Thursday, December 31, 2009

2000-2009, we hardly knew ya!

I planned to do a "best of the oughties" but found it complicated by the fact that there are years in the oughties when I didn't read a new book, others where I didn't see a new film, and others where I didn't buy a new album. I've overcome that, though. Instead of a list of the best each medium, I'll do "what I put all my money and energy into each year".


It was all about online for me. The last decade began with the shift of emphasis from Majordomo Lists and Usenet to Yahoo! Groups in 1999. At that time I was deeply immersed in herping (keeping reptiles) and Star Wars. Yahoo Groups was a perfect refuge for those of us leaving the old style internet and applying the social networking made available on the world wide web. Teh Internets had arrived.

Jimmy and Grumpy, December 2009

I had four young iguanas, and my interests centered largely around how to keep them healthy. Controversy, arguments and bitter pre-www partisanship prevailed. My posts were filled with guff on the Linnaean classification of kale versus collard, metabolic bone disease, calcium metabolism, UV light and vitamin D3 production. But I also wrote this message in June 1999 (to a new Yahoo group which had extracted itself from Usenet (rec.pets.herps) for privacy):

I usually get these crushes on movie stars in August. It's always somebody totally inappropriate and hopeless. Mad Max, The Mariner from Waterworld, Snake Plissken, and like that. (Oh - and Krycek from The X-Files.) Anyway, this year has been different, since I managed to start out with The Matrix only a few weeks ago.

Yeah, Bad Guys and iguanas. That's where I was, going into the decade.

2000: Phantom Menace Fandom.

Boy, did I make a lot of online friends in Star Wars fandom. Some of them are still with me today.

I loved Darth Maul (bad guy!) in The Phantom Menace and joined groups, including the famous DMEB, to read fanfic and post pictures. In January 2000, someone joined one group claiming to be Darth Maul and of course we internet types, as we do, played along, asking for more details of his Sithliness and claiming undying apprenticeship. Eventually, Darth Maul, with a flourish, revealed he was actually a human! A student who was overjoyed that he'd fooled us and we'd written him love poems! And what's more, he was going to tell the other students what gullible fools we were! A DMEBer wrote me to ask what she should do in the face of this betrayal. I said, What can he say? "I went to a website dedicated to dreaming about X, I pretended I was X and they asked me to carry on doing it?" BFD. The world will fail to beat a path to his feet. His audience will break out in spontaneous snoozing."

He's probably a grown man, now. I wonder if he's still a dick?

Darth Maul, bad guy.

2001: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Can't remember a damn thing about 2001 so HPSS wins hands down. I remember wondering why it wasn't Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. The British book, the original, had "Philosopher" in the title. The American edition went with "Sorcerer", which, apart from being nonsensical (what is a sorcerer's stone?) also helped incite a horde of crazies into believing Harry Potter was a primer for Satanism. For the movie, they went with the divisive sorcerer. Go figure.

2002: Attack of the Clones

Yeah, Star Wars! I bought the action figures. Also got into Ewan McGregor fandom a little bit. Watched Pillow Book. Adored Velvet Goldmine. But I still loved the bad guys. Loved Anakin (bad guy), even with the whining (like son, like father) and the bad dialogue he was forced to recite.

2003: The Little Grey Fella (MP3 player)

Jason Isaacs fandom entered my heart. The star of The Patriot, the star of Peter Pan. I joined half a dozen of his fan lists, mostly on Yahoo. Colonel Tavington was popular, and so was Captain Hook.

Captain Hook, bad guy. This is one of Char's; I didn't color it. Or mask and desaturate, more likely.

STB offered to buy me an MP3 player and I remember saying something like, "Why? When was the last time you heard me play music?" But for Christmas 2003, I was given The Little Grey Fella, which weighed about a pound and held about 5000 of my digitized CD tracks. I started listening to music again. LGF went everywhere with me. In the car, where one would normally have like three CDs and not want to play any of them, you now had all your music. Listen to one track and it makes you want to play another. Yahoo groups, with its iguanas and Star Wars and Jason Isaacs – started to shrink about this time and music went into the ascendancy. A coincidence, I'm sure. The herper group started with 800 posts per month in 1999 to 2003. Now it's down to 20 per month. Facebook is given as the reason for the fall-off. Everyone's still chatting, just not chatting with me as I didn't make the move over. The Iguana List, moved from Liza Daly's iguana mailing list (a Majordomo list) to Yahoo Groups in 1999 started out at 2,000 posts per month for a couple of years. Now it's down to less than 50. I joined Sith Chicks in August 2005, when it was still fairly active. There's hardly a single post there now. I suppose because after 2005, there were no more Star Wars films!

