September Music Roundup: Primus, J. Mascis, and More!

It’s been a long time since I posted a music roundup.  The idea of this post is to write a bit about the music I listened to this month.  Sometime halfway through the month or so, I’ll do a catch-up post from a previous month.

“So Long Honeybee, Goodbye,” by Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three

Albums

Primus, Pork Soda
I recently shuffled my way into Sailing the Seas of Cheese, the only Primus album I had on CD (though I had several on tape), and it got me missing the bass-heavy weirdo band.  So I downloaded Pork Soda this month and enjoyed it immensely.  Of course, because I knew the album already, old favorites like “My Name is Mud” and “Pork Soda” were great.  But I found myself most intrigued by “Bob,” a seemingly goofy song that, as soon as you listen to the lyrics, is downright tragic.  Also intriguing is the ethereal and odd “Wounded Knee,” which has no lyrics but also feels surprisingly cheery given its title.

J. Mascis, Tied to a Star
The Dinosaur Jr lead singer has long been a favorite of mine, especially his solo albums.  I like his acoustic music a lot, if nothing else it’s because I think his singing voice (with its strong touch of vocal fry).  While all the songs hold up to his usual quality, I particularly like “Every Morning,” “Wide Awake,” and “Trailing Off.”

Compilation, Now Hear This! – The Independent Music Awards 11th Annual Winners
It’s always hard to write about compilations, because the song styles are so diverse as to make any statement about the album itself pretty useless.  That said, I liked this album alright.  Highlights are:

  • Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, “So Long Honeybee, Goodbye” – jazzy swing song
  • Scott H. Biram, “Just Another River” – bluesy song with some audio fuzz.  Good stuff.
  • Charlie Hope, “One That I Love” – jaunty, cheery pop song
  • Amanda Richards, “Undead In My Bed” – a country song by a woman who loves her zombie man
  • Jon Bauer, “Chasing After Me” – cute alt-rock song about finding love
  • Amy Correia, “Powder Blue Trans Am” – soul song with good blues lines in the guitar
  • Company of Thieves, “Look Both Ways” – hoppy pop band similar in sound to Rodeo Ruby Love

Songs

Welcome to Night Vale (three songs from early in the series) – The WtNV folks do a great job of picking Weather music that has audible similarities to music styles.  This month, I pulled three songs to listen to – “Last Song” by Jason Webley, a Tom Waits-style tale; “This Too Shall Pass” by Danny Schmidt, a driving tale that reminds me a bit of Leonard Cohen; “Jerusalem” by Dan Bern, an early Bob Dylan parody that’s pretty good in its own right.

Garfunkel and Oates (four songs from Music Songs) – My favorite is “I Would Never,” which seems like a good riposte to the obnoxious meme of the “Friend-zone.”

Pete Seeger (four songs from American Favorite Ballads) – You Are My Sunshine is almost perfect in his light banjo version.

Spike Jones (four songs from (Not) Your Standard Spike Jones Collection – Nothing really stands out in this sequence, except maybe “Horsey, Keep Your Tail Up,” which is weird but not as memorable as many other songs from SJ.  On the upside, nothing notably racist or sexist in this batch of songs.

The Wayfarers (nine songs from Music from Around the World – Australia) – Nothing much stands out from this set of songs, though “Santa Never Made It Into Darwin” is a fucking depressing song about a town destroyed by a big storm on Christmas Eve.

Modern Jazz Stylings of Blue Canue Records – four songs that are about what you’d expect.  Makes me thing of my friend John Chapman, who played jazz bass in Florida, and whom I went out to hear play once or twice.

Buke and Gass, “Seam Esteem,” a leak from the new album of weird and wonderful music. Great stuff.

Covering old ground – Zero Theorem and The Incredible Hulk

Incredible Hulk Zero Theorem

Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem tells the tale of an idiosyncratic office drone working a data analysis job in the cyberpunk, blade-runner future of the city we first met in Brazil. (Not technically, but aesthetically.)  Not satisfied with the normal things that drive the other drones in his world, Qohen spends his time waiting for a phone call that will change his life.  The Incredible Hulk follows the continuing adventures of Bruce Banner, the title monster, as he tries to solve the problem of his errant Id and avoid being captured or killed by the U.S. Army.

While both films were enjoyable, they both also felt rehashed, like movies I’d seen before gussied up with new sparkly bits.  A few bits about this repetition before I discuss the two films together:

Zero Theorem feels very much like a spiritual re-make or reconception of Brazil.  Here are some overlaps:

  • Qohen and Sam (the protagonist from Brazil) both excel at their jobs but have no ambition to ‘rise’ in the ranks.
  • They have competent but skeezy supervisors (David Thewlis; Ian Holm).
  • Both men are menaced by sinister forces of bureaucracy (Management’s clone thugs; Heating and Cooling repair)
  • They have dreamy thoughts of lovely women in their lives, and seem to see this as an escape from the drudgery they’re confined to. (Bainsley, Jill)
  • Both films exaggerate the aesthetic of their era — 1985’s Brazil overflowed with papers and files.  It felt like a hell spawned from the cubicle farms of the 1980s workplaces.  Zero Theorem‘s aesthetic is to the Internet as Brazil’s was to the office.

