Sunday, July 27, 2008

GIFT OF CRAP: Quarter century-old noise rock sampler discovered by nerds, sent to web

Unlistenable & cryptic. Perfect for the New York Times Sunday
edition or, don't ya think?

Blame the couple who bugged me for MP3's of Chainsaw magazine's Annoy Your Neighbor With This Tape a couple weeks back. After Googling for it, The Gift of Noise -- a vinyl LP from 1983, was also returned. Music blog nerds had ripped both to the Net.

The Gift of Noise was, straightforwardly enough, a compilation LP of US noise bands, published in 1983 by the New Rose Records imprint, L'Invitation au Suicide, a small French record company run by a man named Yann Farcy. A booklet that came with the record showed a stack of LPs belonging to one of the contributors: Throbbing Gristle's Thee Psychick Sacrifice jumped out at you.

It presented five acts: The Psyclones, Smersh, F/i (which stood for Surfin' Fuhrers incognito), No Trend and Senseless Hate, the last being your host's very old two-man punk rock and noise band. (It's me and a drummer who will remain unnamed.)

Senseless Hate had been on the Chainsaw fanzine Annoy tape and, if memory serves, that cassette or something like it had found its way into the hands of Brian Frith and Julie Ladd, a couple from Eureka, California, who ran a noise band label specializing in tape releases. Called Ladd-Frith, it still exists and a quick search turns it up on the web.

Through Ladd-Frith (on the record, The Psyclones), Farcy -- who was from Le Havre -- coordinated with the other acts who'd been trading cassettes with each other.

I didn't even see the record until two or three years after it came out. One copy was at Midnight Records in New York City. The sticker says I paid $7.98 before tax. The Gift of Noise wasn't something I would have normally wasted a penny on but I rationalized that since I was on it, it would be better to buy the copy or I'd probably never see another. That turned out to be the case.

From start to finish, The Gift of Noise is consistently dreadful. I believe that was the entire point although it's possible others involved in it might disagree. Something from Othello comes to mind: "If you have any music that may not be heard, to 't again."

Twenty-five years later, MP3 music blog nerds are collectively trying to put every piece of obscure vinyl they can find onto the web. Mostly so others of like mind have a reason to nudge page counts. Is it something worth doing? Ehhh, the jury's still out.

The Gift of Noise is here.

Senseless Hate logo and cheapo horror movie snaps from deluxe
booklet accompanying the LP. Once had it put it on an athletic jersey.

Mo' Nerd Rock

The Gift of Noise relates to the recent nerd rock pages on this blog. An LP that deservedly sank without trace until 2008, it's the same flavor of thing one now sees regularly run up the flagpole in the pages of big newspaper music sections.

From today's Los Angeles Times Calendar section one reads of the "guilty pleasure" of freak folk. Not Devendra Banhart's freak folk, but even cooler stuff, mind you.

"Some might say this music is badly played and badly recorded," writes Casey Dolan of groups called MV & EE and the Golden Road and The Sunburned Hand of Man, the latter "a band to give one seizures."

The entire article, a short -- really, is a stereotype of the gush that's produced for the 21st century gifts of nerd rock.

One looks for the word paradigm to show up, signalling the reporter was a liberal arts major in college. There it is in the last paragraph, although a recommendation from National Public Radio is sadly missing. Greil Marcus is cited because, as a semi-famous rock critic turned alleged intellectual, his is the voice of authority, said to know about Old Weird America, a place this stuff is claimed to call home. (The Marcus invocation's not shown here. Search the web, it'll be easy enough to find.)

"The truth is that there is a naive nihilism at play here and you either joyfully embrace it, putting aside your critical paradigms and logarithms, or you leave it alone, content to scratch your head over more complex and demanding fare."

Dilemma solved, I now leave it alone and listen only to more complex and demanding fare, like Sugarland.

Nerd rock is virtually always obstinately threadbare and jokey. A stern rule of it is that one always must wink in a knowing way at your national audience of ten to fifty rock critics and their followers. The artistic wink signifies that, yes, you know you can't sing or play a lick and you look bad, but being inept, annoying and hopeless is far more hip than being, let's say, Sugarland.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

LOG ON TO LATIMES.COM OR WE'LL FIRE EVERYONE: Empirically determined, the business plan for Tribune newspapers

Read this reporter's blog on comic books, click on it two or
three times a day, or we'll lay him off.

If you live in Los Angeles and read a daily newspaper you may know of the radical down-sizing now engulfing the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper is the property of Sam Zell, a man from Chicago who has been much cursed, and deservedly, here and here.

Early in his reign, Zell berated employees while emitting vulgar and pointless insults, the most famous being: "Everyone likes pussy. It’s un-American not to like pussy."

However, these days Zell and Tribune are in trouble. You don't see his smart mouth flapping in reports from LA Observed a famous Los Angeles site for all things in soCal journalism. Zell, like many home-owners in 2008, is upside-down on a slippery loan he engineered to buy the company. And in trying to maintain his schedule of debt service, he's forcing all the newspapers in the chain to shed much of their editorial structure. This is destroying the Los Angeles Times.

The calamity is seen in 150 immediate firings at the newspaper. The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, also a Zell property, is dismissing one out of every three editorial employees. (As readers know, DD worked for the Morning Call newspaper many years ago and still has friends there.)

Arriving in Pasadena in '92, your host immediately began reading the Times. And he hasn't missed an issue since then.

It's a great newspaper and it helps stretch a solitary lunch into one of the better parts of every day.

However, in its rush to Internet salvation, the Los Angeles Times now acts like it wishes to be rid of its old hardcopy subscribers, sooner rather than later. Whether this is intentional or not is difficult to ascertain.

It leaders and editors appear to have become fixed on a fancy, one in which they imagine that existence on the Internet alone will, miraculously, deliver them golden eggs.

Like everyone else in the newspaper business, the Times and Tribune have no way of monetizing their on-line operation to the extent where it alone will operate a news and fact-finding agency of its size. If they wish to do away with the physical newspaper entirely, they're simply betting on magic to save their day.

In little pieces, DD sees this in the delivered copy.

Scattered throughout the newspaper will be blandishments to read some extra part of a story, available exclusively on-line. Or, as from an ad torn from today's edition, to read the new blog (!) by an entertainment reporter, in this case Geoff Boucher, who has a thing for comic books. Hmmm, a blog on comic books. Now there's something you don't see often.

One of the reasons DD reads the daily newspaper is because it is a better way to the news than through a computer screen. Compared to the newspaper laid out on the table next to the tea, a webpage is claustrophobic. It narrows the vision, forcing you to follow lists. Page-turning, a simple physical pleasure, is replaced by clicking.

Now, if DD wanted to read what the newest freak show video was on YouTube, or why "swastikas" rose to prominence in Google's most commonly searched terms for a quarter of a day, he wouldn't ask or expect the delivered newspaper to tell him. (The LA Times has a correspondent, David Sarno, who focuses on this kind of trivia.) Actually, DD wouldn't think to ask those questions at all.

The newspaper has also taken to more frequently publishing anonymous comments from its webpages, culled from the usual multitude of cyber-heevahavas, in place of a short harder piece. Perhaps this is to acclimate readers to a coming state-of-affairs in which the letters section, the place where you have to sign your name and be polite to have a chance of being heard, is dumped.

