote mixed-use communities.

Walk Score celebrated Downtown, Midtown and East Memphis as the most pedestrian-friendly local neighborhoods, because of residents' proximity to a plethora of businesses.
So, a more correct intro would be something like, "Advocacy group thinks we're a badly designed and laid-out city."

But that's not as zippy as "It's official! We suck!" Is it?

And what in the hell does a pop song have to do with reaching conclusions about a city's walkability? It's not just a non sequitur but a meaningless diversion to boot.

In the newer, smaller CA, where Editor-in-Sleep Chris Peck tells us the competition for space is tighter and the editing of stories is more important than ever, is this an example of how the same old-same old will continue to be ladled out?
Why Do Europeans Love Obama?

Victor Davis Hanson makes some salient points:
Let us count the ways:

1) Obama’s tax code, support of big government programs and redistribution of income, and subservience to UN directives delight the European masses—especially at a time when their own governments are trying to cut taxes, government, seek closer relations with the US, and ask a petulant, pampered public to grow up.

2) He offers Euros a sort of cheap assuagement of guilt—in classic liberal style. When Obama says falsely that he does not look like other Americans who have addressed Germans (cf. Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice who have represented US foreign policy abroad the last 7 years), Europeans feel especially progressive—and therefore need not worry that no one of African ancestry would ever become a European Prime- or Foreign-Minister.

3) Europe is weak militarily and won’t invest in its own defense. But with Obama, they believe the US will subject its enormous military strength to international organizations—usually run by utopian Europeans. So they will play a thinking-man’s Athens to our muscular Rome. They especially lap up Obama’s historical revisionism in which he lectures about the world’s effort to feed Berlin or tear down the communist wall, never the solitary, lonely efforts of a Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan to confront the evils of communism when almost everyone else preferred not to.

4) Style, style, style. Remember socialist Europe is where we get our designer eyeglass frames, Gucci bags, and French fashions. Instead of a strutting, Bible-quoting Texan, replete with southern accent and ‘smoke-em’ out lingo, they get an athletic, young, JFK-ish metrosexual, whose rhetoric is as empty as it is soothing. The English-only Obama lectures America on its need to emulate polyglot Europe; while a Spanish-speaking George Bush is hopelessly cast as a Texas yokel.

5) Obama reassures Europeans that they, not American right-wingers, “won” the classical debates of the 1990s over economics, foreign policy, and government. He is a world citizen, who buys into human-created massive global warming, wind and solar over nuclear and clean coal, high taxes, and cradle-to-grave entitlements, and resentments of the rich. There is a certain European “We told you so” that comes with his election. In short, we elect a world citizen with a European view, and put behind us the embarrassments of a Texan or cowboy actor.

The final irony?

The hated George Bush is still around; Chirac, Schroeder, Villapin et al. are history. Iraq is secure. Iran is becoming isolated. North Korea supposedly is denuked. And America is reassuring a jittery Europe that we will stick by them in a world of bullying Russians and Chinese.

A Modest Prediction

In 5 years, Europeans will prefer George Bush to a “We are right behind you” Obama.
VDH seems to assume (possibly rhetorically?) that Obama will win. I'm not so sure.

My rule of thumb right now (for lack of better data) is that any national poll is deeply suspect and likely to be off, in favor of Obama, by about 5%. Maybe more; it's hard to say.

The reasons? There are at least two. Don't just take headlines about poll results at face value. Some recent polls claimed that Obama was up over McCain, but were based on "registered" voters. New polling from the same source (Gallup) this week now shows McCain up. But this poll was derived from "likely" voters. That's a better pool to draw from, but it's not as good as "previous" voters, folks who actually have voted before. Those are your most reliable pollable voters.

There is a problem with using "previous" voters in this election: the strong evidence that among Democrats Obama is bringing in plenty of young, new voters. Democrats were setting voting records all through the primary season and you saw lots of young, fresh faces at his rallies. How well that will hold up through November is another open question. Past evidence says that young people just don't vote in strong numbers. Will two elections worth of frustration over not taking the Presidency finally drive that trend another way?

The other reason is something I've mentioned here before: the Bradley Effect. In the new, PC (politically correct, not personal computer) age lots of white voters feel pressured, when asked by pollsters and media how they will vote, to claim they will support a black candidate they in fact don't vote for.

The name comes from Tom Bradley's run for mayor of Los Angeles. All the polling showed him clearly ahead right up through election day. And yet he lost. A lot of folks lied about their vote and voting preference. It's since showed up in a lot of other campaigns and professional polling organisations are still trying to figure out how to factor for it.

I think this was part of the reason why so many were so vociferous for Hillary Clinton to get out of the race. Notice how, toward the end, in a lot of blue collar and rural states she was racking up some surprising margins against Obama. Big ones. And that was in the Democratic primary. It exposed a weakness in Obama that will only become more apparent when you're talking about independents and "Reagan Democrats."

I think there's still a lot of folks out there who just won't vote for a black candidate no matter what. It's ugly but it's true and it must be addressed. Not by media hacks who will examine it from a "what's wrong with those people?" approach, but from a truly disinterested analyst. I wonder if Obama's famous Pennsylvania slip will disappear down the media's memory hole?
"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
No sense reminding those voters what Obama thinks about them, right? It will only make things worse for him!

The media seems to have blown right past any adjustments, or lack thereof, that might have to be made in voters to having a real live viable-ish black candidate out there. Pretending racism or racial discomfort is "over" is what the media usually do, so they can feel good about themselves and demonstrate their PC bona fides, but it's wrong. As the Bradley Effect shows, race is still out there and being unexamined as a factor.

I'd also allow that the media's excitement over the flood of new and excited Democratic voters led them to push the more problematic issue of missing voters -- and the unhappy voters who went to Hillary Clinton -- off to the side. I do know there's been some examination of Clinton's supporters, but mostly in a bitter, "game's over; deal with it" sort of light.

