Sunday, April 30, 2006

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 09: Mid-day Report

Arrived here at the festival at 4:30-ish today, just in time to catch Matisyahu's set. Not that I'd been planning to see him, but I was drawn in, and I'm glad I was. My love of Jamaican music has grown greatly over the past three years, and he did not disappoint. I think reggae may be the perfect festival music - at least for the daytime.

Up next, I watched Bloc Party. Now, Silent Alarm was possibly my favorite album of 2005, so I had high expectations. And they were satisfied. I am so thoroughly impressed with them as a band. Sharp musicians who, as a one-time internet-associate it of mine put it, "love to play music." And they're downright classy fellows to, based on their suprisingly refined-yet-jovial stage banter. Very pleasant stuff. Here's a pic:
Now off to wait for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs...

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 08: The Massive Mightiness of Daft Punk

I cannot sufficiently stress the mightiness of Daft Punk's live set. Seriously. Rarely have I seen such a spectacle in live dance music. I'd say in terms of sheer spectacle, they're on par with the Chemical Brothers, however much I prefer the headier and more spiritual sets of the Chemical Brothers. The Daft Punk set was loud, flashy, and, I would argue, universally agreeable. Behold: As you can see, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were at the top of this big pyramid-type thing on the stage. Whatever equipment they were working with was hidden from view. Behing them was this diamond-framework of lights, and behind that a projection screen. Footage of the main stage was projected onto the two flanking screens. And, as you might be able to make out from the side screens in the first photo, they were dressed in robot suits. Sheer spectacle, and glorious for that. It was unspeakably cool to see a 50-sci-fi-style robot head bobbing along to "Robot Rock."

The set was largely similar in means, method, and content to the set immortalized on Daft Punk's Alive 1997 (an album which gets my vote for the great, un-sung live album of all time). This means a constant, mixed, mish-mash madness of their tracks from all across their three albums. Two minutes of one track, then samples from another track are brought in, then it's on to another track, and then back to the first. In the lead-in to the main treatment of the iPod-commercial-popularized "Technologic," Daft Punk took a cue from the thoughts in my head and mixed in samples of Busta Rhymes' recent track, "Touch It," which makes use of similar (related?) vocal elements. Exceedingly cool.

Shortly into the set, Daft Punk drew in a large part of the remaining Coachella audience, as they were one of the last act's playing (they actually violated the curfew, playing until 12:15 AM). Certainly, there were many lay to lax Daft Punk fans in that audience - folks who at some point, back in the day, heard "Around the World" and guiltily liked it, and relatively few folks like me, who have been following Daft Punk for over nine years. But everybody seemed to have a damn fine time. Which brings me to my next point.

There's a reason LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy cheekily references Daft Punk, saying, "I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids. I played it in CBGBs. Everybody thought it was crazy." Daft Punk's music has, IMO, an advantage over other electronic acts in terms of appealing to mainstream audiences, and I think this advantage is based on their simplicity. Yes, Daft Punk makes simple, 4/4 based music which rarely strays from the techno/house framework. They do, however, bring a lot of personality and texture to the music, giving it an advanteage over more austere techno acts. But ultimately, I think Daft Punk may be more successful in terms of crossover appeal than other, less orthodox dance acts just because their music is so damnedly simple and primal. I'm convinced that dance music, at its core, is universally appealing, and that only the weird socialization of American culture under the dominance of record companies prevents dance music from being more popular here. When folks can relax a little and listen to the music, and get over the fact that there are no lyrics to sing along to, and realize that repetition is condusive to dancing, they all seem to have fun.

Ultimately, Daft Punk presents dance music in a package so big, loud, and garish, that it's impossible to ignore. And because of that, they gain attention, and they make converts. And for that, I applaud them.

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 07: Sunday Morning, Refreshed

It's amazing the recuperative powers an air conditioned hotel room can have. In my previous two trips to Coachella, 2003 and 2004, I camped. The first year wasn't so bad - since the camping was new, it wasn't too crowded, nor dirty, yet. But it was taxing to sleep on the ground, wake at 6:30 AM with the light, use not-so-sanitary porta-potties, eat funky food, and go without showers. In the second year (2004), I camped again. And it was a mistake. Camping was drastically over-sold, and they had to open several overflow camping lots. After driving 15 hours solo, I arrived in Indio at about 12:30 AM only to find an excruciatingly long line. I had a near breakdown, then slept in my car until about 3:00 AM, at which point the line had died down, so I headed in and made camp. But this new, overly crowded campground wasn't just filled with folks looking for cheap lodging. It was filled with folks looking for outright debauchery. People were up at all hours of the night, raging drunk and high, screaming, running about, and vomiting and soiling the porta-potties, rendering them completely unusable - how does one get excrement on the wall? When I woke at 6:30 AM to the growing desert heat, after sleeping fitfully for another two-or-so hours under the disturbance of the infantile revelers, my day was already soured. I could hardly enjoy the festival afterwards. Oh yes, there was some good music, and I finally got to see Kraftwerk, but at the end of the day I was so exhausted and disgruntled that in the morning I decided to ditch the second day and head home early.

Coming back to Coachella, I was slightly worried I'd have a similar experience. But nay, it's been thoroughly enjoyable thus far. Flying instead of driving gave me a head-start in terms of exhaustion. The hotel, with air conditioning, a bed, a toilette and shower, and privacy, seems utter luxury. When I came home last night, I was tired and sore, but after six hours of sleep and a shower, I feel fully recuperated and eager to head back to the festival. I'm very much looking forward to Bloc Party & Massive Attack. I suppose I'll also see Tool - I like Tool, and they were my first concert, but I imagine the Tool crowd is going to be unpleasant. I never enjoy metal-type crowds - the innate hostility just isn't fun.

Oh well. Now, for some more on yesterday...