2004: Photoshop

I learned Photoshop. It works like a darkroom, with layers and masks and dodge and burn and if you haven't done that 4rlz, it's all foreign. The way it handles each pixel is pure maths, too, so to learn the non-darkroom tools like channels you need to understand things about color only people who make monitors ought to have to know. After maybe 100 hands-on hours it starts to make sense. But you're still limited to photomanip unless you can draw, which I can't. If only Photoshop was the magic trick people seem to think it is.

2005: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter fanfiction was really taking off now. And man, was some of that ill shit. I'm English, where pretty much all of literature is about, or at least predicated on, public schoolboys getting off with each other so the slash was no surprise. But I wasn't prepared for the outpouring of psychopathy this series brought out. Well written, though. The huge pile of Harry/Draco fics overwhelmed me. They hate each other and want to kill each other and they love each other. There are a thousand ways to write that, and HP fanficcers wrote 100,000 of them. I preferred the adult Malfoy, played, of course, by Jason Isaacs. I do love the bad guys – I've mentioned that.

2005 was also the first time we started getting good data about UV bulbs for our iguanas. Arguments about UVB and secondary nutritional hypoparathyroidism began to abate for the first time since the (Jurassic Park-inspired) iguana keeping craze began. (Iguana care)

2006: YouTube

I discovered YouTube, created the previous year. Suddenly, I could find music like the Pretty Things online. On video. This changed my habits as much as the Little Grey Feller had.

I also heard about Led Zeppelin fanfiction for the first time. Real Person Fiction? Was that ethical? It was about people and events thirty years in the past. Okay. I gave in. Not that much difference between the young Jimmy Page and the young Darth Vader. Oh, and there was Battlestar Galactica. And I started this blog.

2007: Planet Zeppelin

Coincidentally, I joined a Led Zeppelin fan club just a couple of months before Led Zeppelin announced their reunion concert on 09/12 (held on 12/07). This brought a lot of new people and new fun to my life. I also joined LiveJournal, the premier fandom networking site. Kinda late. LJ is old media. I saw Robert Plant at the Green Man in August. I didn't know the person squashed next to me, arms on the stage, at the Green Man was a PZ member who would turn out to be a fast online friend once we triangulated our relative positions in an online chat and realized we had been crushed into intimacy for a couple of hours the month before.

2008: The Raconteurs

I spent most of 2008 on Led Zeppelin boots. I have over a hundred live concerts, now. I used to think of a concert as something that existed for you only, and was supposed to be ephemeral and something only the attendee could legitimately own. After a dozen bootlegs, I was listening to them just as recordings. I feel I've lost something fundamental there, but I've certainly gained something else. In a way, it's only a small hop from the 78 to the bootleg. Maybe it's time to put away the 40K year old paradigm, that a performance is just for those who were there.

The Raconteurs, not notably bad guys AFAIK

Even several hundred discs of new Led Zeppelin weren't enough for me, so I asked my LZ friends (I started a Yahoo group of LZ friends in October) what else was out there that was good. That was the first time I'd asked that question in the oughties. A couple of people replied with the usual suspects – which I didn't like – but one person said, try The Raconteurs.

I loved them. I bought both Raconteurs albums almost immediately. "That's Jack White, that is," someone explained. I'd never heard of Jack White, or heard of the White Stripes. A trawl through cyberspace was warranted yet again. Found a lot more music, but funnily enough never really got into the White Stripes. I bought the CDs but they rarely get played.

Jack White, not a known bad guy. I did color this one. It was a multigen jpeg and I emphasized the artifacts.

2009: Dead Weather Posters

I spent a couple of months in 2009 wondering whether I preferred the Kills or the Horrors – but when they played together in LA I couldn't get up the energy to go see them play together. Hadn't been to a show for years (apart from the Green Man). More fool me. In March, The Dead Weather (featuring Jack White and Kills singer Alison Mosshart, among others) debuted at a private party in Nashville. I was all over that. Six weeks later, they played their first gig. I spent the summer chasing after the Dead Weather and, for the first time, collecting posters.

