Saturday, February 27, 2010

Who Is Andrew WK?

In the beginning it was pretty simple. There was this guy, Andrew Wilkes-Krier and he partied hard. He sang loud, ridiculous songs, performed amazing, concerts and all was well.

Then things started getting weird. His third album was only released in Asian markets. He stopped touring with a band. The third album finally was released in the US but only on Vinyl. Then he released an album of improvised piano music from a record label based in the UK. Plus during this whole time the "identity" of AWK became more of a mystery.

You can read up on some of the drama on his wikipedia, or start on this Gawker article. There's a lot of tinfoil hat stuff, but in a nutshell, some people think the person currently appearing as Andrew WK is not the same person, and there is some reason to believe this. There's someone called Steev Mike, whose identity is still a mystery, and then there's a whole lot of legal stuff behind the scenes that adds another layer of confion.
The basic point is, no matter what statements or comments are made by Mr. WK, there seems to be something funny going on behind the scenes. Is it all sinister? Probably not. Most of the subterfuge is probably the result of legal agreements, but the more statements that come out, the more confusing things seem to get.

How do I feel about the whole thing? In all honesty, I don't really care if someone else secretly wrote and performed the music on the first (and maybe second and maybe third) album(s). Andrew WK is a positive force and the person who by all accounts from fans is a really decent guy. He has gone out of his way to be kind to his fanbase and he seems genuinely enthused about damn near everything. To my mind, this is a bit (just a little bit) like the Tiger Woods situation. One more music comes out (or once Tiger starts playing golf) the weird sideshow of identity will go back to being a small distraction. I'm amused by AWK the public speaker and TV personality, but all that I really want is to be in a club full of fans shouting out the lyrics to "Party Til You Puke." And I think I'm not alone on that.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snap Judgements! - Joseph Stack

Should Joseph Stack, the Austin pilot who left a rambling political manifesto on his personal website before flying his plane into an IRS building on February 18, killing himself and one office worker in the building, be considered a terrorist?

David Pratt
I have a lot of trouble categorizing this one. On the one hand, it was an attack against a government agency, not a civilian target. It was also done for the purpose of making a statement about the tax system in America, however misguided. There's a disconnect in my mind that tells me that's not what we strictly define as terrorism. On the other hand, the man flew a plane into a building.

Can we define one guy snapping as terrorism due to the nature of the attack rather than the intent? That's what I can't answer quite yet.

I've heard people cry racism here because this plane crash isn't being classified as terrorism. As I define it, terrorism is the use of violence and fear to force political change. Did Stack have a political agenda? To a certain degree, yes. If you go through his "suicide note," and I put that in quotes because it's more of a suicide thesis, he rails against the government and "the system," if you will, for repeatedly working against him and keeping him on the bottom. So, if Stack is acting on political conviction, are his actions terrorism? I don't think so. It seems to me that Stack's motivation is almost entirely personal, and while I'm sure he would have liked to change the system, his actions seem too self indulgent to me to really be true terrorism. I'd file this one under "destructive suicide."

Max Nova
isn't this a question with only one answer if you're not craaaazy?

(Replies to Max Nova)
Daniel - i think there are certainly 2 sides to this question.
Damo - I think there are about 12 sides to the answer.

Short answer: It's arguable. But, I kinda feel like saying that Joe Stack is a terrorist is the equivalent of saying that, because I happen to be pissed off and decide to burn down (or crash a private airplane into, if you'd rather) a building that happens to be owned by a government agency, I have committed an act of terrorism and treason. Just a little hard to swallow.

Long Answer:

The FBI defines "terrorism" as "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." Or, phrased otherwise, "the systematic use of fear to obtain a political or social objective." Often times, terrorism is employed in order to cripple a country's economy or dissuade politicians from performing their policies. For instance, when one straps a bomb to their chest and blows up a market place, the immediate effect is an economic vacuum - law enforcement is forced to scramble and people are now reluctant to go to said marketplaces to purchase food and goods or go outside in general, thereby putting a temporary kink in that area's local economic-hose. By doing so, whatever opposing political regime that may be in power has less resources, giving me an advantage to help push my ultimate goal. Truth be told - I haven't heard reports of anyone being less likely to file taxes or government employees quitting jobs because they're afraid to perform their duties as government agents because of Joe Stack.

Now, apparently Joe Stack was some member of an anti-tax movement in the good ol' US of A and his attack was politically motivated (He left a note or something). NOW, we're in "was he a terrorist?" territory. You could draw the comparison between his act and, say, an angry protestor blowing up an EPA building because he believes that power plants should be able to dump chemical waste wherever convenient. Honestly, I'm having a difficult time labeling either example as "terrorist act." I think the qualifying factor for terrorism here, maybe, isn't just political motivation tied to a violent act, but a systematic attempt to coerce the government to act (or not act) using violence - and I'm not seeing anything "systematic" about a man killing himself by driving a plane into an IRS building. I see an angry man, mad at the government, committing suicide as loud as possible. Was he negligent and reckless? Yes. Should Joe Stack be ridiculed and ostracized after his death? I think so. "Political Extremist" may be a more appropriate term. At this stage, from what I can see in front of me, "Domestic Terrorist," is a little reaching and a little hard to swallow. And, it smells a little like media sensationalism. Just sayin'.

