Monday, February 27, 2006

The Origami: I want it...

Finally gadgets are reaching that cusp of smallness and capability that gets my attendtion. First it was the Nano. Now this... Behold, the Microsoft Origami:

Looks to be basically an ultra-small PC. Entirely capable by modern standards - even runs a standard operating system, word is - but the size of a PDA on steroids. I love the idea. Now I only wish I had a lifestyle that justified owning such a gadget. I can imagine flying all over the world to cutting-edge academic conferences... Or taking my Orgami to the cafe or pub to work on my novel... Sigh. For now, my laptop at home, and my laptop at work take care of all my computing needs, and I haven't the free time to do anything so cool as to loiter in a pub nursing a beer and writing the Great American Novel.

Official information will start coming out March 2nd. For now, go here to read up on it... I shall continue to dream up excuses to buy it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Travelblogue: Joviality and Introspection in Reno

I gambled a twenty in Reno, just to watch it die...

This past weekend, Brenda and I loaded up in my car with issues of Bust and the Economist, minimally-packed clothes, and too-few toiletries, to head over the Sierras for a day in Reno. I'd scheduled the trip secret-ninja style, and I never really developed a plan for what we'd actually do there besides sleep in our hotel room at the Silver Legacy. However, despite the lack of planning, we ended up having quite a fine time. I managed to not think about work, the housing market, the Bush administration, or any of my other constantly-looming bugaboos for more than a few seconds. A successful mini-vacation indeed...

Part of the success of the trip was due to the fact that we were staying in a casino. Now, prior to the trip, I'd had some hesitation about doing this. I thought I'd just find the casinos trashy, and I had an aversion to gambling. However, by the very fact that casinos are designed to keep people in the building, they make an enormously easy vacation-destination. From the restaurants & shopping in the facility, to the bathrooms at every corner, to the cheap room-service, and even to the ultra-fast elevators making the traversment of the 38 floor building a breeze, the casino provided an opportunity for a pre-packaged, no-effort vacation. No figuring out where to eat, no driving anywhere... And on top of all this, there's free entertainment if you can resist the allure of gambling - the sheer spectacle of the casino, directly connected with another two, differently themed, casinos, made certain that one could entertain oneself for hours simply by walking and staring as the indulgent, bizzare weirdness of it all.

Amid the over-stimulation of the casinos, I didn't have many opportunities to let myself worry about "the little things," and this helped force some rexation on me. My greatest concern was my agoraphopbia - which did flare up a little bit, though mainly in Circus Circus, amongst the screaming throng of children, and once again amongst the screaming throng of Korn fans exiting the Korn concert on the premises - but overall my inherent fear of/discomfort in crowded situations stayed at a meer simmer, mainly because everybody seemed to be much more laid-back and much less high-strung than I am used to in California. Yes, it was a crowd, but it was a crowd of happy people.

After eating in the buffet - a classic casino experience if there ever was one - Brenda and I wandered around the adjacent casinos a bit, and then finally ventured down to gamble. It was my first time gambling, and Brenda's first time, at the pathetically small and grungy Alturas Rancheria, didn't really count, so this was her first substaintial gambling experience. We tried out some quarter slots, then some penny slots, and then got sucked in way farther than we ever thought we would. Looking back on the time, I am astonished at how, under the influence of the flashing lights, spinning images, and clanging noises, I lost rational control. But I had my fun. I turned five of Brenda's dollars into $23, then into $1, then back into $13, at which point I cashed out and handed it to her. Then I decided to try my luck with $20 of my own. And, slowly but surely, I lost it all. At that point I had enough sense to step away, but I had grown to understand the siren-song of gambling. Do I regret it? No. Did I have fun? Yes. Do I wish I'd left with net gains? Hell yes. But so it is...

Anyway, that's as much as an account as I'm going to commit to blog-space for now. More words may follow, and pictures will most-definately follow...

Drink Local

I am sick and tired of buying beer only to find that it's old and abused. I don't know if it's just where I've been shopping post-move, or a renewed sensitivity in my palate, but I have been cursed with innumerable six-packs of beer past their prime over the past few months. And I'm about tired of it.

I'm currently drinking a Descutes Cinder Cone Red Ale that, though dated "best by 4/11/06," is obviously on the decline. The beer should be considerably malty, and there should be a considerable hop character from the Amarillos. Not a few weeks ago a friend described the hop character of the beer as significanly "resinous." This emboldended me to buy the beer on my next trip to the local BevMo. Now, my friend lived (he just now moved back to San Diego) in Southern Oregon, which is a lot closer to Bend and Deschutes than I am, but I figured the beer would still be moderately fresh. The date on the bottles reassured me. Once I got 'em home, however, I was gravely disappointed. The hop character had faded, the malt had decayed, and there was some of that autolyzed yeast-ey weirdness that always shows up in too-old beers made with the "California"- style strains. Yes, it's still drinkable, but it's far from it's peak.

Ultimately, I'm somewhat pissed at retailers and distributors for even making it possible for me to buy beer past it's prime. But instead of just bitching, I'm going to do something proactive and vow to "drink local." Yes, unless I'm buying a durable style (big or Belgian) I'm going to do my best to buy from breweries within a two-hour radius. I've never had a problem with breweries like Sierra Nevada and Beerman's, and that's probably because they're so damn close to me and/or have high-enough turn-over that the beer on the shelves doesn't have a chance to get funky. And with Sierra Nevada IPA's recent debut in bottles, this should be quite an easy resolution to keep.

So, drink local. You'll be happier with the beer. And on top of that, you'll be supporting local businesses, which is nice and neighborly...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Listenblog: Minimize to Maximize

Austere. Precise. Subtantial yet unpretentious. Occasionally irrepressibly funky. Those words can describe the music from Richie Hawtin's Minus label, and they are epitomized on the Minimize to Maximize compilation.