Some of my Dead Weather Posters

Yes, there is Dead Weather fanfic. They are subject to Rule 34 like everything else.

I didn't even bother to go see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I downloaded about 20 live DVDs of bands, though.

New Year Resolution: In 2010 I will try to read a book. I used to like those.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl defiance to the stars!

Interestingly, about ten minutes after I wrote the last post, in which a note-pusher (that's the phrase used in the article) bemoaned the democratization of music, I heard this interview with the usually gorm-endowed Kills guitarist, Jamie Hince. It's at about 1:45 to 2:52 on this YouTube video.

"I think we have to be a little more fascist about art now. I think we have to say, because we're not just contending with people's concept of art, we're also contending with the fact that all the apparatus to make art is for the masses. It's for amateurs. It's like we're living in a world of amateurs, where everyone can make a movie, everybody can make a record, everybody can be a photographer, everyone can be an artist, everyone can...y'know, photomontage is one of my favorite kinds of art, and it's been completely obliterated by Photoshop. It doesn't mean anything any more. Photomontage...there's no time or effort or skill or appreciation for it anymore. I think we have to be a little more libertarian in our politics and fascist in our art and say this isn't art, and that isn't art, and not everybody can be an artist. It takes blood and sweat and tears and life and death to be an artist and it's not just a marketing concept."

This seems to rest on a few largely unfounded assumptions.
1. In the 'past' before some arbitrary time, let's say 1980 because that would privilege the speaker, all artists always magically rose to the status of artists and no artists were left behind, in a sort of artistic Rapture.
2. That the spread of cheap and readily available materials for making art haven't, as some people might think, uncovered any new artists (there aren't any, see #1).
3. People who use Photoshop or cheap video cameras have started thinking of themselves as artists.
4. That suffering makes you an artist.
5. That guitar playing is hard and mastering Photoshop is easy.
6. That "amateur" means "someone who does it badly or half-heartedly".
7. That if the title of "artist" was bestowed by fiat, our kind of people would be the ones doing the bestowing.

Amateur: a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional. It's not until you get down to the third or fourth meanings that you come across the concept of "someone who's no good at the activity". Amateur artists are artists. They just don't get paid.

And he seems to be well-read enough not to use "fascist" to mean "dictatorial" but he does it anyway.

Mind you, Marinetti did write that by the time artists were his age, they should be hunted down and killed by younger artists for not being fast or strong enough to keep up with the beauty, power and velocity of modern technology.

He may not know that Photoshop is actually an instrument, like the ones he uses, and just as everybody can play about 12 chords on a guitar but don't usually call themselves musicians, most people can open Photoshop and within a week be producing some altered images using the filters and automatic adjustments. But it takes years of practice, an intimate understanding of what's underlying Photoshop's manipulation of color, and innate artistic ability before you can actually get much more out of it than your uncle's photo with horns added or a dark photo forced one stop. (I may be biased by the fact that my artist friends in London almost all worked in a single field - the early days of CGI (early 80s). I used to see their showreels, attended many SIGGRAPHs, boggled at the pages after page of equations in their papers, and got some sense of the thousands of hours it took to make those creations. And no, you still couldn't actually do it if you weren't an artist.)

About an hour after reading that, I saw Sunday's LA Times had an article on what art means in today's world. Centering on an ebullient young director called Michael Mohan, the piece is positive and forward-looking. “There’s an audience for everything ... if you say I want to express myself and people will see it, yes, that’s what in 2010 you can do.”

They quote Mikel Jollett of Airborne Toxic Event. "You can get further in a month than bands used to be able to get in two years . . . now you just have the tools at your disposal and you make those decisions yourself, you can make the cover art, you can turn up the reverb. It used to be just an industry of stars and penniless vagabonds. Now, you've got artists who are making a living and they live in houses and cook on a stove."

The LA Times comment on this is that a "middle class" is developing in the arts, people who make a living at it.

Bingo! Everyone hates the middle-classes, which might explain some of the dislike shown this era of readily available materials. (And Trotsky famously pegged the Futurists as maybe he was talking about Fascist art.)

Money, That's what I want

More on how musicians earn money - or these days, don't earn money. These are taken from a long interview with Candye Kane, a blues musician, on American Blues Blog (link now dead).

