Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

May it be better than last year!

Keeping Track

I woke up yesterday night needing to make a note about something or I'd forget it. I switched the light on and pulled a notebook out of the bedside cabinet, groped for a pen and looked for a blank space.

There was something already on the page where I'd written down what I was thinking some nights ago. I don't remember when or why and probably never will. What I'd written was:

Piles of bones lay scattered on the ceiling where they had fallen.
I wish the note I'd taken yesterday matched that beginning but it was only something prosaic about Arts and Crafts and Bauhaus.

Hey, that would be a good name for a band.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The North Wind Doth Blow

It's cold here in Southern California. Yes, I am a wuss. Yes, it is warmer than it was in the UK. But it's still cold. The house's solar panels are useless at this time of year, and the sun himself isn't doing much of a job. The house cools down overnight, and the world outside is in the mid-forties by morning.

At times like this I'm glad I have a gym membership. I'd stopped going a while ago. The exercise hadn't worked, in the sense that I'd lost bone mass according to my last bone density test (I have hyperparathyroidism) and I couldn't be bothered to keep it up. After the bone density test last September I never went back, not even to see if the famous blocked drain had reached its one year anniversary last October.

But at $9 a month (the low price a benefit of getting memberships on the ground floor of a new gym) it's always worth keeping the payments up, and I did. So the past few days I've been going to the gym to sit in the dry sauna.

This is a little wooden room that's usually at abot 160 F, though recently it's been at 170 F. It's a dry heat and this temperature's no problem for a living body. If you took a steak in on a metal tray it would cook in 30 minutes. No sizzle, mind, but it would cook all the way through. A human body doesn't. Superb homeostasis mechanisms kick in to keep the body temperature exactly the same. At least, most people's do. My own body forgets how to sweat if I don't do it regularly and it takes a few minutes to kick in.

When I first joined the gym, twenty years ago, someone told me about the carry-a-towel-at-all-times rule and I was mystified. Why a towel? Was it some secret sign, like a Mason's apron? What would be the possible use of a towel? To wipe down sweat, I was told. After about three weeks of working out, I finally needed the towel. I guess my body just doesn't like sweating. The first time back at the sauna this week, it took about ten minutes of actual burning before my arms started to sweat. Today I did it in five. Go me. Fast learner. (Maybe next time I can teach my body to listen to the other feedback mechanism and not produce so much parathyroid hormone?)

Anyway, going from the cold air to the sauna is a profound warming experience. That, along with the subsequent exercise, lifts the metabolic rate and keeps me comfortable for the rest of the day. One of the small delights in life in winter.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How many times do I have to ask you: Won't Someone Think of the Children?

"Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds." Thurgood Marshall, 1969

My new adopted country has done some strange things and holds a few oddball beliefs that cause me to cringe, but whenever I look back at Good Old Blighty I'm amazed at the stupid that emanates from the kingdom. Given that most – well, many – Brits are reasonable and educated people, I can't understand how it perpetually gets the governments it gets.

In the news today is Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary (even his name is Orwellian). His plan is to censor the internet to protect us from ourselves.

“There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.”

No one would take this utter bullshit seriously if Andy didn't drive it home by declaring we Have To Take This Step To Protect The Children. If you don’t agree, you must be a pedophile. And the pedophile is the boogieman of modern British morality tales.

It worries me - like anybody with children,” he says. “Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do."

That's true. And no parent would do it, I hope, particularly as there are hundreds of programs and filters and parental controls you can fit on your computer to prevent your children from accessing sites you do not approve of. Programs that work by preventing the content from arriving on your own computer. Not ones that work by preventing the content from existing, or from arriving at anyone in Britain's computers. Or…wait:

“The change of administration is a big moment. We have got a real opportunity to make common cause,” he says. “The more we seek international solutions to this stuff – the UK and the US working together – the more that an international norm will set an industry norm.”

Make that anybody in Britain's and anybody in America's computers. Andy thinks big.

Do you want your access to information controlled by a man who says,

“If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now."