Techno is a good place to be in the world of modern electronic dance music, and minimal techno is an even better place to be. Despite the mire that has been dragging down most of electronic dance music since, oh, 2001-ish, techno has remained rather buoyant. Perhaps it's something about the nature of the music that makes it somewhat impervios and perpetual. Techno is the epitome of electronic dance music. It is the hardened core. It is the beautiful, unrefutable basics of the genre. It is the austere, robotic tic-toc that absolutely commands your booty to move and your mind to wander into shimmering futures. It is a sub-genre largely free from the weight of personalities, and, despite some contention, free of pretention. Certainly there are some heady tracks and artists out there, but, in the end, the music is based around such simple principals, with such simple construction, that it is the great equalizer of electronic music.

Techno has a reputation as the grand-daddy of the electonic dance music scene, despite well documented preliminary movements amongst electro disco and new-wave, and the preliminary development of garage and house. However, the reputation of techno as the grand-daddy does hold up in that techno a genre that, across the board, tends to distill the practices of electronic dance music to their purest and most concentrated forrm. The early work of the Detroit artists was also, without a doubt, extremely influential on the rest of the scene.

It is from the Detroit scene - particularly the second wave of the scene - that artists such as Richie Hawtin began to rise. Richie's blaring and acid-drenched work as FUSE was followed by the increasingly minimal and massively atmospheric work of his Plastikman project, which was then followed by the supremely but effortlessly calculated DJ mixes of the DE9 series. The Minimize to Maximize compilation, from Hawtin's own Minus label, magically and magnificently echo's the sentiments, techniques, and textures of Hawtin's latest work.

The tracks on Minimize to Maximize are at the forward boundary of techno. The forward boundary of minimalism. The forward boundary of production. The forward boundary of sound. And, even, the forward boundary of danceablity. Coolely mechanical, undeniably human. Tribal and urban. Ultimately, the music manages the impossible - it comes across as forward-thinking in a genre which is aged and suffering. The anonymous, unpretentious tic-toc, minimal man-machine grind of the music on Minimize to Maximize is quite an antidote to the modern electornic dance music mallaise. And it is so thoroughly poetic that the genre should experience its resurgence through the sub-genre that is undoubtedly it's own, adopted, "grand-daddy."

Why Johnny Can't Write

John Lydon, that is...

In response to an offered induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Sex Pistols posted the following image on their

Wow. I mean, WOW. Punk ethos aside, that's just some damnedly horrible grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I have a lot of trouble, I mean a lot of trouble respecting someone who can't even use the right form of "your/you're." Does the writer of this message also confuse "their," "there," and "they're?" Yeah, they're punk (premanufactured punk, but nevermind that bollocks...) and yeah, they're angry. But that the author couldn't even distinguish between "you're" and "your," let alone construct a comprehensible sentence, just dumbfounds me.

I suppose I shouldn't be shocked at this. I suppose I should realize that the world is full of idiots, and that as someone who managed to attain at least menial competence with written language, I am actually part of an intellectual elite. And I also shouldn't be surprised that a celebrity has proven themselves to have less-than perfect writing skills - modern pop-culture figures regularly reveal themselves to be flaming idiots. No, what really bothers me here is the exposure of idiocy coupled with the punk ethos... I can accept punk thought and actions when seemingly coupled with intelligence. Someone who's smart and pissed comes off as respectably cool. It sells the whole movement as righteous and respectful. Henry Rollins, anybody? But someone is pissed/punk and stupid? They just seem juvenile, and they make the whole movement seem juvenile and dismissable. Now, because of the fact that I have seen someone from one of punk's seminal bands do this very thing, it's just that much more troubling.

Honorable Sex Pistols, I think you just have done punk a disservice...

Bring it on, South Dakota...

The South Dakota abortion bill doesn't scare me. I don't think the Supreme Court will overturn Roe if this gets that far. YES, they do now have Alito and Roberts, but I think Kennedy will swing to the left, and that gives the left the majority on this issue. Additionally, this law may be the impetus we need to get some change in this nation. If the bill passes into law - the SD state senate has already passed it - perhaps liberals, women, and sane people in general will finally be driven to DO SOMETHING about the patriarchal, theocratic, misogynisitic far-right that is crippling our country. Perhaps people will finally see that the policy makers in this country are not in line with widely-held American values. Perhaps they will see that the "Pro Life" movement is NOT really pro life, but in fact is anti-women, anti-modern, and anti-progress. Perhaps they will see that the "Pro Life" movement is in fact hell-bent on returning our society to an oppressive, restrictive patriarchy that favors the rich, the white, the male, and the powerful over all others. Perhaps they will realize that reproductive rights are essential to modern society and women's rights. Perhaps they will see that this isn't about protecting "innocents," but it's about punishing "uppity" women. This is an attempt to chain women to the stove. This is a longing for the Leave it to Beaver nirvana that never really existed. This is an issue that if left uncombatted, will return us to the middle ages.

I for one, am ready for a fight. Bring it on, I say. I want the righties to show us just how despicable they are. I want the left to become mobilized, and reclaim out country. Bring it on. I'll come out swinging.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Our Gravest Threat Yet...

Yes folks, Morrissey was, apparently, questioned by both British and US security forces as a potential threat. Is nobody safe? Is Bernard Sumner next? Was Ian Curtis the victim of a CIA anti-insurgent hit? It's good to know that our government is protecting us from glum, 80's post-punk frontmen.

Sigh. Somehow, my confidence in the competence of said forces is shaken...

The Boomer Problem

The February 18th issue of the Economist bears a cover reading “How to Manage an Ageing Workforce.” Within, the impending “problem” of Baby Boomer retirement is commented upon. Within, there’s lots talk about the negative effect boomer retirement may have on the world economy, on the void of expertise that will be left when boomers leave and there are insufficient numbers of skilled workers to take their place. The Economist’s solution? Keep the Boomers on. Work ‘em part time, maybe even pay ‘em less, but keep them around. You know what I say? GO HOME AND WATCH MATLOCK.