You can't play in a bar:
Bar owners hire DJs because they are cheaper to manage and you only have one ego to deal with instead of five musician egos.
If you do play in a bar, there are no young people there because of America's laughable drinking age/no minors, even accompanied policy, which means the audience is greying:

Most youngsters’ first exposure to music is thru technology such as the Internet. They may never even see a live band until they are drinking age. You can see the decline of live music when there is a line around the block to get into the disco and only fifty middle aged people in the blues bar next door. We desperately need to find a way to interest our youth in live music.

The old standby, fuckin' amateurs on the fuckin' internet are cutting into my game and I actually am a [insert name of chosen trade or profession here] and they fuckin' aren't.

And the internet makes it possible for any hack musician wanna be to make a professional looking CD product and flood the market with more mediocre music. Many of these home studio musicians and songwriters have no desire or resources to get a show on the road but their CD is on the desk next to the road bands who need to do this work to survive.
As you may be able to tell, I have an allergic reaction to that one. But it is a point.

One I'd never heard of before - charging a percentage of the artist's merchandise booth.
I also see more hands out to get a piece of my income, from the guy making the t-shirts to the bars and festivals that charge an artist as much as 25% to sell their own merchandise. I recently played a club where they took 20% of my merchandise sales. That 20% would have paid for our hotel rooms that night, but instead it went to the club along with the cover charge and the bar and food sales.
Venues getting record stores to pay for a booth, which means more money for them but less for the artist:
I used to be able to play a big festival and sell tons of product. Now at many festivals, there is already a record store there with a booth and they have stocked all my titles. I will still sit there and sign CDs because I want small record stores to thrive and prosper but its one more competitor for me and one less way for me to make money on the road.
And the usual one:
The free downloads of our CD, and CD burning also affects my songwriter royalty statements and all around, the money supply is dwindling or there are more people taking a cut.
Eye-opening stuff. Really, being a musician is definitely a struggle.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

It Might Get Loud 2008 (DVD)

I got the It Might Get Loud DVD last week and have been watching it obsessively. Hey, I only saw it twice at the cinema. Another ten views to go!

Look, this is Jack White's nine year old self. He brings him over to learn to play guitar. Someone asked Davis Guggenheim where he got the kid from.

WCP: Speaking of Jack, who was that little kid in the movie who helped tell his story?
That's Jack White as a 9-year-old boy. Did it throw you off?
WCP: A little bit.
Yeah. Jack said to me, “I want to teach myself how to play guitar.” And I was like, cool. And the next day he shows up in a hat and a bowtie and a suit, and in the back, seriously, was a 9-year-old kid dressed exactly like him. And he said, “Davis, this is Jack. Jack, this is Davis.”
WCP: Any idea how he found the kid?
Not a clue. I let them tell their own stories, and how he told his was quintessential Jack.
WCP: The kid was good.
The kid was good. [Pause.] How do you know it's not him as a 9-year-old?

You know, I wouldn't put it past Jack White to be able to do that.

At one point, we see Jimmy Page in a room full of old junk. But it's Jimmy Page's old junk! It's probably worth millions to collectors. He's kept everything.

Look, there's the pair of Rickenbacker Transonic cabs we last saw in June 1969. We know he stopped using the heads after the first American tour, and we know he used the cabs (and possibly heads) on Led Zeppelin II. Most of the cabs were abandoned in the US after the second tour, but it appears he kept two – for forty years! The head is a Vox UL 7120, though, not the 4120 he used on that tour.

Jimmy hasn't changed much over the forty years, either.

The DVD also contains "deleted scenes" which is a weird phrase to use about a documentary, where you're building up a visual sculpture from piles of local material, rather than a feature film, where you're producing your own material and perhaps deleting some scenes that you love later on. 90% of his footage, at least, was a deleted scene. Presumably these were the sort of short-listed scenes.

They are are split evenly between the three guitarists and are equally as fascinating as the main movie. Is Jack White wearing lipstick in the build-a-diddley-bow scene? How very Whitean. Jimmy Page playing his theremin. White teaching the others to play Seven Nation Army, Jimmy teaching the others DADGAD tuning. (If he's just teaching them it, how come their guitars are already tuned in it?) Jimmy explaining how in the sixties, before really light strings were available, they'd move the strings down one and use a banjo string as the top E. And in another moment where it could only be Jack White saying this, Jack explaining how he used to choose strings because they were elements – Copper, Aluminum, Nickel. Lots of other things, all of which seem a little bit more personal than the main movie, but maybe that's because I wasn't familiar with them before I saw them on the little screen.