In a similar way, The Incredible Hulk feels like a revisiting of Hulk, despite the fact that it’s actually framed as a sequel.  Rather than detail all the similarities, I’ll just say that it feels like a sequel in the way bad horror movie sequels are just a revised version of the first film.  While The Incredible Hulk ups the ante by including a big bad for Hulk to fight, it doesn’t do much more. (Though it does explain what Banner meant in The Avengers when he talked about busting up a big section of New York.  Having seen the film, though, he’s over-doing it a bit by taking all the blame there.)

Zero Theorem
The iPhone20Q will come with a pointy hat attachment. (Zero Theorem)

A few thoughts about the two films together:

  • Both our protagonists are hiding among cultures they don’t belong to.  Banner, of course, is hiding out of necessity and will eventually return to his own culture.  Qohen is the opposite, alienated from the people and culture around him, he seeks refuge in online spaces.
  • Both men aren’t sure what to do with the technology they’re developing.  It seems that if Qohen solves the problem he’s working on, everything will be for nought.  Similarly, if Banner solves the problem of the hulk monster, the government may use it to make more super soldiers.
  • The ancillary scientists in the film have the annoying stereotype of the scientist so into his studies that he abandons reason and ethics.  The assistant, “Bob,” in Zero Theorem shows this kind of mania, as does Tim Blake Nelson’s scientist character in The Incredible Hulk.

The Incredible Hulk is an enjoyable B-movie sequel, a good flick to watch on a Sunday afternoon while you do a crossword puzzle or something.  Zero Theorem is an enjoyable art-house movie, a good film to watch on a Friday evening while you enjoy a fine wine (or, in my case, small-brewery soda).

Tweets from 2014-09-21 to 2014-09-27

In search of a regular feature…

p1030303.jpg
Kevin really hates whatever kind of computer this is. (CC by Leondardr)

Saturdays are a tough day, blogging-wise.  If I’ve gotten up early, it’s to get some shit done so I can avoid work guilt bothering me when I take time to play the Cones of Dunshire with my kids.  So I don’t want to spend a lot of time on blog posts.  Since a big part of it is coming up with what to write, I wanted to add a new feature to Saturday posts.  A couple ideas:

  • Songecdote – a brief discussion of a song and a memory associated with it.  I’m blatantly stealing this from Dan C.
  • Game report – a brief discussion of gaming insights from the week.  (Danger here – I don’t know if I can generate enough to make this interesting every week.)
  • Featured video – A video I like from Youtube or something.  (Danger here – I already do this on Twitter, and the twitter feed gets posted on Sundays)
  • Two minute video rant – (Danger here – I’ll get sunk into editing the fucker and spend way too much time on it.
  • Move the Wednesday photo to Saturday – (Danger here, I’d have to come up with something else for Wednesdays then)
  • Random bullets – five things about the week I’ve not yet mentioned.  (Danger, this falls deep into the rabbit hole of “audience of one” territory.

What say you, dear reader?  Other ideas for my weekend post?

Comics Roundup: Stray Toasters, Howard Chaykin, Billy the Kid, and a few others

Some comics I’ve read recently:

Stray Toasters Avengers 1959 Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities

  • Avengers 1959 – Howard Chaykin’s pre-Avengers avengers tale is a Marvel-centered take on Operation Paperclip (in which the Allies recruited Nazi scientists to help win the cold war).  Nick Fury is enjoyable,and the mix of superheroes works well.  Amusing.
  • Stray Toasters – Absolutely bonkers comic about, well, kidnapping and unrequited love and insanity and brains in creepy robot bodies and murder and murderous cyborg children grafted onto toasters.  Also, a lot of non-representational art.  If that description intrigues you, this might be your kind of comic.
  • Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities, Vol 1 – After Billy the Kid fakes his own death, he falls in with a pack of traveling carnival folk and joins them in a fight against Victor Frankenstein and his Alpine-Village-of-Dr.-Moreau. Creepy and awesome at the same time.