- apparently quite unaware that the "people who created the internet" were the American Government and had nothing to say to about creating a space that governments couldn't reach?

Most of the comments on the Daily Telegraph interview with this idiot say either that Something Should Be Done but this isn't the way to do it, or say that his idea won't work.

Alas, it will work, if the daft sod can muster the political will to get it done. He does not have to go after the 1.8 billion websites, hosted worldwide and changing on a regular basis. He only has to tell the handful of British ISPs they are out of business if they don't censor their traffic. They will be happy to do so. The only business a regular ISP values is commercial business. eBay keeps itself clean. Google censors itself for China, so you wouldn't see any problems there. Amazon is nice. Your blog might not be nice, but an ISP doesn't care about your blog, or your need for blogs. Why should they care if you are no longer able to access Furry websites? Why would it bother, say, Tiscali if you were a young gay man who cannot find access to a safe sex website? And if a kid is looking up breastfeeding to learn more about what his mother is doing with his new little brother, screw him. He won't have any money until he's 18 so he doesn't need access to information. Think I'm joking? Facebook is in the news this week because of its ban on pictures of breastfeeding. Their definition of indecency is apparently a visible areola.

Australia is planning to ban thousands of websites. Only the other day an unelected British body made a decision about a picture of a 30 year old album cover, never declared illegal, suggesting that it damn well oughta be illegal. By some ill-thought out crapulousness of British law, it was in this body's power to stop almost all ISPs in Britain from displaying that picture (or in fact the web page on which the picture was displayed, largely concerning how controversial the image was). (Scorpions cover controversy). The government can do it, all right.

But, I hear someone say, surely Something Must Be Done? Hardly. There isn't that much legal 'harmful' material on the internet, anyway. Most things that are 'harmful' (such as pedophilia) are already illegal. In England (I don't know so much about Scotland) almost any activity you can imagine is either compulsory or illegal, so websites which display the latter are already subject to prosecution. Anyone in the wider world who has travelled to England to take advantage of suing under the most repressive libel laws in the western world, or who owns what is now being known as "extreme porn", or has considered posting on his or her website or blog any of thousands of proscribed topics, already knows that. New laws aren't needed to keep illegal content off the web.

The reason the British government wants to censor the internet is not because children are dying in agony all over its anarchic frontier. They aren't. The Won't Someone Think of the Children meme is getting old. The government wants to control the internet because it wants to control you. It has not changed its view since it asked the public if Lady Chatterley was the sort of book you'd want your wives or servants to read. It considers you a minor, a ward of the state. It believes you need its protection or there will be tears before bedtime. The thought that you might give or receive information it has not vetted is making it squirm in horror. It will be happy when you are required to have an ID card and you have to give the number and add your biometrics before you can visit the internet, and it will monitor your access the way it monitors your emails and your phone calls.

There's no question who is going to define what this useless twat calls the "wider public interest" – he is, with his pet think tanks of bishops and assorted young crazies. Your narrow private interest, your political party, your kink, your foreign cause, your children talking about their activities – will all be monitored and assessed by people who think free speech is dangerous.

Free speech is not dangerous. It is the only system that works

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Electric Warriors

Electric Warrior doesn't have anything
to do with this post, but it's one of the coolest covers ever,
so here it is.

One of the bands I've dug the most over the years had an unusual line up – a guitarist/vocalist and a percussionist, and that's it. No bassist, no rhythm guitarist. They had a full sound though, due to great production and the guitarist's blues-based, Hendrix-loving power-chords and feedback ethos. The albums echoed to the rafters, though the vocals were a little high and fey for the sheer decibels produced by his instrument. He was pretty, high cheekbones in a wide face and a body that had a little meat on it, not like most of the pipe-cleaner men that fronted the average rock band. His hair was black, unruly, uncombed (and possibly backcombed or discombed) and he had a mischievous grin that would melt ice. He himself was of the folkie persuasion, but a love of rockabilly, Marshalls and Les Pauls eventually won out.