The DVD also contains a long press conference Q&A and the trailer. It's not an extensive package, but it's pretty cheap. As cheap as a new CD, in fact. (And the record companies wonder why no one's buying CDs.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Story.

Since I'm still in the Christmas spirit, I've written a very xmassy story which I will now share with the world. It's here, on my sadly neglected Live Journal.

It was an easy genesis. I was chatting with someone about the word hotel - specifically the guitarist in the Kills, rather than the buildings, but I it made me remember that my parents, in an effort to eliminate the stress of cooking for three people, used to go to hotels for Christmas, usually in the coldest and wettest of northern seaside resorts, like Scarborough or Whitby. Sometimes this strategy worked out well, sometimes it didn't. Once we spent the entire weekend tiptoing around fame, as Freddie Trueman's daughter was there. Or she may have been Geoff Boycott's,I forget. Anyway, the closest to royalty I'll ever get. At those hotels, I learned to crack walnuts with my bare hands and ate more satsumas than anyone should really attempt.

The story is a thinly fictionalized version of this annual trip. I've thrown in, y'know, conflict and like, character development because that's what story-tellers do. It's short, about 2,600 words, and it's really Christmassy. Some of the absurd dishes are fictional, but probably not as many as you think.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Paid in Full

From Gizmodo, a breakdown of a musician's royalty statement.

What makes it fascinating is the writer, Tim Quirk, used to be a musician (hence the royalties) and now works for an online music service (hence understands how much is actually paid to record companies). He knows when he's been had. The comments are also interesting, with several explanations of how all this stuff is supposed to work.

I thought writers had it bad, but since writers' contracts are for one or two territories, one edition of one piece of writing, it's fairly easy to keep it straight in your head what your advance was and why, in almost all cases, you're never going to see another penny. Music publishing is so complicated that it appears no one can fully understand it.

Tim Quirk hassled the record company into actually providing him a statement for his online royalties, because, you know, they don't usually bother to send them to musicians.

So I was naively excited when I opened the envelope. And my answer was right there on the first page. In five years, our three albums earned us a grand total of… $62.47.
What the fuck?
I mean, we all know that major labels are supposed to be venal masters of hiding money from artists, but they're also supposed to be good at it, right? This figure wasn't insulting because it was so small, it was insulting because it was so stupid.

Tim's band is "unrecouped" (the record company claims to have spent more money on them than they have earned) to the tune of $395K. Unrecouped bands obviously aren't paid royalties - that money goes to the record company to pay off the up-front costs. (But not at the rate of 1 album sold = 1 album's profit subtracted from the balance - Tim discusses this.) However, if the royalty statements are incorrect, then chances are the accounts will never get in the black, so accounting has to be meticulous. It wasn't.

I asked Danny [from Royalties and Licensing] why the statement only seemed to list tracks from two of the three albums Warner had released – an entire album was missing. He said they could only report back what the digital services had provided to them, and the services must not have reported any activity for those other songs. When I suggested that seemed unlikely – that having every track from two albums listed by over a dozen different services, but zero tracks from a third album listed by any seemed more like an error on Warner's side, he said he'd look into it. As I asked more questions (Why do we get paid 50% of the income from all the tracks on one album, but only 35.7143% of the income from all the tracks on another? Why did 29 plays of a track on the late, lamented MusicMatch earn a total of 63 cents when 1,016 plays of the exact same track on MySpace earned only 23 cents?) he eventually got to the heart of the matter: "We don't normally do this for unrecouped bands," he said. "But, I was told you'd asked."

What this seems to mean is "if we aren't in the black, we don't do any work to find out if people are paying us". But if they aren't recording the payments, then the account will never get in the black!

I work with medical databases and this looks to me like the standard database issues rather than bloody-mindedness. OK, a bit of both. Big databases are always utter crap. They are only as good as the data going in (and it's often crap even at that point), and the data continues to degrade all the way through the system. Name spelled one way in one database and another way in another database? The records don't match. Do you get paid twice or not at all? I'm guessing not at all. Queried another database using a data string with a missing or extra space? Your name won't come up on their records. Got a non-alphanumeric keystroke in your data entry by accident? Could be a field terminator marker that puts the next million entries out of sync with the database fields they are looking at and nobody gets paid for anything entered that day. Someone typed in 35.7143% from someone else's contract instead of the 50% that was on yours? Who would ever know (unless you check your own statement)? Someone OCR'd a record and it was misread by the software, or the back of the record was scanned instead of the front? And so on. This is one reason why the Big National Database of The Government Knowing Everything About Everybody in Order to Stamp Out Terrorism won't work. The data is too dirty and can't be cleaned.