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 06: Saturday Recap

So, what I saw, in whole or in part:

  • Joey Beltram
  • Collette (before I ran away screaming)
  • Derrick Carter (again, lackluster)
  • Ladytron (eh, alright-ish)
  • Carl Cox (this man is still around for a reason - he's good)
  • Franz Ferdinand (not as good as I'd expected, then better than I'd expected, all in the same set)
  • The Juan Maclean (hous-ey, techno-ey, electro-ey, vocodor-ey, theramin-ey, and all done by a live band)
  • Audio Bullys (tolerable, I suppose, but I still don't get why Goldenvoice booked them)
  • Daft Punk (absolutely massive and ear-bleedingly loud)
I also spent a fair amount of time in the "Oasis Dome," a smallish dome tent that looked like this on the interior:

That's a DJ in the fake tree there. Her music is what drew me into the tent. Unlike the music at the Sahara tent - which has, with the exception of some of its headliners, seldom strayed from unimaginative house - the music in the Oasis was varied and, well, engaging. Yes, this DJ was spinning tracks from across subgenres. She was also playing a lot of breakbeat-oriented stuff, ranging from '97-era "big beat" to the grime-esque breakbeat stuff of a few years back. Overall, it was pretty damn good, and I wouldn't have minded staying longer. But that wasn't the only attraction in the tent. I also saw this in the Oasis:

Yes, that's a mostly-naked, androgynous man doing the Cirque du Solei type thing in the middle of the Oasis Dome. It seemed there was some sort of formal organization to the madness in the Oasis Dome, with some sort of rave-acrobat troupe running the thing. There were some extremely scantily-clad "rave"-style female dancers on platforms and mingling with the crowd, and this fellow. For two five minute sessions he did full-on Cirque du Solei stuff with the cloth hanging from the ceiling, wrapping himself up in it and rolling around and manipulating things so to climb up and down. Not something I'd expected to see, and very cool.

Now it's off to bed for me. I'm afraid this is all I cam muster right now. More to follow, perhaps, tomorrow. We shall see...

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 05: Live Electronic Music Done Right

Behold the glory that is the Juan Maclean: Just finished watching the Juan Maclean set. Damned fine stuff, as is to be expected from a DFA artist. Though the Juan Maclean is really one man - John Maclean - he has three additional musicians performing with him for the live sets, doing the duties on the drums, synths, and theremin, while John does sampler and vocoder duty. Unfortunately there were technical difficulties leading to an excruciatingl long sound check and a truncated set, but they made up for it with a set-closing, mind-blowingly woofda, 10-minute-plus version of "My Shining-Skinned Friend." And let me say, they have quite a theremin player.

Now, to wait for the Daft Punk set and rest my feet.

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 04: Mid-Festival, AT&T Blue Room

I'm currently at the festival in the AT&T "Blue Room," an air-conditioned tent with computers. Freakin' brilliant. And a sign of how important the modern internet is becoming to the music industry (at least the indie end of it).

Arrived way later than I'd expected, so I missed Lady Sovereign. I did, however, catch Joey Beltram. Nice to see some authentic techno and acid here - despite their tact in the booking of rock and hip-hop acts, Goldenvoice suffers some serious handicaps when it comes to electronic acts. Overall, things in the Sahara (dance) tent are enjoyable as always, despite the sometimes shoddy music. The vibe of the electronic music scene can be infectiously positive when one is in the right state of mind. However, that didn't stop the utter horror of Collette's singing over her DJing from driving me away from the Sahara.

After that, there was a bunch of wandering. I checked out the music magazine tents to pick up the swag that they always have - it's a bit leaner this year than in years past. Then to check out the film tent to rest my feet and get out of the sun for a while. Watched a bit of a very cool documentary on the metal scene. Despite what you saw on my itinerary in the previous post, I didn't watch Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - the throng of hipsters was thick enough to deter me, and I had only a very low level of interest in them due to the buzz - they only made the schedule because there wasn't anything else to interst me.

Anayway, I've been taking beacoup pictures. Most won't be up until after I get back to the hotel, if at all, but here's a teaser:

Yes, gnomes. In a dome tent. On a weird faux-earth pedestal. And they make noises.

Indeed, Coachella 'tis an affirming event. I feel my surliness slipping away in the face of the carnivalesque nature of this place.

More later...

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 03: Continental Breakfast and Hipsters

After finally going to bed at about 2 AM, I slept like a rock until 8:50 this morning. Seeing as I had woken fairly early and fairly amiably, I decided to go take advantage of the continental breakfast, which was to close at 9:30. In doing so, I exposed myself to a most strange scene - a hotel lobby full of hipsters.

Of the people in the lobby eating breakfast, about 90% of them were young (late teens to twenties), and bearing all the tell-tale hipster signs. Too-tiny t-shirts with snarky slogans and punk-esque design elements. Distressed, moppy hair. Designer sunglasses, worn indoors. Carefully maintained not-quite-beards. I've grown quite used to seeing these types at concerts and the like, but to see so many assembled in someplace so sterile - and usually populated with seniors and young families - as a hotel lobby with continental breakfast is just straight up weird. I should have taken pictures...

So now I'm back to relaxing in the hotel room, killing some time until I go to the festival. In past years I've rushed to the festival as early as 9:00 AM, only to wait in line for hours before getting inside the gates, and then to wait for hours more - in deathly heat and sun, mind you - before any decent acts start playing. Based on that past experience, and some research, I've made an informed decision to go to the festival late this year. That way, I plan to avoid the worst of the lines, and to minimize my time waiting in the ungodly heat drinking $2-a-bottle water. I can also avoid eating the sketchy festival food this way. And minimize the time in which I have to subject myself to the soiled porta-potties. The big-time music writers never mention this stuff, eh?