The definition of terrorism is more of the issue here than the nature of Stack's act.

From the US code: "the term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents"

From the Federal code:
(5) the term "domestic terrorism" means activities that -
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation
of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended -
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by
intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass
destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of
the United States.

So even the government doesn't agree with itself on the issue. The first definition says he was a terrorist, the second probably does not. Maybe.

Stack's purpose appears to have been informed by 1) vengeance (in a way not much different from the primary motives of the Columbine or UVA killers), 2) suicidal desperation, and 3) the desire to make a wake-up call for other Americans. The third purpose is the closest to a definition of terrorism, although he doesn't seem to have any particular desire to actually alter the government; merely to point out that it is flawed.

Of course, the tricky thing is that terrorism, in this way, is defined entirely by what the perpetrator hoped would happen. If he intended to alter policy, would that suddenly make it terrorism? If someone killed a bunch of people and happened to alter policy, would that make it terrorism even if the murderer was just plain psychopathic, or was trying to rob a bank?

I think, perhaps, that what makes terrorism worse than mass murder, theoretically, is the idea that it is systematic, and that innocents are being punished because someone wants to exert control over government policy. A random act of vengeance, while deplorable, doesn't imply that there will be more violence if demands are not met, or imply that it is possible to circumvent the rule of law through extortive violence. The real key phrase there is "rule of law" - mass murder alone is an act against innocents; but terrorism is an act against the rule of law itself.

Therefore, I think Stack's act - because he did it alone, and implies no connection to any movement, nor asks anyone else to repeat after him until thegovernment is fixed - is just narrowly outside the definition of terrorism.

(Let me be clear, though, that Stack is still definitely insane; killing innocent people is indefensible regardless the reason. "Terrorism" vs. "not terrorism" is a matter of policy moreso than morality.)
On a somewhat tangential note - a debate on this issue on one blog featured many comments suggesting that Stack's race is what keeps this from being defined as terrorism. I don't argue that if he was Muslim, even if every word of his manifesto was the same, it may have been defined as terrorism due to racism and prejudice. That was not my concern in this snap judgment. However, one commenter on that same post pointed out this interesting pie chart (which links to a Federal report) from an article entitled "All Terrorists Are Muslims... Except the 94% That Aren't." Enjoy:

This guy, for all intents and purposes, was clearly a wingnut, but whether or not he was a terrorist is difficult. He flew a plane on a suicide mission into a government building after blogging a manifesto of sorts and setting fire to his (thankfully empty) home, which mainly to me reads murderous wingnut. Sounds like he wanted to be a terrorist, but because he didn’t seem to be in his right mind (extremely paranoid, obsessive, etc) and he had no following to speak of, I hesitate to call what he did terrorism because as much terror as I’m sure he caused the day of his suicide, there is no residual terror that is, has been, or will be struck in the hearts and minds of the many people, institutions and ideologies he attacked. Or does ever-increasing fear and paranoia of That Guy Who's Just Gonna Snap And Kill Everyone in our society count as terror?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Greatest Song Ever Written Contest 2010: The Finale

Let's not beat around the bush. The votes are in, the decisions have been made, and we are down to our final two contenders. One of these two songs will be voted the Greatest Song Ever Written. Here they are, presented for your approval.

Send in your final votes to All votes are due by midnight, March 1st, after which time a winner will be declared.

Let the final round of voting begin! Your two finalists are . . . .


"Dock of the Bay"
by: Otis Redding

Written in 1967 and released in 1968, this soft soul ballad tells the tale of a man who took a chance on a new life - and how it just didn't work out. Set against the backdrop of Steve Cropper's unforgettable guitar stylings, "Dock of the Bay" became the first posthumously-released song to become a #1 Single. Recorded just three days before Redding's tragic death in a plane crash, it has become the song which defined his career, winning 2 Grammys and being covered by artists ranging from Michael Bolton to Pearl Jam. It has forged an unforgettable legacy in the annals of music history, and is without argument one of the finest recordings of all time.

by: Van Morrison

This blend of jazz and country rock in the inimitable style of Van Morrison has captivated listeners for 40 years. Released in 1970 on an album of the same name, "Moondance" propelled Van Morrison to success as an artist. Its accessible nature as a song and soothing, swinging rhythm has made it one of the most often-covered songs of the modern era, and has been performed in concert by Van Morrison more than anything else he has written. Reminiscent of Frank Sinatra yet easily re-recorded by Michael Buble, "Moondance" has the timeless quality of a truly well-written song, and will continue to swing through the airwaves for decades to come.