Still sucks to be a musician, though.

In other news of record companies' attempts to not pay anybody, artists have put together a class-action lawsuit claiming they are owed between $5M and $6B - yes billion - that record companies haven't bothered to pay. (Story at Ars Technica.) It seems that there was a change in Canadian laws in the 1980s which allowed record companies to use a song (say for a greatest hits album) without first getting a compulsory license, if they promised they would go then go out and get authorization afterwards. Of course, once they had used the song, the relentless urge to spend the time and money necessary to find the artist, get authorization and pay him or her sort of died away. The $50M figure is the estimated sum artists are owed. The $6B figure is what artists would be owed if the labels were asked to pay $20K per infringement - the figure labels try to screw out of individual file-sharers, or pirates as they are known.

Speaking of pirates:

Entertainment Industry Leaned on Los Angeles Politicos to Declare Piracy a 'public nuisance'.

UK government uses 136 survey respondents to handwavily declare there are 7M file sharing infringers.

The Guardian Bad Science blog looks into the "estimated costs" of music downloading and finds them bogus.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights

I need the movie of The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights. Not having the money, I had an idea and sold my blood for $180 (I have expensive blood) which pretty much matched the list price of $179. I added the order. It'll be here, it says, in late March.

I'd reckoned without tax (my income tax will take 1/3, leaving me with $120) and CA sales tax (which Warner Bros is happy to take from me - and I promise I will check up to see if they actually pay to CA - WB you are on notice) of about $16, and the shipping of about $17.

So I'm actually about $92 in the hole for the DVD. What's a hundred bucks between friends? (And Third Man Records/Jack White are fast becoming friends in this sense.) The list of extras in this DVD release are awesome. It's a must-have package.

Of course, for rock and roll purposes no one gives a damn whether I can sell my blood or pay CA sales tax. Where rock and roll is concerned, the litmus test is whether 14 year old boys can get hold of it. The answer is: not at this fucking price. Unless daddy is rich - and the number of rockers who got there because daddy is rich enough to afford the product is, y'know, nil. (Corrections gladly welcomed in comments.) I'm going to love Under Great White Northern Lights, and I'm glad I have expensive blood to pay for it. But someone has to engage those fourteen year olds.

The next generation of rockers are going to learn from an album which is less spendy. I recommend The Stooges' Fun House. If you are fourteen you already know how to download that, so I won't patronize.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Octopus

Two people sent me this one. An octopus takes up living in a coconut shell, not only using it as shelter but carrying it along when it needs to move, and using two half shells to make armor - making the octopus the first inverterbrate filmed using tools.

The man they interview is a bit annoying though, what with all his "lower life forms" talk. Nothing living today is a lower life-form - we all took the same journey and the idea that life is a ladder leading all the way 'up' to us is incorrect.

Here's the original footage without Dr. Higher Lifeform and his dramatic music.

Veined Octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, showing sophisticated tool use behaviour. Footage shot by Dr Julian Finn of Museum Victoria.

Finn, J.K., T. Tregenza and M.D. Norman. (2009) Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus, Current Biology, Volume 19, Issue 23, R1069-R1070, 15 December 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Idol Chatter

The LA Times today had a piece on the Afghan version of American Idol, "Afghan Star". The Taliban banned music as sacrilegious, and music is just now peeping out of the woodwork. I'm not sure if an Afghan version of American Idol is preferable to empowering local musicians to travel around the villages playing music, but hey, better than the other alternative.

A little way down the article, we get this:

The other female contestant, a 21-year-old woman from Herat named Setara, causes the biggest furor of all. She was a controversial figure, scorned by elder views while adored by young girls for her modern fashion and Bollywood-style makeup. But at the film's end she causes a storm of controversy by letting her headscarf slip and engaging in what, by Western standards, would be considered an incredibly tame series of dance moves. It would be something of an understatement to say that all hell breaks loose.
What happens to Setara after her act of rebellion? Keep reading:
Setara has to go into hiding after being denounced by a variety of critics: her fellow contestants; the country's powerful Council of Islam Scholars; and regular viewers, including one mild-mannered young boy who says she "should be killed."

