Saturday, January 31, 2009

Video Games and Myth: Final Fantasy VII

Perhaps one of the more overlooked forms of entertainment, video games have been clamoring for artistic attention. Many video game designers seek to employ compelling story lines centered around enriched, three-dimensional characters and have moved past simply creating immersive, interactive environments. In the course of composing these enthralling stories, video game designers follow the tradition from other mediums by looking to the past for tales that have stood the test of time: Myth. Evidence can be found from a multitude of sources (including Blizzard's online juggernaut World of Warcraft), but for me, a prime example comes from a personal favorite - SquareEnix's (formerly Squaresoft) role-playing epic Final Fantasy VII.
As a turn-based RPG, Final Fantasy VII's roots rest firmly in the Dungeons and Dragon's tradition of building scenarios, heroes, and enemies out of popular myth. Although many cultures are given the equivocal "tip-of-the-fedora" through an enemy or item name, Icelandic myth seems to have a strong influence over the overall plot. FFVII is an apocalypse story - one in which the protagonists are desperately trying to prevent a seemingly inevitable cataclysm. Much like Odin and the other Icelandic Gods, each character persists on a journey for knowledge and self-discovery in hopes that their travels will provide a way to defeat the near-impossible odds stacked against them. FFVII does nothing to hide this from the consumer: naming the starting city "Midgar" (derived from "Midgard", the Earth realm where humans live which is domed over by the skull of the giant Ymir), that much of the game's back story centers around the town "Nibleheim" (derived from "Nifflehel" meaning "North Hell") which is torched to the ground, and that many of the game's big reveals, as well as the game's conclusion, take place in the northern, icy portion of the world near the town "Ragnarok" (a direct reference to the Icelandic "Day of Reckoning" of which cannot be stopped and will result in the end of the Gods' rule).  The strongest example perhaps comes from the most shocking and emotional scene in the game - The Death of Aerith.

(property of SquareEnix)

For players, this scene came as a surprise. Aerith, one of the favorite female protagonists, is brutally murdered in front of your character half-way through the game with nothing you can do to prevent it and nothing you can do to bring her back. Not only do you invest a significant amount of time and energy into her battle statistics prior to this, but the game does a fairly good job of allowing you to feel sympathetic towards her (as well as most of the other characters). For those unaware, these games used to function almost like video books where the characters acted out stage direction on the screen and provided dialogue in the text boxes. You progress through the game with the express interest in finding out what happens next and Aerith remained a significant part of the plot up until this point (the programmers even provided items assumedly for her use at the game's end, the bastards). The best textual equivalent would probably be the "Death of Dumbledore" from JK Rollings' Harry Potter series which, from what I understand, was also shocking and devastating among die-hard fans. But, the most interesting thing about the scene extends beyond the emotionality and into a comparison with the Icelandic story "The Lay of Skirnir"

"The Lay of Skirnir" is the Icelandic version of what's called "The Sacred Marriage": the tale which depicts how the "miraculous child" is conceived or how the land is engendered with prosperity and life. According to Snorri Sturluson's Edda, Freyr (meaning "fruitful one") sits on Odin's seat at the top of the world and sees something he shouldn't, the Ice-giant Jotun's daughter Gerd (meaning "Earth"), and he falls head-over-heels in love. Fearing rejection, Freyr sends Skirnir (the shining sky-god) down wingman style to "warm up" the Ice-giant's daughter for him. Skirnir takes and keeps Freyr's magical sword, which he uses to "convince" her to marry Freyr (depending on your interpretation, Gerd either consents or is coerced by Skirnir; see the Poetic Edda by Hollander). Hence, the sky-god (representing the sun) gets the Earthen woman to marry into fruitfulness thereby making the Earth fertile. In comparison with the above scene, we see a twisting of the myth into something darker. As opposed to engendering fruitfulness, Sephiroth (the primary antagonist) comes down from the sky with his "magic" sword and seeks to eliminate it. 

Within the game's mythos, Aerith was the last of a race of people able to communicate with the planet and use its energies for beneficial purposes. In an early portion of the game, Aerith is introduced when your character falls through the ceiling of an abandoned church and onto a hearty flower bed, tended to by her, and growing in soil that shouldn't be able to grow anything at all. Aerith then, in a sense, similarly represents a fertile, Earth-element and is slaughtered for it. It's notable that her death comes while she is "Praying for the Planet", a process that would summon the power to protect the planet and stop the impending doom. Also of note, her death, in effect, could even have been beneficial, since it is commonly interpreted that her conscious will or spirit lived on within the planet and was able to give the planet the second boost of power that effectively stopped the apocalypse - an interesting perspective further twisting the myth.
(Property of Nicolien Beerens)

Evidence of myth in games is far from a foreign concept and extends way beyond a game which came out over 10 years ago. As I have said, these stories  withstood the test of time and will continue to influence nearly all artistic mediums regardless of whether those cultures still exist or not. Depending on the success of this particular post, I may make future posts encroaching on this topic in other works. Either way, Gentle Readers, I hope you enjoyed this post and found it interesting. I know I did. And as always, post below.

Updated 2/4/2008: Now with pictures!

An Indie Overview Part 2

Check Out Part One Here.

Three Distributors/Labels:
These are all decent record labels in their own right, but are even better as umbrellas/distribution services for a number of smaller labels

Location: San Francisco
Both the label and their associates provide loads of melodic ambient stuff and electronic, and they were also the original home of My Morning Jacket, who used to have the longest hair.
Recommended Release: Hammock - Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow

Secretly Canadian
A solid label of bread and butter indie rock along with some artier work like Anthony and the Johnsons, their associates can range from the weirder (Jagjaguar) to the folkier (Misra) to the weirdly folky (Orange Twin).
Recommended Release - Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent, Jens

Beggars Banquet
The big UK conglomerate which, before it's resent reshuffling, housed the dream pop of 4AD (Cocteau Twins) and the highly underrated Too Pure (Stereolab, Mclusky) and also XL which has big names like MIA, Vampire Weekend, and Thom Yorke.
Recommended Release - Cocteau Twins - Lullabies to Violane on 4AD

Three Heavy Hitters:
These three you may have heard of. There is a lot of good stuff on each label, and honestly a lot of crap, but they wouldn't still be in business if they didn't have some timeless classics.

Sub Pop
Location: Seattle
The granddaddy of the Seattle scene and home to Nirvana in the beginning. At this point they seem to have as many hits with comedy as music, but they still have some big names like the Shins (at least for now).
Recommended Release: Hot Hot Heat - Make Up The Breakdown

Location: New York
As big as the other two, and with a better batting average in my opinion. Home to Pavement, Cat Power and the New Pornographers but also the lo-fi masters Times New Viking.
Recommended Release - New Pornographers - Electric Version

Location: Durham, NC
Starting at the stomping ground for Superchunk, they have branched out from related local artist to include some of the biggest names in rock period including Spoon, Arcade Fire, and M. Ward. Merge is a bit more wedded to traditional indie rock than the other two.
Recommended Release: Spoon - Girls Can Tell

Four reissue labels:
Although labels like Merge, Secretly Canadian and Domino put out their fair share of excellent reissues, some labels make reissuing their bread and butter. These are the current best of the bunch:

Numero Records
Location: Chicago
Numero is simply a national treasure. Not only do they put out loads of completely forgotten and utterly excellent soul, folk and power pop, they also have the best liner notes in the business. They do music compiling like investigative journalists, resulting in loads of amazing forgotten picture and reel to reels to prove it.
Recommended Release: Any of the Eccentric Soul Series

Location: Atlanta
While Numero's release have a relatively consistent aesthetic, Dust-to-Digital's releases range from the monumental gospel box Goodbye, Babylon to an examination of the entrance of Upright Bass into popular music to multiple great compilations of global 78s (the record format that preceded the current form of vinyl records). Each delightful and totally different.
Recommended Release: V/A - How Low Can You Go

Honest Jon's
Location: London
Overview: Co-Owned by Damon Albarn, they have released a number of essential compilations of music made by African Immigrants in England, and now they apparently are working through EMI's 78 archives, which should reveal more amazing lost works.
Recommended Release: V/A - Sprigs of Time - 78s From the EMI Archive

Soundway Records:
Location: ???
Still a young label, they have already put out a number of utterly fantastic African music comps.
Recommended Release: Sir Victor Uwaifo - Guitar-Boy Superstar

Time Stands Still

In eighth grade we went on a Shabbaton at the Capital Camps grounds.