The blandishments to migrate to the web for even more crucial stuff smack of desperation. To me they say, "Read the website or almost everyone'll be fired."

When and if Sam Zell ties performance ratings on journalists to the hit rates they achieve on their webpostings, the newspaper will be totally finished. Everyone will start a scramble to see who can be the most pandering. This would be very bad for Los Angeles and California. Example: The Los Angeles Times recently exposed the practice of health insurers peremptorily cancelling the policies of people who get sick in California. When the story ran, the state investigated, eventually punitively fining the guilty parties and forcing them to re-extend coverage to those they had wiped from their rolls. Journalists who are in the business of pandering to save their professional skins won't do such stories.

(At the Village Voice, where DD free-lanced regularly between 2000-2006, the stuff that always gobbled up the most hits, the pieces almost always rated most popular among web visitors almost regardless of real world news, were sex columns and the horoscope. The Voice also seized upon the common idea that it had to have hip blogs. So it went looking for on-line instant cachet and found someone named Nick Sylvester. Sylvester subsequently put fabrications into a cover story. Although he was fired, he took down the Voice's acting editor, Doug Simmons, with him. In the end, none of it mattered. All the editors, even the one who ran the webpages, were eventually canned in the wake of a takeover by the New Times operation in Phoenix, Arizona.)

So while Tribune is cutting deep into the bone of the reporting and editing staff at the Los Angeles Times, it is adding more fluff and lard to its website. The newspaper seems to have the working attitude that in cyberspace, but not in the real world, sheer quantity is quality. And that if just enough stuff is accumulated and updated furiously at LATIMES.COM, at some point, like the forming of a beautiful crystal in a supersaturated solution, something wondrous will occur.

That's just not going to happen.

Having been in cyberspace since some of the people now working the LA Times website were young enough to be still occasionally wetting the bed, DD has seen a generation come and go on the Internet. They won't pay for electronic news and there's no way you can squeeze it from them around the edges.

However, I remain convinced that as long as there are books and paper there will always be a core audience of readers for a newspaper bought from a kiosk or delivered in the driveway. The LA newspaper should stop acting like all such readers are old and stupid farts who refuse to join the 21st century. It should also cease listening to those who tell them the same.

Please read this poor sod's propped-up blog so Tribune doesn't get him in the next wave of dismissals.

Monday, July 21, 2008

NERD ROCK MONDAY: Pale, bad clothes, went to college, formed a one-off band with a homeless man, airs on NPR

After the bag of flour hits the guy on the left in the 'Eraser' video, it's important no one remember the beat or what the tune sounds like.

Applaud the duo named No Age, the Los Angeles Times' Sunday nerd rock select choice.

All your host can do is stand aside and quote a few descriptive lines, recognizing No Age fit the threadbare/dull chic of all good nerd rockers: gray hooded athletic sweat and ill-fitting trousers from Sears, the Salvation Army or some functional equivalent/combination of the two.

"No Age subverts many common paradigm's of modern rock's hypercommercialism..." writes a reporter for the newspaper.

DD just thought they looked shitty. Good to know it's not an accident.

"...and [Dean Spunt] once formed a one-off band with a homeless man ... but the band has long outgrown [the capacity of the old dive they used to play in]."

"No Age has been faced with the old dilemma of reaching new fans while keeping its all ages and jamming-econo values intact."

"'We don't live on Elitist Mountain ..." one of the members told the Times. Perish forbid.

"...[A]rrestingly thin Dean Spunt has worked as an actor and wardrobe stylist ... passionate intelligence -- Randy Randall studied neurolinguistics at USC and taught special education courses at South Gate High School."

Played on NPR? Check.
FREEDOM OF THE JUNK PRESS: US kooks inflate price of The Poisoner's Handbook

Occasionally DD checks the used book market for news of Maxwell Hutchkinson's The Poisoner's Handbook. Since 2003 or so it's most practical use has been in sending people over on terrorism charges in the United Kingdom. Along with William Powell's The Anarchist's Cookbook, it leads the pack in this most dubious of areas, one gained when material from both was copied into English in cyberspace, and later translated into Arabic.

You see, if you're Muslim and have a electronic copies of such material, either in English or Arabic, you can be easily banged up on the charge of possessing texts deemed likely to be of potential use to terrorists.

Alibris has a good inventory of The Poisoner's Handbook, if you're interested in pushing the limits of freedom of the press in the wrong locales. In prices ranging from the mid-forties to almost three hundred bucks, relatively speaking, still a cheap ticket to a UK slammer. See here.

We learn that after its original publishing by Loompanics in 1988, it was reissued in 2000 by a company called Desert Publications. Here is a copy on sale at the bottom end of the pricing index at something called A&J Arms Booksellers.

Since there are so many copies floating around, the prices are somewhat surprising. However, with dedicated digging one can find barely worn copies for much less. The dirty secret of The Poisoner's Handbook is that after opening it once, almost nobody bothers again.

At Alibris, buys in the market for Hutchkinson are also thought to be interested in ... wait for it ... Medicine Chest Explosives: An Investigator's Guide to Chemicals Used in Home-Cooked Bombs by Donald B McLean.

They're bullish on books which, for want of a better description, fit into the category: useful for rebranding yourself as a petty nuisance and stupid person interested in poisons and bombs.

Download this page for more info on copies of pure electronic trouble!

Friday, July 18, 2008

ERSATZ DYNAMITE: Nerds play plastic guitars, markets react strongly

There Will Always Be An England: Sirs David Beatty
and John Jellicoe appear off Jutland in the LA Times
as warm-up to Rock Band 2.

In the early Nineties your host created a column called Nightclubbing at the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, PA. It's purpose was to go out and spread humorous scorn on various rock music events, local and national, in the Lehigh Valley. The idea was to furnish adult readers who normally wouldn't be found dead in rock dives with something light and chuckle-worthy over weekend morning coffee. This was opposite the common practice in newspaper-land which was to send a reporter who would act as court-appointed stenographer and head cheerleader for who or whatever was in town.

After over fifteen years, one would think being a realist -- as opposed to being a shill -- would be more popular in newspapers.

Sadly, this is not the case.

The Los Angeles Times sent a free-lancer to cover a do for the game Rock Band 2 at the Orpheum Theatre.

We're going to skip most of the knee-jerk coverage from this morning's edition in favor of a couple of fatuous quotes, delivered to push a game in which people mime and manipulate little plastic guitars in time to canned rock 'n' roll hits.

"This game is for the first time bordering on an authentic music experience," Paul DeGooyer, an employee of MTV Games/Rock Band 2, told the royal court's human tape-recorder.

"There's this world full of people who are born with this innate desire to make music, and they spend their whole lives playing air guitar and loving music but having no way to tap into that instinct," another flack told the Times.

Riding to the rescue, Rock Band 2 releases the masses from their lives of not-real-quiet desperation.

Nerdy girl tapping into her instincts, courtesy of morning paper.
"Scientist" insert from last week's blog was accidental but looked OK, anyway. She's a scientist of rock!
STILL POLISHING BIRDS IN PENNSYLTUCKY: Hardcore pigeon shooters cling to psychopathy and gambling

From time to time your host has mentioned the Fred Coleman Memorial Labor Day Hegins Pigeon Shoot in Pennsyltucky. It was an abominable event in which the locals came out to cheer as shooters blasted thousands of pigeons with shotguns at close range. Animal cruelty protesters would show up, to be set upon by pigeon shoot boosters who liked nothing more than administering beatings and trouble to outsiders. (See here and here.)