If someone knows of any studies of the Democratic primary results with respect to how people said they would vote and how they actually voted, I'd like to hear of them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Test Your News IQ

The Pew Research Center has an online questionnaire to test your knowledge of current events. I scored 91%, missing only one question. Maybe it's just me, but the questions seemed almost absurdly simple. Though when you look at how many folks got so many wrong answers, it's a bit disheartening.

Or maybe it just shows how many folks don't pay attention to the media? Or maybe it shows what a crappy job the media does in educating folks. Like the question about Islam. Have you ever seen a media story that explained the general history of Islam and its denominations/sects? Certainly the construction of the quiz -- in the choice of questions and topics -- reflects what the media thinks it is important for you to know! I find that rather interesting of itself.

The questions tilt heavily to the Democratic for some reason. And the least correctly answered question (only 24% got it right at the time I took the quiz over the weekend) was a source of great bemusement for me.

Unfortunately, I can't discuss that without blowing the quiz for you. Ah well....

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cinematic Geekgasms

There have been a handful of movies that have fundamentally altered my perceptions of the world and its future. The earliest one I can remember is, unsurprisingly, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Another is Tron. As with 2001, I forgot I was watching a movie and thought I was seeing a documentary of the future as it was surely going to be ... no, of having been in the future. It was an imperfect movie, but it captured my imagination and my thinking.

News of a sequel has been floating around for years, but it looks like a real, true new Tron movie is coming. You can see a trailer here. It's a grainy, murky, tiny, bootlegged view, but it's more than enough to impress the living crap out of me. I'll say only two words: light cycles.

There's also a movie adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen coming out next year. A trailer has been released that can be seen here. In this case, the trailer is giving me conflicted emotions. On the one hand, the adaptation appears to be scrupulously true to the original. Characters and settings in the movie look like the graphic novel. It's fantastic; especially the depiction of Dr. Manhattan (the blue guy). Everything looks exactly right.

And that's the problem. If the whole project is the literal "book on the screen" then what's the point of me seeing it? I already know the story and have thought deeply on some of its themes. What's gained by seeing one guy's vision of how it might look as a movie when Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons have already given us the definitive one?

There are nits. Can a cinematic Rohrschach character possibly be as creepy as the guy in the novel? The Ozymandias character in the movie is, I'm sorry to say, not quite as impressive as the novel's version. He looks puny! I have to admit, they certainly got Dr. Manhattan right. Maybe even the Comedian. (briefly glimpsed flame-thrower guy)

Barring reports of a true disaster, I'll probably go see it, though, just to see it.
Another Step to the Strange New Future

Watch this video:

Noticed something strange about the woman, right? Well, she's an android. Competely mechanical from toes to head.

According to a commenter at BoingBoing (where I found the video) the announcer says, "Even androids can recommend Kincho bug spray."

The future is coming and it's going to be weirder than you'll ever want to know. It will be years or decades yet before someone can successfully combine the androids being developed in Japan with something like the fleshlight (Site NSFW!) into a fully functional sexbot that is indistinguishable from a real human. That's because of the uncanny valley effect. In other words, humans react increasing well to androids that look more and more human until you get to a point where our subconscious first perceives them as humans, then triggers the alarm/fear response because we detect something's "wrong" with them. Humans instinctively recoil from other humans with perceived physical, biological or genetic abnormalities.

(There's also the Turing Test threshold, meaning can the android carry on a realistic conversation? For a sexbot I'd imagine the expectations would be awfully low, but that's for another post.)

On the other hand, humans react remarkably well to clearly non-human things with very human characteristics. Look at Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, the vehicles in Cars or the robots in Wall*E. Or Jessica Rabbit:

Remember all the va-va-va-voooom! when she first came along? Then someone developed a more 3D, painted and realistic Jessica Rabbit:

We still perceive her as torridly hot, even though she's an exagerration, because of the filtering effect of paint.

And, of course, you can cosplay her now:

Search the net and you'll find all kinds of communities of people who are happy to dress up as Klingons, furries, aliens, elves and dwarves, cartoon characters, you name it, and willingly suspend disbelief in order to interact with them as whatever they are presented as. I've done it myself with anime characters, Star Wars characters, Dr. Girlfriend of The Venture Brothers, etc. at MidSouthCon.

It won't take much more work to develop non-human but anthropomorphic enough sexbots to satisfy the stranger sides of the sex trade. And being non-human machines completely side-steps law on prostitution. How many men do you think might want to have pretend but physically real sex with a Jessica Rabbit 'bot? What might they pay for it?

Let's go another, kinkier, step further. How many men have fantasised about Brittney Spears? With all the media exposure she has had over the years, it would be rather easy to create a 3D map of her face and body, even the few parts we haven't seen yet. Create a 'bot with those features and suddenly Brittney Spears is within the (pervy) reach of a lot of men. At a guess, I'd say trademark laws would cover marketing a "Brittney-sexbot" but how close can you get to the real thing without a judge slapping a restraint order on you?

What about an underage Brittney-bot, from her scandalous teenage years? Or just underage boys and girls in general? If it's a machine, do the laws still apply? Or will they be made to apply, just as laws against depictions of children in sexual images have been stretched to cover non-sexual but suspicious pictures of fully clothed children and painted or drawn depictions of child pron with no real human model involved?

And then there are furries....

Or.... Imagine a computer-drenched world in which you plug up your hyper-realistic, articulated and pneumatic sex doll (NSFW) to the Internet, then put on your virtual-3D helmet. You sign on to some pron site across the world where the helmet tells you an incredibly beautiful woman is in your arms, in place of the sexbot. The sex worker's body is wired up to connections in your sex doll so that it responds to her commands, like biofeedback. The two of you have completely detached but moderately realistic sex. No one will ever know what happened, so how can the law do anything?

Internet geeks would never leave their basements, having satisfied that last, nigh-unobtainable need. With a fundzmental need for real-life human interaction taken care of vicariously, through electronic mediation similar to online game playing (games like The Sims are a related phenomenon) what kind of world we will be creating?