A big help in my making of that decision was Goldenvoice's (promoter of Coachella) decision to publish the
set times of the festival before the festival. I believe they first did this last year, though they may have started it earlier - I don't really know. But I do know that in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004, I went to the festival without knowing who was playing when, and I did not gain this information until in the festival gates, when the little festival guides were handed out. This year, not only are the schedules available, but also a nifty little tool that allows you to create your own, visualy-prioritized schedule. Here are my schedules for Saturday and Sunday, respectively:

The names of the acts in higher priority are printed proportionately larger. Very easy, very cool. I'm also glad to see that there are few conflicts for me. I lament that I'm going to have to miss Sleater-Kinney, but Bloc Party is, for me, mightier. And while it is also unfortunate that I'm going to have to cut out of Franz Ferdinand early in order to see the Juan Maclean, I imagine the Franz Ferdinand crowd is going to be obnoxious anyway... But, based on a little bit of MySpace listening this morning, I'd have to say the act that I'm the most excited about seeing at the moment, oddly enough, is Lady Sovereign. I honestly never thought I'd get the chance to see a grime act (grime is a weird UK permutation of hip-hop, heavily influenced by electronic music), not without traveling to the shadier neighborhoods of the UK. I followed this scene a bit back around 2001-2002, but I'd since kinda forgotten about it, and had assumed it had died. To have a grime act playing in the US, where I get to see them, is just too cool for words.

Enough for now. On to other things, and then other things will become going to the festival. Until then...

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 02: HoJo, Palm Springs

Wi-fi in airports, wi-fi in hotels - I love it.

Well, I've finally, after many trials and tribulations, arrived at my hotel here in Palm Springs. Why am I staying in Palm Springs when Coachella takes place in Indio, you ask? Well, the two previous times that I've stayed in hotels (rather than camped), I stayed here because, well, that's what happened. And now it's habit. Besides, Palm Springs is just far enough away and with the twinge of expensiveness to keep away the sorts who go to Coachella only go back to their hotels and party loudly. I've had enough of that. I had enough of that long before even my college days began. I'll play hard at Coachella, but when I get back to the hotel after such exertion, I just want to shower and sleep...

So, my flight from Sacramento to Ontario was delayed approximately an hour. This meant we were touching down on the runway at 10:50 PM, when we were scheduled to already be at the gate an hour earlier, at 9:50 PM. Because of this, I completely missed my rental car reservation. Why Enterprise thinks it's a good idea to close at 11:00 PM, I do not know. I was able to get another car from another agency, but only at double the price. Which made me irate.

Nevertheless, I've calmed down, and I'm looking forward to the festival in the afternoon. More on that in the morning...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Travelblogue, Coachella 2006 01: Sac Intl Airport

So I made the somewhat quesitonable decision to take my work laptop along with me on my trip to Coachella. This is a certain sign that I am entirely too internet-dependent. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist the notion of blogging my Coachella trip as it happens. And, of course, I couldn't leave the slightly less internet-dependent Brenda without a computer at home, so I had to leave my personal one behind.

I'm currently checked in and waiting for my flight at the Sacramento International Airport. And enjoying the free wi-fi. The last time I traveled with a computer - December of 2003 - was the first time I used wi-fi. It was in the Dallas airport, and I had to pay for it. Now, beautifully, businesses are treating it as just another standard service, along the lines of restrooms and drinking fountains.

My flight to Ontario is running 25 minutes late, departing at 9:00 PM instead of 8:35 PM. Hopefully, when I land, I'll still have time to pick up my rental car before 11:00 PM and drive to Palm Springs so as to not loose my coveted hotel reservation. If I have to sleep in an airport tonight, Coachella will be a bear tomorrow...

Expect another post late tonight.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Recent Purchases

Two new packages from Amazon finally made their way to me today. Yes, I'd rather go crate digging than buy online, but there is not a single decent record shop, at least with regards to anything I listen to, within the greater Sacramento area. Anyway, the contents of the packages:
  • Brian Eno and David Byrne - My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (reissue) - Amazing, a record I should've bought years ago gets a reissue that actually makes me thankful for waiting.
  • The Chemical Brothers - Believe parts 1&2 - Finally trying to get back on the completist bandwagon, despite Astralwerks' every effort to deter me.
  • The DFA Remixes, Chapter One - Craziness... The current track, "Blues Explosion - Mars, Arizona (DFA Remix)" sounds like what would've happened had the Stooges developed an amiable relationship with disco and gotten the Chemical Brothers to produce the record.
  • DFA Compilation #2 - Again, here we have the only people in contemporary dance music who are doing anything to excite me. Wonderful stuff.
Digesting them currently...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Strife in the Rainbow Family

Summer is almost here, and for hordes of hippie extremists, that means one thing, the Rainbow Gathering. The Rainbow Gathering is an annual convergence of uber-hippies who have loosely aligned themeselves in the so-called "Rainbow Family of Living Light." From what I can tell, they converge in public lands in remote areas of the US by the thousands, camp out for a week, and do hippie stuff. A whole hippie tent-city is errected, with everything from make-shift restaurants to massage parlors. Somewhere in here, some big pseudo-pagan ritual happens, honoring the Earth and all that.

My interest in the Rainbow family came about because twice in my life, far-northern California has played host to the Rainbow Gatherings - both times in Modoc County, actually. The last time, in 2004, I was living in Siskiyou County, and I witnessed a brief spike in the hippie population as the hordes made their way across to Modoc County. At this time, I learned of the notoriety of the Rainbow Family amongst local Fish & Game and Forest Service personnel. They accused the Rainbow Family of hypocricy, citing supposed thorough and lasting ecological damage to the land on which they camp. I found Rainbow Family-associated sources that refute this, but I don't quite know which side to believe, and I can see some dishonesty happening on both sides... Regardless, it now seems there's something else to taint the image of the group.

The location for this year's Rainbow Gathering has been
announced, and it's somewhere near Nederland, Colorado - that's as specific as they tend to get until closer to the event. However, when I was investigating at one of the webpages closely associated with the group - since they aren't a formalized organization, they cannot have an "official" website - I noticed mention of something else, a so called "Gathering of Tribes," which looks to be a similar event, but taking place in the Ozarks at the exact same time as the Rainbow Gathering, July 1-7.

Perplexed by this, I did some investigation, and found this on the Wikipedia talk page for the Rainbow Gathering:

The "A Gathering of the Tribes" is/are bonifide Annual Rainbow Gatherings...