In 1999, after years of steadily increasing societal hostility, the pigeon shoot was cancelled. Rationalized as a way for the community of Hegins to make money for the funding of public services, it evaporated when organizers became exposed to potential arrest for animal cruelty.

Walter Brasch, a journalism prof at Bloomsburg College in that state, covered the shoot five times and has devoted some time to the study of pigeon-shooters in the state explains in a recent essay:

"The organizers of the Hegins shoot finally cancelled the contests in 1999, 66 years after they began. It had nothing to do with a realization that killing domesticated pigeons is cruel. It had everything to do with a unanimous ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that humane society officers could arrest participants and organizers under state anti-cruelty charges."

Pigeon shooting still goes on in Pennsylvania but more privately, Brasch writes. It is relegated to the hardcore fringe of the hunting community in the state and conducted at closed events. In his article, Brasch estimates there are a few hundred pigeon-shooters still clinging to the sport, one regarded as indefensible animal cruelty.

"Children ripping the heads off live birds or throwing them into the air like footballs, adults cheering and laughing when crippled birds flop up and down in pain, and spectators parading around the park with pigeons’ heads mounted on plastic forks," one woman tells Brasch.

Read the entire piece -- and it's a good one -- here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Four years ago, your host wrote a piece for the Village Voice on the enjoyment Americans get from watching other people being treated sadistically on TV. Non-fiction certainly can't keep up with reality television.

Hurl! -- a reality show about just that on G4 gets only a raised eyebrow.

Various comments:

"Hurl!, an extreme eating contest on the cable channel G4, has a certain elegance, an economy of action and intent that is too often lacking in contemporary ballet or fine dining," wrote someone with slightly biting wit at the New York Times. "Contestants, almost all male, eat as much as they can in one sitting, then exert themselves in a strenuous physical activity. He who eats the most and vomits the least wins $1,000.

"As the show’s premiere on Tuesday suggested, Hurl! will not win any public service awards from the National Eating Disorders Association ..." See here.

"New US reality show Hurl! is sickest game yet," wrote a Brit daily.

"The US has hit the bottom of the reality TV show barrel with a new show called Hurl!" added The Guardian.

G4 used to be called TechTV. We know this because one time DD was on it. TechTV was a science and technology network for nerds. It featured shows on how to fix your computer. And at the beginning of the Iraq War, as part of its news function, it covered various aspects on the technology of the US military. DD was invited to San Francisco to show the network some examples of the propaganda leaflets which were being dropped over Iraq.

Well, you know that couldn't have been popular. Hurl! or computer news? Why -- Hurl! of course. You stupid or something?

DD has a few reality show pitches in at G4. Here they are (be kind, don't steal for your take on Jackass).

Up-Skirt! This show gets a piece of the Internet action in which pervs deploy stealthy mini-cams to look up the nether regions of women. Whether they're informed or not is optional, depending on legal exposure. If it's successful, to be followed by an expansion called Peeping Tom.

Copro Half hour show in which contestants vie to determine who can eat the most excrement before sicking up. A different excrement is chosen from nature's bounty each week. Endless merchandising possibilities built off show slogan: "Eat Shit, You!"

Burning Glass Game show which deploys the old schoolboy contest in which a magnifying glass is used on a sunny day to determine who's the toughest in the squad.

Crunch-Ohhhhhh! Home video anthology show aggregating archival footage of men having their balls smashed during various mishaps. There's literally an ocean of it available, so could be an hour long per week. There's no reason for the reality shows on country music channels to have exclusive rights to this action.

Weird Science! Based on sadistic practical jokes. The camera follows people who've signed up for the show as they're surprised by a variety of tricks involving chemistry. At the end of each episode, the chemistry upon which the trick is based is explained. To include: explosive loads put in the cigarettes of someone who has a job operating heavy equipment; doping of beverages with excessive doses of flavorless laxatives; fiberglass-based itching powder placed in bedding and underwear; garlic-flavored chewing gum placed in candy machine; silver nitrate (which turns the skin black in a couple of hours) dabbed on items which come in contact with the hands, lips and face (money, straws, bars of soap, pencils and pens, coffee cups); Coomassie Brilliant Blue powder (a protein stain) in a bag said to contain 1,000 dollars in cash -- when the contestant opens the bag, the powder is blown into his or her face; disulfiram (commonly known as Antabuse), secretly put in the liquor bottles at a cocktail party, resulting in nausea and vomiting when it blocks the proper metabolism of alcohol; misuse of Viagra; misuse of sulfate (amphetamines) -- fraudulently labelled as an OTC sleep aid; creative misuse of Crazy Glue; athletic balm in suits of high school swim team.

Pugil Stick Ex-Marine Corps D.I.'s bash volunteers. Last person to fall to knees bloodied, wins.

Stranglehold Self-explanatory. Memo: Contact Ted Nugent for use of theme music.

Futureweapons: Human Test Various non-lethal weapons -- beanbag rounds, blinding lasers, electric shockers, flash-bangs, caustic solutions -- are tested on volunteers. Winner gets a tour of the Department of Homeland Security, a fellowship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and $5,000 spending money.

That's Entrail-tainment! -- originally published in the Village Voice, 2004.

If we were men, as men we are in show, we would not use a gentle lady so. On TV, there was this woman tied up in a clear box. And some bully-boys dumped a few hundred tarantulas onto her.

It's expected that the tarantulas, a species of arachnid not known as vicious biters, are going to do so anyway, because they're squeezed between the quaking woman and the box. And when there are hundreds of tarantulas, statistically, it is common sense that a few stand to be naturally irritable, ready to deliver a scene formerly reserved for an old Vincent Price movie.

The young woman is pierced and pricked; you can't see it because the camera isn't close enough, but you can hear the screaming and crying from her and witnesses. Some guy is vomiting. This is critical, because emptying the contents of the stomach is great TV. Everyone else is laughing and smirking, just like our good old boys and girls at Abu Ghraib.

The segment was from Fear Factor, rebroadcast on VH1 as part of a rehash of reality TV, the goal as far as one could tell, to condense pain, humiliation, and regurgitation into an even more torturous and indigestible series of specials on reality TV.

What would be the general reaction if the unschooled clodhoppers of Abu Ghraib had used a tarantula interrogation unit on prisoners, snapping pics of quivering naked men covered with arachnids? The Red Cross would lodge complaints and be ignored. The New Yorker and The Washington Post would secure pictures and distribute them on the Net, along with the shrinking-violet warning that the imagery was disturbing. "Atrocious!" a thousand commentators would write.

What's worse? Being menaced and bitten by a military German shepherd? Or being bitten while being compelled to eat a couple of struggling palm-sized spiders in front of a Las Vegas casino of sneering observers?

If you can answer without intellectually rupturing yourself, you may be right for a career in the military or in entertainment, contingent on how you wish to be compensated for your labor. You'll get almost nothing if you go the way of the enlisted man, a lot more if you're a private Pentagon contractor. However, the highest remuneration will be yours if you make it into televised entertainment.