Yep, one very, very strange universe is coming indeed.
Why Aren't More Young People Doing This?

From Australia:
UNIVERSITY students are entering into "sham" marriages in a bid to get financial support to cope with rising tertiary costs.

As the Victorian Government moves to pressure Canberra for improvements to support schemes such as Youth Allowance and Austudy, students admit they are resorting to drastic measures in a bid to qualify for government aid.

One student from the University of Sydney told The Age he married his housemate a few years ago in order to become eligible for the Independent Youth Allowance.

Under the scheme - which critics claim is either too hard to obtain or insufficient to make ends meet - students can receive between $194.50 and $355.40 a fortnight if they can prove they are "independent" through a range of criteria, such as earning $18,850 after spending 18 months out of school, having deceased parents, or being married.

"We went to the registry on Thursday and by Monday we were at Centrelink. [Note: the Australian welfare office.] It seemed like the easiest, clearest solution - simply because there was no other accessible means for us to survive," said the student, who did not wish to be named.
Gaming the system! Gotta love it.

I've floated the idea with some acquaintances about a possible exploit that more Americans can use to similarly game our insurance system, via using the newly minted "domestic partnership" laws.

It's simple. Two young men (Or any combination of men & women, really.) have left college and remained good friends. One is a successful management type or office drone with a good benefits package including health care for himself and his "partner." His buddy is an artistic type with great ideas and a great future, but nothing in the way of insurance and health care.

They move in together, then go downtown to register as "domestic partners." Now the artistic type has access to the same excellent health care system as the office drone at a fraction of the cost it might otherwise be if he was single and alone!

The office drone has little to fear. Workplace harrassment laws will protect him. He doesn't even have to say anything at all. He can continue to live his life as a swingin' single guy. Only the folks in Human Resources will really know and they can't say anything. If they did for some reason, via whispers or rumors, then we're back to workplace harrassment protection.

It ought to be easy to keep the insurance fraud sniffers away. They have to prove fraud. You need only assert they are delving into your personal life and how you choose to live it is your business. Keep your morality out of my bedroom!

It seems such a fundamental and easy dodge it really surprises me that more artist types aren't taking advantage of it.
A Pointer to Obama's Future?

Followers of Australian poltics know that former Prime Minister was derided by the Australisan Left as a Bush clone and a warmonger. The Australian Labor Party (roughly their equivalent of our Democratic Party) went mad for years trying unsuccessfully to remove him from office. He was especially hated for his participation on Bush's War on Terror. Everything you've seen in American Bush Derangement Syndrome has been present in Australia.

A year or so ago, the ALP finally got the Prime Minister's office (when Howard retired; not by electoral rejection) and Australian Lefties were overjoyed, thinking they were at last going to change the direction of the country.

Sadly, that's not happened so much. And now comes word that one of the ALP's most-expected actions -- getting Australia out of Iraq for good and all -- isn't going to happen on the ALP's watch!
[Defence Minister Joel] Fitzgibbon told The Age that while Labor opposed the invasion of Iraq, Australia now had an obligation to help get the country on its feet.

He said that on his recent visit to the United States he assured senior members of the Bush Administration that Australia remained committed to the Iraq "project".

That completes a comprehensive adjustment of the ALP's policy on Iraq and a significant shift from the impression created by Labor in opposition that Australia's role in Iraq was all but over.

In the lead-up to the 2007 election, Labor promised to withdraw Australia's combat troops from southern Iraq. To meet that undertaking this year, it brought home the 550-strong Overwatch Battle Group and 70 instructors....

"I reassured the US that we remain committed to the Iraqi project, including our P-3 Orions, the security detachment in Baghdad and the frigate protecting the offshore oil export terminals," he said.

"While the Labor Party opposed the intervention, having been part of it as a country we've got a responsibility to see the project through.
What does that have to do with America?

Just watch Barack Obama. He's already shown signs of trying to back away from his previous pledges. See if he doesn't follow a similar path.

His Congressional leaders -- Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi -- have already caved, and hard. Do you think they want their President making them look like chickens? Of course not.

Obama also realises that a lot of Americans who might vote for him don't want us pulling willy-nilly out of a committment to Iraq, leaving another Vietnam-style mess behind us.

Just watch for him to change.
More on Making Main a Street Again

New-to-me downtown blogger memphis Limelight posts a recap of the Center City Commission open meeting.

It makes for interesting reading, so I won't quote much. I do want to highlight a couple of things. First, here's ML's breakdown of keys to successful pedestrian malls:
* Mixed activity uses - Maybe
* Population of captive users - Yes
* Programmed activities - No
* Efficient public transit - Maybe
* Strong anchors - No
* Centralized/coordinated retail management - No
* Extensive parking - Yes (currently 22,600 spaces)
* High tourism area - Maybe
* College town or near college neighborhood - No
Memphis only hits two of those keys. ML wants to stretch some of the "maybes" and "nos" into yesses but I think he's trying to massage bad news into supporting his vision of what he wants. (She? Don't know.)

Also, there's this:
And one very community-involved downtown resident and business owner replied that there's already a test - the cops drive on it all the time and use it as their personal parking lot. She was vehemently against the proposal, based on her firsthand experience through 24 years of different phases. She was one of many that expressed frustration with the trolleys.

A spokesperson for Carriage Tours of Memphis compared Main to surrounding streets, asking for proof that traffic makes any difference. A few people pointed out that if the answer was vehicle traffic, South Main and The Pinch District would be booming.
Ahh ... the Pinch was booming when there was activity at the Pyramid and the city was trying to make it the expansion zone for downtown activity. That was before South Main took off on its own and the Pyramid closed. That's the problem with downtown: remove the government subsidies and it falls into disuse!

And the point about the police ignoring the "no traffic" zone is well made. But they aren't the only ones who do as they please along the pedestrian mall. I think that's a strong sign that Main should be made a street again.