Counsels for the A Gathering of the Tribes are held openly on the land with the invitation going out well in advance, in short these gatherings are focalized by Rainbow Family individuals who have counseled and decided to follow their own path and heartsongs. These gatherings came about in 2003 after certain individuals of responsibility within the Rainbow Family (claimed Elders / Founders) started signing permits and changing the nature of the gatherings here in the United States. These alternative to the permit gatherings are intended as an expansion of Rainbow Ideologies while trying to maintain some measure of unity and respect with the various same type gatherings.

If you don't speak whacked-out hippie, that passage means that, in protest to the recent moves by those organizing the standard Rainbow Gatherings to obtain permits for the use of the public lands on which they are held, a splinter group has broken off to do things old-school, illegal-style. Why, you ask? Because these are weird anarcho-hippies were talking about here.

I don't know why, but there being a splinter group within the Rainbow Family just rubs me the wrong way. With an organization so disorganized, with such an anti-organization, how is there room for a splinter group? How is there even the frame for a division? There's no unity in the first place! It's a bizarre situation. At least now, should you be crazy enough and olfactory-challenged enough to attend a Rainbow Family event, now you have two options, with perhaps one of them being a shorter drive...

Monday, April 24, 2006

Harvard Brat is a Plagiarist

If you weren't aware of it already, I have, shall we say, pronounced concerns about the role of class in modern society. A large portion of what liberalism does reside in me is a result of concerns about class issues. Most everything I see about the world around me reinforces my notions that the American Dream is a lie, that the American meritocracy is anemic at best, and that most of those who are in power are there because their families were. I see folks around me working their fingers to the bone just to survive, when the elites live in relative to absurd luxury. That does not sit well with me. In light of the recent neo-con actions over the past few decades, I believe, essentially, that the super-rich have executed a coup, and are bleeding the middle class dry and running everyone else into the ground for the purpose of inflating their own, already bloated, profits. I have issues with class issues, and I have a bone to pick with the upper class.

In light of that, I am much delighted to see that Harvard brat
Kaavya Viswanathan has been revealed to be a plagiarist. In her recent "chick-flick" novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, Viswanathan "tweaked" passages from Megan F. McCafferty's novels.
McCafferty writes on page 6 of her first novel: “Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart. Guess which one I got. You’ll see where it’s gotten me.”
Viswanathan writes on page 39 of her novel: “Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty. I had long resigned myself to category one, and as long as it got me to Harvard, I was happy. Except, it hadn’t gotten me to Harvard. Clearly, it was time to switch to category two.”
That's plagiarism on the level enacted by my freshmen advisory students; cut and paste that paragraph, reverse a phrase here, swap in a synonym there, call it good. And that's just one of many examples. And it makes my blood boil.

You see, if there's anything that pisses me off more than someone from the elite class, it's a young brat from the elite class - I had to deal with enough of those at this past weekend's
CHSSA State Tournament... But back to the matter at hand. Viswanathan, a current Harvard sophomore, wrote the novel in question as part of "a two-book, $500,000 contract [received] while she was in high school." The book has been selling well to boot. Being, from what I can gather, an utterly vapid piece of tripe, the book is also the product of plagiarism. That fact helps to justify my notion that the elite enjoy what status they do have undeservedly. When I have a friend struggling for years to get published, yet the same brat that walks into elite-class headquarters Harvard and gets a cushy $500K two-book deal while still a high school student, I can't help but see the world as unjust, and I can't help but think that the elite are just propping each other up. But when I see such brats expose themselves as unworthy, I smile a very evil smile, and my heart swells with righteousness.

To the dis-belief of my teenage self

My good friend from back in the day, one who was there for "Ebeneezer Goode" and Dig Your Own Hole at the bowling alley, has, in his current endeavor as a music journalist, interviewed Liam Howlett of the Prodigy, and you can read the results here. This is a bit of an odd moment - somewhat seminal, actually...

In the late days of high school and the early years of college, we spent a lot of time geeking out over music in general, and electronic music in particular. Pouring over music magazines and listening to non-stop electronic music, we both had notions of futures connected to music and the music scene. We both delved into clicktronica production, and I toyed with DJing some. But in the end, while I went on to other things, my friend has devoted himself to writing - on multiple fronts - and has managed to work his way into a position where, occasionally, he gets to do things like interview famous musicians. For him to have interviewed one of the artists responsible for our respective journeys into the realm of electronic music is, well, damned cool, to say the least. It feels like we've arrived, or something...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Seventeen, Twenty-One, Twenty-Five: 1998, 2002, 2006

In the summer of 1998 I was 17, I was surrounded by great friends, and I had a helluva lot of fun. I was about to go into my senior year of high school, I was finally mobile thanks to a hand-me-down Mercury (a rural teenager without transportation is a bored teenager), and my friends and I were eagerly exploring life. I remember a lot of discovery that summer. I remember a lot of introspection in the warm summer evenings. I remember a lot of loud electronic dance music, old-school hip-hop, industrial, and They Might Be Giants played over shoddy car stereos via a discman and a tape adapter since most of us only had tape decks in what teenagermobiles we had managed to obtain. I remember philosophizing and gossiping. I remember lusting. I remember dreaming. I remember lolling about Lake Siskiyou for hours on end. I remember commandeering the stereo at the bowling alley in Weed and listening to the Chemical Brothers through our game. I remember inventing the sport of "barrel throwing" while listening to ear-bleeding industrial music in a friend's back yard. I remember sweltering heat and the siren call of "Ebeneezer Goode." I remember marveling at life.

The summer of 1998 was a good time for me. I don't know what exactly it was that made it so. Perhaps it was something about that age. Perhaps it was the adolescent confidence. Perhaps it was my friends. Perhaps it was a confluence of factors. Regardless, I have held that summer in high esteem ever since. Afterwards, I often reflected on that time and longed for it.