We now know that for the sake of the war on terror, military leaders developed the idea that Muslims dread sexual humiliation and nakedness in front of superior women above all things. Supposedly this was seized from an egghead's book purporting to authoritatively explain the issue, not from watching family-hour TV.

It's proof the military man is not the fountainhead of Yankee innovation, for if one contrasts nudity, masturbation, dog collars, attachment to fake electrical sockets, handcuffing, and humiliation with what's normally on television, the generals and advisers should all be fired for not employing the state of the art from the private sector. The entertainment industry has come up with a variety of arachnids, showers of offal (SciFi's Mad Mad House), emesis through the consumption of the revolting (the larva of filth flies, worms, bull testicles, blood, spiders, stink beetles, etc.), and a stabbing (Cheaters).

Furthermore, it's far more developed in its taste for casual cruelty toward others in the name of a cause or a commercial application. VH1 advertises "fun facts" about Fear Factor, an assortment of stupid lies meant to jolly up the viewer like "All 'food' eaten on Fear Factor is USDA approved" and "[Fist-sized spiders] were sent to [a university] to be tested before being consumed . . . " This runs up the flagpole assertions that experts have certified nastiness as goodness, always important in America, where citizens will salute or adopt anything as long as it's approved by superiors. The average ninny consoles him or herself with the fancy that the USDA deems stinkbugs and maggots to be good eating or that Ph.D.'d shitbags from somewhere have judged an arthropod selected for its nauseating quality to be safe and wholesome.

Although not nearly as well publicized, it's certainly as clever as the retention of a slippery lawyer, relabeled as a scholar from UC Berkeley, commissioned to write national op-ed pieces on "what is the meaning of torture."

Long before Abu Ghraib, reality TV sold repellence as a virtue in everyone's living rooms. It's all in your mind—face your fears, coos the host every night into the ears of his victims. None of it can really hurt you, any more than being bitten by a dog or piled in a pyramid, balls out, with a hood over your head. Gagging down bull testicles or crickets made me a stronger person, insist dolts who've done it on TV.

Yes, indeed, would it not be good if all Americans had a torture life coach, conditioning us to persevere? After being doused with gallons of animal entrails, anyone and everyone will be resilient when their job is outsourced or a family member dies.

Watch this for a while and you're thoroughly deadened. It is not just enough that someone be induced to vomit from eating a glass full of worms or a plate of maggots. If that were the only objective, simply telling someone to chug a quart or two of mineral oil and Fletcher's Castoria would suffice. The aim is to transmute horrification into pleasure. After viewing people lovingly caught on camera not only sicking up, but also gulping down the sick again and again simply to remain in a contest, seeing a still shot of some stupid gentle lady dancing gaily in front of unclothed Iraqis alleged to be sporting boners is weak tea. Is that all there is?

"Donald Rumsfeld," wrote some cretin for a big newspaper a few weeks ago, "told American forces in Baghdad that Abu Ghraib 'doesn't represent America. It doesn't represent American values.' . . . Western morality, embodied in its highest contemporary form in America, is [fill in your favorite besotted-with-ourselves platitude here] . . . "

How much time does anyone think it would take to recruit reality-show contestants in any town in America willing to disrobe, wear a hood, and put their head in the crotch of another contestant for a prime-time audience? To be wired to an electrical outlet? Or to even volunteer for a beating from some goons if there was a 1-in-20 chance it would kill them and they would be displayed on camera swaddled in Saran Wrap?

That prisoners in Abu Ghraib didn't have a choice in humiliating punishments meted out by Americans is only a trifling distinction. We will routinely torture each other and even consent to the same for any number of reasons, quickly dispensing with common sense and basic decency as long as we can assure ourselves it's for money, entertainment, job, love of country, or because someone in authority told us it was a capital character-building thing to do.

Where I grew up, being a vile wretch was hoisted to the level of civic duty for over half a century. It came in the form of a Labor Day pigeon shoot in Pennsylvania's Hegins Valley, an event billed as family-friendly entertainment that earned money for the local community. Gunners shot thousands of pigeons, loaded into boxes and ejected at point-blank range over the course of a day. Boys rushed onto the shooting range to gather up the dead birds, wringing their necks or ripping off their heads if they were still half alive, and tossing them into garbage bins. With so many birds, there were many partial kills. The bleeding animals would fly into the trees, raining blood and feathers on the crowd. All day, dead or near-dead birds would fall from the branches, to be set upon by members of the crowd who would dispatch them in a variety of ways: stomping, kicking, or even playing Hacky Sack with them.

The festival reached its zenith in the last 10 years of its existence, when animal-cruelty protesters began storming it. Although it was finally put down by decree in 1999, during its run crowds became bigger and more boisterous, the behavior more abominable. During one a band called Crimson Country played dance music, including "Red River Rock." Much additional local attraction came from joy over the revulsion of the protesters, along with the opportunity to dish out beatings and trouble to them.

Why it never made it to DVD or just held on long enough for TV to catch up to it is beyond me. Getting a trio of young competitors to spend a few hours ripping the heads off birds that are dying anyway would only be natural.

Monday, July 14, 2008

ANNOY YOUR NEIGHBOR: With noise bands and homemade punk rock

DD's first stab at joining the record industry has been cataloged by punk archivists on the net here.

Put together with my ex-wife while we were in the grad chem program at Lehigh University in 1982, Annoy Your Neighbor With This Tape was a professionally duplicated cassette featuring almost a dozen American punk rock and noise bands, some local to the Lehigh Valley. It was offered as an audio issue of Chainsaw, a fanzine we ran off through the school's publishing-and-copying office.

Reviewed by Maximum Rock 'n' Roll in 1983, editor Tim Yohannon opined: "From Chainsaw fanzine, this collection ranges from hardcore to hard noise. On the noise side, we have Smersh (a lot like the Screamers), Senseless Hate, Blight, and Attrition. There's slower punk by Roach Motel and the Bad Seeds, and a few cuts that have already been out on record (Cracked Actor, Angry Samoans), but the hit for me was Canada's Suburban Menace, a totally great group."

Also reviewed favorably in a Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the cassette sold through its initial printing of 500 copies in a couple months.

At the time there were no rock music studios in the Lehigh Valley which could be trusted with a project like Annoy Your Neighbor. If you were foolish enough to attempt to go to them for professional services, they'd take your money and happily ruin your work while trying to fit it to their standards.

Mastering and duplicating the tape required an end run around these nuisances.

My ex-widf was able to find a man who ran a home studio whose clients were local accordion and polka bands, polka being a significant musical activity in the Pennsylvania Dutch demographic of the Lehigh Valley. His name was Al "the Buttonbox" and he consented to assemble the tape, master it, and furnish it in final duplicated and packaged form. Al did a great job but told us he didn't want our business for future projects because of the bad language favored in punk rock.

The cover art was done by Carol Smith -- I still like it a lot, although it is probably something she would sooner not be reminded of.

Related update: The Gift of Noise.