The band was T. Rex, and the album was also called T. Rex. Actually the last album by Tyrannosaurs Rex, A Beard of Stars, counts too. The folkie guitarist/vocalist was of course Marc Bolan, and the year was 1970.

That 'video' is actually of an oddity – an earlier single, King of the Rumbling Spires, from 1969. It has more enthusiasm than actual execution in evidence but I've loved it for years. If you think about the bands Bolan was seeing and competing with at the time – Cream, Led Zeppelin – trying to do it their way made sense. In the end, after the T. Rex album, he got a bassist and a proper drummer (the type with a drum kit) and made four-piece pop music - with five people, as he kept the percussionist up front on congas, trusting Mickey Finn's cut-glass cheekbones and straight hippie hair to lure in a few more chicks. (He was right.) The next album was Electric Warrior, the one which had a cover of pure, distilled rock and roll imagery, one of the finest covers ever produced. Just a long-haired guitarist in flared jeans, with a Les Paul, in front of a Marshall stack, in black and gold.

Now, over the past couple of days I've been listening to the White Stripes, an unusual band in that it features only a guitarist/vocalist and a percussionist…oh, just read the first paragraph again.

(Updated to mend links, 7/17)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lucky Charms

Two different on-stage lucky charm arrangements - Jimmy Page and Jack White, the latter evidently not a believer in less-is-more.

Instant Messaging with a friend produced the following profound dialogue on the two pictures:

Friend: Jack's wearing his lucky cutlery necklace.
Me: His lucky cutlery is much larger than Jimmy's sigil thing.
Friend: Is it larger? Or just more of it.
Me: Aren't those two the same thing? Puzzled smiley.
Friend: No, very different. More bits and pieces does not equal larger sigil. Just more.
Me: OK, after a careful comparison, Jack just has more, not larger.
Friend: Always wondered if that wasn't a coke spoon. But the necklace is too short for it to be useful.
Me: Perhaps it's like that story of heaven and hell.
Me: The original story is, heaven and hell are the same. You're at a table and your fork is longer than your arm. In hell, people try to feed themselves and starve. In heaven, people feed each other. Well, in rock'n'roll heaven, you use each other's short coke spoon.
Me: A modern parable!!!
Friend: That's romantic!
Me: It is isn't it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

View From Apollo 8, 40 years ago today

Christmas, 1968: Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders flew the Apollo 8 command module from the Earth to the Moon and back. The mission was launched on the first manned Saturn V rocket on December 21st and returned to Earth on December 27th. The ship was the first one to pass behind the moon. The astronauts were the first people to spend the solstice away from planet Earth, and one of the things they brought back was this famous picture of Earthrise over the Moon.

It made a big impression on me - the first sight of our beautiful and yet rather small planet hanging in space behind the moon. It's a revelation that can only happen once, but their picture will, I hope, continue to amaze.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You don't need a weatherman...

... to tell you it's cold. It even gets cold in Southern California.

Snow at Hells Kitchen on the Ortega Highway, December 17th.

Photo by Steve Parr.

This is Southern California, so that was enough snow to close the road.

Rain at Caspers Park, Ortega Highway, December 22nd.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tired Eyes on the Sunrise

In a May post, Eyes That Shine Burning Red, I put up a number of screencaps from the Led Zeppelin movie The Song Remains the Same and used them to illustrate Jimmy Page's statement, "All my sections are related to the eyes, the eyes being the mirror of the soul."

The post ended by asking if anyone could think of other instances of "eyes" in the Jimmy Page parts of the movie. Steve A. Jones on the Led Zeppelin Official Forum quoted the post, and said, "Yes, I would add if you look very closely you can see an "All Seeing Eye" on the back of theshirt Jimmy is wearing when he turns to reveal his red eyes."
Absolutely true. I missed that. The shirt he's wearing is one of my faves. My most favorite shirt is the 1975 one which he's wearing in the famous picture of him upending a bottle of Jack Daniels - that is Teh Shirt. This one is Teh Other Shirt.
Here's Teh Other Shirt in TSRTS - you can just see the "eye in a pyramid" design on the back here.