Then in 2002 I had a similar experience. In the summer of 2002, I was 21, I had a slightly changed yet equally strong group of friends, and I experienced another high-water mark of fun. This time I was heading towards my senior year of college, my interests were rapidly expanding into the world of craft beer, and I again had burdgeoning confidence. Much like the summer of '98, that of '02 was filled with long, warm summer evenings spent on a friend's porch philosophizing and gossiping, only with beer in hand instead of generic soda. Again, my personal world was expaning, and I was filled with wonderment. I remember longer and more frequent excursions on Lake Siskiyou. I remember incessant filming with a friend's camera: our parties, our conversations, the feral cats, etc. I remember suspecting a friend of alcoholism. I remember my joy at discovering
matryoshkas in the house my friend was house-sitting. I remembering spending $250 and 14 hours preparing food for a backyard barbeque, and loving every minute of it. I remember eating the best hamburger I have ever eaten off a grill in my friend's front yard, sitting in a folding lawn chair. I remember grass in my toes. I remember IPA's tasting "too bitter" for me. I remember brewing my first batch of homebrew, and how bloody horrible it was. I remember trolling for girls in Ashland and Medford. I remember being turned on to Indian food. I remember being outside under the hot Montague sun for hours on end each work-day. I remember being tanner and blonder than I have been at any other point in my life. I remember hours at the gym bullshitting with my friends and turning my health around. I remember being in the thrawls of a growing obsession with Slavic science fiction. I remember reading voraciously during my lunch break. I remember turning down an evening out because I was so bloody wrapped up in Stanislaw Lem's His Master's Voice. I remember my mental and physical health both being on a definate, positive upswing. I remember feeling like I was being the best possible me I could be, and having a damn fine time doing it.

Much like the summer of '98, the summer of '02 has since been looked upon with a longing fondness. Why the summer of '02 was as it was, I don't know. Perhaps it was the age. Perhaps it was my decision to make a concerted effort to turn around my physical and mental health. Perhaps it was my damn fine cohort of friends. But again, regardless of what it was, it passed, and I have longed for it since. However, since that time, I have often wondered about the timing of my two superlative summers. 1998? 2002? Four years apart? Betwixt the junior and senior years of both high school and college? Perhaps there was something in the numbers. Perhaps every four years I was bound to experience such a summer.

And then today came. As I was driving home from work today, I was in remarkably good spirits, especially considering the funk in which I began the day. Perhaps it's the fact that the weather has finally turned in California and the Sun is shining down unabashedly. Perhaps it's the fact that I've finally adjusted to daylight savings time. Perhaps it's the goodwill that's been showered upon me as a result of this day being my birthday. Or perhaps it's something else...

As I was driving, I was listening to
Respect Is Burning, Vol 2, a compilation of French-scene house from the late 90s - we're talking the fuzzed-out, uber-funky stuff expemplified by the likes of Daft Punk. Listening to this album triggered intense memories of that idyllic time, 1998 (odd, considering that the disc didn't come out until '99, but oh well). As I drove, I reflected on that summer, and subsequently, on the summer of '02. And again, the four-year interval occurred to me. And very soon I realized, to my absolute amazment, that 2002 was four years in the past. It occurred to me that the summer of 2006 loomed before me, and that it may, according to the numbers, be another of the magical summers. And I was filled with glee at its certainty.

This coming summer will I will be on paid (sort of - only through the debiting of my paychecks through the rest of the year) vacation. It already has the ingredients of a grand time on par with '98 and '02. There will be a bachelor party consisting of fishing and craft beer in the Bend, Oregon area. There's a spelunking trip in the works. And I will have enough time on my hands to enact much more based on what I should dream up. Now I turn my attention to what I should do during the coming summer to make the most of it. I should hit the gym, hard. I should read, a lot. I should write - four years ago I told myself I'd use my summers off to become a published author. I should listen to loud electronic dance music. I should bask in the sun and laze in the dusk. I should take a pochade box and a stack of canvases up in the Sierras and not return until they are full. I should brew another lovely saison. I should go backpacking. I should go weeks without shaving, and then delight at a smooth face. I should never wear slacks. I should track down my now disparate friends and force my company upon them. I should live, having worked all year.

Have you any grand ideas for the Summer of Zac, please leave them in a comment...

What the hell is a "moonbat," and are they confined to Santa Cruz?

Today I'm rather amazed to watch the churning chaos in the blogosphere brought about by the actions of some UCSC students and hellbeast hate-blogger Michelle Malkin. I mean, wow...

You see, the initial
press release from the student group UCSC Students Against War concerning the blocking of military recruiters from a recent event at UCSC contained phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the organizers. Malkin posted this contact info on her blog - very widely read - and bam, those UCSC students are recieving death threats. Now the left wing blogosphere is all sorts of angry, saying that this is indicative of the crudeness of the right wing blogosphere's readership. Nevermind that Malkin has recieved comparably ugly counter-threats from in response to this whole mess. Of course, Malkin is arguably a more public figure, and therefore more subject to such actions. Nevertheless, reflecting on this whole thing, I can't help but fault the UCSC students a bit, and here's why...

I went to UCSC. 1999-2003. I was there through the initial Bush "election," 9/11, Afghanistan, and the beginning of Iraq. And my political leanings are pretty goddamn left, though they are all laid out through a fairly libertarian frame. But at Santa Cruz, what I saw amongst my peers often made me feel downright, well, conservative. As liberalized as I was - and I certainly became moreso as I was there, though I attribute that to events post-9/11 and not UCSC brainwashing - I always felt unease with the Santa Cruz brand of liberalism. This was because I saw a huge degree of naivete in the liberalism around me. It seemed everybody spouting these crazy, far-left ideas and stances (I'd never been approached by actual Marxists before my tenure at Santa Cruz) had not arrived where they were because of reasoned and informed deliberation, but because they were straight-up out of touch.