After all, New York and Chicago get along just fine with street canyons. Just because some residents want "their" downtown to satisfy some personal desire for decoration and greenspace doesn't mean the rest of the city -- and its future -- should be held hostage to them. It's just a stark reminder of why folks move to the suburbs -- they want greenspaces, too, but are willing to pay for it themselves.

I posted a comment over at the Smart City Memphis blog (which blog I strongly recommend to folks) that's related, so I'm going to post the whole thing here. It rambles and is disjointed because I knocked it out in a space of minutes so I apologise. Here it is:
Open up Main Street to vehicular traffic, with parking along the side, same as other downtown streets. Parallel parking would offer more slots, but I'm not sure there's space enough.

Talking about inter-related problems, parking downtown is the elephant in the room that city leaders seem to want to ignore. Why hasn't the city been working to develop a space that can be converted into another parking garage, city-subsidised if need be? Instead, they keep bringing in more and more businesses and events, then let the city-as-it-is absorb the extra vehicles as best it can. Which means overstuffing the private lots. That makes no sense.

It also used to be that you could catch all the city busses you need almost anywhere downtown. When the dimwits decided to put the new MATA bus terminal at the FAR END of downtown (and it turned out to be the wrong end when the Pyramid flopped and the Pinch didn't become the growth area) it created an untenable situation.

Few people want to walk eight blocks or more from wherever they are downtown to the bus terminal. Almost as many don't like paying extra for a trolley ride or a connector bus to get there, besides the hassle of having to walk to where the trolley runs instead of catching the old busses that ran nearby.

I understand the wisdom of decreasing bus traffic so as to increase space for other vehicular traffic, but the city and MATA went too far the other way.

SCM, you might also want to look into the federal subsidies for the trolleys downtown and along Madison. The first was due to expire this year, I think, and the Madison line is due to expire soon after. That's several millions of dollars going away from MATA at a time when their fuel prices have nearly doubled. Tell me that's not a recipe for cutbacks and diminished service.

For the life of me, I do not understand why MATA hasn't been investigated. It's over-ripe for it.

And not to be too snarky about it, but the same urban design "leader" types who are redesigning downtowns today to resemble the downtowns of fifty-sixty years ago are the same twits who talked cities into creating those urban malls in the first place! Fashions and trends, my friend, and the easily-folled, gullible types who buy their blather.

Cities had strong downtowns until the Sixties because of the weight of historical inertia. It's where the businesses always had been. The majority of people at the time lived within a few miles of there, and the transportation web was designed around that centrality. Easily done; easily followed.

Then came the "sprawl" as you call it of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. It was, in my mind, the explosion of the middle-class in America which is, I think, a good and healthy thing. Folks moved farther out to find space, instead of living in cramped neighborhoods (drive through Cooper-Young and really look).

Business moved to follow them and, logically, the centrality of the downtown to a city disappeared, except as government, police and the legal establishment are "central" to daily lives. Folks didn't want to drive all the way downtown to search for parking, so offices followed too.

The idea of a "central downtown" is a holdover from an earlier era. Especially in the technology/information age, it's not really necessary. Government could, and should, build more satellite offices to cut down on travelling downtown. Police already have satellite precincts.

And using government as a tool for forcing people to move back into denser, smaller-lot or tower living is non-democratic. We used to live that way, which is why the wealthy moved out along Peabody and Madison and Monroe decades ago. The old neighborhoods between the Pyramid and Rhodes College were the sprawl of their day, but with better built, longer-lasting homes. The Parkway Villages and Westwoods of the Fifties and Sixties are a problem in the brewing that's being looked at from the wrong angle.

Anyway, enough of that. With the large populations of 21st century cities you need lots of space. That requires cars (albeit better designed ones!). That means streets and parking. Let's optimise those first.
There's an idea I just toss off above that I need to think on some more -- the idea that cities don't really need centralised downtowns anymore, now that communications technology is maturing and so much data doesn't require hardcopy to be kept on file.

It strikes me that a lot of downtown's "attractions" are publicly funded or subsidised. They are museums, Forums, public parks, events, etc. Take away that crutch, that prop, and downtown becomes a ghost town again. But the only design alternative we see are endless shopping streets like Summer, Poplar, Germantown, etc. Why isn't there a middle alternative?

Isn't part of the "lakes of tarmac" problem with suburban shopping centers that zoning laws require them to provide year-round parking sufficient for that peak shopping month between Thanksgiving and New Years? Compare the compactness of smaller strip malls with the wide-open vistas of a Sam's Club, Wal-Mart or Target shopping center. Wouldn't altering that requirement go a ways to reducing the footprint of many shopping centers?

Bunching up attractions is the conscious design theory of downtown and the unconscious imperative of Germantown Parkway. Surely the laws can be tweaked to find a middle solution? I don't see people looking for one. I wish they would.

As I noted above, I don't see the post-WWII suburban "sprawl" of America as a bad thing, a disease on America's cities. It's a sign, as clear as you can ask for, of the success of the America middle class. Of the American dream of our own homes with yards kids can play in relatively safe neighborhoods of like-minded people.

I think a lot of the folks who wish to erase the suburbs and repack people into small-scale New Yorks aren't seeing the reality of cities. They are crowded, unclean, smelly and dangerous. That's the nature of any mammals crowded together.

Scrath the folks who espouse the "new urbanism" (I'm old enough to remember when it was more honestly called gentrification.) model and you'll soon find the statist controller underneath. Crowded cities need strong governments with a lot of powers and a strong police force given a lot of leeway. They also require a plethora of commissions and associations and public-private partnerships that can stifle life's diversity. Or create one kind of government-guided "diversity" at the cost of whatever real diversity the city's residents want for themselves.

For an example, look at what Memphis' government-directed downtown puts forward. Beale Street: a huge public-drunk zone that destroyed the old, original, "real" black business zone to remake it as an oligarchic "entertainment zone" version of itself. Our "music history" is a Burgess Shale of fossilised people: Elvis, Sun and, when Memphis' black power became a reality, Stax. We're pimping the past's corpses even as we ignore the incredible wealth of new music blooming underneath us right now. There is no reason Memphis shouldn't be -- right now -- this decade's Seattle or Athens, Liverpool, or New York/London. None. The growth of museums and related public spaces is another problem, as they lock down parts of the city into staring at the past and deliberately downplay the vibrant present.