Christ almighty. Generation Y is in dire straights these days. Innumerable recent college graduates are unable to find sufficient and appropriate work, and much of this has to do with the fact that much of the world’s affluent, professional jobs are held by the Boomers. I’d think a logical and sane response to Boomer ageing and retirement would be to phase the Boomers out, and to train the younger generations to replace them, not to hold on to the Boomers longer. Are Generations X and Y incompetent? Not at all. Have they been given much of an opportunity to succeed? Certainly not the case with Generation Y. How about we face the fact that the Boomers will grow incompetent and die eventually, at which point we will no longer have any opportunity to keep them in the workforce, and they should be phased out. Meanwhile, they Y-ers, the Baby Boom Echo generation, should be phased in. It’s amazing how ignorantly the Boomers are steamrolling their own children to promote their own interests. It’s amazing how little agency youth have in this world, and how powerful the greybeards are. Oh, I’m sorry, am I being too dismissive of my elders? Is this offensive? Well, I’d be a lot more forgiving if it seemed like they cared about us at all…

Backing off a little bit, I'd like to point out that the Boomer Problem has an aspect that hasn't really recieved much discussion yet, and which my above comments touch upon. The boomers are such a large group, and with so many members who are educated, and so many who are working - thanks in large part to the women's movement - that they have quite literally clogged up the work force. They negotiated themselves into positions of power, and they have stayed there. There's been very little new blood in many industries over the past twenty years. And though there's been plenty of thought given to what will happen as they age with regards to health care, etc., there's been very little public discussion of the fact that by simply existing as they do, the Boomers are distorting the natural, organic flow of the workforce. The workforce has become top-heavy, with lots of senior - "expert" - employees, and very few young people being brought in and trained. And why have these discussions, respectively, happened and not happened? Because the health-care concerns and scares the boomers, while the exclusion of younger generations from opportunity does not. However, it should. If younger workers aren't effectively phased in, the economy will NOT be able to support the retirement apparatus that the Boomers are so set upon. Therefore, it should be in the interest of boomers to phase us youngins in. Now if someone would just tell them that...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

We're not so different...

When I was an undergrad, in one of numerous classes dealing with Islam and related events and issues, a professor related to me and my classmates a story regarding the voyage of Muslims into the far-East during the medieval era. In the story, Muslim travelers encountered the native people in the general vicinity of modern Mongolia. The travelers attempted to explain their religion/identity. Eventually, the east-central Asian natives looked upon the travelers with recognition and said, "Yes, we know what you are. You are western monotheists," as they held up a Christian statue. To these people, from a completely different ethno-religious-linguistic background, Christians and Muslims seemed enormously similar. Now, roughly a thousand years later, have things changed that much, or are the "West" (Christian and post-Christian Europe and its former colonies) and "Dar al'Islam" really that different? Are they so different that a cultural war is inevitable, as many seem to be saying, and as more seem to be hell-bent on ensuring? Or are the peoples of the "Muslim world" and "the West" really cultural cousins, closer to each other than all other peoples on Earth?

I make these statements, and relate this story - I wish I could clarify/verify it, but that's not going to happen quickly - because I think they can do something to combat the Islamophobic notion of Islam as inherently separate and other and perhaps help move some people away from the viewpoint that cutural differences will be the foundation of, and indeed necessitate, future conflicts - See Samuel Huntington's pulp poly-sci bestseller "The Clash of Civilizations for proof of the widespread acceptance of this viewpoint. Not, of course, that cultural differences can't lead to conflict. I just think that cultural differences, especially between groups such as the so-called "West" and the "Islamic World" aren't as severe as some may think, and that they do not necessarily necessitate conflict. Overall, I think culture is far more goddamn fluid than most people give it credit for - just take a look at medieval Andalusia for evidence of this. Dwelling on cultural differences - a favorite pastime of warmongers throughout the world - doesn't do a damn thing to move world culture forward and get us all out of this multi-millenia-long mire that I'll dub "the Eon of War." The world is not comprised of Kulturerdteile, but rather of billions of individuals with a myriad of identities comprising a wide and gently-gradiated spectrum.

Ultimately, I don't think my cultural differences from anybody necessitate war. If enough people pull their heads out of their proverbial asses and come to agree with me... we might finally be able to move forward.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ports, Stupid Liberals, Growing Islamophobia, and the "East-West Divide"

Okay, so six major US ports are being sold by a British company to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates, and all of the sudden everybody's flipping out like it's the showdown of the Bush administration. Democrats and some Republicans are moving to block the transaction, while Bush is threatening to use his first veto to block such a block. Meanwhile, I'm sitting here wondering why everyone's got their panties in a bunch.

Aside from the fundamental weirdness of US ports being owned by foreign companies, I see little reason to be concerned about the UAE sale. Terrorits ties, some say. Hooey, say I. The UAE is too damn capitalist, IMO, to allow the ports to be used for terrorist purposes on their watch. It's just not profitable. The UAE, IMO, has no inherent interest in Islam or Islamism on principal alone. Rather, they may have made deals favorable to Islamist causes out of an interest for profit, but not for religio-political ideology. In the deal for the ports, I think that the UAE will see the running of healthy and profitable ports to be much more in their interest than allowing terrorist to use the ports and thus triggering World War III/the Fifth Crusade. That'd be, you know, kinda bad for business. For everyone except Halliburton, that is.

Bush said on the matter, "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, `We'll treat you fairly.'" For once, I am in agreement with Bush. HELLO PEOPLE, have you learned nothing from the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon fiasco? The Islamic world is feeling persecuted - maybe that's because Western capitalists are systematically denying all but the ultra-wealthy elite of any agency they ever held - and some among them are growing violent over it. The cartoons have been as inflammatory as they are because they equate Islam with terrorism. By denying the UAE the port holdings because of supposed terrorists threats, wouldn't the US basically be saying "Muslim/Arab = TERRORIST?" Yeah, that might piss a few people off.