Yes, in Santa Cruz, it was like Republicans were boogeymen. Yes, they were feared and hated, but no one really believed they were real. I mean, sure, they were out there somewhere, but somewhere was somewhere far-off and scary, like Texas. No one really seemed to have an understanding of how someone could hold right-wing viewpoints, of what could put a person in that stance. From within that culture, that bubble, it becomes easier to understand why some naive students might post contact information regarding a lefty protest and be surprised at recieving death threats - not that those death threats are excusable. It also explains how some might think the following form of protest is a good idea: Yeah. That'll work. That's exactly the kind of behavior that will bring about the momentum and popular sentiment necessary to stop the neo-cons' worldwide rampage. Demonizing the military is a great idea. That really makes people like you seem level-headed and sympathetic...

Another thought... Does it really do the left any good to keep students from an undeniably left-leaning university away from military recruiters? What might happen should some of these burdgeoning young lefties join the military? Why, an inevitable drift towards the right, some might say! Political brainwashing! Repression of homosexuals! Unnecessary deaths in unnecessary wars! Well, some of all that might happen, but something else might happen should more lefties join the military. They might exert influence. Think about it... A young, left-leaning UCSC politics grad joins the military. What if, instead of shifting right and aligning with the standard military culture, the student retains their UCSC-born disposition and enacts it in their service as a military officer? What if said student eventually becomes a general, a Joint Chief of Staff, even. What if they then, in that position of power, counsel a bloodthirsty neo-con president against an unjust and unnecessary war?

But then, inside the uber-left bubble that is Santa Cruz and UCSC, thoughts like this might never occur. When you live in a one-frame world, it's kind of hard to learn to be effective in the outside world.

In the end, however, I'm still left with one question. What the hell is a moonbat? Is that meant to be derisive? 'Cause if it is, I don't exactly see how... Call me a proud moonbat.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Brewlog: Belgian Small Ale

Batch #22, 4/14/06: Belgian Small Ale

I've long thought that the "smaller" Belgian ales -"singles," Belgian pale ales, etc. - are perhaps the most underdone style in the world. Everytime I have one of these beers, I wonder, "why the heck don't more people make beer like this?" These beers take the quirks of bigger, and more widely available, Belgian beers - funky yeast characteristics, spicing, adjuncts, etc. - and play them out on a smaller scale. With a beer such as a Belgian pale ale, you get the delightful yeast funkiness and biscuit-ey maltiness of bigger Belgian beers, but in the smaller, easy to drink, session-style package of an English or American pale ale. With these beers, I can enjoy a session beer with all the palate-expanding craziness of the big Belgians, without the excessive alcohol. Inspired by these beers, and by DeKoninck in particular, I brewed what I will call a "Belgian Small Ale" this past Friday. I use that term as what I made ended up with an original gravity of 1.045, aligning with the parameters for English "small beers" such as milds and bitters, and what I ended up making was so dark as to make the term "Belgian pale ale" seem utterly absurd. I also eschew the "single" label, because I'm not entirely sure it's not just a construct derived in reverse from the "dubbel" and "tripel" styles... Anyway, on with the recipe. It's an extract recipe for 6.5 gallons. Here goes...


  • 7 gallons Yreka tap water, untreated (it's pretty damn good water - you'd want to soften for Bohemian beers or harden for Burton-style beers, but for most everything else it does well as is)

  • 4oz caramunich
  • 2oz Belgian special B
  • 2oz roasted barley (Am I crazy? Maybe I am...)
  • 4oz Belgian aromatic
  • 4oz chocolate

  • 7 lbs pale malt extract
  • 12 oz piloncillo sugar (two of the 6oz cones)


  • 2oz 4.0% Styrian Goldings at 60 minutes
  • 1oz 3.8% Saaz at 30 minutes
  • 1oz 3.8% Saaz at 10 minutes


  • 1/2 gallon starter of WLP 570, Belgian Golden Ale


Steep grains to 170 or so. No need to stress out about them, they're mainly for color and unfermentables... Add pale malt extract and bring to boil. Commence 90 minute boil (I wanted good caramelization on the malt sugars...) Hop according to schedule. At 15 minutes, add two tsp Irish moss. At ten minutes, add the piloncillo (you don't want the crazy flavors of this uber-unrefined sugar to get masked by caramelization, so add late in the boil). Knock out and cool according to your preferred method. Top wort to 6.5 gallons, aerate, transfer, and pitch yeast.

Post boil I had just over 4.5 gallons of wort at 1.060. At this point the wort tasted wonderfully malty with a definate breadiness coming from the aromatic and chocolate malts. I made the exectutive decision, however, to water down the wort to lower the original gravity to 1.045, which brought it closer to what I'd envisioned. The color of the final wort is on par with most American brown ales, perhaps even darker. I really hope that the breadiness that I tasted in the wort carries over the finished beer, as that's part of what inspired me about DeKoninck. As of now the yeasties are hard at work. Within a month I should have some updates on progress and the finished beer...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Best Salad EVER

As part of Brenda's birthday dinner last night, I made the following salad. We were both amazed by its magnificence...
  • Baby spinach and red leaf lettuce (2/3 of pre-washed bag)
  • 2 diced saladette tomatos
  • 2 ounces chevre, crumbled
  • A couple tablespoons crumbled bacon (real bacon, not the fake stuff)
  • A handful of croutons
All the above tossed with the following salad dressing:
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 ounces ham, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
Saute ham, onion, and garlic until all are well caramelized. Then puree in a blender or food processor with the following:
  • 1 cup cheap white wine
  • 1/2 cup cider vinnegar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup egg white (patuerized, please)
  • 1 teaspoon each salt, cracked pepper, and red pepper flake
  • 1/2 cup honey

After that is well combined, slowly add 1-2 cups olive and/or vegetable oil (while the device is running) to emulsify.

I cannot convey how well this salad worked... The honey/ham flavors from the dressing and bacon work wonders with the spinach, and the chevre, tomato, and croutons provide wondrous textural contrast. And you can't really go wrong with anything using chevre, can you?