Let downtown become what it's going to become based on who lives and works there. It will be a radically different place in ten or twenty years than anything America's seen, driven by the remaining need for some City / State / Federal entities to remain, along with their ancillary industries (law, paper record-keeping, etc.) and by the actual residents.

I know. Too radical for a hide-bound place like Memphis. Maybe even for me! I like how Memphis is America's Biggest Small Town, a collection of vibrant and history-laden neighborhoods. But what's wrong with how the current residents want to shape their neighborhood? Look at Cooper-Young and what they are becoming. It's an instructive example and I'm sure there are more.

A place like Houston -- which effectively has no zoning laws or city-guided growth scheme -- is the counter-example, the warning. But the downtown-centric model is just old, out of date. We need to find that new, middle way.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Don't Fear the Reaper

Radio programmers are total idiots. Here's a smokin' live version of Blue Oyster Cult and Don't Fear the Reaper. No data but it looks to be from the past 5 years or so. These guys are still touring regularly, still releasing good albums and still sound great! But you won't hear them on radio, except this and Godzilla, and certainly not the new stuff. They just put out a live album a couple of years ago that's full of awesome. Won't hear that on the radio, either.

Idiots and bastards, all.

So many, many artists and bands from the Glory Days of Rock who are still touring, making good new music and still sound great. Maybe the line-up's a little different, but the band is still essential.

Radio could care less. Gone and forgotten. For the life of me, I cannot understand the people who listen to the same few damn songs over and over again, sometimes day after day, for decades on Rock 103 and The Max. I mean I have my favorites too, and I listen to them regularly, but not every damn day!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Draft is Coming Back

For years, New York Congressman Charles Rangel has introduced a bill in Congress to reinstate the draft. It's purely political theater. The dimmer bulbs on the Left occasionally discover the bill, don't bother to read any deeper than the summary, and then start hollering about "Bush is bringing back the draft!" I'm sure Rangel giggles every time it happens.

But now, Rangel is really serious. He does want to bring back a draft -- one that is a requirement of everyone who turns eighteen, no exceptions. This draft does have a diversion in it, where you can opt out of military service and go into "National Service." Read about it here. You may not go to war, but you will serve.

Tie this in with Obama's call earlier this month for a new volunteerism and a massive expansion of the AmeriCorps:
At $3.5 billion a year, his service plan, laid out last December and expanded on only slightly Wednesday, has been derided by conservatives as an example of big government. He would expand the AmeriCorps program established by President Bill Clinton by 250,000 slots, double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011, expand the Foreign Service, and create an Energy Corps to conduct renewable-energy and environmental-cleanup projects. Veterans would be enlisted to help other veterans find jobs and support, and a Social Investment Fund Network would support the nonprofit sector.

An American Opportunity Tax Credit would offer $4,000 to college students for 100 hours of public service. A planned expansion of the Army and Marines by 92,000 would be fostered with pay raises, more family-friendly policies and an end to recruiting impediments such as "stop-loss" decrees that prevent service members from leaving on schedule.
Note the part about the tax credit for college-student service.

There's already a strong movement by high schools and colleges to require some form of community service in order to receive a degree. (More here and here.)

Bring this all together, add in an Obama presidential win, and I think every 18- to 24-year-old out there has something to think about. Imagine having to put all those prime college years, early career/family years, or prime slacking / drinking / gaming / fucking around years on hold, to do the bidding of old farts like ... Charley Rangel!

It's not that Democrats are opposed to involuntary national service, just to what ends you put it to.
Nashville Ranks Higher Than Memphis ... And That's Good News!

Reason magazine lists 35 American cities on various measures of nanny-statism, from most to least repressive. The good news is that Memphis (23) ranks lower than Nashville (29), but we still rank pretty high up there.

From the list:
This year Shelby County, where Memphis is located, passed an ordinance banning beer sales at strip clubs, requiring dancers to wear pasties, mandating a six-foot separation at all times between entertainers and customers, and forcing all employees of girlie bars to undergo criminal background checks and obtain permits. At press time, the rules were being challenged in court.


Sex: 32 Tobacco: 2 Alcohol: 25 Guns: 4

Movement: 19 Drugs: 25 Gambling: 21 Food/Other: 22
Scroll to the very bottom for an explanation of the measures and for a highly hilarious corrections list.

But hey! We're better than Nashville! Neener neener.
Book Promotions of the Future

No doubt you've already seen book commercials on television, but this is a whole new level of promotion:

Best of all, you don't need a book publisher to do it for you and it doesn't have to go on a book promotion tour.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Monday's Commercial Appeal runs a story congratulating itself and its editor in chief extolling its writers and photographers for winning industry awards.

But Editor-in-Smarm Chris Peck says this:
"In a year in which newspapers are having some difficulties on the business side, it's a sign of good health in Memphis that The Commercial Appeal's journalism continues to shine," Peck added.
Isn't this a non-sequitur? How does the CA's winning awards relate to the industry's circulation and advertising crashes? The awards are issued by folks within their own industry, independent of any influence by or on the general public. The public is voting with its eyes and dollars on the value of newspapers -- they are reading less and buying significantly less advertising. The CA can win all the awards it can; it doesn't affect their problems.

(Gotta love Peck's whitewash of the severe problems of newspapers with "some difficulties." If he's willing to violently twist and spin that reality to you the reader on something not especially consequential, then what else might he be willing to be less than fully honest and forthcoming on? What do I always say? If someone is willing to fudge the small and inconsequential things, then you can believe they'll fudge the important stuff, too.)

I also like how they single out Marc Perrusquia's series Culture of Corruption for special mention but fail to give you a link to it! The hyperlinked picture of the story's big splash page goes to ... the same image! As the page stands at the time of posting, you have to go and dig out the story for yourself. Or use the handy link I've provided just above.