Videos of Van Morrison playing "Moondance" are hard to find, so enjoy this link to the song.

"Dock of the Bay" or "Moondance?" Which will win? The decision is in your hands now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

wtf cnn

Tiger Woods' "public apology" aka "mandatory rote speech for his corporate sponsors" is NOT BREAKING NEWS.

Also his infidelity did not affect my life in the least, except that the news coverage of it invariably pissed me off. He should apologize, privately, to his wife and children. And that is it.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Releases

A fine batch of new albums has come out in the last month (Magnetic Fields, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Massive Attack!), and two of the bigger names in that list (or as big as one can be in this fragmented universe) are Spoon and Vampire Weekend. Both albums are excellent works.

Spoon, mainly Britt Daniel and Jim Eno throughout their existence, work within the indie rock idiom, but since that's such a broad description at this point, it's perhaps better to describe them as masters of clean minimalism. It's not that strange to compare the band to modern art, given the attention to detail that goes into each Spoon album and song. Much like Wire (during Chair Missing and 154) and Elvis Costello (circa Get Happy!!) the songs are simple and catchy but also quite cerebral. Drums may be real or electronic, but are rarely in a predictable rhythm. Guitar or keyboards may be used to provide additional percussion rather than melody. Each piece is only kept if it enhances the song, and so space is often one of the most important sounds in the mix.

On the new album Transference the band uses a number of demos for songs rather than the studio recordings that were recorded later. A number of tracks also cut off unexpectedly. Not midway through the song, mind you, but they still don't exactly "resolve" themselves. The effect is not so much lo-fi as a continuation of the Spoon aesthetic. In the past, drums, or guitar may have been largely expendable at times, and now the band has shown that they don't even need a studio or a proper ending to make a song what it needs to be. The songs themselves may not be the catchiest bunch Daniel has ever written, but the quality is still quite high and there are a few cuts "Who Makes Your Money" and the second half of "I Saw the Light" that rank among the bands finest moments.

Vampire Weekend is composed of four well-dressed Columbia graduates who really like African music. Their existence alone has made them deeply polarizing, but the songs on their debut and this new album Contra are uniformly catchy. And that's why I keep listening to them. They may be dicks, and I probably wouldn't really want to drink with them (which is the officially metric for all judgment in this life, it seems) but as long as I find myself humming their songs they're doing something right.

The main leap forward in this albums seems to have come from the work of keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij in his side project Discovery. That duo's album was a shamelessly shiny indie-r'n'b-pop hyrbid filled with auto-tune and bright keyboards. Contra is not quite so garish, but the band now seem to have no fear of mixing in a bit of auto-tune here or an M.I.A. sample there. They're a pop band at the end of the day, and this album is further proof of that.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Somebody stole my shovel

Ok, I know I sound like a neurotic conspiracy theorist, but here's the thing: the shovel that is currently sitting on my porch is not the same shovel that was there last week. My roommate is completely oblivious, but I know I'm right.

These are the facts:

On Tuesday, I did a bit of shoveling, then left town to avoid Blizzard: Part II. I came home on Friday night, and woke up bright and early Saturday morning in order to get some more shoveling done before work. (Our driveway is currently filled with snow, and since parking is scarce on our street, it would be nice if the driveway were clear.) The snow had formed a shell of ice, which made shoveling particularly difficult. As I stomped my foot on the shovel in order to dig into this ice shell, I realized that something was wrong: the blade was cracking from the pressure!

I hadn't really been paying attention to the tool in my hand, but now I paused. Yes, this had the same ergonomic shape, but it was definitely not our shovel. I'm sure that ours had a wooden handle, and this one was plastic. There was no way that this handle, molded plastic that is was, could have separated from the blade, the way that mine had in the aftermath of the December snow storm. Further, said blade was not at all the sturdy, stomp-proof one that I remembered.

So I know I'm not crazy- I've used logic to deduce that this is not the same shovel. But here's where logic fails me: is one of my neighbors really crazy enough to perform a clandestine shovel-swap?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Surprises and the Internet

This won't be a "Get Off My Lawn" rant, I swear.

Back in my much younger days, the internet was basically a bunch of ICQ chats, AOL links and Geocities fan sites. It was somewhere around this simpler time that I really got into music. It started in a path that was pretty familiar back in the day - you'd listen to the radio, subscribe to Rolling Stone, watch MTV (yes, they showed some videos), and if you were ambitious you'd buy a few British music magazines (my whole family were regular reader of Q, which was like a much much better Rolling Stone). The internet didn't factor in this equation much, there were some band fan sites, but the quality was generally pretty low.

My sister and I both became fans of Blur after hearing "Song 2" and I bought their self-titled album, which blown away. It's still a fantastic album. Then we started tracking down their other albums, because Blur was their fifth (yes, fifth!) album. But after getting Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife and the Great Escape, we still had not seen the mythical first album - Leisure.