Here's another shot of the back of Teh Other Shirt, this one taken with Bill Graham. Jimmy has a poorly hand (again). Poor thing.

The Eye in the Pyramid, or All-Seeing Eye, is often explained as being the eye of God. It's used on the Great Seal of the United States, and is on every dollar bill. People have said it's a Masonic symbol, or even a symbol of universal surveillance, e.g. by the Illuminati in their present day guise of The New World Order. Teh Other Shirt has a pattern of clouds, planets and stars all over it and may be a generic Illuminatus! woo-woo stuff shirt. Some people say the link goes back to the eye symbolism of the Ancient Egyptians. They might be right.

There's a series of photos of Jimmy Page at Sol Studio. He's wearing Teh Other Shirt and another All Seeing Eye - the Eye of Horus - on his undershirt. It's a remarkably well-thought ensemble for Jimmy, who wasn't known for his carefully matched accessorization.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When the bubble bubbles

Apparently Bernard L Madoff's firm was "a giant Ponzi scheme" and he Madoff with 50 billion dollars of other people's money. After thinking about that for a while, the SEC chief Christopher Cox recently said, "“I am gravely concerned by the apparent multiple failures over at least a decade to thoroughly investigate these allegations or at any point to seek formal authority to pursue them.”

You can hear the harrumph in Cox's voice from here. Everyone's gravely concerned and will do better next time. Too late for this time, though. The SEC was apparently examining its shoe sole for traces of chewing gum or something and missed the whole thing! How unfortunate!

Like that a couple of months ago when it turned out banks had been loaning people mortgages for ninety gazillion times the net worth of their house and then passing off the debts as "Triple AAA Sure Fire Bet You'll Get Yours John, All Right, YBOS Bonds" to other banks and foreign pension funds. (YBOS stands for "You bunch of suckers.") The watchdogs didn't catch that because they had something in their eye and were standing in front of the mirror blinking and tearing up while it was going on, or something. How unfortunate!

Let this be a lesson to us (again), that when the fox sighs, "Look, all right, if you insist, it's totally going to interfere with my social life so I don't know why I'm offering but, I will. I will guard your hen house. OK?" the correct answer is not, "Awright! Fox is on the job! Let's all go to the bar and get loaded. Nothing can possibly go wrong!"

Capitalism is based on the premise that things expand. If the population's growing, if it's getting richer, if more of everything is happening, it gets along fine. If everything isn't getting bigger, then the only way to keep Capitalism running is to inflate bubbles. Eventually, being full of nothing but hot air, they pop. It's happened before; it's happened again. It'll happen in future, unless the paradigm's changed.

Crazy Name, Crazy Guy

This family was surprised when they had difficulty finding someone to decorate their three year old son's birthday cake. His name is Adolf Hitler Campbell.

You know, if they'd asked me, I would have told them that the name thing would have worked out badly. I would. I'd have said, "Y'know, this isn't necessarily going to be a popular name. Have you thought about that?"

I can only see two futures for Adolf Hitler Campbell. Either he'll grow up liking Adolf Hitler, which will put him at odds with a lot of people - and he won't be able to hide it, either, because something about him will keep reminding people to ask about it, or he'll grow up not liking Adolf Hitler, which will be a problem as that's his name. So no wins here then.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Davey Graham, RIP

A sad goodbye to Davey Graham.

Here he is playing Cry Me A River in a 1959 Ken Russel documentary called Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts - about those cuhrazy guitar players.

I've posted this video before. It's worth watching again.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Climb On Top of a Mountain

I was listening to Great High Mountain and Sitting on Top of the World from Cold Mountain today, and finding that all things considered, I was rather enjoying them.

It reminded me of a time several years ago when I visited a friend who's into pure, unadulterated foods. I was half-way down a glass of milk when she said, "That's unpasteurized goat's milk. Do you like it?" I felt a Ghlag!! Noise in my throat as my clack shut tight.