Nothing else is linked either. Nothing and no one. I can understand the paper version not having much or anything (haven't seen it yet, so I don't know for sure); even on a Monday I'm sure space is still an issue. But online? No excuse. It's effectively trivial to link these works up.

Also, can someone clarify something for me? No to piss on Perrusquia, but the story series he won the award for was a rehashing of old reports. It didn't have any new, ground-breaking work in it that I see. Yes, he called the prosecutors' offices involvedand some folks who provided quotes on corruption in general. And yes, he went into the paper's archives to dig up old stories (written by other people!). So, is he being honored for all the previous work -- the parts he's responsible for -- that went into the series? How many of the stories predated press releases out of the various prosecutors' offices or news broken by other media sources? How many were completely new information developed and broken by him? How much was original (truly original) to Perrusquia? I'm not saying he doesn't work hard or doesn't deserve it; I'm just curious about the scope and meaning of the award.

I would also mention this:
The other first-place awards from TAPME were:

Daniel Connolly for Features Reporting, for his stories on the impact of immigration on Greater Memphis.
The plug might more accurately say, "... the impact of Greater Memphis on immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries." That would be far more accurate.

I started to write about this during my tenure at Mediaverse Memphis. (Related MM story here. Richard's take on another story in the series here.) Richard was taken by Connolly's writing but seems to have not been bothered at all by the viewpoint that went into it. I was.

Connolly's story about the large numbers of illegal aliens excuse me, immigrants in local temp staffing agencies came down hard on the companies and was very sympathetic to the illegal aliens. Sympathy for them and almost no expression of the viewpoint of legal citizens appalled at the large numbers on non-citizens living in this country were hallmarks of the series. (If you want to read the stories in this series, start with this story as it has the most links to the rest of the series. Today's article on the award-winners neglected to link to them as well. You're welcome.)

The whole series was built around the "immigrants from Central and South America," to use Connolly's phrasing. It barely touched at all on the experiences of Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Somali, Indian, etc. in this city. None of those immigrant communities are as large as the illegal Mexican one, but certainly the Southeast Asian and Indian communities -- and the Arab Muslim community, too -- are all influential in "Greater Memphis."

No. He deliberately downplayed aspects of or points of view toward that larger story that might undermine what he wanted to achieve. Connolly wanted to gin up sympathy for the illegal Mexican community rapidly building up in the area. His approach was "How do we change to accept these people? rather than "How do we deal with this growing problem?"

Compare his attitude toward his subjects with Perrusquia's treatment of his. Are they even close to the same? That's a part of my point. Would Perrusquia even consider writing in sympathy for his subjects? Would Connolly write criticism of his for their open-ended crime of entering this country illegally and staying here?

I'm not disparaging their hard work. Just asking questions.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Joss Whedon is the mastermind behind some great television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. He has an unmatched talent for creating characters who are complex and fascinating, and for putting them into situations that you want to watch. His dialogue is fast, witty and frequently sparkling. Best of all, Joss knows how to write strong, believable women.

But he has a difficult relationship with the folks who run the studios that make the shows. And so he's not often on television these days. (Although he has a new show on FOX mid-season, Dollhouse, starring Buffy/Angel actress Eliza Dushku, that looks promising.)

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was a solution. It's a three-act "event" (his words) about the title character's struggle to beat his nemesis, Captain Hammer, and get the girl. This was produced and directed for the web and it's being shown (right now) only on the website! Whedon, who wrote and directed and wrote the songs -- oh, wait. Did I mention it's a musical? Yes, along the lines of the famous Buffy musical episode Once More With Feeling.

Neil Patrick Harris plays Dr. Horrible somewhat in the mode of his characters from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle and How I Met Your Mother. People don't always know that Harris has done Broadway (He played The MC in Cabaret!) and that he has a fine singing voice.

Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal Reynolds of the lost and lamented Firefly.) is appropriately heroic and sings well. He brings a goofy edge to Captain Hammer, and a bit of preening and dimness and vainglory that make his character more complex than you'd expect. Felicia Day (the dark-haired girl from the Cheetos laundromat commercial, who also stars in, writes and produces the web series The Guild
) is all sweetness and spunk as the heroine. She needs to become a big star Right Now.

Dr. Horrible's songs aren't as memorable as I might like, a problem that Once More... had, at least for me. They all move at about the same pace and have similar show-tunish melodic constructions. Like other writers, when he makes songs he tends to want to cram too many words into his work, which makes for crowded songs. There also seems to be a Sondheim-ish tendency as well, which doesn't always fit.

That said, Captain Hammer's speech/song in the third act, "Everyone's a Hero (In Their Own Way)" is pretty funny, mostly sold by Fillion's wonderfully hammy performance. And Dr. Horrible's final song is sorrowful and foreboding in appropirate ways.

But the last act feels rushed toward the end, and muddled. I can't say much without spoiling what shouldn't be spoiled, but too much happens in the space of a few minutes. After, my first thought was "Ooooh, I see." and to start thinking of how it could have been done a little differently. Not a good sign. Felicia's final line should have had way more impact than it did -- it is the pivot on which so much hangs -- but was almost lost in the sound mix!

But still, very funny, especially for comic fans and Whedonites, and recommended! Hurry, though. My understanding is that the free streaming will stop soon.

SUNDAY UPDATE: I've since watched Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog a couple more times and wanted to post some more thoughts. Nothing spoilery. I'll likely post again in a few more days with a deeper discussion, though.

Remember, see it soon! It's not going to be a free webcast much longer.

Bad Horse is the name of the head of the Evil League of Evil, which Dr. Horrible would love to join. Whenever Bad Horse sends a message to Dr. Horrible, its contents are told to the audience via a trio of men in Western outfits, a kind of Greek chorus, singing it. Great joke, too, in that the "Thoroughbred of Sin" talks about making someone his "mare."