Overall, I think my greatest concern is the growing level of Islamophobia - indicated by the events discussed above - in North America and Europe, and what its implications might be. I am alarmed by how readily accepted the notions of inherent Islam/terrorism correlations are becoming. I am alarmed by common references to Islam as "medieval." I am alarmed by the actions of some in Dar al'Islam that support these stereotypes - unlike al'Qaeda's attacks, which were performed by small groups, these protests are largely populist. I am alarmed that in the European press, and to some degree in the American press, there is common reference to an "East-West divide." More and more are espousing views stating that there is a fundamental difference between "Western" and Islamic culture, and that the two are bound to conflict, mainly because the Muslims are so "backwards" and "medieval." Actions on both ends of this conflict are only stoking the fires on the other, and we really could be headed for a cultural war. And that really scares me.

Just as I was beginning to think we were turning the corner, just as I was beginning to think the Bush era of unilateral action and "pre-emptive" war was over, just as I was beginning to think there might again be peace in the world, all this flares up. And not it's not just right-wing idiots in the US that are the problem. It's right and left-wing idiots on both sides of the Atlantic. And Muslim idiots even further east. Christ almightly people, sometimes I think there really is no answer, no hope...

Monday, February 20, 2006

In case you forgot...

A shout-out to PJ and the other Batcavers of '99-00, wherever they may be...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

I'm so fed up, I'm moving to America...

...oh wait, I'm already there.

In the Bush era, many of those who, like myself, disagree with the policies of the administration, have occasionally fantasized about moving to Canada or Europe. However, with the recent Parisian riots, the Danish cartoon fiasco, Michael Chessman's antics, and my recent insights into shockingly racist European and Canadian anti-immigrant movements as discovered in a recent bout of blog-surfing, I am finding that I am increasingly pleased to be residing in a country that does have a tradition of multiculturalism and minority rights. So much so, in fact, that I think if I was living in Canada or Europe right now, I'd threaten to move to America.

I read the ugly things written by anti-immigration and "majority rights" advocates, and I am shocked. I read their descriptions of the so-called degenerate minority groups, and I cringe. I read diatribes against blacks, latinos, and Hmong, and then I look at the students in my own classroom and I see a complete incongruity. Viewpoints espoused by individuals such as those at the blogs I read - I won't mention or link them, as I don't want to give them any traffic - can only be the result of ignorance and fear. It's all shockingly ugly.

Crackpot of the Year Award

If you were to look through the most recent edition of Newsweek, you would find, near the back, a full page ad, containing nothing more than the "policy statement" of the so-called "Coalition for a Humanistic Euro British Canada." Contained within this passage - ostensibly a policy statement advocating the restriction of Canadian immigration to Europeans (white folk, that is) - is several hundred words of the most poorly-written - to the point of being outright confusing - xenophobic, classist, and just straight-up insane drivel I have ever seen.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to bestow the award of Chewingonaviancranium's Official Crackpot of the Year on Mr. Michael Chessman, founder, and seemingly sole member, of the Coalition for a Humanistic Euro British Canada.

I struggle as I continue to write this post, because I don't think I can really do Mr. Chessman and his organization justice. I cannot, with my words here, convey the sheer insanity of the CHEBC. The official website (linked above) demonstrates less skill with concern to web design than that posessed by a trained monkey equipped with a cracked copy of Dreamweaver. Typos are found throughout the text. Throughout the website, Chessman awkwardly explains his xenophobic and fetishistically Brit-o-phillistic views on issues such as eduction and immigration, before proceeding to implore favored celebrites such as Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, and Alan Alda to join him in his beloved Canada. Chessman also puts forward an open invitation for Lee Iacocca to manufacture European cars in Canada. This invitation is followed by numerous pictures of European automobiles and lustful descriptions of the vehicles, extolling their virtues... The insanity continues as one scrolls down the page. There is even a recommendation of Citibank to readers of the page - I have no idea what either the Citibank plug, or the list of recommended movies, have to do with Chessman's efforts for the "improvement of [his] homeland into the next milleneum."

Long story short, had I not seen the CHEBC statement in Newsweek, I would have dismissed Chessman and his organization as low-grade crazies. But the very fact that Chessman somehow managed to fund a full-page ad in Newsweek, AND deem such an expenditure worthy, marks him as a true, world-class crazy person.

Thank you Mr. Chessman. Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for making my day a little more interesting. I hope the MPs continue to ignore your letters, and I hope your immigration policies are never enacted, but I thank you for making that truly special contribution to the world that only a flat-out crazy person can make.

Friday, February 17, 2006


Just a warning...

I feel this blog may be an appropriate place to record accounts of important events and memorable stories. While the practice of recording such events as or soon after they happen is standard blogging practice, it seems the recording of long past such events is not. I plan to occasionally post accounts of these events in hopes that I may preserve them, and that my readership - so far a friend and a lover - may enjoy them too. These accounts shall be fleshed out with photographs where appropriate. Expect the first "Memoryblog" later on this weekend.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Listeningblog: the Chemical Brothers @ Leicester '95

I've been a live bootleg addict ever since the T-3 lines of UC Santa Cruz allowed me to obtain the illicitly recorded and circulated, but oh-so-delicious live recordings of my favorite artists. My tastes for illicit recordings mirrored my tastes for legal ones, so I amassed quite a large collection of bootlegs of electronic dance music artists, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers being my foremost pursuits. I just recently obtained, to my delight, a Chemical Brothers performance from 1995 - the second of only two extant such recordings that I know of. I am blogging this as I listen to it for the first time.

I must say, goddamn! Tom Rowlands and Ed Simmons know how to make some funky music. The set opens with massive, psychedelic, analog-synth noodling, slowly seaguing into a look of the old Beatles' sample, "Take this brother, may it serve you well," from the original version of "Chemical Beats" (damn Apple for not clearing that, or any other Beatles samples post-Paul's Boutique). Then it gets started right quick and funky with "Dust Up Beats (Version 2)." Sweet deliciousness. Crunky, funky, massive breaks... There's just a warmth to the Chems' sound, especially in the early stuff - something about the synths and boards they were using. More follows... A bit of the "Bug Powder Dust" break, then on into Leave Home, followed by the immortalized '95 treatment of "Song to the Siren," then the acid madness of "Birdies," which slowly morphs into the "Sandals" remix, followed by the under-appreciated "Life is Sweet (Remix 1)" and "Chemical Beats," and, as always, an Octave Kitten freak-out outro. Confused? Sorry, I got excited. Chems bootlegs do that to me...