Now let's step back a bit. My knowledge of Blur albums was pretty much based on what I saw in record stores. There were times where I'd go into a store and see an album or albums that I had never seen before by a band I thought I knew. The Lemonheads are a good example, I had no knowledge of their discography before It's A Shame About Ray before seeing a few of their old pre-famous albums in Borders, and this process was how I built part of my music knowledge. Thus tracking down Leisure was a proper hunt. First off, their was no wikipedia or allmusic, and back in those days Amazon was still just an online book store. When we finally found it (I think in a music store near William and Mary on a family vacation in Colonial Williamsburg, oddly enough) it was a proper victory.

Now these days, I can go to Wikipedia and find out everything there is to know about any band. Side-projects, EPs, demos, and so forth are all out their for the world to see. Then with this info I can go to Amazon and get the album shipped to me in two days. It's still amazing that all of this is possible and I was initially going to say that this takes all the fun out of things, but then I thought about Herbie Hancock.

Herbie recorded three albums with a sextet (and later septet) called Mwandishi. These were some of the most forward thinking and far out jazz records ever made. After the band broke up he went in a funkier direction and recorded Head Hunters, but those Mwandishi albums are stone cold classics. So one day while browsing wikipedia I was shocked to find out that at the same period as these albums came out, two of his sidemen (Julian Priester and Henderson) recorded between them three equally spacey albums on the side.

Would I have found out about these albums eventually without the internet? Maybe, at some point. Would I have actually found them in record stores? There's a slim chance. Suffice to say I'm glad we have the amazing base of knowledge we have, but part of me wants to hide all this information from kids for a while and let them do some searching the old(er) fashioned way.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Greatest Song Ever Written Contest 2010: Semi-Final Round

Straight from the frozen heart of our nation, the quest to find the Greatest Song Ever Written continues, with now but four stalwart contenders still vying for the throne. Despite the initial misgivings of our audience, no one can speak out against the quality and staying power of these four juggernauts. In our toughest brackets yet, you, the readers, must decide who will go on to compete in the final championship round, and win the crown.

Send your votes to by midnight, February 17th. The end is in sight!


1st Bracket:

"Imagine" by John Lennon
"Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding

2nd Bracket:

"Moondance" by Van Morrison
"Wonderwall" by Oasis

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Some Reflections on the Snowmageddon

For those of us living in the snow-hammered regions of the Mid-Atlantic (DC-Baltimore-Philly in particular), I think a blizzard of this proportion gives us with our modern, technological, compartmentalized existence the closest thing to experiencing what it was like to live before the Industrial Revolution.

Stocking up on food and goods - check.

Potentially going without electricity and relying on blankets, clothes or fires - check.

Getting cut off from the world beyond that which can be walked to - check.

Shared plight and interconnection with the neighbors - check. (I only now met my across-the-street neighbors, who are my age, despite having lived here five months; we worked together to get my car and their car up the hill.)

Treating any visitors to your residence like houseguests - check. (If someone's come over to your place, you're probably going to end up feeding, showering and bedding them. [Um, I mean "providing food, a shower and a bed."]) No wonder most ancient peoples considered the responsibility of the host to the guest to be paramount.

Being left to our own devices for our entertainment - check. (Of course, one of those devices is an Internet-connected computer, and another is probably a DVD player or a video game system, but either way, there's not much in the way of stores, restaurants, bars, movies or shows to choose from, and definitely no non-local options.) Some hundreds of years ago, during the winter, this is what people would do, after all - stay inside, perform the occasional chore. If you were a substinence farmer, what did you have to do during the winter? Not much. It's not like you were missing work hours at the office.

We even have to put our backs into some shoveling and do a bit of manual labor if we want to get anywhere. And heck, some people have probably died in the snowstorm. How 17th century is that?

Yes, we're able to keep up with our less next-door friends and hobbies via the Internet, and maybe I'm writing the wrong blog post, because this really could be about the key role the Internet has played in this blizzard. (Maybe another Gentleman can write on that.) But by and large, most of us still depend on in-person interactions for true socialization; Facebook is just for keeping tabs, passing time and sharing observations - but most of the observations on Facebook are pretty much the same. In other words, we're not really learning anything to see ten different friends post "Snow go away!" and another ten post pictures of their whited-out backyards. Despite being from different people in different places, these all add up to just a monotonous reflection of our own little landscape (even if it's nice to know - not that we couldn't have guessed - that we're not the only ones wishing it was over). In fact, I considered not posting this at all, because I figured all of you readers out there, being in exactly the same situation, have probably thought more or less exactly these same things. Thus, I believe that the snowstorm has rendered the Internet and its connections moot - overall, these five-foot snow drifts have reduced our world. Brought it inwards. Slowed it down.