I also like that the other villains in the ELE have names like Dead Bowie and The Fake Thomas Jefferson. If you read the final credits, you'll see that a lot of the smaller roles, like the ELE, are filled by many former Buffy/Angel writers like Drew Goddard, David Fury and Marti Noxon. Nice touch.

Another nice touch is the warning on the container Dr. Horrible is trying to steal: Do Not Bounce. Not drop, bounce. It jars you in the pleasant way. Parts of the show are presented as a video blog (hence the title) and a later reminder that your enemies can watch/read your blog as easily as your intended audience is funny and smart.

I may have seemed a bit harsh on the songs in the original post. It's not that they're bad -- not at all. But there's a zip or sparkle or snap that's missing that would raise them into memorability. I do find myself still humming the opening and closing melody, a sort of staccato arpeggio and after a few viewings I can hum along with the songs while they're being sung. But later ... well, hard to remember them.

And too often, witty lyrics get lost in the rush of words that I mentioned before. Dr. Horrible sings of Bad Horse and the Evil League of Evil, mentioning his application packet. But in the flow a great line about a "letter of condemnation from the vice-mayor" is almost lost. Funny stuff is too-often lost this way in Dr. Horrible.

But still, I just feel that in other hands and other performances a couple of the songs might be wonderful. "So They Say" just begs for a bouncier beat. The crunchy guitars of "Brand New Day" are gone before they really get riffing. "On The Rise" has a nice paired melody -- standard showtune stuff -- that doesn't quite soar; almost, not quite. It's frustrating as you can feel how close the songs are to something arresting.

It's really noticeable on repeated viewings how variable the sound mix can be. Some of the quieter moments could use a bumping up of the volume so that quiet line deliveries (and there are at least two important ones) don't get muddled. As I said before, Penny's last line must be heard clearly for the point to be driven home; if you don't quite catch it, then the drama is leached out.

One last observation before I go. This one does get close to a spoiler, though not entirely one. Watch Dr. Horrible's color scheme. His outfit in most of the show is white: gloves, lab coat and boots. He wears heavy-duty goggles on his head through the entire thing. Watch for the change of color; note the new colors; and watch for when he finally puts the goggles over his eyes.

I usually hate "playing up" things in movies -- it's why I dislike Spielberg so much. He just can't let anything not be clearly seen and understood by an audience. Makes you feel like you're stupid and must be led around. LOOK here! FEEL that! CRY now! LOOK over there now! But I think a little more care with the final scenes, some different editing or pacing, or camera angles, might make what those scenes are telling us pop out a bit more and really wallop the audience with the enormity of what's happened. Same with the movie's last shot.

I'll discuss this in serious detail in a few more days. For now, GO! SEE this! ENJOY!

SUNDAY NIGHT UPDATE: Thanks to a visitor, I have some lyrics and guitar tabs to share.

I also see search engines bringing folks in. Welcome! Please note that while I have mixed but generally positive feelings on Dr. Horrible, I'm a solid fan of Buffy, Angel and the glorious Firefly. Just to be clear.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I just updated myself on Facebook and suddenly got 7 invites. Sheesh. Two were from Argentinian guys; why, I don't know. And one was from a woman in Australia. She looks rather cute but again, I don't know her so down the chute with her invite. Is this kind of blind inviting the norm at Facebook? What's the motivation?

If you are going to invite me, please make sure to identify yourself in some way if you think there's a chance I might not know or remember you. And there's a good chance I might not! My brain is like a Teflon-covered sieve these days. It's part of the reason I backed off blogging for a while. If I can't be sure of my facts, then my arguments are suspect, too, and then what's the point?

Don't expect me to keep up with the Facebook or do social networking or whatever through it. I think I've found the outer edges of my ability to adapt to a changing world and the e-social networking world is just past it. So are Flickr and Twitter. Too much personal information, all the time. Don't like it; don't want it.

I'm a huge loner (not an agoraphobe, mind you) and really don't care to socialise with you via these social networks. I was a loner pre-Internet and am still one today. Unless it's email or comments here. Those I love. They give you some immediacy but still leave room for consideration in response.

On the gripping hand, there's the cell phone. HATE THEM! I finally had to break down last Fall and get one. Can't stand it. For some reason, you can't lock the outside controls on mine and so I'm forever turning off the ringer or turning down the volume. I have to remember to bring it from my bedside at night to the desk or else it will stay in the bedroom until I remember to retrieve it. And I miss calls as a result. Grrr. Plus, now people know my phone is with me, so I am always reachable. Not answering cell calls is always seen as rude, instead of expecting an answer to whatever call is being made at whatever moment being seen as rude.

And DO NOT look for me to get a MySpace page. Jeez, but those are some godawful places. If you subscribe as I do to Ann Landers' Three Maxims for Conversation (Intelligent people discuss ideas and concepts. Average people discuss current events. Ignorant people discuss each other.) then it's hard to shake the belief that MySpace is a haven for the third kind of people.
Wire & Love

Tooling around the intertubes today and found some music to share.

First, one of my favorite bands from the late Seventies and Eighties: Wire! The first video is a live performance of Map Ref. 41°N 93°W, a favorite. You can read more about Wire and their music here; the link is about the production of their best album by far, 154. (Note: The live performance here is frakked up. The second guitar is almost completely mixed out. But it gives you the idea of the song.) It's well worth seeking out the original.

I couldn't find a real "video" of the song Reuters but this is close. It's actually about five songs, so you don't necessarily have to listen to them all. Reuters is up first. Listen to the lyrics!

The band took a hiatus of a couple of years then came back with a retooled sound. They were more jam-based, with smoother electronic textures. Still kicked all kinds of ass. This is Ahead:

And this is from the Late Show! A performance of Drill with a game Suzanne Somers introducing:

And now for something completely different -- Blondie in a live performance of Donna Summer's I Feel Love! This song is one of the greatest songs ever recorded, period. In my all-time Top Ten with a lock. The contrast between the warm and oh-so human voice singing about the most ineffable human emotion of all and the unwavering, steady beat of the machines is what makes it awesome. To today's ears? Maybe not so much, but it was revolutionary in the early Seventies. A real revelation.