My love affair with the Chems is undying and incomparable. Their franken-music opened my mind and world. When I first heard it, it seemed to me the perfect music for me. It was as if it was drawn right from my head. It was as if someone had taken all the elements I liked - Beatles-esque psychedelia, hip-hop, that weird "techno" stuff that I was vaguely aware of, and the outright weirdness of experimental music - and merged it together in one utterly beautiful, mind-fucking package. My love grew unimaginably when I first saw the Chems live at Red Rocks in the summer of '99 - I count the encore of that set as, most likely, the high point of my life. Fucking religious, that was. Shimmering lights, infinite sky, cascading colors and images like the mind of God opening up for me, a sheer wall of maddening, psychedelic sound, and thousands of people sharing the experience with me, lifting their arms up in worship. As the show closed, the words "LOVE IS ALL" were projected on the natural rock of the amphitheater. It still chills me... Listening to live bootlegs such as this one help me to relive that moment. For that reason, they are precious to me.

On another note, it seems like Leicester University was quite the place to be in 1995. I've heard a recording of a magnificent three hour Underworld performance at Leicester during that year. If only I wasn't a clueless adolescent at that point...

No, this isn't becoming a politics blog...

... but some things just have to be mentioned.

Today the UN released a report stating that the US should release or bring to trial al Guantanamo Bay detainees, and shut down the facility. About damn time. I don't know why they had to do so much investigation to determine that what's happening at Guantanamo might not be "okay." Nevermind that US practice at Guantanamo is in complete violation of the
Third Geneva Convention. Nevermind that "unlawful combatant" is a conveniently invented and legally baseless categorization. Nevermind that the current administration has even less regard for international law than it does for domestic law. Those pesky laws just get in the way of their attempts to take over the world and extend coporate interests at the expense of the 98% of the world's population that is not part of the Ruling Elite.

Now let's hope that the UN has the spine to follow through on this one. Something tells me, however, not much will come of it...

I haven't found a link to the actual report yet, but you can read more on it here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Am I the only person who doesn't care about the Cheney hunting accident?

Really, the politics blogosphere, left and right, seems to be going nuts about this thing. Even the normally collected and reasonable folks over at Kos seem to be insisting that the accident is indicative of, well, something. But really, I'm so disinterested in the whole that I can't even bring myself to read their arguments. Would someone care to explain to me, in a nutshell, why this event is relevant?

Maybe it's the fact that I grew up around people who hunt. Maybe it's the fact that guns are about the only issue on which I am staunchly conservative. Maybe it's the fact that I'm already convinced that Cheney is a Sith lord, and therefore I expect him to do things like shoot people.

I just think there are far greater things to worry about now, and I'm certain that this event won't be the downfall of the Bush administration. Harping on it for even one second makes the lefties look rather petty. If they want to further things, they should go back to focusing on things that really do matter and really do affect the general public, such as, oh, say, perhaps... a massive domestic spying program.

You know, the whole thing is making me reconsider my evaluation of the left "netroots." Maybe they are just fickle and neurotic. Maybe they don't have an over-arching plan. Maybe the neocon spin-masters have managed to push the Cheney issue to the forefront, and the lefty bloggers have taken the bait. And then suddenly, everyone's forgotten about Spygate. Great job fellas... Great job. Keep this up and we'll have the '08 election locked up for sure.

Monday, February 13, 2006

On Writing as Art

I have long thought that I would like to write. That's write, not write. The italics are important here. They signify that what I would like to write would be art, not merely the practical and purpose driven prose that I have written as an academic and blogger. I want to write beautiful and brilliant stories and novels. I want the words to flow out of me. I want to be inspired, so inspired that it is all very easy. Unsurprisingly, with these expectations, I have managed to produce nothing more than a handful of notes that might, with years of work, turn into a few stories and novellas.

As I drink in the unseasonly sunlight that is currently bathing California, I am uplifted and inspired. My creative desires are higher than they have been in more than a year, and I seek to give them an outlet. Rather than pursuing my established creative outlets of visual art and brewing, I want right now to write. I, however, have no idea where to go, where to begin, what to do... Yes, I have some notes written, but they are old, and they don't appeal to me right now. If I was to paint right now, and feeling similarly frustrated, I might draw some sketches to get some ideas out. Or I might just grab the paint and let my frustrations flow. I know what to do in visual art - I am intimately familiar with it, and have been my entire life. I know what to do there. However, I don't know of an analog for those activities within the art of writing.

Searching for my muse, I became increasingly frustrated with writing as a medium. I simply want to express. I want that flow. That simple and satisfying flow that is so easy for me to achieve with visual art. I felt like there was no way to achieve that same flow with writing. It is very intimidating to stare at the blank page of a word processor, knowing that the next step is to conjure forth a prose narrative, complete with characters and interactions and imagery and all those things that are intrinsic to any and all fiction prose that is sufficiently coherent to be enjoyed by anyone other than the author. Thinking on this, I realized how inherently limited fiction prose is...

Most all successful fiction prose does present a narrative. Than narrative, no matter how clouded by style and surreality, is there. Events are happening. And those events almost always involve people or highly anthropomorphized figures. There are human interactions - whether they are between characters, or between a narrator and the reader. All of this weighed upon me. With anything I attempt to write, with whatever I attempt to express, these characters must be conjured and cultivated in order for a narrative to be created. And without said narrative, my prose would fall apart, a pretentious heap of verbal vomit. I find the creation of characters and narrative to be intimidating - far more intimidating than the creation of brushstrokes and compositions.

Yes, the convention in visual art is to create visual representations of real-world elements. A portrait, a landscape, even a portrayal of a god all draw from established visual language. However, visual art has demonstrated an appeal beyond the representation of the familiar - abstract representations, design elements, and full-on avant-garde abstract painting are all well received and understood. While prose and poetry have experienced similar deviations from their norm, I would argue that the furthest extremes of visual art’s deviation from pure representation are far greater than that of writing's fringes. And I believe this is because writing is an art of language.

