Category: Media

Idiosyncratic Interconnections: Little Richard and *Gay on your resume* (Episode 2)

Posted by – September 25, 2015

Idiosyncratic Interconnections

Little Richard on an effeminate manner canceling out racism and workplace dynamics for gay black men today

In this ^^ Sally Jesse Raphael interview with Little Richard, Sally Jesse refers to the “sociological” quirk that activist, web journalist, and hip-hopper Yitz Jordan (Y-LOVE) mentioned—and backed up with studies & statistics—on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, hear that July 2014 segment here…the reality that gay black men or black men perceived as effeminate are seen as less of a threat and more readily accepted for jobs.

In his exhaustively-well-researched Quartz feature, Yitz points out new survey results by “Princeton University sociologist David Pedulla,” “in Social Psychology Quarterly,” that proved for black male applicants, “coming out on your resume,” for example listing gay student organization membership, volunteer history with LGBT nonprofits, etc., “effectively cancelled out” negative stereotypes of black men due to “the feminine stereotype” of gay men. And as Yitz noted in the WNYC interview: these are two ugly and wrong stereotypes colliding, black men who’re gay might not be more effeminate or less of a so-called “threat” even—see Omar in The Wire, or, y’know, look outside and simply observe the staggering infinite diversity around you—and making goofy, ham-fisted blanket assumptions of broad human groups like these will inevitably offend and dis many individuals.
But, it being the second decade of the 21st century notwithstanding, hiring managers change their decisions predictably based on old-ass, hackneyed stereotypes and good ol’ fashioned racism, and their biases are so ingrained and foreseeable, applicants can game them to their advantage (ala “game theory”). Dr. Pedulla’s results quantify the effects in hard numbers and bar graphs; survey responses even suggest “that for black male applicants, coming out may actually result in a higher starting salary.”

Interconnection: Little Richard

What is shocking is that, according to Little Richard, this loophole or “canceling out” of reflexive distrust and anxieties held true even during the ugliest segregation… including in white night clubs in the early 1950s Deep South. The flamboyant costumes were an asset: he noticed rockin’ the full face-cake-makeup, mascara mustache and cape opened doors and allowed him to get gigs no other black man could.
Bull Connor-type night club owners be like COME ON IN… according to L.R., they’d let him in even when making his brothers and bandmates wait outside.

Fascinating loop-hole in the fear…I expanded my writing on the subject as it’s very interesting the way the anthropological imperative to mate so nakedly shapes social norms because of the stereotypes around black men’s virility, especially in the Jim Crow South, the assumption of “unfair competition” vis a vis the below-belt unmentionables…
But closer inspection reveals these phenomena to be more horrible and downright sad than anything else. MOST lynchings in the pre-war South were provoked by allegations of sexual impropriety and/or the social overstepping of color barriers.

Just in the annals of music of the Deep South alone there are far too many such instances.  The infamous manslaughter of legendary Creole accordionist Amédé Ardoin especially stands out.  A pivotal forerunner of Zydeco music and a key pillar of Creole music in general, Amédé was the first musician to put the Louisiana Creole sound on vinyl.  But got killed over some nonsense after playing a house dance near Eunice, Louisiana. The most common story says that some white men were angered when a white woman, daughter of the master of the estate, lent her handkerchief to Amédé, creating brief handtouch pale-hand-on-brown that shocked the assembled, though some versions imply he got more hanky-panky than handkerchief from off-limits upper crust women broadly…. and that after Ardoin left the manse for the night, he was run over by a Model A Ford that crushed his head and throat, smashing his voicebox to smithereens.  He never performed again, and though accounts vary wildly on when the attack occurred and how long he survived institutionalized, Ardoin definitely died in the asylum/crippitorium in Pineville, Louisiana.
Amédé’s demise is explored in detail in Chapter 4 of Michael Tisserand’s The Kingdom of Zydeco—© 1998 ISBN: 978-1-61145-615-8—and there are more versions of the story than people reminiscing about it, with even those who knew Amédé offering multiple, differing accounts. But what makes Tisserand’s Amédé chapter so compelling is the character of Amédé; it’s like he existed outside of the timestream of pre-war Louisiana, his preternatural talent out-of-time, like a space alien or weird, accordion-only savant. Knowing that he had otherworldly accordion abilities made him cocky, too, and his attitude and tendency to largely disregard racist backwoods mores and overstep color lines probably got him killed.

Anywho….. Many of Little Richard’s contemporaries were shut out of the active touring in the Deep South he enjoyed, as Jim Crow blocked—and its raw vengeful intent really was more to “cockblock”—many black bluesmen and early rockers seeking a broader audience. Even in the late ’60s, Jimi Hendrix, who actually got his start running away from his Pacific Northwest home and, under a fake name, touring in Little Richard’s band, played on the tele via the BBC but got no airtime on American TV…

Nick

Little Richard on Sesame Street, 2010ish

This is the second episode in a new series, “Idiosyncratic Interconnections,” in which I unveil unusual connections betwixt two things that—most likely—only I would notice… realizing a seemingly unrelated thing unexpectedly interconnects with another thing to give insight into the first thing. Each episode connects two things. Let me know if ya’ll would like an Episode 3.