What I remember most is one night when we had an hour of free time. I was sitting on a hill, looking out at the stars, watching everyone running around, or talking, or cuddling - and suddenly I was very happy, for no real reason. Time stood still, if only for a few moments, and it felt like I could control just how long that hour lasted. Everything slowed down. I kept checking my watch, astonished at how much time I still had left. It felt like so much longer than one hour when time finally ran out.

Nothing happened - there was no momentous occasion, no story. I just remember this one hour when I sat out under the stars, watching people, realizing that I could think cleanly for the first time, because I had never realized how foggy my head had been before. This brief crystaline moment of peace - a sense of comfortable solitude around people without stress about what I had to do or how I fit. A moment of clarity.

Those moments are rare for me, and always fleeting. So I savor them - I never know when they'll come or what will cause them, but I know trying to seek it out never seems to work. I can tell I've entered into that state because I can think about it and the peace doesn't go away. It's like my eyes open up and my vision becomes clear and little knots of thought inside my head loosen and untie and I can beathe easy and I don't have to think. I am without thought.
I just exist a little bit.

It embarasses him, I think, but I'm a big fan of Dan Strauss. Not just as a man, which I am, but as a musician. I really like his work, to the extent that I would champion it whether i knew him or not. In high school he wrote a song called "Everything a Teenybopper Movie Should Be." And I love that song. Not just because it's coalesced in my head as a memory, the synthesis of everything that was great about high school and that time.

But because of the line -
'And I don't think I can make these brain cells go much faster anymore.'

I get that line. I get it in a way I can't describe. I sleep maybe three or four hours a night usually, often less, and usually because my brain is racing so fast I just can't make it stop (and my dreams are almost always direct continuations of my thoughts). I crave a sense of resolution and there often is no such thing in life, and I think my mental chemistry has a hard time dealing with that. So it goes and goes and goes and I worry about it burning out.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Ice Priorities

This week there was a bit of ice. I did what I usually do in these circumstances, given that I live a mile and change from work - I walked. Luckily I didn't fall on my ass and there were only a couple of proper slip 'n' slide moments. But for multiple days most of the sidewalks on my path were troublingly unattended. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't expect all sidewalks to be magically clean the moment I set out to work. I don't even expect that of the roads. But after the roads have been somewhat attended to - take care of the walkers. The first stretch I walk is Gosnell Road, a short stretch that connects Route 7 and Chain Bridge Road, two major arteries.

Tysons Corner had ambitions (delusions) of becoming some sort of great walkable, livable hub (Arlington). But clearly when the conditions get bad, there's a disturbing lack of attention to helping pedestrians. Those who ride the bus, and there are actually quite a lot in Tysons, need to be able to walk to the already poorly tended bus stops without busting their ass.

It's a Choice

Awhile ago I was having a conversation with a friend about relationships and their aftermath. He was explaining how he was so hurt and betrayed, worn out after several truly terrible experiences that he just didn't have it in him to trust again, or anymore. His capacity had worn down, and at this point it was out of his control. There's some validity to that. We do experience burn out, and need a chance to recharge.

But he was taken aback and even slightly offended by what I said next.
That he could still trust if he wanted. He chose not to.

It's a choice.

Every single person reading this blog has been hurt at some point. Probably badly. I hope not, I really do, but we're all old enough to have gone through that rite of passage. And it's terribly painful, painful beyond measure, painful in a way words can't begin to describe. So deep that it can shatter. And you break. No matter how strong, you break. You grieve, you mourn, you hurt, you look down at the shattered pieces that were once you. And you need time, and distance, and clarity.
You can't possibly control your feelings.

But you can control how you put yourself back together.

Being jaded isn't an acceptance of reality, it's an acceptance of perception.
No one loses their capacity to trust - it just becomes so much more difficult. The stakes become higher. And that fear of being hurt again is a valid one, because chances are you barely made it out the first time. You certainly won't let it happen a second, or god forbid a third.

But if you ever want to really try being with someone else again, you have to. You do. You have to take the risk. And accept the inevitability of pain.
Or you can never do so. And you will fail, every time, when you are so desperate to protect yourself that you are incapable of letting anyone else in again for cause of fear. And at a certain point that is as much because of you as the person who did you wrong or broke your heart.

Neither choice is better. If you're done, you're done. There is no judgement here. And if you're foolhardy enough to dive headfirst into what has maybe been so far unmitigated disaster, that's all on you.
But admit and understand that it IS a choice, whichever you make.

Because when you put yourself back together, you are choosing a viewpoint from that point forward. Whether one of reckless abandon, cautious momentum, or so commonly the belief that every person you are with from now on is in some way about to fuck you over. That is you making that decision. Based on the past, absolutely. With reason, undoubtedly. Contextually valid in every way. But a decision all the same.

There are those that seem to take pleasure in misery, or at least find comfort and familiarity. I am not one of them. Each and any relationship should be brimming with the possibility for good or ill; assume the worst and you are guaranteed to receive it. And while the next person will certainly be at fault for whatever they do to you, realize that if you've come only to accept those people as reality, then those are the only people that you'll find. You've lost before you've started.

I love my friends dearly. And I will be there forever for them, come whatever may. But I am so frustrated by listening to people embrace bitterness as the only option of the rational, and to justify it out of past horror. It's harder not to but you certainly can, and each in their own time, if they so desire, and if they so dare. I'm going to fuck up a whole lot more shit before I come close to ever getting it right, whatever the hell that means, but it won't be for lack of trying.

Because if you don't wake up every morning assuming that today has the possibility to not only be better than the day before, but every day before it, then why the fuck are you living?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Getting to Work

In the morning, in the winter, in Washington D.C., everything far away looks baby blue and gray.

Up close, from above, my lace-ups look worn down. I should get new ones. I could get a good deal if I look hard enough. There's gotta be a solid shoe store going out of business somewhere in this town.

I walk out the door and pick up The Journal on my way up the stairs. It's in my face now. Out of the basement, and into the recession.

For some special reason I can walk at normal speed on the icy sidewalks. It's a simple technique. You just lower your weight and bend at the knees, and take baby steps, using dry patches when you can. You can't change your speed or direction suddenly or you will lose traction.

I've seen people slip and fall a lot over the past couple of days. One of my boss's bosses broke his back from slipping on ice.

I make it to the Columbia Heights station and slide into a train just as the doors close. Everyone in the car looked up at me, I guess because I was almost running as the doors shut and my scarf got caught in the door.