This version is really good, though the guitars that rock it up change the song's underlying tension. By the way, there is supposedly a version of this where Robert Fripp and his Frippertronics guitar sit in with Blondie. If you know where to find it, I will trade appendages to get hold of it.

[Digression: Have you ever heard the two versions of Republika's Ready To Go? The original was very rave-y sounding, built on the rhythm and the electronics. But when it was released in America, the band remixed it so that the electronics were pushed to the back and the guitars were brought to the front. I'm as much a guitar-lover as anyone, but I'm endlessly amused by decisions like this. The assumptions about American listening tastes is illustrative, I think.]

And, finally, the Blue Man Group tackle the same song. The BMG's schtick sorta fits the song's theme but the full-on rock band treatment subsumes it. Not to say it's not a really kick-ass version, with the multiple guitars and all that percussion! Plus Venus Hum's Annette Strean (a Nashvillain, it turns out) is clearly having too much fun singing it.

Nerdy rock chicks. Mmmmmmmm....

But wait! One last video, a live performance by Blondie of one of their very best songs from their early years, Picture This. "If you could only oo-oh-whoa ... picture this...." Pop perfection.

OK, that's it. I hope you've got a tune stuck in your head now.

A couple of previous music posts here and here.

The new Batman movie opens tonight and expectations are astronomical for this one:
Studio sources tell me that record-breaking advance ticket sales for Warner Bros' Batman: The Dark Knight "continue to grow at a pace unlike any other film in history". Even the number of locations in North America where the comic book caper will be playing -- 4,366 -- is an Industry record. There are also approximately 3,000 theaters that will start screening the actioner at 12:01AM Friday. Meanwhile, every IMAX show in New York City this weekend is sold out. By all accounts this should be Hollywood's best-ever 3-day overall North American weekend at the box office: the number to beat is last year's $151+ million....

But the WB insiders point to all the increased competition at the megaplex now as opposed to the beginning of May. Whereas my box office gurus are predicting domestic gross as high as $130M for the wildly anticipated Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale film because of all those record-breaking early ticket sales at North American runs, including IMAX. That would put it 3rd in terms of all-time opening 3-day weekends -- behind Spider-Man 3 ($151.1M on May 4-6, 2007)and Pirates Of The Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest ($131.6M on July 7, 2006).

It will be huge. I'll go see it, but I'll likely wait a week or so for the crowds to die down.

This will be the first movie I've gone to since 300. I just don't go to theaters any more. Overpriced, for one. I only go to afternoon matinees, so I can avoid the obnoxious masses. Plus, most movies just don't appeal any more.

I used to rent a lot of DVDs but I stopped that too. Haven't rented one in almost a year, I think. Even with the killer selection at Midtown Videos on Union, right around the corner, I'm just not interested.

I read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey many years ago. Vogler was a reader of movie scripts for a Hollywood studio and he developed a framework that he felt all scripts should follow if they wanted to be successful. It was based on the Joseph Campbell book Hero With a Thousand Faces, which I've also read, and the theories of Carl Jung. It's basically "The Hero's Journey" distilled.

Every Hollywood movie seems to have adopted his formula and ever since every movie seems formulaic and predictable. In addition, most movies are geared for stupid people, pull punches and consistently take the easy way out. I hate it and won't watch it.

I'm also bothered by the attitudes of the people who make these movies today. It's as if the orchestra no longer falls in behind the conductor, trying to work together, but each instrument is playing as though they are the only and most important element. Each element isn't balancing against the others under the director's guidance, but playing at 11 so everyone notices them and their work.

But enough of that rant! What I'm most looking forward to in the new Batman movie is the Joker. I've heard many great things so far about Heath Ledger's portrayal and the way the screenwriters have written this Joker. It's the first time the character is being presented in movies or TV not as a comic figure but as a terrifying one, the embodiment of anarchism and sadism. As I've told friends: With this Joker, when he tells a joke, he's the only one who laughs. Everyone else is either sick to their stomach or frightened out of their mind.

This Joker presents you with impossible choices: two people are going to die at the same moment, which will you save? The one you love or the ones you've sworn to protect? Then he laughs no matter which way you choose! Save someone you love? He laughs at your weakness. Save the people? He laughs at your principles and the loss of your loved one! And the movie doesn't pull punches about real peril, either. Important people really die.

A lot of folks like Jack Nicholson's Joker, but to me he was awful. He was a braying buffoon who was as much about "Nicholson is the Joker" as anything else. Nicholson was, frankly, too old and fat for the part. He was long past his scary days in Five Easy Pieces and The Shining, when his playing the Joker might have given us something revealing.

Speaking of actors past their prime, it's too bad Clint Eastwood wasn't able to play Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns Batman when he was in his fifties. That would have been absolutely spectacular, with the right script and director.

While we're on tangents, I have to say that one of my most favorite film moments was in the first Bale/Nolan Batman movie. When Batman hauls the fat, corrupt cop up a rope, upside down, dozens of feet above the sidewalk in a rain-slashed alley, and grills him on what he knows about corruption, the cop wails, "That's all I know! I swear to God!" Batman grabs him and pulls their faces together, then roars in that gravelly growl, "SWEAR to ME!"

Whoo. Chills right up the spine.

I'm hoping for more of those kinds of moments in the new Batman movie.

Where the first Bale/Nolan Batman went wrong, for me, was in the ending, with the whole of the city being gassed, terrified people running around and the monorail car fight with Ras Al'Ghul. It seemed too Hollywood-formulaic in its "let's escalate this OVER THE TOP!" Yeah, it's right for a superhero movie, but after the resolute way the movie kept things small-scale and personal up to that point, it just felt wrong.

My understanding of the new movie is that the battle is between Batman and Joker (with Two-Face's story intertwined). The big explosions and what-not are the backdrop, not the main item, so that the movie feels more epic in sweep this time, and not inflated. I hope so.