 

Go back to II: Episode 1

Idiosyncratic Interconnections: Loshon haRa and New Orleans R&B (Episode 1)

Posted by – September 24, 2015

Part of a new series, “Idiosyncratic Interconnections,” in which I unveil oddball connections betwixt two things that—most likely—only I, in my unusual mind, would notice… realizing a seemingly unrelated thing unexpectedly interconnects with another thing to explain, illuminate or give insight into the first thing. Each episode connects two things. Let me know if ya’ll like the series.

Idiosyncratic Interconnections

New Orleans R&B songs illustrating why Loshon HaRa, “tongue o’ evil,” and Rechilus (tale-bearing) is so bad

In September 2013 I last blogged on the subject of Loshon HaRa, complete with original cartoon-painting imagining the demonic forces that can escape your pie-hole via Loshon HaRa

Loshon HaRa is like libel, to willfully defame or dis someone, to talk smack outside of respectful norms. But unlike slander/libel, the truth is not your shield. Telling others “Suzie is a meth-whore” is Loshon HaRa even if she totally is, since you’ll never have the omniscient knowledge necessary to harshly judge another person, and relaying the dis to peers is assuming the role of judge and dropping the hammer / delivering a sentence of lost reputation. Not your place; keep it zipped. Unless telling it to someone (singular) could protect them.

poster from World War II

We all have our share of the yetzer HaRa (innate evil inclination, urge to destroy) and it can be difficult to hold your tongue. Certainly in the foibles and outright fails of your peers there is a ton of comedic value to leave holstered if one is circumspect in talking of others, plus the prospect that you will look cooler in contrast to the latest idiocy wrought by idiots is ever-tempting. Resist.

The biggest component to guarding your tongue is really mindset. A fidgety, itchy, dissatisfied mind is more likely to spread defamatory info than a chilled-out and content one. No one’s perfect, but following ANY rules of speech is next to impossible without a cultivated calmness of approach, deliberative and careful lips and larynx….

The verse “Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people” (Lev. 19:16) bans all forms of Loshon HaRa. However, the term “gossipmonger,” refers specifically to rechilus, “tale-bearing” or gossip that may sow the seeds of ill will or conflict between two or more others. Whereas directly derogatory info can cause others/the community to lose respect for the subject, rechilus can cause damage to relationships between the subject and his fellows, undermining the accord between another and a 3rd party.
“She thinks you’re dishonest, Chaim” being a classic rechilus example. Even if true, relaying the slight harms both the slighted (Chaim) and the slighter (the 3rd party who originated the negativity). It is wrong to help the initial slighter dis Chaim; they can wrong Chaim just fine without your help or complicity. Additionally, once the offense spreads, it can get a life of its own, pinball all over the community, go viral, damaging the social fabric. Like a computer virus or bug—0 where 1 ought to be—messin’ up the Kabbalistic code that animates the spiritual plane and sustains the constant earthy process of Creation™; put another way, “a disturbance in The Force.”     What began as something small can snowball, mutate… 48 hours and several “telephone game” manglings of 3rd-and-4th-party versions later, the FDNY is trying to talk Chaim down from the George Washington Bridge….

Though Sefer Shmiras haLoshon “way of speech/laws of the tongue book” is a Jewish thing, specifically Orthodox Judaism/yeshivah thang, plain from the sources I found, from Daily Sefer Chofetz Chaim and Jewish Heritage Foundation, both which require some knowledge of yeshivish terms to understand, there is nonetheless broader applicability….

People need more structure and discipline when it comes to speech, to minimize damage to the social fabric, so how can I make laws of the tongue more relatable…?
Well, most can relate to music. To wit…

Interconnection: Illustrative New Orleans R&B songs

New Orleans R&B is exemplified by Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Snooks Eaglin, Allen Toussaint… I think of it as a close relative of the piano blues and an important forefather of rock, but Fats Domino songs like Be My Guest with prominent walking bass-line on piano and skank on the uptick inadvertently created the ska/reggae sound, as well….