I switch lines at Gallery Place and get a seat on my new train. I start reading my papers. One article catches my eye, having to do with Financial stocks leading a 2% gain in the markets yesterday. It's already old news to me. I know it's just a hiccup, and the market will correct itself in a matter of hours.

If you can time it right, the volatility of the current market can be extremely lucrative if you buy low and sell high and fast. The thing is, you can make 10 great moves, but it only takes one bad call to undo all of your hard work.

I think back to a customer of mine at the bank. I don't remember his name, just how he used to have this cool, relaxed smile. He was a charming guy and I mean it when I say it was a pleasure serving him. I heard he lost money in the market. The last time I saw him he had this different smile. It was like he was hysterical. And there were moist bags under his eyes, I could tell because they were shining a bit. I haven't seen him since.

The President is calling me a wimp, via newsprint. We need to toughen up, he says. Washington can't handle snow, and Obama is cashing in points and building his image in all the little ways. Respectfully, I have to say I'm more impressed by Putin's judo skills and KGB background than by Obama's ability to pick on the easy target.

Suddenly I notice the stench of the car. It's the smell of garbage day. Not a trash can, but garbage day. The smell of a full bag of garbage that has matured properly, hitting fresh air, and blowing fumes in your face. But it's in an enclosed train car. I struggled to remind myself of that fresh lemon scent every train carried during inaugural weekend.

But the party is over.

Where the Hell is Matt?

Keeping in the spirit of positive thinking and Winer's foray into the world of digital blogging, I decided to share something with the Gentle Readers that makes me happy when I'm feeling a little sad. A little video that picks me up when I'm feeling down. A simple short that turns my frown up-side down. I have one more, but I'm not going to say it.

(I've embedded the video below. However, I strongly suggest cueing up the HD Version and letting it load. I'll write a little more for you while you wait. Or you could click around, go crazy, read other posts. Or, of course, do what you want. I can't stop you. Yet.)

Many of you have already met Matt. But, for the Gentle Readers who haven't I'll provide a short introduction:

Matt was a video game programmer who, concerned that he was missing out on the many things life had to offer, quit his job and started traveling the world until he ran out of the money he'd saved. On his journey, he posted videos on the internet to show his family and friends the places he traveled, what he was doing there, and that he was still alive. Some of his videos featured him doing his own dance, which other people ended up finding and laughing about. These other people also included Stride Gum, who decided to fund for him another trip around the world so long as he kept posting these videos of himself. Two years later, what started as a personal journey snowballed into the product you see above: a heartwarming ode to the unity of the human race. (For more information, click the link above)

The great thing about this video is its simplistic core concept - a celebration of the differences and similarities between all people. We, as human beings, get extremely caught up in what makes us different and what sets us apart - particularly to the exclusion of others. Be it elitism ("I'm better than you"), religion ("My God's better than your God"), gender (self-explanatory), race ("You people"), social groups ("Dork!"), romance ("You don't love them like I do"), sports ("Boo!"),  or even restaurant patronage ("Dominoes? Really?"), many are obsessed with finding support from people who might think and feel like we do at the expense of people who don't. In our rabid searchings for belonging, acceptance, and confirmation of our beliefs , we often forget to acknowledge that human beings really aren't that different from one another, that the "other" really isn't so, that we often have more in common than less.

I admit I'm an individualist at heart and that the unique differences from one person to the next is what makes them interesting. But, I also acknowledge that the world could be a far better place for all of us if we could settle down about the variances and start looking at what's the same. I know it sounds a little corny, but I guess this video's just a little slice of that for me.

PS - at 0:04, check out the goat!

Thriller on Broadway: Bad Idea

Remember this cartoon?

I know right!!! Totally brings me back too. Well this new idea, as approved by the woman masquerading as Michael Jackson, reminds me of that cartoon.

Jacko has approved the rights for a group to make his Thriller video into a musical for the stage.

This is by no means the first time a major music star will take their iconic songs to the world of theater - but I still get the feeling this could be an extra special affair. Oh sure, Billy Joel was plagued by depression, but his songs helped make Movin' Out a success. Elton John's just kind of crazy, but he's done the music for a variety of Broadway shows including Billy Elliot and The Lion King. In fact, many musicals come from pop artists; just off the top of my head, I know of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons re-imagined in Jersey Boys, and heck, the ABBA musical Mamma Mia!

But Michael Jackson's Thriller - that just seems different, and knowing he's involved in the project makes it all the more fascinating. This might not just be bad, this could be epically bad.

Even if you disagree, you have to admit it can't be any more amazing than this, which I think we can agree should be filed under Good Idea:

The kicker is that Michael Jackson may not actually have all the rights to his REAL Thriller video. And now he's being sued. I think I'm disappointed, because I secretly want this to happen... out of morbid curiosity.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A History of Justice - A Prelude


The Justice Society may have been the first Superhero team, the Fantastic Four may have reinvented the concept, and the X-men may well be the most popular - but the JLA will always be the greatest Superhero team to exist as far as I'm concerned. Because when San Fracisco is in danger you call the Teen Titans, and when the world is in danger you call The Avengers - but when a dark god from the 4th world wins a war in heaven murdering the old gods with a bullet shot backwards through time, enslaving all of humanity within the bounds of the Anti-Life equation and threatening the existence of the entire multiverse, you call the Justice League.

And then they go get coffee. Cause that's what they do.

When at it's best, the JLA is an incredible mix of high concept sci-fi action blockbuster, character soap, and job procedural. These are trained and prossional do-gooders who have dedicated their lives in service of the utterly incredible, and not because they have to, but because 16 of them fighting together is just so much epicly cooler than one. Say what you will about Marvel or DC and where your personal allegiance lies to what storytelling themes and structures work best for you - there's something so inspiring about seeing A-listers like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Green Lantern together that has led to that specific combination being repeated for now over 50 years - and whether admitted or not, that desire to see the real heavy hitters of a particular company together is what led to the New Avengers a few years ago- with Cap and Tony being joined by Spider-Man and Wolverine.

I grew up reading Justice League comics in my grandparents house that I found in my dad's old room. I learned my morality in no small part to the unending inspiration of Superman, the unyielding determination of Bruce Wayne to become a better man, the possibility for great action to be undertaken simply by willpower and a magic green ring with which to focus it - and above all, that heroes don't kill. They find another way.

I love the X-men too, and maybe just as much. But no one ever seems to question how cool they are. The metaphor of the X-men as people who are feared and persecuted stands out as viable and relevant even at the title's most unreadable times. But the DC heroes have often been thought of as unhip, uncool, passe - and they're NOT. It takes a bit more nuance to get to the heart of the fundamental ideas driving each of these incredible costumes and designs. When done right these are the modern day gods of Olympus dazzling us with feats of incredible courage and heroic parables. They are Hercules and Sampson, idealizations of immigration and truth, personifications of speed and achievement.
They are Justice. And they remain so far past cool that while occasionally they may be refurbished, in the right hands they will never be outdated.

So I'm going to go through every member of the Justice League and explain who they are, what they stand for in a literary or metaphoric sense, and why these characters are so damn cool.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stuff I Love-First Edition

I realized most of my posts so far have been about things I don't like, or can't stand, i.e Linkin Park, Train, or Facebook status updates. So, in an effort to be more positive, I'm starting a new weekly column-Stuff I Love. Every Tuesday, I'll be highlighting something I really enjoy, something with which I find no flaw. So. Without any further hemming and hawing, here is my first Stuff I Love column.