While I struggled to recover, she said, "What's the matter? Are you afraid of bugs?"

"No," I said, "but it's unpasteurized…goat milk…all the goat molecules are still active…entering my body…" I trailed off, unable to explain, even to myself, the sudden fear I'd had that the goat molecules would win out over mine, and slowly but surely I'd turn into a goat.

Well, it didn't happen. Whatever loopy superstition my hindbrain was grooving on at the time turned out not to be actually, like, true. But something similar is happening to me. After 20 years in this country, enough of my original English atoms have been replaced with local American atoms that the balance is tipping. I'm becoming American.

If the symptoms were confined to shopping at Mervyns (which I did on Saturday, as it was having a 60% off closing down sale) that might be one thing. But to develop some sort of a taste for native music seems rather over the top. It's not British. I mean, in a very real sense, even liking English folk music isn't very British, so to go native in this fashion is right out. Luckily, it's been confined to music by Jack White so far. And honestly, thus far, the hooks in the music have been:
  1. Identity with British music, if by British music you confine yourself to tracks found on Immediate Blues Anthologies, or related items by such as Jo Ann Kelly or the Rolling Stones.
  2. Similarity to Tuvan music, which is big in Southern California and I'm used to listening to it.

One track, Great High Mountain, is religious in that luminous way that threatens to be infectious, like some spiritual goat molecule. The lines about Jordan, the lines I want to climb this mountain/I want to drink from this fountain, the use of images of arduous labor and sweet succor to sketch ineffability. Far from the concrete verses, I got a girl/Her name is Sue, of rock'n'roll.

Now, turning into someone else would be peculiar enough, I suppose, but turning into the type of person who might take that song to his heart is turning into someone I might not like. What an oddity that would be – it would be like being cell-mates for ever, me and the new person in one skin. A chimera – what an adventure!

Some easy listening:

Jack White Sittin' On Top of the World

Rolling Stones You Gotta Move

Jo Ann Kelly Come on in my kitchen

Jack White Wayfaring Stranger

Huun Huur Tu Ancestors


Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Believe in pitch correction

I've mentioned Auto-Tune before. It's the proprietary name of software that corrects vocal pitch, and is so popular that "auto tune" is the generic name for vocal pitch correction. If the pitch correction is overused, there's an odd warbling sound that was first deliberately used on Cher's I Believe in 1998. The sound is now so loved by those who love this sort of thing that it's used as an effect of its own in many R&B songs, to the extent that my last trip to the All You Can Possibly Stuff Down Your Neck Sushi Bar a couple of weekends ago was actually made miserable by the number of songs using it. After a while it starts to sound as though a robot blackbird has taken up residence on your chimney breast and is determined to drive you insane.

Here's a song that uses the effect even more obviously than is currently fashionable. For comedic purposes, luckily. It certainly demonstrates the eerie Uncanny Valley of Vocals very well.

Talking of vocal pitch correction, here's Hamster on a Piano.

WARNING: Be aware that if you click it, you will forevermore be singing it, and worse, you'll turn into Meghan Daum's worst nightmare, never again free to leave YouTube, searching frantically, like Ahab for the White Whale, for other companion animals rolling on musical instruments - eating popcorn.

Edit 04/06/09: The video has been removed because the person who filmed the hamster sent a DMCA to the person who wrote the song. Aren't people weird.

Here's the film. I rated it 'poor' because the guy made the other guy take down the kooky song.

Here's the kooky song, now with a video about a skunk, which makes no sense.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Especially the poems


"I like Beethoven. Especially the poems." Ringo Starr

I've mentioned before that I find Meghan Daum, Op Ed columnist for the LA Times, to be a bit of an idiot. When I think more rationally, I realize she's probably quite bright, but forced by her profession to explore, so to speak, Idiot Space. She does it very well. (I used to hate the very similar Joel Stein until I realized he was trying to be funny. After that I found I could tolerate him.)