Reminds me of something. This article in the LA Times on December 4th, for instance,

The Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit public interest law firm closely tied to the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Virginia and provides legal assistance in defense of what it calls "Christian religious liberty, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family," filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over Lambert's controversial performance at the AMAs. In it, the group called on the FCC to fine ABC for "airing such an outrageously lewd and filthy performance during a show and time period that is targeted for family audiences."
That's about Adam Lambert, of course, an openly gay performer in America and runner up on American Idol - in America.

The two stories, half a world apart, are almost exactly similar at this point. One the one hand it's nice to know that we are all the same under the skin and want the same things - in this case freedom of expression of your gender and sexuality - but other hand it's not so nice to learn that one of the other things these disparate peoples both want is to shut people up if their sexuality is not sanctioned by their religion. One hopes, and works for, a time when there more people join the first type, of whatever race and sex, and leave behind fewer of the second type.

And in case you were about to point out a difference in the two reactions: some Americans do support the death penalty for it - as Uganda is currently learning.

I wasn't going to comment on Adam Lambert because performers trying to make a splash are not the same as private citizens whose public displays of affection set off reactions in the reactionary. Setara didn't have to let her veil slip and Lambert didn't have to kiss his organist or his organist's organ, or both or whatever. Lambert, at least, knew what he was doing and knew it would kick up a fuss and he knows what they say about no such thing as bad publicity. But he's perfectly correct when he says that heterosexually-paired dancers have been doing the same things to each other for years - I was virtually traumatized by Paula Abdul's Cold Hearted Snake when I first came to this country, even though I came from the land of topless Page 3 girls. It all seemed so very naughty. I didn't form any institutions with the name "liberty" in them to get it banned though.

If she can do it, he can.

On the subject of doing what comes naturally, in the raking it in sense, I see Eminem's done what comes naturally to him and put the names of three gay American Idols into a lyric couplet that goes, “Sorry, Lance, Mr. Lambert, and Aiken ain’t gonna make it/They get so mad when I call them both fake, it’s/All these f—in’ voices in my head, I can’t take it!” where "fake, it's" can be heard as "f*ggots". Personally I'd be more upset about being called fake than gay. Being fake is definitely a lifestyle choice. And I think Eminem knows that very well.

Eminem and Lambert both know how to work the system and I guess they'll survive. Don't know about Setara, though.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

New Television

Our old TV developed some form of wet macular degeneration and the picture had begun to disappear into a distressingly central red hole. There was some debate about replacement because in the last seven months or so, we've watched approximately 8 hours of cable TV - all of which was either Antiques Roadshow or Colbert Report, and a termination of cable service is, frankly, imminent. It won't bother our provider, I'm sure, as teh interweb connexion comes down the cable too, so we'll still have to pay for all that.

Recently I bought a new laptop - which plays Blu-Ray - and the zeitgeist swung back to pro-telly. We hauled a new TV, Mr. Slim, home from a store that was doing monster business. No downturn here in Orange County, CA as far as I can see.

The very first thing we did was get Mr. Slim on the web and sign in to YouTube. I was a little afraid of telling the TV my YouTube password because who knows what it'll upload? I mean, who knows when a hacker will write the first virus for it? - but weblust prevailed.

I couldn't be bothered to type in a real search term on a remote, so STB suggested the ever popular search term "cats". Cats was entered, we selected "Funny Cats" and spent the next 2:45 with tears of laughter streaming down our faces.

I know, but cats are funny. You just have to go with it.

So in five minutes, Mr. Slim provided more entertainment than the cable box has provided in the last month. Then I discovered how to make the picture full-screen and the world of YouTube expanded to fifty inches. Then I learned to type on the remote and we achieved escape velocity.

Mr. Slim is shown above, playing a Dead Weather video streamed on YouTube. Above him, on the chimney breast, is the elegant work by SS DeRech, the 1958 "Woman Sans Bats".

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bellum omnium contra omnes canceled, sry

Biologists studying young babies find that humans are born with an urge to help, and to co-operate with each other, says the New York Times.