Rushmore (directed by Wes Anderson) has been one of my favorite movies since the first time I saw it when I was a sophomore in high school. If you haven't seen it, the movie tells the story of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a high school student at a rich private school called "Rushmore Academy" who makes the mistake of fallling for a kindergarten teacher (Olivia Williams). Things only get more complicated when Max's friend Herman (Bill Murray) falls for the same girl.

What makes Rushmore so great is that Max's emotions are so real, so fifteen, so frustrated, and so honest, that the first time I saw this movie, I didn't find it that funny. I just commiserated with him. Looking back, I watch it again now, and it's friggin' hilarious. But Schwartzman brings such honesty to the character that as a kid watching, all I could do was relate (let's just say I've always had a thing for older women).

It's interesting-the movie was advertised as being a battle for a woman between Schwartzman and Murry-but in reality, that only takes up about fifteen minutes of the movie. It's about growing up, about jumping into the deep end way too soon, and about finding your place. That's why Rushmore is something I love.

Monday, January 26, 2009

An Indie Overview

I figured as a more positive sort of follow up to my rant on judging things books by their covers, I've given a quick, and highly biased little rundown of some starting points in independent music. To repeat, this is biased and vary far from complete (For example, I won't even mention Dischord . . . except right here) but provides a lot of great avenues to explore.

Nine Great Labels:

Location: London
While they are still purveyors of IDM (that would be beard scratching electronic music) including Autechre, Aphex Twin and Chris Clark, the always stylish label has broadened greatly with bands like Grizzly Bear, Battles, and Gravenhurst.
Key Album: Autechre - Tri Repetae++

Morr Music
Location: Berlin
Specializing in very warm, almost twee electronic music - Isan, Lali Puna, Mum, Ms. John Soda, as well as some post rock and other unexpected things. They have turned a twee corner, but I prefer the electronic stuff.
Key Album: Isan - Lucky Cat

Rune Grammophon
Location: Norway
Most known for the very dark and spacey band Supersilent, Rune Gammaphone is on the cutting edge of music right now.
Key Album: Supersilent - 6

Smalltown Supersound
Location: Oslo, Norway
Ranging from Jazz to Electronic, I consider this like a kinder, more inviting cousin of the very experimental Rune Gammophon.
Key Album: Jaga Jazzist - What We Must

Cologne, Germany
Between their two annual compilations Total and Pop Ambient, they are putting out the best electronic music right now, from pounding dance tunes to ambient squiggles.
Key Album: The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

Thrill Jockey
Location: Chicago
Thrill Jockey's most notable bands have fallen under the catchall rubric of Post-Rock, be it the Jazzy vibraphones and chiming guitars of Tortoise of the Kraut-rock meets cock-rock of Trans Am (who met at Tilden Middle School). But they cover a wider range of stuff, from Americana to disc-skip electronics (Oval and Nobukazu Takemura)
Key Album: Tortoise - Standards

Location: Chicago
Space rock, post-ambient, whatever you want to call it. Works range from the enveloping layered guitars of Windy and Carl to the almost-classical Stars of the Lid, but Kranky has also released more indie-centric works by Outhud and Deerhunter.
Key Albums: Stars of the Lid - The Tired Sounds of ...

Temporary Residence
Location: Brooklyn
Home to many of the guitar-crescendo Post Rock bands like Explosions in the Sky and Mono, Temp Res also has a number of more experimental acts. They also really like doing limited edition release, which I personally find really tacky.
Key Album: Explosions in the Sky - Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die ...

Domino Records USA
Location: Brooklyn
Opering in the US and the UK, the American branch is perhaps the highest quality of any label operating right now. Domino's roster ranges from Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand to Animal Collective (a recent signing) and Fourtet. Plus plenty of post-punk reissues to boot.
Key Album: Franz Ferdinand - s/t

Up next - three distributors, three heavy hitters, and four reissuers.

You know you're from the District if...

by Adam and Jason


- You know the threat of rain will add an hour to your commute. Snow? the city will shut down.
- You go to a sports bar to watch a presidential debate.
- You don't think calling a football team "the Redskins" is racist. What? It's honoring their tradition!
- You've never rooted for a winning baseball team.
- You know the two people who eat for free at Ben's Chilli Bowl*
- You get angry at having to pay for a museum.
- You're invited to Wonderland but don't expect drugs.
- You know why there's one yellow seat per metro car.
- You've finished your WaPo Express sudoku on the escalator ride up L'Enfant Plaza.
- You know not to expect Chinese people in Chinatown.
- You've seen Ian MacKaye at the local Whole Foods.
- You're "sXe 4 Life." or until you turn 21.
- You're 32 and still going to the Positive Youth Fest.
- You're used to your cafes being attached to bookstores, or your bookstores being attached to cafes. Actually you're not sure which it is.
- You've been hit on while hanging out in the Fruit Loop.
- When you were little, you thought the Mormon Temple was Disney Land. You're still convinced.
- You know you're likely to see an 18-yr-old and a senator having a beer together at the Hawk and Dove.
- You're not shocked by the 9:30 Club bouncer with the massive 42" gauge pierced ear studs
- You've seen the monuments at sunrise. After all, you know better than to go during the daytime.
- You're taxed without representation. GODDAMMIT!

* Bill Cosby and Barack Obama.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Better Sex

A friend said to me recently that, despite all the potential variables, the quality of the sex she was having was primarily based on how she felt about her appearance that day.

Not the position or the person, not the time or place or even her mood, but predominantly if she was feeling "fat" that day or if she felt like she didn't look her best. What's more, it wouldn't matter what the other person said, if she didn't feel skinny then that's all she would think about during the sex.

I was really humored by this. First of all, if someone is having sex with you, you must be doing something right, right? Another friend said, if I was having sex I'd feel great about myself, so I can't relate to that.

And second - the idea seemed just so vain and so self-centered that I immediately rejected it. Surely your state of mind, or the person or the nature of the sex should have the most to do with how much your enjoying the sex.

Self-confidence is an interesting thing though. The brave statement had me thinking about my own insecurities - such as my uncanny resemblance to a werewolf, or a nose only outdone by that of Daniel Strauss. So I guess my advice for all those who might be haunted by these kinds of thoughts during sex is to have enough self-esteem to assume you are desired, and go from there. Self-confidence is more sexy anyway. And then, you might just be able to focus on having a good time.
AZ Winer - on one of his good days

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Memory Shuffle #1 - Dean

Normally for me, sentimentality towards the convention of reunions and educational institutions of years past escape me. Not that I’m beyond understanding why – it’s just that once I’ve moved on, it tends to be a fairly permanent situation. Maybe I just never decide to put much emotional investment in such things or, perhaps, whatever emotion I do invest I prefer to share with the people in my life currently (or at least recently). Either way, it’s odd for me that I would suddenly start recalling memories from those times. Particularly as the year of my ten-year Middle School Reunion approaches – a fact revealed to me only in the past day or so. Call it vibes, chakras, feng shui, internal clock, lingering emotion, unconscious recognition, random neuron firings, whatever: I felt that it was best to address these memories here and amongst gentlemen. My first memory is of specific interest, especially since it’s about someone I never really knew.

Dean was a fairly large boy. Corpulent isn’t quite the right word, but it’s certainly the first one that comes to mind. His hygiene was questionable as he always seemed sweaty, his hair greasy, his elbows crusty (seriously). He stunk a little, as it was, and there wasn’t much variation in his clothing. He wore a lot of big shirts (often the same big shirt), baggy jeans, wrestling paraphernalia, and the occasional hat. He wasn’t particularly bright, either. And he was on my bus route. Like most kids who attended public schools, I rode the bus in the mornings and afternoons. Our bus was overcrowded and not all the kids were as well-adjusted as your delightful, charming narrator. It goes without saying that kids can be cruel.

