Friday, June 04, 2004

It's Raining!!!!

A good bit, too. Thank goodness! Looks like it might last a little while - I can almost see the grass greening up again...


I have an embarrassing admission to make - I'm a LA Lakers fan. There, I've said it. Have been since I was 11 years old and Chamberlain, West, Goodrich and co. won 33 straight during the season and won it all (the Western Conference finals battle between Chamberlain and Jabbar was awesome!). The 80's teams with Worthy and Magic and all kept it going (even better that their main rivals were the hated Celtics) and the Jackson-led team of today has been absolutely entertaining - sometimes for the wrong reasons, but still entertaining.

But I hope they lose to the Pistons.

It has nothing to do with Kobe Bryant - I frankly have no real opinion on what happened in Colorado (just a desire to see justice done whatever happened) and he is the most fun player to watch since Jordan. It is actually in spite of Shaq, who I've come to actually have a lot of appreciation for, although as a force of nature, he's probably a little above my likes or dislikes [dammit, stop paraphrasing Tolkien! - TP]. I've got a lot of respect for Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak and the brass. It has everything to do with Gary Peyton and Karl Malone. I appreciate the game they've both brought to the league in their long careers. They're probably nice enough guys and it would probably be a shame if they ended their careers (LIKE SO MANY ALL-STARS BEFORE THEM) having never won a championship. But frankly, lobbying to get your ass on the team that won three out of the last four championships is bush. They couldn't get THEIR teams the ring, so they're riding Shaq's umpty-leven-sized shoes to HIS next championship. Pah!

I hated the Lambeer-era Pistons. Couldn't stand 'em. But that was then. I know it's a slim hope, but I'd love it if the Wallace brothers and Rip Hamilton and the rest of 'em manage to pull off the improbable and win this thing. Certainly wouldn't hurt the NBA overall for a non-Chicago team from the East to win for the first time since, uh, Detroit. I know this is probably the Lakers' last hurrah with Jackson (and maybe with Bryant), but I'm okay with that.

PC wrote an excellent essay at the beginning of the playoffs (which I think has now archived off his journal unfortunately) about the necessity for a Carolina (or was it ACC?) connection for an NBA team to win the championship. Certainly that seems to be holding true this year. I'll take a UNC coach and UNC big guy (36 mins. per game) over a UNC general manager and UNC wing player (9 mins. per game).

But I think the Lakers will take it in 6.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Why I Blog

I suspect that everyone who sets up a blog must at some point write this post. Most of the blogs I read regularly, whether they are written by friends or just people that I find interesting, are written by people that in some form or another are writers by profession or at least inclination. They're journalists, essayists, novelists, comic book writers, teachers, political writers, etc. That certainly does not describe me. I've never felt "compelled to write" and I don't have a novel inside me somewhere screaming to get out - I've tried writing fiction, I guess because I felt like I should, but it has been painful and gone nowhere.

After some reflection I think it comes down to two things, both having to do with my real work - what I do and where I do it. On the one hand, I probably spend more time in a day writing that Lex or PC or most of the bloggers I read. I spend most of the day writing e-mails and creating presentations, usually with one ear to the phone and 4 or 5 instant messenger windows open. So I write constantly. I am the Emperor of the Executive Summary, the Prince of PowerPoint, the Baron of Bulleted lists. But rarely do I have the occasion to actually write something more narrative or conversational or personal. It's all pretty cold and sterile and, well, business-y. The blog gives me an opportunity to be more expansive, to write something that has some feeling, something that doesn't have implications for my company or my customer or the peeps that work for me.

The other thing that came to mind is that as a telecommuter, there is a certain interaction with co-workers that I miss out on. I am absolutely blessed with the opportunity to work from my home and I treasure it and know that it could end tomorrow. Even better is the fact that JennySlash works from home as well, and we're able to eat lunch together and talk during the day over coffee (although you'd be amazed at how often she has to resort to MS Messenger to get my attention). But I do at times miss having the opportunity to have a face-to-face chat with coworkers. IM sort of takes the place of the coffee pot conversations. Quick, fleeting, a "how was your weekend?" or a "whatcha doing this weekend?" - IM is pretty good for that. What is missing is the conversation over lunch down at the company cafeteria or over a Golden Corral lunch buffet, where you can actually talk about something and have a real conversation. I'm finding that both blogging and commenting on other blogs is starting to replace that necessary interaction.

So I'm actually a little surprised at how much of my blogging has consisted of metablogging or quoting newspaper articles that I think are interesting - I suspect that's just a matter still of getting my feet wet, coupled with the fact that it takes a lot of damn time to actually write something substantive!