From the article:
What is the essence of human nature? Flawed, say many theologians. Vicious and addicted to warfare, wrote Hobbes. Selfish and in need of considerable improvement, think many parents.
But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind. Their conclusions are derived in part from testing very young children, and partly from comparing human children with those of chimpanzees, hoping that the differences will point to what is distinctively human.
So what goes wrong? Yeah, I know - Fox News.

American Girl

A few friends of mine recently discussed Tom Petty's American Girl, and decided it's a perfect song. I think that was unanimous, or at least we ignored anyone dumb enough not to agree. Here's a couple of videos of Brendan Benson and Cory Chisel playing American Girl on Brendan's current tour.

BB is such a connoisseur of power pop that his version has all the joys of the original.

The one with the good sound:

The one where the sound's not great but you can watch BB playing a Telecaster, which just totally floats my boat. I love Teles.

Kings of Leon 'not cool'.

It's official! Kings of Leon frontman Caleb Somebody or other says they aren't cool.

You’d think Kings of Leon would be thrilled by the group's recent success, capped off by four Grammy nods for “Use Somebody,” but it's actually kind of annoying. “We definitely got bigger than we wanted to be,” frontman Caleb Followill tells Spin. “You feel like you’ve done something wrong. That woman in mom jeans who’d never let me date her daughter? She likes my music. That’s fucking not cool.”

It's terrible when uncool people like your art, isn't it? If it isn't working out for you, maybe you could get a job doing something useful, like being a miner or a mechanic, instead of running a dance-band.

The quote is from Newser, who add:

It’s gotten so bad that the band members are in “damage control” mode, refusing to promote the album.

How sad for Whossisname. If he doesn't like being famous he can give me his money and I'll keep 10% and parcel the rest out to moms for some skinny hipster jeans.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cornucopia of Dead Weather videos

Some more than usually entertaining Dead Weather videos complete with notation on what I liked about them. Thrills, spills and the evolution of Jack White's strange new guitar tone.

July 22nd 2009, Toronto: The Bear Skull gig.

Salt Lake City, August 2009. Baby Ruthless eats the punter's camera.

House of Blues, Dallas, October: The Giraffe Head gig.

Jools Holland, October 20th. Dean gets all masterful on an intrusive cameraman.

The Dead Weather - Treat Me Like Your Mother... by RaheemBeau

Amsterdam, November 3rd. Baby Ruthless decides to embellish I Can't Hear You by grabbing Jack White by the hair.

On the same night, Baby Ruthless plays up to Dean, which totally brings out his inner guitar god – for the first time on video.

(Found it - it was Child of a Few Hours)

Brixton Academy, 10-29-09. Not a great recording, but at the very end you can watch a drunk Jack White drag Baby Ruthless offstage by her neck.

Sweden, November 7th. Jack white comes out to sing COFH in Sweden, leaving a roadie on the drums. Dean continues to rock out. Not a great success in terms of tightness but a great jam.

Glastonbury, June. Early LJ on drums for Will There Be Enough Water.

Brooklyn 11-17-09. Non-commutativity of rock: She can shove Jack or push Dean, but if Jack shoves Baby Ruthless, she ends up on the floor.

The Dead Weather, "I Can't Hear You" 11-17-2009 from StopRemembering on Vimeo.

I'm sure there's more. I'll find more.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Unusual purchases

For some reason, probably involving too much wine, I made a mystery purchase on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. It arrived today and I tore the box open in eagerness to find out what the late-night-one-click-purchasing-me had bought me - something embarrassing, I assumed - and it turned out to be Notes From Underground, by an author Amazon's packing slip gives as Fyodor Paperback Dostoyevsky.

So that's what I buy when my inhibitions are low. I've succeeded in surprising myself. I have a very vague memory that a JG Ballard fan recommended it to me, possibly because it has an alienated narrator. Since Yahoogroups' search function has never worked, I'll probably never be able to corroborate that.

But hey, it's my first Dostoyevsky. Wish me luck.


Ye gods, a man I voted for has decided to expand a war. That's the last time I vote for you, Obama. You weren't panning out anyway, and this is the last straw.

Surely it's obvious that a broke government sending young men and women to foreign countries with intent to kill people while getting shot at themselves at enormous cost to me and you with no possibility of an outcome beneficial to anybody either here or there is a...well, a flawed idea?

OK, I'm going back to posting about music. Real life sucks.


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