Dean’s weight and hygiene became a part of the daily musings of the busload; attacks only alleviated by Ms. Karen the Bus-Driver and his continual retreat into a world of television wrestling. Anyone could tell that he enjoyed wrestling thoroughly. He had several “Degeneration X” t-shirts and Undertaker shirts. He was constantly throwing out the “Suck It!” symbol and flipping off the sky. When he was frustrated, he would roll his eyes back into his head, evoking the qualities of his favorite wrestling anti-hero. This, of course, just added more fuel to a fire set by a group of kids who didn’t understand that most of what they made fun of were probably the symptoms a difficult home life. I never heckled him, but I didn’t stand up for him either. No one really did. Shocking.

I had a conversation with Dean once. I didn’t really want to talk to him and I don’t really understand why I did. Recognition of his humanity, maybe. I definitely don’t remember what it was about. Seriously, in my head, we open our mouths, and I hear nothing but a low “maaaaaaaaah”. Weird. It certainly didn’t improve my opinion of him. The following day was the last day of classes. And the kids decided to step it up for the occasion. Kids roared over his dismay, cajoling, cackling, like hyenas. Right before his stop, someone lobbed a paper ball at him and hit him smack in the back of the head. Bulls-eyed. He looked around to a bus full of possible perpetrators. Wounded. When he looked at me, I raised my arms. And the only thing I was able to say was, “Hey. It wasn’t me.” Someone's response was, "Look out, man! He's gon' eatcha!" Ms. Karen pulled the bus over, threatened a suspension or two, which seemed to stop everyone. Well, until someone lobbed a milk carton across the bus and bad milk splashed all over the poor kid. Dean was covered in warm, stinky cow-milk, kept in someone’s pocket for god knows how long for this specific occasion. And he shut-down. No wrestling threats. No eye rolls or profanities. Just blank. His sister, however, flipped a shit.

Dean had an older sister who rode the bus with the middle schoolers because she had to attend a court-ordered alternative school. She smoked Kools (or Camels?). She was 16. And, she had anger issues. A whole lot of yelling, complete with its fair shair of “fucks”, “shits” and death threats, concluded with a sworn promise that when she left the bus, she would call her friends, get in a car, chase us down, and kill us. All of us. It got the bus to shut up for a few minutes. They left the bus, and we made our way down the road. The next stop was a ways farther. Suddenly, a rusty old red car came around the bend, speeding up behind us. Dean’s sister was driving, moving as fast as the car would go. The bus collectively shared a “holy shit” moment. At about 10 feet away, the car backfired and spewed out smoke. Gray smoke started pouring out of the hood when the car made a sharp U-Turn in the opposite direction. The bus stopped at a stop sign about 5 seconds later, and we made our way. Quietly.

I never saw Dean after that. It’s weird when a person who takes up that much space disappears. I heard rumors he moved away or that he transferred to a school where he actually had friends. These days, I figure his fate turned out far direr. But, I suppose I’ll never know. If I were to go to that Middle School Reunion, I’d probably only be interested in seeing if he was still alive. But, then again, if he were, he probably wouldn’t show up anyway.

You Know You're From Montgomery County...

By Jason and Scotty

- Your high school experience was half asian, half jew, and you.
- You once had a snow day on the threat of sunshine.
- You've gotten dirty looks while driving in Kemp Mill.
- You've gotten mugged in Takoma Park, right in front of the scenic Electric Maid.
- You won't be at all surprised when everyone in Kentlands drinks the Kool-Aid.
- You were once in Poolesville. You still don't know why.
- You know Damascus is a two-flavor town. (Jiffy Cone rules! kinda.)
- You're Jewish but aren't afraid of going to camp in Germantown.
- You want to beat the shit out of everyone who hangs out in front of UA Bethesda.
- You know 90210 was originally Potomac 20854, but they wanted a beach.
- "Jap" is a racist term, but not for the Japanese.
- You once "fed the pig" at Cabin John Park... and we mean it both ways.
- How dare you say my hometown is a strip mall? ...fine.
- Everyone you know from high school went to Harvard... on the Pike (the 'K' stands fro quality)
- Your drug dealer went to Bullis
- You had a dagger pulled on you at Piratz Tavern
- You can find your stolen car at the Barnes & Noble on Saturday Night (hope you like neon green)
- You still pour out a 40 for the Corner Kick
- You never pay for Panera when you can dumpster dive there instead.
- The carousel at Glen Echo scares the shit out of you
- You wait all year for the Stone Ridge Book Fair (and that little old lady knows who you are)
- They're not malls, they're "shopping townEs"
- You got beat at Shadowland by an old lady
- You know the faux pas Hootie made singing 'Don't Go Back to Rockville'... in Rockville.
- You might hate the MVA, but it's still better than Bowl America
- It's 1am - time to go to Travilah Square!
- You know nobody grinds like Magruder

Friday, January 23, 2009

Patrick McGoohan - TV's Great Intellectual

I was saddened to find out that Patrick McGoohan passed away earlier this month. Although he had a wide ranging acting career his greatest work was The Prisoner, a tv show he created and starred in during the late '60s. Without going all fanboy, I will just say that it is ostensibly a spy show in the way Kid A is ostensibly a rock album. It only lasted a season and it's easy enough to track down the DVDs, which I would highly recommend everyone do. It stands as one of the high points of art - a strangely perfect crystalline entity.

Rather than recounting too much of the story and spoiling the fun, I will just reminisce a bit. In high school, myself and a number of friends befriended a supportive teacher and would user her class as our base of operations during lunch. We would often watch episodes of the Prisoner.

Years later, during my semester in London, I did a weekend trip to Wales and visited the actual village, Portmeirion, that was the actual location where the show was filmed. I admit to being a bit underwhelmed at the time, something that probably happens a lot when you encounter cinematically created worlds in real life, but it was still a place I never thought I'd actually visit.

In Defense of Rush Limbaugh

As I struggle with writer's block, brought on largely by my anxiety about making my personal statement for Law School as perfect as possible, I would like to thank CNN for giving me the material to pursue my gentlemanly endeavors.

Recently on their website, CNN advertised an article in which they had audio of conservative comedian Rush Limbaugh stating "I hope he fails." This is, of course, in reference to Barack Obama's Presidency. The fat man wasted no time in criticizing our 44th President, perhaps hoping he could hearken back to the "America Held Hostage" routine which popularized his act in the early 90s.

Let's get something out in the open right away. Whether you're a conservative or a liberal, Rush Limbaugh is still a moron. He's a jackal, a hypocrite, a liar, a pill popper, a distorter of facts, and by most accounts, not a practitioner of proper hygiene. Possible-Senator Al Franken summed it up with his 1996 book "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot (And Other Observations)." The man is also unpleasant to look at, which is always unfortunate to say of another human being.

Despite all his failings, Rush Limbaugh is also one other thing. He's an American. As an American, he is entitled to freedom of speech, and entitled to not having his words thrown into a blender by the media.