Cassette index (band/song title):

01. Angry Samoans - Steak Knife
02. Angry Samoans - Lights Out
03. Roach Motel - Now You're Gonna Die
04. Spike Haytrid - Death to Preppies
05. Spike Haytrid - Dream Girl
06. Senseless Hate - We Destroy the Ants
07. Senseless Hate - I'm a Sociopath
08. Senseless Hate - Roasted Meat, Part 3
09. Meatmen - Meatmen Stomp (Intellectual Party Version)
10. Tony T and the Bad Seeds - Suicide Note
11. Cracked Actor - Nazi School
12. Cracked Actor - Judy in Disguise
13. Smersh - Right Wing Barbeque
14. Smersh - Put Your H.O. Car in Your Mouth
15. Smersh - Man Threw in Jail (For Stealing Cookies)
16. Suburban Menace - Get Outta My Way
17. Suburban Menace - Serena Dank (Go Away)
18. Suburban Menace - What's So Wrong
19. Suburban Menace - Skateboard Zone
20. Blight - Prophet of Doom
21. Russian Meatsquats - Society Sucks
22. Attrition - Dilemma

For the trivia buffs, Suburban Menace's "Serena Dank" was written about a woman who was one of the inevitable promoters of family values, the kind of person who pops out of the woodwork on a regular basis to raise warning about the bad influence of [fill in your genre of pop music]. Dank was the founder of something called "Parents Against Punkers," allegedly a "deprogramming" group. She was not nearly as well known as Tipper Gore or Mary Whitehouse (in the UK), who generally get the lion's share of credit as transient cultural warriors who took it upon themselves to rescue white kids from filth, vice and badness.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

MILKING IT: Desperate for a hit movie or series on the Iraq War

The orchestrated media blow job used to announce HBO's "Generation Kill" tonight affords another opportunity to look at how desperate writers, producers and their fuglemen in the entertainment press are for a hit. Fundamentally, they'll do just about anything to milk entertainment value out of the Iraq War.

"Generation Kill" is based on a book by Rolling Stone correspondent Evan Wright. Wright was one of the many embedded correspondents, sent out to witness the war firsthand while the country was in its gee-whiz-this-is-going-to-be-a-fun-war mood.

The Los Angeles Times has written no less than three pieces of hagiography on "Generation Kill" in the last week, kicked off by one entitled "Boots On the Ground" by Matea Gold. ("Boots on the ground" is one of the gold-plated cliches of the war on terror, one coined to denote a swarm of US soldiers descending upon a foreign country. We'll map it further along in this post.)

At the beginning of the Iraq War, being a correspondent along for the ride was a plum opportunity. The amount of press generated by the corps of embeds and the flavor of it five years ago is astonishing. The mainstream press' coverage of the Iraq War was the real-time work of a professional team of apple-polishers, vieing with each other over career postings which could be parlayed into status, promotions, fame and book deals.

"When [Evan Wright] ... was picked to ride with the special forces unit [the Marine Corps' First Recon Battalion], the other reporters gathered at The Kuwait Hilton to find out where they would be embedded 'looked at me with sheer hatred and envy'," Wright told Gold.

"I didn't know what 1st Recon was, but if all these reporters were so jealous, it must be a good spot," he told the newspaper.

Inadvertently, it encapsulates a prevailing attitude, one in which the news media acted as self-serving cheerleaders instead of probing examiners. Riding up front into Iraq was a ticket-puncher, a golden ring not to be messed with.

One can contrast "Generation Kill" -- one of the many books written by embeds (it seems that every journalist who was over there got a publishing deal) with something written from a very different war and time: E. B. Sledge's seminal account of Marines at war in the Pacific, "With the Old Breed."

"With the Old Breed," published in 1981 by the military book firm, Presidio Press, was never made into a movie. Sledge, a Marine, as far as your host can determine, was never ferried around Hollywood or given the benefit of lapdog publicity. Your host came by a copy of "With the Old Breed" in the early Eighties as a member of the long defunct Military Book Club. (Sledge died in 2001. Parardoxically, "With the Old Breed" appears to have been recently optioned to HBO for a future project.)

The point to be made is that there have been many bona fide you-are-there books written on the fighting man (feel free to name your favorite), many from war which the entire country, not just a volunteer force, was engaged in. This, as opposed to a war which polls now regularly show a majority of the American public believes to have not been worth fighting. Yet the grasping industrial-strength mass media process of wringing every last drop of profit and entertainment from American war is a relatively recent phenomenon, one seemingly touched off by the earlier book/movie combinations -- "Blackhawk Down" and "Jarhead."

In receiving the wagon train of hype ushering in "Generation Kill" one had to swallow a number of inane claims -- cliches -- about its so-called unique vision among war movies.

These included (try not to laugh as you recall all the war movies you've already seen):

(1) No one has shown the Marines like this before.

(2) "Generation Kill" shows the incompetence of command.

(3) It is gritty and authentic.

(4) This movie is different from other Iraq War movies and TV shows. "I think this one is a little different," said David Simon, one of "Generation Kill's HBO minders, rather predictably one might add, to the Los Angeles Times.

The wisdoms of the military-style promotional campaign

"We have seen no shortage of films and television series about the war in Iraq." --the Chicago Sun-Times

"Earlier this year, David M. Halbfinger wrote about the challenges faced by movie studios in trying to find audiences for movies about Iraq. HBO will try to buck the trend when they bring the war to television with “Generation Kill,” a seven-part mini-series beginning Sunday. It is not clear why so many of these films have struggled at the box office. Is it because they weren’t very good or just that audiences have lost interest in the Iraq war?" -- NY Times blog

"Bolstered by superb acting and first-rate direction and cinematography, 'Kill' delivers the goods in ways both unexpected and rewarding" -- Hollywood Reporter

"The seven-part program aims to depict Marines, in all their human complexity, during the 2003 invasion." -- The Los Angeles Times

"Generation Kill is not easy to like" -- perhaps not unexpectedly, not from the US press, but the Montreal Gazette. "The characters seem overly familiar and clichéd - inarticulate, foul-mouthed, grumbling chowderheads from any number of war movies and TV shows."

"Generation Kill -- TV at its blistering best." -- Salt Lake Tribune

"Commanding officers are buffoons." -- Boston Herald

"Viewers are left to figure most everything for themselves." -- Allentown Morning Call

"They were 'the tip of the spear' for Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were the guys on the ground. They were the young Marines ..." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

They were the young Marines (now doing the Hollywood shuffle)

Strike while the iron is hot. If in the war movie of the moment, peddle your own projects and scripts.

"It's a long way from Baghdad to one of Hollywood's most exclusive film viewing venues -- the lushly appointed screening theatre at Paramount Studios -- but Marine Sgt. Rudy Reyes has made the journey across the physical and cultural divide," wrote the Los Angeles Times, in "Devil dogs charge into Hollywood."

Reyes, readers are told, is trying his hand at regular acting after playing himself in "Generation Kill."

Joining Reyes were Staff Sgt. Eric Kocher and Cpl. Jeff Carisalez. The latter two also had roles in "Kill" and "all three Marines have found second acts in Hollywood."

Kocher and Reyes are peddling a screenplay. "I don't want to give it away, but we're thinking about something built around [samurai]" readers are informed.

Boots on the ground

"Boots on the ground" -- a phrase used by the media used to describe a swarm of US soldiers going to a foreign land to deliver American firepower, started active duty in 2001-2002.

Then it was most often seen in stories on the American response being mounted against Afghanistan. Between the two years, it was deployed in 64 major pieces.