As interesting and wonderful as language is, it is frustratingly limiting at times. To a certain degree, I feel writing is frustrating because the language is necessarily limiting. There is a set vocabulary, and there are set grammatical rules that must be followed if anyone is to understand the work. Oh certainly the rules can be bent within reason, and occasionally new words can be introduced, but overall the medium that the artist has to work with is fairly stagnant. And it's the same one all other writers are using - all a writer has to distinguish their work is the style with which they use the language. It's as if all painters were to use the same brush, and their only decision was to be what strokes to make. There would no option to select a paint knife, an improvised device, even a hand, much less to strap a rotting road kill carcass to the canvas and say "done."

The last bit touches on what I think is another limiting element of writing as art. While visual art uses visual language to do its communication, there is little in the way of well-established, acculturated visual language to violate and direct the flow from the artist. Aside from an impulse to scan visuals from top-left to bottom-right or from top-right to bottom-left based on your primary written language, the only solidly established elements of our visual vocabulary are deeply primal. Curves relate to female fertility, angles to masculine strength. Bared teeth are aggressive. Green and blue are serene, while red is stimulating. The resulting language is most abstract, and puts little pressure on the artist. This lack of baggage on visual art allows the artist greater freedom in deciding what to do with the language. There are fewer preconceptions to be violated...

To contrast, writing uses verbal language - the language of interpersonal communication. Words and phrases are laden with baggage. One could even say that verbal language is, by its very definition, a collection of preconceptions. Words trigger thoughts and constructs - highly specific thoughts and constructs. Though the artist may bend these, they may not regularly break them without losing contact with their audience. And verbal language is used entirely for the purpose of communication between people. The very use of verbal language triggers the frames of interpersonal communication, and if the author isn't telling the reader something, then the reader soon expects to see characters within the text telling each-other something. This, to a certain degree, explains the prevalence of narrative in writing - without narrative, writing doesn't make sense. Without narrative, verbal language is separated from the context that gives it meaning and value.

So what am I saying in all of this? I am saying that writing, due to the nature of linguistics, is inherently capable of far less abstraction than either visual or auditory art, and that this limitation is intimidating for me. There is no analog for a mixed-media abstract or sound-collage in writing. There is narrative. If I am to be successful in this medium, I am going to have to apply myself more than I ever have before. And pray that my muse visits me.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Best Thing to Happen to Electronic Music Since the 303..

As some of you may know, I am a huge electronic music geek. I have, at various points in my life, lived and breathed the stuff. I am currently experience a general resurgence in my music awareness and hunger that is resulting in considerable contributions to the coffers at With the music very much in the forefront of my mind right now, I'd like to take this opportunity to direct my readership to what is, I believe, one of the greatest things to ever happen to electronic music.

Having been an electronic music geek for nearly 10 years now, and having spent thousands of dollars on obscure CDs and records, and having spent countless hours researching online, I have developed a generally adequate familiarity with the broad and beautiful expanse that is commonly called "electronic music." It's quite exhaustive actually, but electronic music is so expansive and varied, with a Byzantine system of genres and sub-genres, that I say my knowledge is only adequate. Now for the problem...

Despite my knowledge, I'm often dumbfounded when I'm asked to explain electronic music. How? How can I just explain the great expanses and intricacies of electronic music? How many days do you have free? It's an overwhelming task, and I used to not know where to begin. Now I do...

Now, if someone enquires about electronic music, one of the first things I do is direct them towards
Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music. Ignore the horrendously bad flash intro - once you get beyond it, you will find what is quite possibly the most exhaustive exploration of electronic music that I have discovered thus far. Ishkur, whoever he is, deserves your respect. The site clearly maps out every imaginable sub-genre of electronic music, from musique concrete to Rio funk, providing informed, intelligent, accurate, and witty commentary on each sub-genre, and providing anywhere from two to eight high quality audio samples exemplary of the genre. The maps show the growth and interaction of the sub-genres, and even demonstrates the chronology of things. It's all damn near perfect.

Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music can serve as an excellent way to introduce people to electronic music - I've witnessed its effectiveness - as it makes everything so transparent. It also makes an excellent resouce for seasoned veterans. Thanks to it's mapping and audio samples, I was able to recently make several educated purchases of early-80s electro-disco. Without Ishkur, I would likely have never found my way to the synthy-goodness that is Patric Cowley, or the metallic breakeyness that is Stakka and Skynet. Thank you Ishkur. Thank you for advancing the cause of crate-diggers and head-nodders everywhere.

A Right to Self-Identification

Last night I spent a few hours MySpying on a slew of old high school classmates. In the course of this, a series of thoughts and discoveries triggered a re-evaluation of my previous post, the fruits of which you shall see below...

As I read through the profiles of my old classmates, I was thoroughly surprised several times. People with whom I had a four to thirteen year history, people who I thought I knew fairly well, revealed themselves, through the medium of MySpace, to be far more interesting and complex individuals than my schoolyard memories would have implied. Foremost among these cases was a girl who was undoubtedly one of the school's pariahs...

This girl was one class below me, and her arrival prompted much excitement. She dressed pseudo-"goth," for the most part, and was often referred to as "the Witch." During my sophomore year - her freshman year - rumors involving the sacrifice of a chicken were widely circulated concerning this girl and a classmate. I knew very little of "the Witch," other than that most "cool" folk at the school avoided her and/or openly derided her. During her junior year, "the Witch" somehow managed to not end up in the yearbook at all, whereas most students find their ways into at least three pictures. From my own memories and from my sole remaining memory-aides from high school - the yearbooks - I could conjure up nothing more regarding "the Witch" than the image of an outcast, defined solely by exclusion from the mainstream.

Stepping back, this is utterly tragic. I don't know the details of the situation, but here was a person who, for whatever reason, was somewhat savaged by the twisted social environment of a traditional, comprehensive high school. The social situation in which I did encounter her in real life worked to prohibit authentic interaction. The image that I, and many of my peers, carried away concerning this individual was tainted horribly by the social situation in which it was forged.