And holy **** it's boring.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The End of an Affair, or How I Became Disillusioned with My Favorite TV Show

What do Charlie Bartlett, the Lifetime Movie Network, Juno, Jay and Silent Bob, the national tour of Spring Awakening and the musical stylings of Aubrey “Drake” Graham and Cassie Steele have in common?

If you said Degrassi: the Next Generation, then you are correct. If you somehow made some other unrelated connection, then I mean, congratulations.

I am a bit too young to have been a fan of the show the first time around in the 80s, but I have followed the reincarnation with increasing emotional investment since 2000. I own almost every single season since 2000, and I have seen most of those episodes a countless number of times. I know the actors' names and histories, and am suddenly much more interested in whatever media I happen to catch one. I gained a good friend and roommate through Degrassi: upon his first visit to look at our spare room, he casually noticed my six seasons proudly displayed on the mantle and said, "You guys watch Degrassi, too?" and that's all it took. He was in. Because I am, in a word, obsessed.

So it is with relative authority that I feel I can speak on the subject of its demise.

The thing that I love(d) about Degrassi is that, given its cheesiness, its overt drama, its often (but not always) terrible acting, there is always a real, pressing issue rooted in each episode. Degrassi addresses subject matter most television shows with a pre-teen target audience would not touch with a ten-foot pole: drugs, violence, sexuality, abuse, illness, religion, hormones. There are very few clear-cut answers and not every storyline ends happily, though some do (and others are just hilarious.) Regardless, there is always some forbidden door opened, some pandora's box unleashed, allowing viewers to confront, at least in a third party way, some of the most pressing, least talked-about issues that face teenagers today.

Or I suppose I should say there was.

Because the past several seasons of Degrassi, or what one may call the Weird Half Generation Now That Everyone Interesting Has Left the Show, have been crap. Complete and utter crap. One may as well be watching Hannah Montana or The Hills for all the social mores they have tackled. I am not the only die-hard who has noticed this, and it shows in the numbers: from 2002-2004 it was the top-rated Canadian drama for teens and adults in several age ranges covering 13 to 54. In 2006 it was the highest rated digital cable series in the US. Then in 2008, season 7, also known as the last season that meant anything to me, started losing its fanbase. Viewer numbers dropped and kept dropping throughout that season and the following two. (Note: most of my information I get from Wikipedia but you can double check it if you really feel the need.)

The first two episodes of season 7 dealt with date rape, the use of roofies in particular, and they held much potential to spark conversation on a subject so taboo the American television station refused to air it at first. (This is not the first time that station refused to air controversial material; the third season contains several episodes not seen by American audiences until the season was released on DVD, about a fourteen year old who chooses to have an abortion after consensual unprotected sex.)

However, instead of accurately portraying the effects of rufilin to educate and open up the subject to an extremely young, ill-informed demographic, the show's producers (or whoever) chose to go The Hangover route and used the drug as a throw-away plot point. The actress, Shenae Grimes, was lauded for her portrayal of a physically and emotionally wrought young woman trying to keep her terrible secret to herself, which is redeemable, certainly, and does in some way address this awful subject, but it was not at all accurate or educational on the matter of the extremely dangerous (especially so since no one seems to know what its real effects are) drug referenced. Season 7 was also nominated for a GLAAD Media Award for Best Drama Series, which is always good. But just not good enough.

Because even by the end of season 7 the plot had become like an absurd mix of Saved by the Bell and Passions. Record label contracts, stem cell research and modeling replaced the plain old everyday unresolved teen drama that made me love this show so much.

Season 7 also saw the end of silly throwaway references to an unseen character I had grown to know and love with the introduction of Holly J, sister of oft-referenced-but-never-actually-seen Heather Sinclair. Heather Sinclair was like the bigfoot of Degrassi, sometimes allowing us a glimpse of her elbow or her nose at the edge of the screen. Once we saw her whole back. More often she was simply mentioned in passing, and never with a positive note. She was just That Girl Everyone Passively Hates; you know the one. And the sly introduction of her inherently evil sister made her a specific character, immediately and permanently ruining all the fun.

The other greatest-thing-about-Degrassi-that-no-one-else-had, besides its accuracy at pinpointing teenage social issues, was its accuracy at portraying the look of real teenagers. The actors were cast within a year or two of their characters' ages, pimples be damned (and largely unmakeuped), and each actor was given a wardrobe that varied and changed with his or her respective character's socioeconomic status and homelife. One of the characters literally wore the same dirty hoodie for three seasons in a row, because that's what kids do. They have acne and don't always know how to deal with their hair and they find one clothing article that they love and they never leave it.

But here we are again in the awful present, and the past two seasons have been full-to-bursting with professional makeup and perfect coifs and designer clothes. It's like suddenly the producers realized it was a popular show, gave it a budget with a capital B, and, oh, fired everyone that ever made it awesome. Or hypnotized them. Or full-on body snatched them, I don't know.