One example, from CNN, retroactively illustrates the emptiness of the phrase: "Eyes in the skies, boots on the ground, the U.S. forces continue their hunt for Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan."

In 2003, boots on the ground appeared 175 times, sometimes in embarrassing piffle like this newspaper opinion piece extolling the Iraq adventure.

"Boots on the ground, hearts on sleeves: Soldiers in all wars are called upon to be heroes, but our men and women in Iraq are called upon to define a new sort of heroism. First, they must endure the insanity of war, fighting off fedayeen ambushes, withstanding the suicide bombings and mortars, kicking down doors and searching homes."

Or, how about, this opinion piece of one of the original think-tank cheerleaders for war, Michael O'Hanlon:

"Do the Math: We Need More Boots on the Ground," read the headline. And -- no, O'Hanlon is not specifically or particularly presciently asking for more troops in Iraq. It's about making the US military larger worldwide for every contingency and battle.

"Given our all-volunteer force, we need to start recruiting now," wrote O'Hanlon.

In 2004, stomping "boots" were sighted in 204 news stories, many showing growing recognition that the party was over in Iraq.

"How Many Boots on the Ground" was the headline of a news report by reporters Rod Nordland, Babak Deghanpisheh, John Barry and Eve Conant.

"Many U.S. troops say it's one more broken promise. They landed in Iraq planning to rotate out after six months. Then Washington extended their stints to a full year. That was the limit, the Pentagon swore: just '365 days, boots on the ground,' not a day longer."

Hollywood began thrilling to "Boots on the ground" in 2005. That year showed about the same hackwork use of it in as 2004.

"War is hell but it can also be high drama," intoned one newspaper feature. "In boots-on-the-ground documentaries like Gunner Palace and Occupation: Dreamland, we got a discomfiting look at the brutal realities and moral ambiguities of America's war in Iraq, where the death toll rises along with the administration's rhetoric.

"Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories is a lesser piece of work. Its maker, ABC-TV freelancer Mike Shiley, has cluelessly boasted that he joined an Army tank unit as a gunner and earned a civilian combat award after firing in a village along the Syrian border. The Iraqi-made doc The Dream of Sparrows may be the most disturbing of all, a glimpse of life under occupation in which Iraqis directly address Western viewers in tones ranging from despair to anger to guarded hope."

Infantry Magazine, the magazine of the US Army's Infantry School, informed readers of a new book, uniquely entitled, "Boots on the Ground."

"Boots on the Ground, Stories of American Soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan," is edited by [Clint Willis]. "[With] more than 30 anthologies to his credit, [Willis] edited this anthology of 22 accounts of men at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ten of the stories are reprinted from nine different national magazines, seven stories are reprinted from four big city newspapers and the last five stories are taken from private sources."

In 2006, boots on the ground appeared almost 300 times.

"A terrible idea: More U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq ..." opined the Orlando Sentinel.

And in the last two years, the phrase has taken real wing, used over three hundred times in 2007 and now on-track for around three-hundred fifty at the half-way point of 2008. No longer employed in stories on the US military, boots on the ground has crossed over into any common usage where the writer needs a colorful cliche to describe a swarm of people descending as a military force, anywhere, to defeat a problem which stubbornly refuses to be easily overcome.

All the Boots on the Ground books and merch you can stand at Amazon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


A rich variety of schemes have been furnished as potential cures for the energy crisis. Most of them speak to flaws peculiar to the American psyche: a wish for easy answers, the desire to always have something for nothing, and the blanket refusal to entertain the idea that we use too much energy and that, sooner or later, we're going to have to make do with much much less. (The banner example is southern California, DD's home for the last fifteen years. Had a majority of the middle and upper-middle class not thought driving two hours to work each day in gridlocked traffic just so they could have a big house was swell and sustainable, they would not now be having strokes over many $100 fill-ups at the gas station.)

The best laff-riots in the current crop of energy-independence suggestions come from the biofuel sector, an industry prone to desperate exaggerations.

A couple of weeks back DD went into this at The Register, profiling how a number of trash plants -- kudzu and jatropha -- generate a regular stream of stories on how they'll furnish the oil fields of the future. (See here.

The US newsmedia is an easy conduit for these types of salvation-is-coming-if-only-the-disbelievers-would-get-out-of-the-way pieces. Most of the time, readers don't know how they are developed. However, since DD worked at a newspaper for a number of years, he can tell you.

Simply, everyone with pet obsessions and business plans comes crawling out of the woodwork with press releases and phone calls when their hobbyhorses fit the current national crisis, need or fad.

Now, not everyone peddling salvation is a shill. Some of the people are sincere and possessed by something they've been working at, perhaps with only marginal success, for decades. Many others, however, are rascals.

In today's Los Angeles Times, the latest trash plant given the treatment is salicornia, a weed that grows on salt water.

"Scientist Carl Hodges thinks big: Why not harness rising oceans to grow a desert food crop that could also one day overtake oil as a fuel?" asks the newspaper's subhed.

Naturally, the world is promised -- biofuel, harnessing of the rising ocean part of global warming, carbon dioxide sequestration and food.

Much of this is built on the standard irresistible hook of the plant which offers everything for nothing. For example, in the late Eighties and early Nineties in the Lehigh Valley, a company known as Rodale had researchers who were always pitching amaranth, a bitter-tasting weed which grows on virtually nothing, as the new wheat.

In today's case it's salicornia. Two weeks ago on the biofuel beat it was kudzu, jatropha and algae, the latter which also crops up in today's Times piece.

The problem with the prescription is that the plants do deliver something, but never nearly as much as billed. And the scale of return on investment isn't in any way up to the bank of energy millions of years has built into petroleum.

This is hinted at in the story in only two places: (1) statements that diverting the equivalent of three Mississippi Rivers inland and covering the entire Sahara with the plant would do the trick, and (2) salicornia is said to be able to produce 148 gallons of biofuel per acre per year as opposed to soy beans, which only produce 48.

The alert reader will notice salicornia, if you believe the figure, is not an order of magnitude improvement on soy beans, which aren't such hot sources of fuel. Indeed, the production of biodiesel in the US is so small as to be considered almost nonexistent in the pool of liquid fuel requirement. And a difference of a factor of three between salicornia and soy is not a game changer.

Indeed, the limiting factor in all biofuel-as-replacers-of-oil schemes involve differences in orders of magnitude, with renewables always on the bottom side of the energy equation.

Hodges has been working on his dream for close to four decades. There can be no doubt he is a sincere man who will pursue the dream until he can no longer do so. However, over the intervening years, the investments in salicornia as a potential world-beater appear to have been trivial. There's no evidence furnished in the story that it can be anything but a tiny bit player, if that.

However, the plans look good. And they are furnished with pictures which serve to underline the various claims put forward in the story.

DD put the red virtual pencil to this to underscore the message. You can eat salicornia. You can burn it. You can squeeze the stuff for oil and make biodiesel!

Dick Destiny's sesame seeds. You can eat sesame seeds! You can burn them! You can make biodiesel from sesame oil!

Indeterminate oily seeds from a bushy weed in DD's backyard. You can burn them! Sometimes, animals appear to eat them! They sequester carbon. Ad nauseam.