Century West Pacific Rim Spaceman

  • Century West – Another Howard Chaykin join, this time in the bent of American Century, which reveled in freedom-loving rogues giving the what-for to stuck-up establishment types.  In Century West, that same plot revolves around a town where these rogues are the law, and representatives of the corrupt East find they have no purchase.  Of course, the moment is fleeting and soon the corruption overtakes this last bastion of the old west too.
  • Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero – This adventure tale, segmented into easily-digested chunks, reveals elements of the Jaeger program as it grew in response to the Kaiju infestation throughout the world.  Good comics following the exciting monster fights, and actually explains a bit more coherently why Jaegers are the best way to fight Kaiju.
  • Spaceman – Azzarello and Risso’s excellent partnership continues in this bizarre gentle-giant team up.  Part sci-fi thriller, part media critique, Spaceman follows the accidental match-up of a genetically engineered neanderthal-like man with a little girl kidnapped from an Angelina Jolie/ Brad Pitt family.  Orson, the spaceman, is chased by both his haunting past and the gold-diggers hunting the little girl.  A solid noir tale, though Risso still can’t resist drawing ladies in obscenely buxom style.

Archbishop John Nienstedt should be ashamed of himself.

"Hands together" by Danny Hammontree
“Hands Together” by Danny Hammontree
(cc licensed)

Archbishop John Nienstedt asked Jaime Moore, the longtime music director for St. Victoria parish in Victoria, MN, to resign after Moore married his longtime same-sex partner.  Nienstedt should be ashamed of himself.

We’ve long understood that the Bible is a hot mess of contradictions.  Aside from confusions introduced by its translation into other languages, there are clear contradictions between the new and old testament, or in which things we’ve decided are or are not still important to God. (See The Year of Living Biblically for a good discussion of this.)

But over time, as the secular, enlightenment understanding of humanity has evolved, we’ve come to see that the ancient view of “sin” was grounded in the specifics of the time those books were written, and that in order to properly understand why something is or isn’t wrong, we need to continually re-asses and explore that issue.  For a good example of how we’ve come to reinterpret, from a modern perspective, old “sins,” consider slavery.  (The Iron Chariots wiki is a good place to start.)  Miscegenation (the ‘mixing’ of the ‘races’) is another example, something whose position was first defended, then refuted by the religious faith people had.  See The Oatmeal for a scathing and hilarious comic rendering of this idea.

Which brings us to the modern moment.  Gay rights in the U.S. have reached a tipping point where, as John Oliver suggested, it’s not about which state will legalize gay marriage next, but rather which will be the last to do so.  And so even the Catholic church has begun to wake from its slumber, like Smaug hearing Bilbo stumbling around in the gold pile. Last spring, Pope Francis said:

“Rather than quickly condemn them, let’s just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people.” and “We shouldn’t marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society.”  (The Telegraph)

This seems to me the moment for leaders of the Catholic church to join the rest of us in the 21st century (hell, the last two decades of the 20th century).  They ought to take a deep look at the past issues of human rights (particularly race relations and slavery in the U.S.) and ask themselves how this issue is different.  Even if they still understand homosexual acts to be sinful (but gleefully eat lobster), the supposedly inclusive message of Jesus and the recent comments by the Pope would suggest that this is the opportunity for the church to respond not with shaming or shunning (or marginalizing), but with love.

Instead, Archbishop Nienstedt chose not to stand with right, but to stand with tradition only.  For shame, sir.

Full disclosure — I was raised Catholic but am now Unitarian Universalist. My mother attends St. Victoria parish and our family been lucky enough to count Mr. Moore among our friends for more than a decade.

Chicago in the springtime

Chicago Fog in the Springtime

Behold, the hoary fog of Chicago in the springtime.

Using the little grey cells (Murder on the Orient Express)

Murder on the Orient ExpressMurder on the Orient Express
by Agatha Christie

I’d read this book before, of course, many years ago.  As a classic of the genre and one of Christie’s three best/most known (the other two being And Then There Were None and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) I’d also read about the book, and seen more than one version of the film.  It’s a story I know, surely. I’m teaching it in my Detective Fiction course this semester, so I’ve returned and re-read it along with the students.

But maybe you don’t: Poirot, Christie’s foppish detective with waxed mustaches and charming Belgian malapropisms, finds himself on a last-minute journey from Istanbul to Paris on the Orient Express.  During the night, a causic sonofabitch gets murdered, and the train gets snowed in.  Thus, we have a locked-room mystery of the strangest type.  With a dozen suspects and very odd set of clues, Poirot works diligently to untangle the web that has been woven.

    One of my students commented that Christie excels at writing multiple voices, developing a large palette of characters in many flavors.  Another added, “…and she sure hates Italians!”  I don’t know if this last is true, but the Italian character in the book sure is stereotyped.This novel more than some highlights how much Poirot views murder as a game to solve.  He’s reluctant to get involved because he’s in a hurry and he didn’t care for the victim; he only relents because his friend is a manager of the train line and he doesn’t want the bad publicity to harm the firm.  Later, he accepts a subtle challenge from the murder with gusto.At the heart of the story (and revealed pretty early, so I’m not ruining anything) is a reference to the Lindburgh kidnapping, which was, of course, a sensation of only two years earlier.  Thus, this novel includes a sort-of “ripped from the headlines” aspect.