I don't watch The Hills because I don't care about spoiled teenagers with designer nails who are treated like CEOs. Degrassi was great because it was interesting, and ground-breaking, and, despite the sometimes cheesy script, it rang true. I knew these kids because I went to junior high and high school with these kids. They were confused, and rash, and hormonal, and they did stupid things to their hair. They were funny without meaning to be, and, every once in awhile, funny on purpose. They thought they were adults but they very definitely weren't.

Without those true things, those reflective "I get that" moments, Degrassi: the Next Generation is just one more trash program about two-dimensional adolescents clogging up the airways. Degrassi needs to, in the immortal words of GOB Bluth: shape up or ship up. My advice is for the show to take off the polish, go back to its ridiculous-enough roots, STOP GIVING ITS CHARACTERS MODELING CONTRACTS, or just get off the air. For a disgruntled fan I know I've given a lot of time and energy to this show post-heyday, but now I've finally said my piece.

Maybe now I can rest.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Strange Thing Happened in Internet 1

A strange kind of thing happened in Internet the other day.

The story goes that my boss was on vacation and I was running the ship -- the ship being a three room office with five computers, a mini fridge, and a microwave.  A long time client called and asked for my boss. "She's away," I said, or something.

"Oh," came the reply. "No wonder she hasn't gotten back to me." 

A pause followed, and maybe a shuddered sigh (I could be incorporating that from a scene in a movie). Could I leave a message for her? She was calling  from the ICU and her husband was about to die. Her husband was "going," I wrote down. "Just wanted you to know." My temporal lobe took its time hacking ICU and dying husand. In the mean time that "oh crap" feeling was crawling its way up my spine from my ass crack. 

"And now the second thing," she said. And then she kind of laughed.  I guess she was laughing because (first)  she was telling a stranger that her husband was dying, and (second) a "second thing" followed that first thing.

"Can we send out some kind of email blast after it happens? To let people know," she said.

At this point I'd successfully processed she was about to be a widow and my empathy motor kicked in. She hadn't called JUST to let us in on her suffering. She also needed something from us, or me, more specifically. I was all compliance. 

"Of course, yes. I can help you with that. As soon as you get me the text I can send something right out," I said. Part of that empathy motor was a large bouncer roughly shoving the "Send it to whom?" question from the cantina of my brain. 

She laughed again. "Oh no! I'm not going to be in any place to write. The funeral home will have something. Maybe you can call and have them send whatever they write over to you."

"Oh of course. Sure!" I said. 

"Yes, that's a good idea, right?"

"It's perfect," I said. 

I wrote down the name of the funeral home and the number to call. We hung up. 

I'm not usually in the business of taking these kind of calls. My job description does not include the responsibility of communicating messages from soon-to-be-widows. Nor am I always so as steady on my feet -- stoic is the word maybe -- when faced with disturbing tasks as I had imagined myself in day dreams. However, my job description does not preclude these sorts of requests. Really I should be open to every possibility. I design websites and extend identities through the Internet. Here in Internet, protocol is fuzzy around the edges, and in some regions completely non-existent. 

I called the funeral home. A guy picked up, about my age. I told him what was up, but it must have come out something like: "Dude. Woman called. Husband going. I just work here. Seriously. You know, writing? You give it here, damn you! I gotta email stuff to" because he seemed confused. When he asked for a name I gratefully gave their last name and the wife's first.

"Do you have a first name of the deceased?" he asked. 

I couldn't remember. Had I ever learned his name? "No," I said finally. It dawned on me that he said diseased, and I felt compelled to correct him. "He's not diseased yet. They are in the ICU and he's about to. But she wanted me to call--"

"Right, I'll have to call you back," he said. And hung up.

I sat stupidly for a few moments. I waited as if he'd call back right at the moment I'd start doing something else and somehow I'd be failing the soon-to-be-widow. Then I saw my notes and where I had written down the husband's name. We'll call him Ryan. "Ryan is going, just wanted you to know."

I called again. When he picked up and realized who I was he wasn't happy. "I said I'd call you back. I've got a lot of phone calls coming in and its just me working here today, man. So you'll just have to wait and I'll call you back." 

"But I have his name!" I declared. As if it would change things.

"I'll call you back!" he said. Click.

He called back a few minutes later and apologized. 

"What's his name?" he asked. 

"Ryan," I said. 

The story played itself out. The next day there were a few messages from Ryan's wife. I called her back and got things squared away. Ryan was the co-owner of a local business with his wife. She wanted to send out an email to their clients to let them know of his passing. The message read: "We regret to inform you of the passing of dear friend and colleague," with a picture and the birth to death years. I think he was 76. 

 That night I went out in Philadelphia to a birthday party. I guess I must have felt like telling somebody because I tried telling the story as if it would be humorous. "So I got into an argument with a funeral home employee the other day," I said. 