The beginning of Rush Limbaugh's quote was an example of what he espouses to believe will happen under an Obama Presidency. He referenced the expansion of government, and how it will encroach the automotive industry, the banks, and other areas of the private sector at unprecedented levels. That is what he was referencing when he made his quote. He has a comedy routine built around pretending to be a conservative radio host, and in the midst of his act he brought up a perfectly valid and well-documented concern of the right; the expansion of government. In regards to this, he stated "I hope he fails." The conservative viewpoint does not line up with Obama's policies, or at least what many believe will be his course of action. To show concern that your President is going to act in ways you do not think are in your best interest is completely legitimate.

Some of you might say that this is just Limbaugh getting what's coming to him. He makes an outrageous comment and has it turned back around on him, like so many other times he's twisted the words of others to fit his own exceedingly narrow viewpoint. I say; why perpetuate the cycle at all? Why even bring undue attention to the man? He's been trying to make it big for nearly two decades, and his act still has yet to nail him a single movie, sitcom, or even HBO special. He's just not funny. The sooner we accept he's not deserving of our attention and move on, the better. Taking cheap shots at him and using a distortion of his words as the basis only stoops to his pedestrian level. Real broadcasters, especially an organization like CNN, should be above that. Limbaugh shouldn't even be a blip on their radar.

There's nothing I can say about Rush Limbaugh that hasn't been said already. Except for that he begins every morning by staring at himself naked in the mirror, sweating profusely, and sobbing as he jiggles his gut and calls himself a pig over and over again. A fat, sloppy hog not even fit for bacon. He then cuts himself until he can't feel his hands, and then showers, suits up, and faces the day. I don't think anyone has said that yet.

About CNN, however, I say shame. You are a major news organizaton that trumpets about your claim of "keeping the Presidency honest" during the first 100 days coverage. Yet you can't even keep your own reporters from distorting the facts, or attacking a man for exercising his first amendment rights? Leave Rush Limbaugh alone. He plays to the audience that wants to hear him, no one else. Whatever outlandish statements he makes are best left with them, you only make it worse by putting it on your broadcast, and worse yet by using Limbaugh's own tactics when reporting it. If Limbaugh hopes that Obama fails to pass a largely liberal agenda and expansion of government, he's far from alone. He just worded it in his typically idiotic way.

And now, the non-sequiter conclusion to my post.

"We ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around. When yellow can be mellow. When the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what's right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."
"Say Amen."

Good Morning

During Phase 3, me, RJ, Wolfy, Rocky, and Big John all decided to go get pierced at the same time. It may have been some kind of room-mate bonding trip, but mainly I wanted some kind of physical demarcation of all the changes I had undergone in the last few months (aside from the beard, long hair, and general buffness - oh how I miss thee, buffness). This is also the time I came incredibly close to getting a penis piercing.

RJ, Wolfy, and John were all gung ho on getting some metal shoved through their man rods, while Rock remained firmly on the side that that was a terrible idea. I don't even pretend like I was thinking clearly those days and really debated joining the rest of them - mainly because it was something I would never, ever, ever do. Then I wouldn't tell ANYONE at home for about three months until I'd bust it out randomly at a party to the utter shock of everyone.

Then I realized I was seriously considering PIERCING MY PENIS in preparation for a twenty second joke over three months away that involved flashing a lot of people. So I wisely decided to go with an eyebrow piercing instead, which I still miss (along with my glorious flowing locks).

Wolfy, John, and RJ all did go the whole way, though.
Now when you get a piercing down there, you're told to have absolutely no sex for about three months - and then for a long time, a condom is a must.

So of course three days later RJ had unprotected sex with a sixteen year old girl he could barely stand.
It sounded a lot like this -

*girlish moan*

Agony. It sounded like rhythmic agony.

The next morning I was woken up at about 7 in the morning to the question "Hey, Schlaffer, does this look infected?"
Unthinking, I turned around. There greeting me was a fully infected pierced penis not six inches from my face.
I screamed like the smallest girl you could possibly imagine.
My eyes still burn.

Big John held out a few more days, but then he too fell to the incredible temptation of infection via intercourse. Wolfy followed the directions perfectly, but ended up getting rid of his cause having a metal ring in his urethra ended up being a lot less cool than he expected (I remain unclear as to exactly what he expected). So I think I made the right choice.

Pulling down my pants at that party still would've been a hell of a moment, though.

A Really Cool Choice

Which would you pick?: Vice President or Secretary of State.

One has more prestige, one has more influence.
One stays in the District, one travels the world.

This was the choice awarded Joe Biden following the election, and what a choice to have to make. I'm curious as to what my choice would have been. What would your choice have been? Despite all the increases of power that Al Gore and Dick Cheney added, being VP is in the end a very limited position. Truth be told, Secretary of State is an unappreciated but far more influential position than Vice President. Not an easy choice, but definitely a win-win for anyone in that position.

Now, supposedly, Obama made this offer to Biden -- but apparently he always wanted Biden to be his running mate and always wanted Clinton to be his Secretary of State -- but did ask Biden if he was interested in being the other.

That Dr. Jill Biden had so much influence in the decision is interesting as well... and who else got the scoop on all of this, but OPRAH (#6 on my top list of really really rich people that could be Batman): READ ON.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Watching History

Rarely, I think, does history happen where you can sit down (or go to the National Mall) and watch it in anticipation. I don't just mean the inauguration, and election day, but the entire ascending buildup to those moments. We weren't all entirely certain of what the election results would be, but many saw this moment coming for months if not years.
(Inauguration Day/courtesy: Alex Feldman)

So we've finally reached this moment, and it has passed. Yes we can, and yes we did. Change has come, and Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. But what exactly will change? Yes, some policies will change, but for the most part the "change" that has come to America arrived well before the Inauguration or the election. Obama alluded to this in his speech yesterday:

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply."

All over the District I've seen posters and signs and images of President Obama (glad we don't have to say 'President-elect' anymore) being portrayed as "The Dream, realized." I'm not so sure I'm a fan of this idea that Obama marks the end of racism and prejudice. I don't see Barack Obama's position in the world as the realization of Martin Luther King Jr's dream of equality and justice. It's undoubtedly a step, and the effects will surely be profound in so many ways and in ways I could never imagine. But Obama is only part of the change.
(Obama on the campaign trail/courtesy: AZWiner)

Like many famous historical figures, Obama is not just a powerful person, but was able to be part of a movement. Rosa Parks didn't start the Civil Rights Movement - the growing tension had made a spark almost inevitable. Rosa Parks was part of a movement, a changing tide that had been shifting for decades and would continue shift for decades. Like Harvey Milk for the gay community, like George Washington for the United States, like Lennon or Lincoln or Mandela or Moses, these were leaders, yes, but they were leaders of a movement that was already happening, and desperately needed someone to lead.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the world is changing, and has been changing, and no matter how hard we try, it's not until the historians look back can we attempt to determine when the transition of change occurred. Maybe that's why I have trouble agreeing with the "Obama = change" equation. I see change as not having a specific date - no mark of beginning or end.
Did these people know they were watching history?
(Inauguration Day/courtesy: Alex Feldman)

Yet, I still have this feeling that yesterday, we really did all watch history happen. I imagine no one knew that Lincoln would remain as famous as he is today when he was elected back then, but Americans are aware of the undercurrent tide of change that brought Obama to the White House because they are the ones who brought him there. Obama is not the Messiah-Elect - as fellow Gentleman, Damien, has jokingly referred to him - but America has chosen him as the man to be a Washington, a Roosevelt, a Lincoln, a gentleman to lead a people who have already begun to change.