It’s among her best — boiled down to its functionality and a fair play mystery to boot.  Definitely worth reading if you haven’t done so.

A snapshot of life in college

I thought this panel perfectly captures the experience of college.

The Greatest Power of All
Dr strange has it right.  If you’re lucky, there comes a time when you realize you’ve learned it all, and you revel in that fact, and a lizard poses weirdly in front of you.

On Voices 7

Harvey Hudson

An update of the audio book narrators I’ve read since the last On Voices post.

*Books narrated by their authors

This list includes only the readers I’ve encountered more than once.  The singletons are below the fold.

Continue reading On Voices 7

Tweets from 2014-09-14 to 2014-09-20

Saturday Song for You

I’ve been working my way through Music from Around the World, a collection from The Wayfarers full of Australian songs.  One song is sung to the tune of “Whats’a matter you?” in the tradition of slacker teenager songs like “Get a Job” or “Fight for your Right to Party.”  As far as I can tell, it’s not a homophobic slur — I’ve had to delete a few of these songs because they’re rife with homophobia — but rather a teenage anthem, wrapped up in cute Australian tunes.  Enjoy.

Here’s a link to a free version of the song on Youtube:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFQfM5YKlg4]

or here’s the album I’m listening to on Spotify:

https://play.spotify.com/track/6wGpD8jD17D3JnNpHL48ev

 

Flash Boys – in case you thought maybe the market wasn’t rigged

Flash Boys by Michael LewisFlash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
by Michael Lewis; narrated by Dylan Baker

Flash Boys is two books at once.  First, it’s a fascinating tale about a few different innovators working in the financial markets.  These men spotted an opportunity to create a better wall street, to fix a problem that the market would, hopefully, reward them for.  Second, it’s another reminder that the primary motivator on Wall Street is for the people who work on Wall Street to make money, and that the money invested there by the rest of us is just a prop they use to do so.  In case you didn’t learn that lesson from The Big Short.

A brief precis: Lewis tells the story of High Frequency Trading (HFT) through a few stories about people fighting to undermine it.  Essentially, HFT is a market trading style that uses the inherent latency in the space between the different stock exchanges to make money.  Here’s an example of the most basic way this happens: Say you want to buy 100,000 shares of Apple.  Your broker goes to the first exchange and finds 10,000 shares on offer, including 100 shares being sold by a HFT.  After you buy up the 10,000 shares there, your broker’s pokey computer sends a request to the rest of the stock exchanges looking for the other 90,000 shares.  In the 1/3 – 1/2 of a second it takes for your order to move through the market, HFT computers have rushed ahead and bought up all the shares, and are now selling them for a tiny fraction more (say, 1 penny per share).  You buy the shares from them, and they’ve just made money off their speed advantage in the market, without adding any value to the exchange.  Now multiply that by every trade made on every stock market in the US, and you can see how they’re making billions of dollars, basically by cutting in line where most people don’t know there’s a line to cut in.

A few thoughts:

  • The first lesson Lewis teaches us in the story of this burgeoning force fighting against High-Frequency Traders is that regulation usually only solved the problem it’s meant to.  But it almost always creates new loopholes through which different ways to cheat can be exploited.  And since the incentives on Wall Street are so massive, someone will always exploit said loopholes.
  • The second lesson is a reminder that banks are there to make money, not to serve the good of the market or even of their own clients.  The level to which the banks and the exchanges have altered how they do things to make it easier for the HFTs is appalling.
  • The book has some hope, though, unlike The Big Short, which just feels depressing.  The new exchange being created throughout the book (which opened this year) seems like it has the potential to change things as the clients, the investors who’re paying a speed tax to HFTs, notice what’s going on.

Once again, Lewis does a fantastic job telling a complex tale in a gripping way.  Dylan Baker’s performance is quite strong, and adds great nuance to the tale. Highly recommended read.

See also: The Big Short, Moneyball, Panic!

Throwback – Riddikulus! (on gerrymandering and Chicago politics)

Originally published on 5 November 2011.

Sometimes when I think about politics, I feel like Neville standing in front of the Boggart cabinet in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkiban.  But alas, our leaders dressed like ladies would hardly embarrass them.

When I was preparing my Open Letter to Congress last week, I looked up my representatives on the EFF website, but that page did not include a mailing address, so I followed up at govtrack.us, where I found a different representative listed for me.  I looked at the district map and saw this:

Oh, COME ON.

The red arrow is my home.  This map reveals that my small village, Forest Park, has constituencies in three separate representational districts.

Read the rest