Letting the Sea Cultivate the Land -- The LA Times story on miraculous salicornia.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

FOR FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS: I'll trash your new guitar

To quote from a 2007 summer post, "[Behold] the extreme high-end of the American custom market, where often mediocre [guitars] attain intelligence-insulting pricing, indicating the total extinction of common sense and the middle class."

Arrival in the mailbox of Guitar Center's summer advertiser signaled it was once again time to consider the "relic" guitar -- one artificially aged and banged up at the factory so the vanity-addled can look like they've been rocking for thirty years, instead of managing a hedge fund or running a software company.

For $4,000 before sales tax -- nitric-acid corroded, ciggie burned, sanded Fender Strat.

Trick question: What's your beat-up-from-years-in-clubs Sixties-made Gibson SG worth? Depending on how beat it is, almost nothing, relatively speaking. The collector's market prefers vintage guitars which have either light wear or have been in closets for a few decades. In those cases where they belong to "stars" and are sent to market or a museum, they're classified as memorabilia. And while they are not worthless, they do not hold value like a vintage instrument in almost never playedexcellent condition.

More trick questions: How much does this inauthentic authentic cigarrette burn to the headstock of a Fender Strat done at the factory add to the price of the instrument?

How much does the cigarette burn depreciate the price of the instrument after you bought it if you do it yourself?

Still more tricks: How much does dipping the bridge in nitric acid add to the price of the guitar if it's done at the factory? (Note to readers: The human body does not produce nitric acid in sweat, so an HNO3 soaking is not an acceleration of a natural process.)

How much is your thirty-year old instrument depreciated by corrosion due to sweat and smoke?

Despite the mentally-ill gymastic required to swallow the idea that an artificially aged instrument is worth a lot of money, there is a notable enthusiasm for them on the review boards of the Internet. (In answer to the penniless child who also requires a beat-up-looking instrument, a company which uses slave labor-manufacturing now furnishes cheapo pre-aged instruments, too. The idea is to take crap wood and hardware and make them look crappier, just for very young men of low IQ and liquidity.)

"Features aged knobs, switch tip and trem arm tip, worn-in maple neck, dinged up Fiesta Red body with lightly checked thin nitro finish," writes one buyer of his pricey new Fender axe at "The single-ply 7-hole pickguard and pick-up covers are not aged as originally -- they were of a different plastic that kept its color. The bridge pieces are slightly corroded."

Still another buyer informs:

"[The] fret work absolutely sucks D&(*&)*ck.....since I already had such low expectations for their fret work, I knew that before I even took the guitar out of the was gonna need fret and neck work...... This is my second relic ... the first was a 60's relic ...... and both came from the factory with totally fuc&*^%&7ed up necks and unplayable conditions.........."

As piquant as this tidbit of buyer's remorse is, the buyer also relates how he replaced some of the feature factory-distressed parts in the guitar, which logically seems like -- if DD follows it correctly -- to have been a home jerry-build back to just plain "new" new.

"On this one there is masses of wear (about 25% less than a Rory Gallagher) and it ALWAYS gets a lot of attention!" writes another fan of his new relic. "The neck is back to the wood with rusted parts and heavily worn fingerboard (every fret)."

Yes, if I were in the audience I'd be paying attention. Hey, look at the clown!

Readers will note the use of a proper name -- Rory Gallagher -- as new jargon for a heavily beat-looking Stratocaster.

Rory Gallagher was an Irish guitarist who produced many good blues-rock albums in the Seventies and early-Eighties. He toured the States extensively but never scored the breakthrough single or album which would have made him known to people who are not fans of the style.

Rory Gallagher's thoroughly-played Strat was famously pictured on the album Against the Grain.

The use of Gallagher's name leads one to believe it could be a metric in determining how much, precisely, you would like your guitar to be "aged" during manufacture.

The above buyer, using his own eye, bought a Stratocaster aged to 0.75 Gallagher (or, perhaps, "G's" for short). Someone wanting a guitar that looked exactly like the instrument on the cover of Against the Grain would ask the Fender Custom Shop for a 1.0 Gallagher relicking.

Additional testing and visual comparisons would have to be done to determine the Gallagher quotient of a Stratocaster set on fire before sale.

Chronicles of the Annoying -- The market for relic guitars.

Monday, July 07, 2008

LEARN TO MARCH AND TAKE ORDERS: It's all about good government. Free morning trip to Harrisburg, Pennsyltucky, too

"Left, left, left right left!"

A year ago your host wrote about what a fun time he had at Keystone Boys State summer camp thirty years ago. (See here.)

Since then it has been a surprisingly popular read. And every summer, past and present Keystone Boys Staters write to tell DD what a swell guy he is for publishing it. Their eloquence is humbling.

"You went to all this fucking time to bash a summer program for high school juniors," wrote one enthusiastic camper, just finished with his one-week treat at Shippensburg State Teachers College.

"I attended Keystone Boys' [sic] State just last week and had quite an enjoyable time. I did not find myself being surrounded by military types, or pushed into the Army in any way. As a matter of fact, I don't even want to join the army, I fucking hate war! Keystone Boys' State is a nonpartisan political science program, and I felt that it gave me insight into the political process that I will need very much for my future career path (city government)."

Another high-performance KBS student/scholar wrote:

"Your a retard dude. I went to the same Keysonte Boys State 2007 and your claims about doing drills and 'military' inspections are foolish and you are sadly misinformed ... your an idiot ... PS- Your story about 'Gunny' is probable fake juse like everything else is your essay or w/e it is."

One of the objections to DD's description of Keystone Boys State (ca. the early Seventies) was its nature as a camp administered by military men. Campers were herded, minded and ordered around by active duty members of the four services for the duration of a week in the summer even though it was ostensibly under the umbrella/direction of the Pennsylvania American Legion.

But perhaps the barking of orders, inspections and compulsory afternoon intramural sport have been packed away, relics of a much earlier era. However, in the early Seventies, it was a firm and strong part of the command structure.

So DD browsed out to the KBS website to see new things. Turns out, KBS campers now have a semi-daily newspaper. Called The Citizen's Voice, it is from a copy that DD excerpts the pic of a squad of KBSers standing reverently at attention as a trio of appointed leaders and the American flag parade by.

Readers will note the various color-coded KBS shirts campers are required to wear, depending on their status. For example, thirty years ago, red shirts were for KBS community band members. If you were in the band, you got to eat before everyone else, so acquiring a red shirt was something of a status symbol.

KBS prides itself on the installation of leadership values in its charges. And it also purports to teach how government and political parties run.

Do you think the citizenry of our great nation ought to wear different colored shirts so it would be easy to ascertain their standing at a glance?

If you're very good, maybe I'll let you have a red or blue shirt, little boy! Yes, DD likes that!

In the real world, it's reasonable to assume that many young boys would be jazzed at the idea of attending a camp for followers of rules and orders. The marshal verve, the spirit of obedience and respect for authority are strong things. Plus it's a chit of important-looking padding one can add to the college or military application.

PATRIOTISM! A job for baseball cap-wearing white man

Google News results for "patriotism" -- 11,696.

If you weren't living in country, the foreign press had a different take on our patriotism.

"[There] are two common threads," wrote the Independent. Those whacked by the patriotism stick are always Democrats and liberal "and therefore 'un-American.'"