In Saturday's LA Times, Ms. Daum is once again pouring scorn on the internet in an article entitled From YouTube to Carnegie Hall. YouTube is asking classical musicians to try out for a place in an orchestra, which has got her goat. Her thesis is that YouTube, being on the internet, is hopelessly populist, but classical music is a sort of cultural pinnacle. The idea that common people might get their sticky hands on classical music, of all things, fills her with column-writing horror (which is much worse than the superstitious or existential kind, but pays better).

But is it wise to allow an orchestra to be selected by those accustomed to posting about pet tricks? How, after all, can an audience raised on Auto-Tune vocal enhancement and digital sampling be expected to tell one violinist's pizzicato technique from another's? Won't "American Idol" standards prevail, saddling the YouTube Symphony with musicians who have questionable pitch but really awesome hair?
She's not done with the sarcasm yet! There's another half-dozen digs at people on the internet – that's you, by the way – in the article. Her barbs include "mouse-clicking masses", YouTube being the "official network of forest yodelers and babies slobbering mashed peas down their chin", and imagining YouTubers thinking "I thought an oboe was that thing that looked like a bong". [1]

I believe the print press hates teh intarwebs. I would too, of course – a buggy whip manufacturer is unlikely to think much of horseless carriages – but Daum always takes it further, into disliking people on the internet for their crime of being on the internet. She's an elitist, in other words. If everyone can watch YouTube, then it can't be worth watching. She's unaware, or willfully ignorant, as in the earlier article I discussed, that most of the internet, including YouTube, comes with both a search engine and filters. These mean one is not forced to watch pea-drooling babies unless one wants to do so. If one does want, a few words in the search box will ensure that pea-drooling babies are all one sees.

The classical piece which is exercising her snobbery centers is Internet Symphony No. 1 "Eroica," a new work by Chinese composer Tan Dun. Here's YouTube's first search result for it, as of today.

It happens to be the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tan Dun himself rather than a baby snorting peas, but I'm sure that won't get in the way of Daum thinking YouTube is filled with awful people and their awful pets and awful babies.

Here's how to join the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.

[1] It is, isn't it? I'm not sure what a bong looks like. Maybe an alto sax would be closer?


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Octopus news

Dana Point Institute's 2-spot octopus has had 300 babies! Four mm long, they are currently eating brine shrimp. Apparently they'll graduate to eating crabs later. The Institute is hoping that around 30 of them will survive.


The LA Times reports:

Their mother -- unnamed, as are all the animals at the institute -- tended the eggs faithfully, cleaning and aerating them, without stopping to feed herself, Steers said.And she didn't have time for her usual entertainment: unscrewing jars to find treats, dismantling Mrs. Potato Head toys and taking apart Legos.
One wonders what octopuses do for lulz in the wild, since they seem so keen on Mr and Mrs Potato Head in aquaria.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Obliging underwear

The Guardian reports on some sort of new underwear that can raise an alarm.

Carlsen said he used the handcuffs as a tool to unscrew the hook from the wall. He ran to the door with O'Dowd lashing out at him with a metal chain. He managed to escape and ran out on to the street wearing only underwear screaming for help.

It's actually from an article about Boy George, found guilty of assault. Poor Boy George. I used to like him back in the day.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I can haz Jimmy Page Doll

My Knucklebonz Jimmy Page collectors' figurine, or doll as we call it, has arrived. It's #212 out of 3000 and comes with nice aviator shades, boots and hat. It's authentically skinny. You can be sure that Jimmy will be having Jack Daniels, I mean tea, parties with Queen Amidala, Darth Maul and the rest of the dollies as soon as I can have it arranged.

Here's the rest of the crew. I knew you were wondering. Yes, I already have a Jimmy Page figure. Now I have two.

I hadn't realized my camera was so willing to rat on me to the's put all its details onto Photobucket along with the pic. Wow. Luckily I've never told my camera my mother's maiden name. The camera reports that was 1/39 of a second at f/3.3. Who knew?

(Edit: the photo has been removed from Photobucket and placed here 07/17/17)


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