Apparently some high school students back east have been suspended for content on their MySpace pages:
Seven Parsippany High School students will serve 5-day suspensions starting next Monday for setting up two accounts filled with photos and "vulgarities" about classmates and teachers, Interim Superintendent James Dwyer said today.
The students used cell phone cameras to photograph classmates and other school employees without their permission, Dwyer said. He did not say how many photos were posted.
A teacher surfing the Internet stumbled across one of the MySpace sites two weeks ago, Dwyer said, prompting an investigation by high school principal Anthony Sciaino and the school's police resource officer.
All seven students -- two freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors -- admitted to their involvement last week and both sites have been pulled from the Internet, Dwyer said. The group included both boys and girls, he said.

This is what I like to call "a crock of shit." As deplorable as the students' behavior may be, the school's reaction doesn't sit well with me.

I am troubled that this whole incident started with a teacher browsing student profiles. See, I'm a high school teacher too, and yes, I have MySpyed my students. I've only done this once, and it yielded too much information. Yes, I was shocked at what I saw my students saying and professing to have done or to intend to do. However, a quick reflection on my own high school years, ending a scant seven years back, revealed that yes, my own high school experience was very similar to what I saw students discussing. Does that mean teenage debauchery is "okay?" Not really, but I'm not too concerned about it either.

Reflecting back on my own high school experience, I remember an intense frustration at life in general, and I think this had a lot to do with the lot of teenagers within society as a whole. At the ages of 14-19, people are, essentially, the pariahs of society. No longer valued or cultivated as children, not yet accepted as adults, teenagers are forced into an ill-fitting situation of perpetuated restrictions and insufficient responsibility(and freedom). What results is a violent and fumbling transition towards adulthood that often manifests in some very ugly ways. But do I fault the teens? No. I fault society for not sufficiently incorporating the teens.

When I was looking at my students' MySpace profiles, I felt that I was doing something wrong. It felt dirty. I felt I was invading their privacy. I thought this odd, since what I was looking at was by nature public. However, therein lies the rub. MySpace treads this odd space between public and private. Yes, it's publicly accessable, but it's only intended to be viewed by friends and/or folks of a similar peer group. Do I want teens, especially my own students browsing my MySpace page? No, and I in fact take pains to make sure I am un-locatable to them. I imagine and know my students' attitudes regarding their own pages and authority figures - such as myself - are similar. Where am I going with this? See below...

The school's main contention is that students were posting images of classmates and teachers "without their permission." I can see this being something of an issue if this were done in a truely public space, i.e. via flyers posted throughout town. However, posting these images in MySpace is arguably non-public. Whatever the case, the behavior in question was undoubtedly not intended to be public to school staff and administration, but intended for the students' peers. The posting of these images and comments is akin to a conversation between students off campus, after school. It's the late night session of BSing and shit-talking over coffee and a shared basket of chicken strips at the local diner. Now let me tell you, if I'd been suspended for some of the things I said or did late on a Friday or Saturday night amongst friends in a (fairly) private place, I'd have been livid.

In the end, I don't think what the students in question did was "okay." I think it's disrespectful and juvenile. But I also think that because it was done in quasi-private, the school doesn't really have any business in the matter. I am troubled that this and other schools are setting up a precedent for monitoring MySpace because they are pushing in and invading a teen space, a refuge. This is not okay. See below...

Imagine that you are at your local Denny's with your friends. It's late on a Saturday night, you are 17, and your basket of chilli cheese fries has just arrived. Now imagine that you and your friends are discussing girls, boys, that creepy substitute with a thermos of "coffee," and so forth. Now imagine that the entire time, the school's vice principal is standing over the table, watching and listening. Sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it? Well that's what's starting to happen with MySpace.

I wouldn't be coming to the defense of MySpace and teens so heavily if I didn't see a need for the social behavior that teens do now engage in on MySpace and the like. Teen's entire life experience cannot be monitored and policed. Teens need a certain degree of freedom and privacy in order to be able to engage in the behaviors that will move them towards a well developed adulthood. They need time and space for social exploration. And they need all of this without monitoring by authority figures. MySpace is simply a location where teens are now choosing to perform these behaviors. That it is publically accessable doesn't mean that is should always be accessed. The intrusion of authority figures into this space is only an extension of the awkward, unnatural limbic situation that teens are attempting to escape in the first place, and it is a startling trend.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Postmodern impressions of Yreka

This evening, feeling a little homesick and contemplating my impending travels to (tentatively) begin tomorrow, I Bloogled my hometown of Yreka, CA. Most of the results were from people detailing roadtrips along I-5, with most of them saying something like "and then the freeway was shut down by a blizzard and we had to stay in this po-dunk town called Yreka." However, I came across a slightly more expansive post, also by a traveler, which I found to be rather odd. See below...
Yreka isn't what you might consider a "tourist town", but the city fathers saw fit to ignore the obvious and created a downtown area that is reminiscent of the town's Gold Rush past.

The poster must have been talking about this:

As you can see above, Yreka does indeed have a small, "gold-rush-eque" downtown. But this is not, as the poster had concieved, a contemporary development effort to lure tourism dollars. Those buildings look old because they are old.

That's the old Franco American Hotel building, from back when it was still the Franco American Hotel. It is an old gold rush era building, as are most of the others on the lower blocks on Miner Street just off the central Yreka exit. The only modern buildings on that stretch are there because some of the old ones burned down.

Now, what seems weird to me is that someone would see the buildings as they exist now and think that they are a facade, that they are constructs, that they are inauthentic. I have seen such places as the poster percieves downtown Yreka to be - in Nevada most obviously via Casinos developments, but also in some "revitalization" efforts in various California towns. In both of these cases, new developments are built to resemble "old-time" downtowns. However, in this case, an authentic "old-time downtown" is percieved to be a contemporary, artificial reproduction of such. Brenda pointed out that this perception, this perspective held by the author of the post in question, is actually an example of postmodernism. But that doesn't make me any less queasy...