Just Another Tuesday Night

Before the Ranch became a program, it had been both an orphanage and a genuine hippie commune. The actual campus was several acres of land and had tons of stuff on it - both newly built by the students and remnants from the past. There was a long dirt road down the side of a mountain that led you to the office area, made of stucco and adobe. Up the hill was the Phase 1 House - a large wooden cabin where your stay was initiated. Behind the house was the firepit, the greenhouse, and the garden - all surrounded by woods. There were two paths down to the barn - one took you past the Phase 2 cabins and what would eventually become a sort of rec room after I was gone. The other went past the new pig barn and the outdoor bathroom. There were abandoned buildings with an abandoned firetruck, a low ropes course and a high ropes course with a zipline (that I never went on), a weight room, and tons of open fields, trees, and space.

Two staff members lived full time on the Ranch. Vince actually had a house on the far end of the property where he and his whole family lived - his wife, two daughters, his niece Lupe, and his dog Mick. Vince grew up on the Ranch back when it was an orphanage that was actually owned and run by his family. At some point they lost the land after his father's murder, but he was back living on the property as the Ranch's official jack-of-all-trades. He always hoped one day he'd have the opportunity to buy the land back and while I doubt that will ever happen, I hope it does. The guys would think about trying to hit on Lupe, who was our age, but Mick was a good deterrent - a vicious rottweiler who loved Vince and his family, and was chained up every night in front of Vince's house. Walking alone at night one of the biggest fears was whether Mick was on the loose.

Keith lived in a cabin across the 'creek' from Phase 2. he was a large, large man with a thick white beard and a heavy lisp that made a really odd combination. He was a former Hell's Angel, misogynistic and unpleasant with a decent heart and few social skills. Sometime after I left he almost married one of the native girls but it fell through, which is too bad, but not altogether unsurprising. His way with women was never something to look up to.

So while Vince and Keith were both on the Ranch at night, and only a phone call away, they weren't on duty 24/7. But Phase 1 needed to monitored around the clock with a strict ten pm lights out curfew and a group of guys who made fucking up into an art form. A security company was contracted to watch Phase 1, and different guards would come in for this particular graveyard shift.

So no offense intended to my friends who work in security, but I've noticed after both this and working at the J that guard companies are almost always something of a mixed bag. You get a few really good, quality, responsible people who usually get transferred or promoted to better jobs and assignments very soon, or you're stuck with the dregs. It almost seems better to hire one person you can really trust privately to do the job, rather than deal with some of the useless rabble that can make up the guard service night roster.

One of the guards was named TJ, and he quickly became known as the 'nice' guard. It started with him just letting the guys out to get ice cream late at night, or looking the other way during board game nights. Occasionally he would let people stay up and watch a movie. Then he started dealing pot to some of the kids.

But it all really came to a head the night his 17 year old coked up wife showed up at about 2am with their baby.

She came to get in a fight. I'm not sure about what, but if you're 17, on smack, already a mother, and married to the dead end security guard selling pot to kids in rehab you probably don't need any extra reasons to fly off the handle. Holding the baby, lips white, she starts screaming at this guy about what a shitty husband he is, shitty father. She probably wasn't wrong. But all the commotion brings out the Phase 1 kids to see what the hell is going on, and my guess is they start to rag on her.

So she turns her attention to them. She starts screaming that they're all fuck ups with no future (pot? kettle - line one. turns out you may be black) and that their parents don't love them or they never would have sent them here. All the while the guys are cracking up and TJ is trying to calm her down. She starts throwing pool balls at them as hard as she can (and they hurt).

Then she starts to hit them with her baby.

No, seriously, I swear to god I wish I was kidding - she tried to hit them with her baby.

So Ranch Kids have seen a lot of screwed up shit but this is too much for them and they grab the baby to try and get it out of harm's way. It's bad when the drug addicts are saying, 'no this has gone too far.'
TJ says "stop, stop, you're going to hurt the baby."
And she turns to him and says "What do you care, it's not even yours."

That's when he either decked her, or pushed her off the hood of a car, I can never remember.

Obviously TJ was fired, and soon they'd get rid of the whole security team in favor of one private employee. I seriously hope that child was taken out of that situation and given some kind of chance at a healthy normal life, but I'll never know for sure. As for the Ranch - if anyone else but me was really phased by this, it didn't show, because the longest lasting effect of the night was that for a few weeks the guys would use her as an excuse for any beer bottles the staff found near Phase 1. It was open season for a little while.

Because the most fucked up part of it was that this was just another Tuesday night at San Cristobal.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quick thoughts on McCain and Inauguration Music

They both suck, har har.

But seriously. I've wanted to provide a final word on John McCain. As with most of America I've taken a deep sigh of relief with the results. I think for better or worse, we won't spend as much time thinking how terrible McCain could have been as a president, and I don't just mean his policy choices. McCain's whole M.O. has (almost) always (well, often) been to be on the right side and to be the good guy. His life is based on dividing all things into moral issues. This is why Democrats often like him, many of his policies are right, but that doesn't make one a president.

McCain's entire temperament is so unsuited to leadership it's beyond frightening that he got so close. Think of the range of political and economic setups for the nations of the world. You can't just put countries into naught and nice columns. Then think of all the issues the president has to address. Just imagine him tackling the economy. He would immediately find the bad guys, since they are all around. Then what? Correcting the economy is far more complicated than ending earmarks or bombing Iran.

If it's sounds like I'm saying he would be Bush part 2, then that's pretty much accurate. But not for politics, but because he's John McCain. In a sense, I can understand a bit better why some voters put so much weight into the non-policy issues, because on those alone, he should have been sunk from the beginning. Sure this post is after the fact, but this thought has been hanging around, distracted me like a loose tooth.

Now music. I avoided the war crime on music that was the Sunday concert. All I really need to say is - Sheryl Crow and William (I will not put periods in that dickwad's name) together. During the inauguration proper, Aretha killed it. She coulda sang a phone book this morning and people would have been weeping. She sounded fantastic. It was such a breath of air from the endless fanfares leading up to the big event:

Ringside Boxing Announcer Man: And now the undersecretary to the undersecretary of bureaucracy."
*Fanfare #5092*
Ringside Boxing Announcer Man: And now Dick Cheney in a Dr. Strangelove wheelchair
*Evil fanfare #667*

And then there was the classical music atrocity with YoYo Ma and Itzak Perlman. Yes diversity is live and well, but when they announced the arranger was John Williams, the little voice in my yead went "NOOOOOOOOOOO." It was awful, just awful.

Into the Inaugural Madness!

Becka and I waiting for the sea of people to part.
(realized Moses would be no help to us on this one so we started playing the "excuse me" game)

I've been telling people the party I'm going to is 6 inches from the security zone... I thought I was exaggerating... (My door on left, security checkpoint on right!)

Becka had the right idea being the meat in this sandwich ;)

This was the view on all sides.


Monday, January 19, 2009

The Real Cause of the US Airways Flight 1545 Crash -OR- Dr. Jones Suddenly Remembers His Charlemagne

A little late but I just had to.

Volunteering Thoughts

As I mentioned in a comment a little while ago, I promised to offer some thoughts on volunteering. I claim no expertise and I think I came pretty late to the game, but there are a few things everyone should consider when considering where/when/what to volunteer.

1. Try a lot of things out - There are countless opportunities, try out a number before getting to wedded to any one organization.