When I came across the MySpace profile of this individual, and subsequently redirected to her space on Livejournal, I was surprised to learn that she currently attending Sac State, pursuing an MA in political science or some similar discipline. She largely defines herself as an academic at this point - something that surprised me, considering I was unaware of any great academic interest on her part whilst in high school. I read a bit through her blog, and saw that her current reading list for school involves many of the same books that made up my reading list whilst at UCSC studying history. Her complaints about life in Sacramento mirror many of my own upon my initial arrival in the area.

I was struck by the fact that I shared so much with this person in terms of life experience and interests. I knew next to nothing of her when I was in high school, and I did not particularly desire to know more. I stood idly by as people snickered at her and called her "the Witch." My guilt grew as I read on noting thoughtful and interesting discussion throughout the blog. Here is a sincerely interesting and engaging person, where before there was - in my memories - a pariah.

Overall, what I read last night humanized a person that had been dehumanized by social situations in "real life." Reflecting on this, I can't help but think that this occurred as easily as it did because I was reacquainted with this person via the internet, were she controlled the situation. Through MySpace and Livejournal, she governed the communication. She determined what information was made available about herself. And ultimately, she was able to paint a picture of herself that is undeniably far more accurate than the one that I received through real-life interactions. I feel as if I am seeing the "real" version of her for the first time, and this is a version that she created and put forth herself. It is not at all untrue or dishonest. It feels more real and just than all of my memories concerning her. It is because of this experience that I am now willing to state that I believe people have a right to self-identification, and avenues of socialization that allow one control over the communication - such as the internet - may be in some cases the most viable means by which to arrive at authentic identification.

I am not basing this conclusion on my experience with "the Witch" alone. As I looked at some 50 MySpace profiles, I was constantly amazed to learn new things about my classmates. New nuances. Encouraging things. Discouraging things. Things I would not have otherwise learned.

So ultimately, I am again accepting of identity negotiation, and not just because it is inevitable and unavoidable. I am accepting of it because I believe we all have a right to a positive and accurate outward identity, and negotiation is a means of achieving this. And I am delighted to learn more of the people I thought I already knew due to this negotiation.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Identity Negotiation

One of the most interesting things about the internet is the ability people have to "negotiate" their online identity. Within their online social-spheres, people have the power to control what information is made available about themselves. This allows a far greater degree of control over others' perceptions of one's self than is possible in the physical world. And ultimately, I think this "negotiation" is a burden that I want as little to do with as possible.

Identity negotiation happens all over the internet. It happens in the selection of an e-mail address, an AIM username, an avatar for a message board, and in just about every activity that occurs on Myspace. Questionnaires about height, weight, interests, lifestyle, food and alcohol preferences, sexuality, etc. are bandied about on Myspace on an hourly basis. How one answers these questions, what images one includes on their Myspace page, what music they select, how they choose to communicate... It is all done, consciously or subconsciously, with intent to put forward what the individual considers a positive image of one's self. Not convinced? Go online and look up a friend on Myspace or Facebook. Now just tell me they didn't try to make themselves sound as cool as possible. And notice all the profiles created and/or updated when enrolled in grad school? Notice the lack of talk about getting laid off? About living with one's parents at 25? Notice the creative embellishments of careers? Distorted physical descriptions? Sometimes I barely recognize my friends...

Recently, while setting up a Myspace profile, I was in a particular mood - certain things were prevalent in my mind, certain concerns pushed forward and others pushed back. I answered questions about my interests, heroes, etc., with these preoccupations governing my answers. My "description" was written primarily with this focus. What resulted was a profile that, while not unbecoming of me, gave a very limited impression of me. The full weight of this was only realized when my girlfriend checked out my profile and responded with slightly bemused exasperation. Ultimately, I had composed a profile of myself that had the potential to outright confuse those who know me intimately. I had attempted to "negotiate" my identity, and it fell flat someone who already has a strong conception of my identity. Under this lens, my profile seemed a travesty, an offense against myself and those who know me. This caused me to reconsider any attempts to overtly define my identity...

So what does all this mean? It means I am going to step back from "defining" myself, and let my actions speak. Anything I attempt to say in a Myspace profile, etc., will ultimately be woefully inadequate and ultimately present a limited representation of me - a misrepresentation of me. And nothing I can say in a "blurb" about myself can compare to the volumes of knowledge and impressions my friends have and hold regarding me. In response to this, I will attempt to leave my online "identity" to be defined, in the impressions of others, by the same organic process by which my real-world identity has been cultivated - by interactions and actions, not by premeditated soapboxing.

...But then again, didn't I just write all this with a certain image of myself in mind?


Oy vey. There is will be little more to this post than venting...

I think there's nothing more frustrating than persistent miscommunication with a co-worker. Continued misunderstandings and butting of heads. Not malicious, mind you, but genuine misunderstanding. When it's as if the two people involved are speaking different languages. When jaws flap and brows are furrowed, but nothing gets accomplished. I now look on my students - who, due to my our school's model, are mandated collaborators - with more sympathy. Sometimes, despite the best intentions and highest capabilities, two people just can't seem to get on the same page.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Re-Framing Teaching

Early on in my teacher-prep program, one of my professors admonished us with the following joke:

What do you call a bunch of teachers in a basement?

Punchline: A WHINE-cellar

If only it weren't so true. Put a bunch of teachers together, and negative talk inevitably ensues. The burdens of the discipline are the focus. Sometimes, it's management problems. Other times, it's the state standards and NCLB. Often, it's the pay. All of it is ultimately, I believe, damaging to the profession if it ever gets beyond the doors of the teachers' lounge.

In the United States, we live in a meritocracy. Or at least in a society that values meritocracy as a philosophy. There is a wide-spread notion that merit and virtue are rewarded with prosperity and power. This is the old lie, the American Dream. It has been sold to us since a very early age. We still tend to believe in it, in spite of the obvious evidence that many of the prosperous and powerful are without virtue, and most of the downtrodden are undeserving of their situation. However, the blade cuts both ways...