The Independent, paraphrasing a famous quote, "described patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel; in the US it is the first resort of the Republicans come election time." See here.

"In the last quarter century, losing Democratic presidential nominees have found themselves on the short end of the patriotism argument with their Republican foes," wrote a pollster at The Wall Street Journal.

"The GOP has benefited from a stereotype in the voters’ mind that its candidates are tougher when it comes to defending U.S. national security."

And who could have been more GOP than dead Senator Jesse Helms?

Google News results search of stories including "patriot" and "Jesse Helms:" 724.

This figure was overturned by another stat, the Google News search result for "racist" and "Jesse Helms:" 758.

Over half the country seemed to realize exactly what Jesse Helms was, a redneck and a bigot, a fool who would not yield.

As a TV commentator prior Helms set the stage for his career in politics, "[railing] against 'Negro hoodlums,' 'sex perverts,' Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ... civil rights 'agitators,' [and] welfare recipients," informed this acerbic commentary from the World Socialist Workers' news.

"Jesse Helms will be remembered as one of America’s great patriots," wrote the National Review with nary a trace of humor.

"5-time senator 'great patriot'" read the headline of the Helms obit in the Chicago Tribune newspaper. It was a reprint of a piece authored by the Los Angeles Times. However, in its travel to the Windy City, editors appeared to have cut most of the stuff concerning Helms' claim that all AIDS cases were the result of sodomy, his desire to forbid people with AIDS from handling food in their jobs and his opposition to a treaty which attempted to limit the use of landmines.

"A White House spokesman [called] Helms a 'great public servant and true patriot,'" reported Associated Press, again with no obvious sense of humor.

Returning to Google News, we find the hit rate for "Barack Obama" and "patriot:" 716.

It is only half-cancelled by the News search for "Barack Obama" and "unpatriotic:" 373.

"His campaign understands that he needs to look reassuring and familiar -- like a patriot," wrote the Los Angeles Times. Soberly.

"McCain and Obama both Clueless on Patriotism," blared a headline from something called Zeal for Truth.

There are ten stages to the career arcs of drunks and politicians, opined an editorial writer at the Palm Beach Post.

The sixth stage for both is "patriotism." The patriot politician, or the drunk, always implies: "I clearly love my country more than my opponent, which is why you should love me more ... In fact, you would be unpatriotic yourself if you didn't love me more."

Surprisingly, it possessed a sense of humor. Very strange on a Sunday, especially in the formerly great US of A.

Always helpful, Google News produced the most common searchs related to the keyword "patriotism:" lapel pin flag of the united states, mccarthyism, joseph mccarthy, god bless america and pledge of allegiance.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

EXILE IN NERDVILLE: In 1993, Liz Phair captured the entire nerd music journo vote

Your host picked up the apex example of indie nerd rock at BestBuy last Sunday: The fifteen year anniversary edition of Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville.

In 1993, every liberal arts nerd who'd become a rock critic in the Eighties swooned over it.

"Now, wait just minute!" say nerds reading this. "Liz Phair shows some nipple in the cover shot! That's not nerdy!"

I know what you're saying. But it's not particularly racy either, nerd.

Fifteen years after the fact, many of those who hoisted Guyville in '93 revisited it for newspaper and magazine articles. They were much the same in the standard groupthink: A sociological treatise on why Liz Phair was important followed by an explanation of how she'd betrayed them all and her muse in the making of subsequent records produced for a mainstream pop audience.

Translation: Liz Phair sings better now than she did on her Guyville debut; her records sound shinier, there's a bigger dynamic and beat to them. All things not allowed in white indie nerd rock.

Los Angeles Times rock critic Ann Powers turned in a piece which touched all the nerd rock bases: Guyville's value to National Public Radio, the social theory of it and the psychology of Liz Phair, a thread which links all women, everywhere.

"Discussing the landmark 1993 album Exile in Guyville earlier this month, Rachel Martin, host of NPR's The Bryant Park Project program, blurted out a list of emotions the album evokes for her: 'A young woman's really kind of raw ambition, her disappointment, it's her lust, it's her joy,'" wrote Powers, getting in the mandatory public radio namecheck.

"Catapulting the Chicago-born, Oberlin-educated Phair to prominence at 26, the record won most major critics polls; gave its label, Matador, its first gold record; and set a bar for confessional songwriting that few musicians have reached," the Times reporter continued, turning over the nerd rock ignition with the cue --"Oberlin-educated" -- that this music was intellectually good for you. Oh, and there are some dirty words on it, too. What an audacious combination!

No nerd rock-loving journalist is able to resist turning an essay over to at least a few paragraphs of pedagogy, liberal arts school literary lecture on how the subject fits in the big scheme of things, delivered with the tone of a college professor, one you would have preferred to skip on any hot afternoon in late spring.

"There's a concept that applies to [Liz Phair's] situation [in Guyville] called 'double-consciousness,'" deduced Powers. "Black American thinker W.E.B. DuBois came up with it to describe the plight of black people within a white-dominated society. When one group defines all the terms, DuBois posited, anyone outside the group will experience a split between his own inner life and 'reality.'

"Double-consciousness is what Phair expresses on Guyville — the impossible position of a woman trying to be true to herself in a man's world."

Time for something snide: In 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote "Woman is the Nigger of the World," so stuff it with the W.E.B. DuBois and "thinker" crap, already.

Exile in Guyville comes with a documentary DVD -- home movie is more descriptive -- on the "making of Guyville."

It speaks for itself in pics, Liz Phair interviewing the guy nerds who helped her make the record.

"This wallpaper matches my favorite jammies!" -- owner of Matador, Liz Phair's record company.

"Ehh, Liz, do ya think the crippleware banner smack in the center of the frame gives the impression we're lame?"

"Your backing band's average nerdiness wasn't appropriately matched with yours at the Metro gig in 1993, Lizzy," explained the rock critic.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

STEVEN HATFILL HAS HIS REVENGE: Seven years coming, summing up Amerithrax

When the US Department of Justice agreed to pay Steven J. Hatfill $5.82 million in damages for trashing his life and reputation late last week, it was another big low in the mess that's been the Amerithrax 2001 case. With the de facto exoneration of Hatfill, who had been dubbed a "person of interest" by the FBI, bystanders can conclude the agency has no evidence and no valid notion of who may have been responsible for the mailings of anthrax powder which resulted in five deaths seven years ago.

If one summarizes where the investigation went wrong, an obvious place to start was the FBI's reliance on scientists who were nothing more than prating busybodies, and on its own culture of leakers. Agents and administrators were only too happy to telegraph to the media the name of someone the agency thought was the culprit. Hatfill ranks with Richard Jewell, now deceased, and Wen Ho Lee, among those tarred by FBI leaks and convicted in the newsmedia. Jewell, who was initially named as the prime suspect in the Atlanta Olympic bombing case, sued a number of media outlets and won significant sums before his death at age 44. Lee also sued the government, as well as the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and ABC, winning a collective settlement of $1.6 million for their roles in defaming him as a nuclear spy.

All the smears that fit...

Hatfill was fingered in 2002 by New York Times opinion page columnist Nicholas Kristof, on the say-so of microbiologist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a Federation of American Scientists advisor on biological weapons.

Read the entire analysis at el Reg here.