By the way, I firmly believe the advent of instant messaging technology has done more good for remote management of people and for managing business than anything since the telephone. For me, it frankly has come close to replacing the telephone. In the least, I can ping someone to ensure that they are there and not on the phone before I call, ensuring that the phone is answered (beats the HELL out of trading voice mails all day). Better yet, I can get amazing amounts of people management done via IM while I sit on interminable audioconference calls - it's pretty damned astounding.

Anyway, if you're reading, I appreciate it - it's all part of the conversation that I've been missing. If you feel like commenting, even better (and thanks to those of you that have done so over the last couple of months!). I probably owe you lunch at Golden Corral!

God loves Dubya, I guess

Most of you have probably already seen this article on other blogs or in various newspapers:
President Bush's re-election campaign is trying to recruit supporters from 1,600 religious congregations in Pennsylvania -- a political push that critics said Wednesday could cost churches their tax breaks.

An e-mail from the campaign's Pennsylvania office, obtained by The Associated Press, urges churchgoers to help organize "Friendly Congregations" where supporters can meet regularly to sign up voters and spread the Bush word.

"I'd like to ask if you would like to serve as a coordinator in your place of worship [emphasis mine - TP]," says the e-mail, adorned with the Bush-Cheney logo, from Luke Bernstein, who runs the state campaign's coalitions operation and is a former staffer to Sen. Rick Santorum, the president's Pennsylvania chairman.
The final grafs:
The director of a nonpartisan watchdog group called the campaign's church appeal "a breathtakingly sad example of mixing religion and politics."

"I have never in my life seen such a direct campaign to politicize American churches -- from any political party or from any candidate for public office," said Rev. Barry W. Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "By enrolling churches in an election scheme like this, I think the Bush-Cheney campaign is actually endangering those churches' tax exemptions without even the courtesy of telling them that they run a risk."
Kevin Madden, a Bush-Cheney spokesman at campaign's headquarters, said the campaign did not mean to imply that religious supporters should actually congregate for the president at their places of worship.
As Anthony at slapnose says: "Oh I see. They didn't mean to imply it, they meant to just come right out and say it"

Certainly using churches to further political campaigns or agendas are nothing new - African-American churches have certainly been hotbeds of political action since the 50's and 60's and the conservative movement politicized many Protestant congregations starting at least in the late 70's (at least that I was aware of - may have started before). But this appears at least to be much more overt and much more likely to cause problems with tax-exempt status except... who's going to prosecute them? This adminstration has gone so much further than any previous to politicize normally (and legally) apolitical departments (down to publishing Bush campaign talking points on every Treasury Department document) that I can't imagine there being any steps taken against any congregation unless this administration is dumped.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I'm in serious pain...

I think I just broke my spleen laughing at the trailer for Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. Even if nothing else in the movie is funny, the trailer has enough yucks to beat most recent comedies all by itself. The movie website also has a black and white 50's public school film from the ADAA (American Dodgeball Association... of America) to introduce young boys to the sport (Hank Azaria as the seven time Dodgeball All-American Patches O'Houlihan) - too funny.

No links - you lazy bastards go look 'em up for yourself this time! I'm still at work...

Quickie research tool

I can't remember how I originally stumbled across the Library of Congress Federal Research Division Country Studies website but it's a neat little tool for country background. Since it was sponsored by the Department of the Army with the intent "to focus primarily on lesser known areas of the world or regions in which U.S. forces might be deployed", there aren't entries on Canada or Australia, for example (although I would worry if suddenly one shows up!). But if you want a concise history of, say, Bhutan, well there you go. A quick look at a few of the entries would lead me to believe that most of the studies date from 10-15 years ago, so the political/social sections are likely useless, but the geography and history sections should be of some interest. For example, you guys all might already know that
"Bantu peoples apparently moved to Comoros before the fourteenth century, principally from the coast of what is now southern Mozambique; on the island of Nzwani they apparently encountered an earlier group of inhabitants, a Malayo-Indonesian people. A number of chieftains bearing African titles established settlements on Njazidja and Nzwani, and by the fifteenth century they probably had contact with Arab merchants and traders who brought the Islamic faith to the islands."
but I didn't.

Rockin' Parents

I'd imagine that most of the people that are likely to read this grew up with parents who grew up before rock and roll. Mom and Dad were in high school by the time Elvis and Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly and company were hitting, so they actually grew up with a different kind of music (let's put aside for a minute the fact the r 'n' r didn't just spring fully-grown from Bill Haley's head with no antecedents). My generation is the first to have been born and grow up with rock and roll from the cradle. So it was kind of cool the last couple of days to read a couple of accounts of bringing up rock and roll kids - people my age for whom rock and roll IS music raising their own.