The guy I said it to looked at me like I'd bit the head off a pidgeon and offered him the wing. "Oh yeah?" he said. 

"Yeah," I replied and then walked away properly rebuked. 

It's just one of those odd stories you want to tell but never know how to tell it. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Still-A-Little-Bit-New Year's RoundTable

Well, the New Year has come and gone, and we’ve had a month to mull it over. 2009 is becoming a memory and 2010 still has that new car smell, but maybe at this point could use a rinse at the ole Gas ‘N Go. These Gentlemen have gathered ‘Round the Table once again, and shared their resolutions for 2010, and how well they have stuck with them for these difficult, and bitterly cold, first 34 days.

David Pratt
New Years Resolutions are a tricky thing. Last year, I made a slew of resolutions regarding individual accomplishments for myself. As best I can remember, I followed through on exactly none of them. I don't think anything sidetracked me or prevented me from going through with what I had set out to do. The goals I had in mind just seemed less important as the year went on, and they went to the wayside.

There is something to be said for Resolutions. They inspire people to try and make something better of this year than the one that came before it. Gym memberships skyrocket. Resumes fly out to dream jobs. People get asked out on dates. Whether or not anything comes from these activities, I can't say. Typically, after a few months pass, people give up on trying to shake out of their routine and try again next year. Some few stick with it and manage to make a significant alteration to their daily habits, but they are the exception to the rule. That said, every little change helps, so we can't discount the usefulness of the practice. However, like writing a book, going to college, or parasailing, it's just not for everyone.

I've decided this year I will make a Resolution. I'm not going to plan a new workout, or to churn out new writing, or anything like that. I'm resolving to spend the next year simply being the best me that I can be, and seeing what comes from that. If it makes me question some of my own behavior occasionally, we can call it a success. If nothing changes, then I didn't lose anything, either. We've got a whole year to find out.

Happy New Year.

I didn't have a New Year's Resolution. I am on a neverending (not-usually-successful) binge of self-improvement. IT IS ALWAYS JANUARY 2 FOR ME KIDS. WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?

New Year's resolutions are fun to come up with, but not so easy to keep. This year should be an exception though. I want to get into Farmville this year. The popular facebook application keeps popping up in my news feed, and I get a lot of invitations, so it must be entertaining. Add that to the fact that I don't really know that much about agriculture and have always wanted to learn more about it, and Farmville seems like the obvious choice for a priority in 2010.

So far I haven't set up the Farmville app, but once the spring rolls around weather conditions should be more cooperative.

ali d
I felt kind of wishy-washy about a resolution this year, honestly, but I felt that I should have one. It does seem to be 'the thing to do' at this time of the year. I mean, there are definitely ways I can be improving my life. Why not reflect on them?, etc etc. So I decided that if I really want to get somewhere with my vocal performance (and I do), I should probably be actively working on that.

My very simple resolution was to look into getting voice lessons again. Not going once a week, not singing scales every day - just look into it. And I didn't even do that. I got busy with work and rehearsals and instead sat around tired and cold on my couch during my time off.

So I decided upon a very simple NY Resolution because I felt I'd judge myself if I didn't have one, and now I'm judging myself because I didn't even achieve my very simple NY Resolution. Next year I think I'll resolve to give myself a break.

Matt Lindeboom
Ugh. I’ve never liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions. I think I’m tainted towards the concept because I’ve seen so many people take it up for fashion's sake only to cast it aside. I tend to see the New Year's Resolution as an inconvenience that floods my gym with new people from January 3rd until about March when status quo returns and I can get back on the treadmill or use the bench press without waiting. But it’s a fantastic idea, isn’t it? Each year you have a chance to make yourself a better person. Renewal and rejuvenation. Each year can be new, its just about dedicating yourself to the work. You resolve. And yet I still feel this snarky cynicism towards it. I dismiss it as one of those rote activities Americans perform each year, up there with buying halloween candy and watching the Super Bowl for the commercials. My attitude could also stem from a contrary nature.

I think resolutions of those sort should be deeply personal. Therefore, that I should dedicate myself to a personal change spurred only by the convention of the New Year feels disingenuous (also kitschy). But I do make resolutions. My senior year I gained a lot of weight, didn’t watch what I was putting into my body, and generally was not conscious of myself. Looking back I feel like I gave up on something. I lost focus. After graduation I took a job as a teacher in Thailand, and through a consistent work out routine (but mostly the huge diet change brought on by a rice dominant culture) I lost all of the weight and then some. Coming back, I vowed that I would never let myself lose focus like I did again. I’ve gone to the gym three to four days a week for more than a year, and I look after what sorts of foods and drinks I put into my body. As a result I certainly feel better and more alive. But I’m not at my goal. In fact, I’m not even sure a “goal” exists. I have no point in mind where I will say, “Oh great! I’m here! Guess that’s over.” It’s a lifestyle I’m trying to lead. One of vigilance and learning. One that I have to renew every single day. There are days I fail out of weakness or laziness, but out of those days I have make my focus stronger. I’ll just have to keep it up til I’m dead.