What a stage we have reached when someone can see something that appears to be antiquated and presume that it is artificially so. What a strange place to be in where the artificial construction and re-creation of the past is sufficiently prevalent to skew someone's perceptions so greatly. With sprawling developments springing up all across America, with corporate and franchised businesses dominating local economies, could we finally be reaching a point where the average American is officially out of touch with the schema of small-town America, complete with its antiquated buildings and ma & pop businesses? Where do we go after this?

In the end, I'm just glad that I will have a chance this week to leave my current home of gigantic box-stores, Starbucks, and SUVs, and go home to a place that is quintessentially small-town America.

Monday, April 10, 2006

NYT on the Housing Crisis

The New York Times has an article today on the effects of high housing prices in suburban NY on public and volunteer workers such as teachers and EMTs who are crucial to such communities yet cannot afford to live there. The article focuses especially on volunteer firefighters. Glad to see this issue getting some national press. Something has to be done about the marginalization of the middle class... Check out the article here.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Return of the Beer Wall

Today I finally made my way up to Lowes and bought some painter's tape so that I might finally recreate what had been a fixture at our previous apartment, the Beer Wall:Yes, that's 63 six-pack sides affixed to my kitchen wall with painter's tape. I have more stored away, but I haven't quite figured out where to put 'em, and the dull colors of some of 'em don't quite fit with the rest. And yes, that is a bottle of orange flavored rum on top of the fridge - it was bought for the purpose of doctoring up some mulled cider for the womenfolk at Turkeyfest '05. Apologies for the horrible photo quality. All I have for a digital camera is my cell...

Anthropodermic Bibliopegy

So apparently an "ancient" book believed to be bound in human skin was found in Leeds, believed to be discarded following a burglary, and local police are attempting to locate the rightful owner of the grim book.Apparently, the local authorities "were unable on Saturday to answer any questions about it, including the book's subject matter." Hrmm... Why could this be? Perhaps because it is in fact that horrible tome of incomprehensible evil, the handbook of demonology, the Necronomicon. But in all seriousness, this book could be explained without the aid of Lovecraftian lore. See the below from the Breitbart article:

Much of the text is in French, and it was not uncommon around the time of the French Revolution for books to be covered in human skin. The practice, known as anthropodermic bibliopegy, was sometimes used in the 18th and 19th centuries when accounts of murder trials were bound in the killer's skin. Anatomy books also were sometimes bound in the skin of a dissected cadaver. In World War II, Nazis were accused of using the skin from Holocaust victims to bind books.

Nevertheless, immensely creepy. And I kinda like it that way. I'd like to think the true owner of this book is some European aristocrat with an ancient and storied lineage, a member of one of the millionaire satanist orgy clubs that post-Lovecraft horror outlets such as the Ninth Gate would have us believe exist. I'd like to believe the contents of the book are too horrible to read, that they contain a depraved madness of cyclopean proportions, incomprehensible horror...

Saturday, April 08, 2006

My car is whole again

Finally picked up my car from the body shop this past Wednesday. $2500 of State Farm's money, and $250 of mine later, my stupid mistake is remedied:
After ten days of driving a Pontiac Grand Am, my '02 Altima 3.5SE seems like friggin' heaven. I'd grown used to the sluggishness, soft-brake-ness, squishy suspension, horrendous visibility, and crap sound system of the Pontiac. Getting back in my own car I was shocked at the ballziness of it, as well as the responsiveness of the brakes, the appropriately stable sport suspension, and the excellent visibility. It's also nice to have the sound system back so that I might continue to erode my hearing whilst blaring some LCD Soundsystem. I love that car.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Lee Chase leaves Stone Brewing Co.

Just caught this on a visit to the Beer Advocate forums...

Lee Chase, head brewer at Stone Brewing Co., has decided to leave. There's a video blog about it all here. This comes as a shocking development... Brewing ain't exactly a lucrative business, but if there's a prime position as far as brewing within the craft beer (vs. big three) industry, I'd say it would probably be the head brewership at Stone. The brewery is nationally and internationally recognized and eagerly sought-after by beer geeks across the globe. In addition to that, it's pretty damn successful in terms of money, and I would wager it pays a considerable bit more than the average brewpub.

I can't help but wonder what the hell Lee is going to do after leaving Stone. Perhaps he seeks to start his own establishment in search of more creative freedom - I don't exactly know what the situation was like at Stone, but it really did seem like most everything that happened was an product of CEO and Dear Leader of Stone Greg Koch's vision, not anyone else's. I shouldn't be concerned about any downgrade in the quality of Stone's beers - they have too much riding on it to let that happen. Also, as good as their beers are, none are really all that nuanced in either flavor or construction, and there are plenty of decent brewers out there who should be up to the task. At the end of it all, I'm just damn surprised that this happened. Seemed like he had a good thing goin'...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Boomer entitlement and housing prices...

According to this piece here, 39% of all home sales in the US in 2005 were second homes. As in the people buying them already had a first home, and just felt like they needed another. This figure includes both vacation homes and "investment" homes. 39%!!! 39% of homes being sold are going to people who already have homes!!! They are being used for vacation, or for investment purposes, and in both cases they're driving up housing costs so much that hard-working young folk like myself can't even dream of buying first homes without selling our goddamn souls.

And check out this quote from an economist on the matter:

"Baby boomers are favorably positioned in terms of affordability, as well as being at the stage in life when people are most interested in making that kind of a lifestyle purchase."
So the boomers, who fought for social change in their youth, then betrayed their ideals and enjoyed unprecedented success as adults, are now entitled to "lifestyle" choices that deliver posh vacations and hundreds of thousands in equity income? Boomers are making these choices at the expense of the "lifestyle choices" of the younger generations. Generation Y is currently having a very difficult time making the "lifestyle choice" to subsist, let alone achieve middle-class status.

It is a zero-sum game. When the Boomers "win," when they over-indulge on real-estate, when they lock-up the job market, when they bleed social security dry, it is the youths that suffer. I can only hope that in my middle-age, I shall not forget the struggles of my youth, and I shall not use what little privledge I've managed to gain by that time to exploit the youths of the time...