The first was from Neil Gaiman's on-line journal as he has "the conversation" (not the one you're thinking of) with his daughter Holly. I'm not going to excerpt it - it's short, funny and very sweet, so go check it out.

The second I found via AlterNet - a description from freelance writer Marrit Ingman of overtly trying to raise a rocker. To whit:
Next was the rock-and-roll count-off. First we had to learn to count to four.

"One and two!" he'd yell.

"How about 'One, two, three, four!' "

"One and two and two!"

"What comes after two?"


"Okay, we'll work on it. Then you can experiment with funny rhythms and stuff." I was imagining Thom Yorke at the beginning of "Polyethylene."
It's stuff like this that makes me feel like we're leaving the future in good hands...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Making Light

I don't know how I first ran across Teresa Nielson Hayden's Making Light blog, but it's an excellent read - her very long analysis today of The Writers' Collective as glorified vanity press I found very interesting. Quoting:
This latest outgrowth started with a comment posted yesterday by Charles Boyle:

You say to be wary of publishing assistance that requires payment by the author.
A group called The Writers’ Collective seems to be different.
Can you provide an opinion, please.
I said:

Yes. There’s one throbbing, luminous, mindbendingly huge distinction: this particular vanity publisher calls itself a writers’ collective. Aside from that, it’s just another vanity publisher.

TWC charges you $275 the first year and $150 each year thereafter, and calls it membership fees or dues. There’s a further charge for having your book printed—had you noticed that yet? It doesn’t matter what TWC calls itself. You’re still paying to have your book published.

Different vanity publishers have come up with a bunch of different terms for the money they want you to pay them. That’s why Yog’s Law doesn’t specify what that payment is called. It simply states, “Money should always flow toward the author.”
Lots of good analysis follows. Since most of you guys seem to be writers of some sort or another (now THERE'S a surprise!), thought it might be of some interest.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Music that sends shivers down your spine

I'll warn you right now that this is going to be both a long post and another one about music, so I won't be offended if you skip this one and go right on over to Fafblog or something - Fafnir's interviews with famous people last week were hysterical!

JennySlash and I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago about songs that send chills down your back every time you hear them. I assume actually that most people have those songs but the factors that give particular songs that quality likely differ widely from person to person. When I was growing up and listening to early 70's FM radio under the covers late at night, the muted trumpets in the extended intro of Papa Was a Rolling Stone used to do it, as for some reason did Grand Funk Railroad's I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home. There were other songs that "classic radio" has now ruined for me, so I no longer have any Pink Floyd or Zep or Yes on the list. There are LOTS of songs that provoke an emotional response from their overt subject matter, but I'm really talking more about something that affects you at more of a gut level.

I finished the CD tonight - there were enough songs that I had access to for a couple of CDs, but I decided not to dilute the first one. I'll likely do a CD of near missed in a couple of weeks. So here goes (in roughly chronological order)...

01) Rolling Stones - Gimmer Shelter (1969) If that spooky guitar lead that opens it doesn't send 10,000,000 volts through your ears and right down your spine to the small of your back, you probably ought to just go back to Fafblog. The song itself is enough even without the baggage of the next few months after its release thrown on top. Still a masterpiece.

02) The Who - I'm One (1973) There are other Who songs that I considered for the list, but there's never been a song that captured better for me that knowledge of every teenager that the other kids are so much cooler than they are or the shout in the dark that they'll eventually be the cool one. Part ballad, part rocker - it meant a hell of a lot to me at 15 and it still does.

03) Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill (1977) I won't attempt to analyze this one, save to say that the combination of emotion and instrumentation create an incredibly atmospheric song. This is the one that prompted the conversation with JennySlash...

04) Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (1978) The big-ass saxophone intro, the big-ass guitar/sax duet at the end and Rafferty's smooth vocals probably would have been enough, but it was also released in the last semester I was in high school when we were already looking back on the end of our childhood. Heh.

05) Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980) I don't even want to talk about this one - just go listen to it.

06) Roxy Music - More Than This (1982) MUCH easier to talk about! It's pure unapologetic schmaltz of the best kind - turn the lights down low, snuggle up with your honey-bunny and let Bryan Ferry's voice and Phil Manzanera's guitar just wash over you.