Max Nova
I had a few for this year:

First - Be more stylish. I think I've made a few subtle stylistic changes, got a few nice pairs of pants, a good pair of shoes, some awesome socks and am moving in the correct direction.

Second - Learn to cook more stuff. I have this one every year, and generally fail. I think it's kinda pointless until the spring when there's fresh produce to cook with and all that. Maybe I'll get it together in a few months.

Third - Make someone laugh every day. I think I make people laugh pretty regularly, but generally I just think I should be more myself in general situations. I tend to be very reserved in situations with people I'm not close with, I should try to loosen up a bit more. Thus far, it's too early to tell how successful I've been.

2010 is shaping up to be truly transformative for myself and the community. My goals of personal development, public advocacy, and community building are going better than I could have dreamed and I am honored to be surrounded (and supported) by so many incredible people.

There will undoubtedly be bumps in the road, but what can I say? I'm blessed.

Personally, I've stopped doing New Years resolutions. Mostly for the single, solitary fact that they rarely - if ever - are successful. Given they're fun to say and share (and it's kinda lame to be that person who speaks like a WASP and says things like "Ohhhh, I don't do resolutions"), so I've concocted one of my own - a resolution so fitting, a resolution so fulfilling, a resolution so undeniably infallible that God himself has spoken to me from the heavens and said, "Holy shit! I'll write that down!" And that resolution, Gentle Readers, will be revealed to you - here, today - in the space below this paragraph. I present to you, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, my New Years resolution:

"I resolve to be awesome"

But, wait there's more! No, Gentle Readers, it is not enough to simply "be awesome," or to do "awesome things," or to "perform good deeds," or to "wear a suit everyday." No, no that wouldn't be awesome, but lame - which is the exact opposite of awesome! And, the specific thing my resolution is trying to help me avoid! No, Gentle Readers, in order for this vague, impersonal resolution to battle against it's inherent implication of lameness, in order for it to exist as the contradiction of something "totally lame, yet totally awesome": I, too, must begin living - nay - continue living as this contradiction, as well. In order to satisfy this particular definition of awesome, I must battle societal expectations. I must wage war on social convention. I must tear down general presumptions about what to "like" and how to "behave." I must attack the institutions of "what is lame" and "what is awesome." In order to be awesome - I must continue doing things considered lame, but prove that, through whatever inherent awesomeness that makes me me, that I am still, truly an awesome person.

Fact: I write for a blog titled "These Gentlemen"
Fact: I write for a blog titled "These Gentlemen" and frequently write about a re-imagined, science fiction television program titled "Battlestar Gallactica."
Fact: I write for a blog titled "These Gentlemen," frequently write about a re-imagined, science fiction television program titled "Battlestar Gallactica," and still manage to enjoy the company of attractive women.

What have I done in the past month to fulfill my resolution for the year? You tell me... Planet Earth.

I love New Years resolutions. I don’t know if this is just another compulsion to organize my life in clean segments or what, but I really, really love New Years resolutions. And I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t make sense to resolve to do things I just know I won’t do. Example: Last year I did NOT resolve to go to the gym more often, because let’s be serious, but I did resolve to take better care of my body. And I did that, mostly, and by the end of the year I had lots of medical bills but a lot less pain. Which works out somehow, I think. I hope. Guh.

So this year I’ve made a few (hopefully) doable resolutions.

I want to continue to take better care of my body because I’m reaching the point where it reacts with a much bigger :(! when I abuse it than it ever did before. So far I’ve been eating a bit more often, but not as nutritionally or balanced(ly?) as I could, even after allowing that I require the occasional Big Mac or icing from the can. Two real meals with at least somewhat balanced nutritional value a day is the goal, here, and it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.

I want to avoid picking unnecessary fights as much as I can this year. That will be (and has been) easier than eating well, but there’s that pesky convincing-myself-this-is-really-unnecessary-while-in-the-moment thing to deal with that is going to be… well, hard. So that’s in, shall we say, development.

And, as previously mentioned, I want to be aware of the passage of my time. Not that I think I can cram my year with memories to make time go slower (though that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?), I just want to end this year feeling like I’m spending my 20s instead of saving them for some rainy day. I want to be more aware that there are no rollover minutes in real life, and act on it. So far that hasn’t amounted to much more than a lot of jumbled ideas and plans, but a few are in my daily planner (a lasting relic from another 2009 resolution), so there’s that.

So, 2010, there we are. We've made our beds and are sticking to our guns and other sundry phrases. We're livin' the dream, doin' what needs done. We're resolved. We're resolute. We're... you know, working on it.
And we'll see you next time, as the RoundTable turns.