2. Know what you want out of it - Yes, volunteering is about helping people, but if you're not enjoying it then you're going to be less helpful. Know what you want as much as what you don't want. Volunteering after work may be good, unless you're always beat after work, same goes for early morning volunteering. You might have issues with kids or with old folks. You may want to volunteer with a really talky group or you may just want to focus on the task at hand. I know I'm often most satisfied when I can quantify what I've done. Either we cooked 200 meals or we gleaned 5 tons of vegetables, etc.

3. Know your commitment - Some people like the regularity of volunteering every week or every other week, or the first Tuesday of every month. Some folks prefer irregular opportunities as time permits.

4. One offs are a mixed bag. As I said in the comment, I think one-offs (MLK Day, Servathon, X-Mas/Thanksgiving, Special Disaster related events) can be good but can be heavy on the speechifying and light on the volunteering. And while none of these things does any harm, some of them can be light on the actual benefit. That said, if it gets folks to volunteer more in general, I think it's an absolutely good thing.

5. Once you've sorted things out, stick with it. If you're a regular with an organization, you will absolutely be more helpful in general and likely you'll get a better sense of the big picture. You're going to learn a lot more in general from cooking meals every couple of weeks than from making PB&J sandwiches once a year. I'll be the first to admit that I've picked up plenty of kitchen basics from volunteering that I wouldn't know otherwise.

There are loads of charity clearing houses so I will just mention a few:
Greater DC Cares - - This is a great source for numerous projects
Charity Navigator - - Provides loads of lists of charities and ranks them based on certain financial and accounting criteria.
DCJCC - - One of the centers of Jewish culture in the city and also a provider of many volunteer opportunities

Inauguration Survival Guide

I heard somewhere that when it comes down to it, everyone dies of the same thing; loss of oxygen to the brain. Whether you starve to death, or you suffer a heart attack, or a seizure or whatever, what truly kills you is lack of oxygen to your brain. For the human body to work properly, a healthy supply of oxygen must travel through the circulatory system and into your brain.

So it goes without saying that when I saw Garth Brooks and Beyonce Knowles on stage together during the Inauguration concert on the mall, causing my brain to suddenly explode onto the reflecting pool, I was concerned.

To avoid similar results, I would advise anyone going to the Inaugural festivities with these words of experience that will hopefully expunge you from a fate similar to mine.

Don't trust Anderson Cooper. He will probably be in between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Let down your guard near him and kiss your kidneys goodbye.

Wear lot's of layers. One flak jacket is never enough.

Don't talk to Joe Biden. He'll talk your head off, then scoop it up and run the option with it down to the Lincoln Memorial.

Don't ice skate anywhere unless you are Jesus the Christ. It's not that cold.

Don't look directly at any celebrities at all during your Inauguration celebrations, unless you want to show them what your grey matter looks like. Use your peripheral vision if necessary.

Don't wear a suit and then talk into your sleeve. You'll look like you're in the special service, not the secret service.

Bring a random T-Shirt with you and write the name "Barack Obama" in cursive on it with a sharpie. Walk around holding it up and repeating "one hundred dollar Obama shirts." Lunch is on the lucky customer you meet that day.

And most importantly, anyone not wearing a coat is a Sentinel on the lookout for mutants.

Friday, January 16, 2009

No Seriously, Why Do You Keep Doing This to Me?

I woke up with every expectation that today was going to be a good day, and then I immediately saw this -
Keanu Reeves set to star as Spike in live action version of Coyboy Bebop
and I just don't know quite how I'm going to recover from that.

Now, I'm not the world's biggest Keanu hater out there, and The Matrix is a great movie, but still - Keanu Reeves set to star as one your absolute favorite characters of all time is never a GOOD sign.

Especially not when our own Dan Strauss is out there waiting and ready for just this moment.

I don't know, maybe I can still hold out hope that they won't make a public travesty of one of my favorite stories ever. I mean, that's what I did about The Spirit.

Oh God, I could cry...

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I was reading a post (see Hatin’) by fellow beard-grower and gentleman Max Nova when I discovered I had a relevant story of my own that I would like to share. His post is a commentary on “hate shakes” -  a condition of which most human beings able to feel emotion are privy too, even over the inconsequential.

As it pertains to music, I personally cannot stand Fall Out Boy. I don’t think they are clever, every time the lead singer holds a note in the upper-register his tone makes me want to pop my eardrums, I think their cover of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” is actually the soundtrack playing in Hell, and I just never will be able to stand them. I used to think it was because I was classically trained in music, that the lead simply sang with bad technique and it annoyed me. Or, that the lyrics explored themes I disliked. Or even that the phrase, “He tastes like you but sweeter,” was ripped from another artist of whom I hoped was receiving royalties, but assumed was not. But at the end of the day, I realize that no matter what could possibly change, I just will never enjoy them. I used to think that about the film Closer, but recent developments have given me the clarity to see through that all-encompassing shake-hate and understand my dislike as opposed to accepting it as just a reflex.

I didn’t see Closer in theaters, mostly because I knew nothing about the movie other than that Natalie Portman played a stripper. Enticing enough for many males, I know, but I couldn’t muster the motivation to cough up the requisite cash solely on “Attractive Actress May Be Partially Nude”. Fortunately, some time later, one of my college roommates would be an avid fan and would own Closer on DVD. At whose request I cannot remember, but we sat down in mutual excitement for a theatrical adventure.

My reaction to the movie was one of complete disdain. I had a hard time articulating why and I think I even offended my former female roommate (who remains a good friend, which is nice). It bothered me for ages, not because I don’t have more important things to think about, but because I am very analytical and I cannot stand it when something does not make sense to me. I had justifications, of course – I couldn’t relate to the characters, I thought the writer was trying too hard to produce edgy dialogue (this is where “He taste like you, but sweeter” comes from and I hated the line), I didn’t see the point of the film, I didn’t hate the performances, but I didn’t love them.  However, none of these reasons really stuck as to why I couldn’t enjoy the movie. It would plague me until I saw a live production starring my former roommate and directed by fellow gent and facial hair enthusiast Jason Schlafstein.

The play was fantastic. Low budget? Yes. College Produced? Certainly. But, I was more than just genuinely impressed. I was in it. Engrossed. I cared for the characters and I understood them. During a spontaneous table slam, I felt the impact. When “He tastes like you but sweeter” came up, I even mouthed along. I was excited. I was confused. I was very confused. I didn’t understand. The only real difference was that one was live and the other was not. The reason was on the tip of my brain, teetering over the abyss where, if it fell, it would stay. Until it would eventually, unnoticed, climb its way back up to the summit and scream the obvious at the top of its lungs before dying in, what I think has become, a broken metaphor. So moving on. I never figured it out.

Until a few weeks ago. Fast forward over a year later to Blackbird, a stellar production. Awesome show. Engaging. Dark (see Jason’s post). I was invested. Oddly, I started thinking about Closer again. And then on the walk home, Jason (whom I accompanied) said something amongst his excitement that made it all click. Roughly “It’s certainly far more engaging for an audience member when something is acted out right in front of them”. Boom. Summit climbed. A yell reverberates within my broken metaphor. Hatred gone. Psyche at peace. It was so basic. So simple. It just never crossed my mind that the difference was the reason. With the puzzle complete, I think I’m ready to attempt enjoyment of something that I inexplicably had the hates for.

Well, Gentle Reader, I suppose the moral of this little post is… well I’m not sure. Is it a lesson in seeking understanding? A commentary on how life will feed you an answer when you least expect it? Or is it something else entirely? You tell me. Post below.

PS – No amount of clarity will ever convince me to like Larry. He’s an ass. I also have no clue why Blackbird was titled “Blackbird”. That is all.