07) Thomas Dolby - Europa and the Pirate Twins (1982) There are a number of songs from Golden Age of Wireless and from Flat Earth that could have made this list, but the staccato urgency, big drums and the tale of a childhood love lost (and Andy Partridge's nifty little harmonica hooks) brought it to the top. Oh, my country...

08) Replacements - I Will Dare (1984) I was late to the 'Mats party - I'm pretty sure I didn't actually buy Let It Be until it had been out for a few months. But dropping the needle on Side One and hearing this one was a revelation. Peter Buck's big Rickenbacker and Westerburg's lyrics and vocals made for the perfect jangle-pop song. I think this one gets to me because of that - there is not a goddamn thing wrong with it. It's absolutely perfect.

09) Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Perfect Skin (1984) How the hell does anyone get that many words into each verse? It's amazing! More big guitar sounds (that'll be a trend through the rest of these). I have no idea why this song does it for me, except that I've always placed a premium on cleverness which this one has in abundance.

10) Smiths - How Soon is Now? (1985) Unbelievably un-Smithian. Johnny Marr's reverby guitar intro and searing leads and Morrissey's vocals ("I am the son and heir of nothing in particular") set an atmosphere unlike any other Smiths song and unlike any other song I can think of.

11) Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet (1985) More big guitars, more lyrics about love lost ("I cut, and I bleed - you seem to find that so hard to believe"). Heard this one on WXYC and bought it immediately without hearing another cut.

12) Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) (1984) Whaddaya know, another ringing guitar intro and big-ass drums. This one was a courtin' song - in constant rotation at Cagney's on Dupont Circle in DC when I was just a young pup and trying to convince JennySlash that I had some redeeming qualities beyond having a motorcycle and a pickup truck.

13) Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World (1985) This is just a cool damn song. It had a great video (remember when MTV actually showed music videos?), wonderfully atmospheric vocals, ringing guitars (do I detect a theme?) and it was the closing song of Real Genius - can't beat that! Probably overall my favorite song on the CD.

14) Smithereens - Behind the Wall of Sleep (1986) The biggest of the big-ass guitars, desparately-seeking-Jean-Shrimpton vocals, dense, dense, dense! Is he a stalker or just an interested suitor?

15) Church - Under the Milky Way (1988) This one probably shouldn't count, 'cause I'm sure it was written and produced to produce the kind of effect I'm describing. But it works.

16) Concrete Blonde - God is a Bullet (1989) Combination of Johnette Neapolitano's incredible pipes (damn, that girl can SING!), searing guitar leads and the stark consequences-of-gun-violence lyrics make for a powerful package.

17) Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991) It's hard to pretend that you haven't heard it 50 zillion times, but try. There was a REASON Nirvana changed the face of music and this is pretty much it. If I Will Dare was the perfect jangle pop song, this one was the perfect grunge song - it grabbed me the first time I heard it and it has never let go.

Phew! I don't expect anyone to have actually READ all of this but I had fun writing it - I have a music critic in me that doesn't get to come out and play all that often, so there ya go.

New photos!

I spent most of my day off from working for pay in working for free (i.e. updating my photography website). There's a whole new gallery of NC photos, so check 'em out - critical feedback is appreciated but not mandatory. Oh, for those of you that haven't thought of it, it helps to right-click on the link and click on "Open in New Window" - keeps it from getting scrunched up inside the frame. Or you can click on the handy link at the bottom of this website which magically does it for you. I give you so many options!!

Things I Think about While Running (Sunday's edition)

"What the hell is that on the back of my knee? Is that a god-damn TICK?!?! GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF!!!"

I don't much like ticks.

On the Walls

At the recent Orange County Artists Guild Spring Art Show, we had the good fortune to have a chance to meet Warren Hicks. I was floored when I found out he's only been painting for a couple of years - as you'll see from his site he does some amazing stuff. His web designery is very nice as well! And he's a very cool guy to boot - check it out!

I also had an opportunity to spend some time talking to Dr. Peter Filene, author (In the Arms of Others, among other works) and UNC-CH history professor. I first became aware of his photography when a friend was renting his house many years ago but hadn't seen any of his more recent work until the show - very interesting stuff! (I should have wrung some of his technique out of him, but we'd only just met...)

Introducing... Damien!

Damien, meet the blogosphere! Blogosphere, meet Damien!

Like Arrowroot son of Arrowshirt, Damien has many names, most commonly Pup-Pup, Chester Copperpup, and Mr. Snufflepupagus. He just had his first teeth cleaning last Friday and he didn't have to have any teeth extracted, so he and my bank account are both very happy! He's always been a little shy around strangers (we have close friends who swear that we don't really have a dog), so I thought it was about time that you became acquainted.