The notion that virtue is rewarded also implies the notion that receipt of rewards signals virtue. This backwards meritocracy is at the center of the conservative establishment's justification of its own power. The rich and the powerful are as they are because they are virtuous, and because they are virtuous, we should allow them to be in power and continue to reward them. Acknowledgement of this notion lead me to reconsider how I should talk about teaching.

Will whining about my situation as a teacher really garner me support? Will I be rewarded with higher pay, greater autonomy, and respect? NO is my answer. If I complain of low pay, etc., those holding the backwards-meritocracy frame will assume that my low pay is deserved. That I am not virtuous enough to deserve more pay. In fact, that my pay is low relative to my hours-worked and education level must in fact be a sign that I am un-virtuous as a teacher. By whining, I am justifying my current situation.

In light of this, I propose that teachers present themselves to the public as being in an advantageous situation. As being the subject of great rewards, and thereby, people of great virtue. I get far more vacation time than most Americans. I am guaranteed holidays off. Should I have children, I will have an accomidating schedule. I have the respect of much of the community. I get to work with vibrant young people. I get to have a positive influence on innumerable lives throughout the course of a career. I get to be a politics geek as part of my job. The benefits go on and on...

If that is the dialog that the public hears, general respect among the community may rise, and respect amongst the policy and law-makers may also rise. Overall, the outcome for teachers - and for students - will be good, I believe.

So if you are an educator, or are considering becoming one, please consider this, and respond accordingly next time someone asks you about your job.


I feel I need to give a little thought to the act of blogging itself...

What is this thing? This blogging?

I recall in the fall of 2000 reading some of a crop of websites consisting of nothing much more that the vapid journal entries of random persons, including one young woman who boasted of eating nothing more in one day than a handful of Pirate's Booty. Utter strangeness that. Overall, I thought the sites an odd waste of time, and gave them little thought until my good friend began his own blog, the Hurting. Shortly thereafter I was drawn partially into the blogosphere, though until recently my activity was largely for the purpose of keeping in touch with my blogging friends. This resulted in a kind of strange one-sided dialog - I felt fully informed of my friend's personal lives, though I long neglected to realize that they had no idea what I was up to... This prompted me to start up my own blog - this one here - with the intention of posting personal stories and musings for the purpose of record and their information. That soon sputtered and died. Since then, however, I have grown interested in the wider blogosphere, and seek to contribute again. The question is, what am I to contribute? What am I to say? How will it be valuable? Or interesting?

Let's start with the basics... Why the emphasis on contribution? This is prompted by some reading I did on danah boyd's apophenia right aroung the time my interest in blogging mushroomed. I had just started teaching at a tech-heavy high school, and was fascinated by the students' obsession with Myspace. Basically, if danah is correct, social-networking - as takes place at Myspace and Friendster, etc. - satisfies an identity-formation need. That's why my students and townie friends love the Myspace. Meanwhile, blogging supposedly statisfies an "adult" need for societal contribution. Through that lense, it makes total sense that blogging appeals greatly to me, while social-networking seems strangely pointless. I feel, at this point in my life, I feel very "defined." Extended adolescence is finally over, and I'm finally starting to feel like an adult. I am to a point in my life where I have real responsibility that affects real people, and I feel, to some degree, important. This "adult" "contribution impulse" is something very real that I feel very greatly now (though I did feel it sigificantly at a younger age too). I feel like what I have to say may be interesting to some people, and that it will at least be cathartic to say it.

So, I have established the impulse to "contribute." To say. Now what am I to say? The title of this blog is a reference to the original meaning of the word "geek" as "a carnival performer who does disgusting acts," such as biting off the heads of chickens. I identify myself as a geek in the 21st-century self-empowerment kind of way. The subtitle, "...and other passtimes of a geek" indicates that the blog shall focus on my geek interests. That shall remain true with the current blog revival. The "geek blog" lable shall, in fact, remain an apt descriptor. Most all of my posts shall be classifiable as "geek-outs." You can expect "geek-outs" on music, on politics, on internet-studies, on education, on pop-culture, on food, and on beer. A concise focus? No. Intersting reads? Perhaps. Self-indulgent? Most definately. Do I care? Not much. I'm a teacher - I've got iron skin at this point.

So what is this blog? It is to be a log of things that interest me and my thoughts on them. There also shall be some reminiscing and some philosophizing. It shall be a place for me to field thoughts and hope that there is an audience, and it shall be a place for me to exercise cathartic writing. I hope you enjoy it.

Coachella 2006

Someone should have directed Juan Ponce de León to the California desert, not the Florida swamp.

This year, I shall again subject myself to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. I missed the first year (no car to travel to it) and last year (in deference to my oppressive academic load). This year, however, I shall return. Why shall I return to the desert heat, overpriced water, and massive, agoraphobia-inducing crowd? Because I'm a sucker? Nay. Because Coachella makes me feel young. Coachella helps me remain plugged in to the music scene. It helps me stay "hip." And I inevitably hear some good music while there. This year shall be no exception, as you can see with the line-up to the right. If your are someone I know outside of the electronic world, and would like to attend, contact me soon. I already have a hotel room reserved (NEVER camp at Coachella. Not unless you like really like both hard drugs and human fecal matter.)

One question, however: WHY does Goldenvoice continue to book Oakie? Why? There are so many better DJs out there...


I intend to use this thing. I really do. The activity of blogging really appeals to me. I'm a blog addict myself... I spend hours reading the blogs of others, digesting the information and opinions. Yet I never really jump into the dialog. I intend to do so. Beginning, oh, soon-ish...

When I created this blog, I intended it to be a general pop/non-pop-culture mish/mash - my reflections on all things of interest that I came across. It would likely be of interest to none but my friends - I was and am okay with that. However, that frame never generated much traction, and I ended up using the blog as my own personal obituary page. Now, however, fields such as politics and world affairs have grown to be of such interest to me that certain posts on these subjects are inevitable. There will be more academic posts, and more vitriolic political post. And more obituaries. And some of that pop-culture stuff I intended all along...

Anyway, expect changes here. Let's see how long I actually keep this up...