“Big Mouth,” written by Fats Domino & Dave Bartholomew…

News is out all over town
Big mouth
You standing over there
Like you don’t know what it’s all about

I guess you satisfied,
that you made me cry
big mouth…

Allen Toussaint is best known for songs he wrote for other performers, and Gossip Gossip was sung by Diamond Joe.  Now considered a rare soul track, the original Diamond Joe 45 is a mega rarity…

Gossip, gossip
can’t stop us
from gettin’ along
they don’t know we gotta
solid thing goin’ onnnnn

they get a charge
draggin’ other folks down…

Advance to next II: episode 2 | or II: episode 3

Mississippi Delta Bluesmen, as Relevant Now as Ever

Posted by – June 29, 2015

Bringing together strands of recent thoughts … the blues…

Recently I updated the “Got the blues so bad” mix/Nick’s True Blues Playlist – skewing heavily to the first bluesmen recorded vs later interpreters, the Southern backwoods “sundown comin’ & klan caught up to me at the crossroads” blues and that type of bluesman. Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, John Lee Hooker, the genuine article, the real bluesmen and those true to their spirit, like The Animals, or The Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton in their harder blues moments…

Mick Jagger knows the old blues lyrics, somehow Muddy Waters and Harpo Slim and recordings like that made their way across the pond to London, but ol’ Mick doesn’t convey the visceral blues that caused early American bluesmen to shout and stomp it…maybe Mick Jagger could pull off “so many beautiful supermodels (Jerry Hall Blues)” or the “Bad Music Video Dancing Blues” but can’t convey the blues felt down on the plantation, the woes of the dispossessed sharecropper’s son turned-itinerant musician…though, in fairness, the Stones pulled off some authentic blues standards and genuinely bluesy original tunes, and Keith Richards certainly comes from the ugliest corner of the wrong side of the tracks, England, and can definitely firmly grasp the blues, could shout the “1950s dentist got no anesthetic Blues“.

But I’m talking about the Southland that birthed the blues (about the song), the blues that began as slave stomps and chain-gang hollers, then grew increasingly sophisticated with the addition of guitars, harmonicas, piano, and eventually electrified instruments (none have really plumbed the depths of fully electric synthesizer blues, The Animals did lots with the organs and early synth-keyboards available in the ’60s, Steve Winwood had the whole enchilada of synthpop tech but just scratched the surface).

Listening to the electric blues on Florida St. and Imogene by the old freight train junction, Mobile, Alabama, thanks to fellow-Spring Hill College Class of 2004 Mobile kid Daniel Spotswood, I learned something about the blues that isn’t in the books, that the blues isn’t just a musical style, it’s an emotion.  It’s something visceral, intangible, possibly magical or at least existing in the undefined anthropological ether… something that might be non-recordable on tape.

The blues, the Real Blues, came from the systematic oppression, de facto (sharecropping) and actual outright slave economy of the deepest Deep South, songs of hell, songs of humanity persisting within the fieriest of Beelzebub’s trials…

The life of Robert Johnson illustrates what I mean. He was born from Julia Dodd’s re-marriage after Mr. Dodd got run out of town by a literal lynch mob over a woman and the white plantation caste that owned the area probably dispossessed the Dodds of everything.  In the Mississippi Delta counties especially, generational socio-economic gains could be washed away as fast as the Mississip’ risin’ if you were on the wrong side of the vicious legal and police-state-enforced Apartheid system—AKA Jim Crow— in effect in the first half of the 20th century. In Robert Johnson’s times, racism wasn’t just hateful attitudes but enshrined in law, enforced by the state; segregation, oppressive discrimination, denial of economic advancement/freedom in socio-economic space, and sudden death sentences by angry mob… all of this was essentially the law.

One of Johnson’s most covered songs, “Crossroads Blues”—even Cyndi Lauper recorded a rendition, 2010—refers to these Jim Crow laws. The second verse includes “the sun goin’ down now boy, dark gon’ catch me here”: alluding to the “sundown laws” or curfew, that was ubiquitous in the Deep South.  The blues still have a great deal of saliency.

When unrest erupts following the conflicts in Ferguson, MO, for example, and the news is analyzing the sundown curfews, few grasp the painful history. It’s shrugged off as necessary “to maintain order.”
But, when black people hear “sundown curfews imposed in Ferguson,” many probably think of “don’t be found when the sun’s gone down.”

I think of Robert Johnson.

Nick

Nick Reviews Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”

Posted by – March 25, 2015

Been getting to the bottom of the bottom getting to me
Holding up the mirror to everything I don’t want to see
But it ain’t all flowers
Sometimes you gotta feel the thorns
And when you play with
The Devil you know you gonna get the horns
Whah-hooooooo-hooo-hooo!

That visceral howl WHAH-HOOO-HOOO-HOOO in the grungy, swirling psychedelic track It Ain’t All Flowers closing out Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore album hits a gong deep in the heart. There’s pain & the outlasting/pyrrhic defeat of pain in the howl… a 21st century rebel yell from the wrong side of Appalachia… a wolfman made of used-up ore howling into void… only an ex-coal-country man’s howl could resonate like that. Every time it makes me wince; it’s a cry that stings you.

That authentic texture, something deep and real in the layers of sound … that is what makes Sturgill Simpson’s latest album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music so interesting and special.
It also makes the album needful of hi-def. Without, at bare minimum, good headphones and big-pipe streaming, the music is flattened, sound is removed, you lose layers, the resonances, and that howl doesn’t seem interesting and goes right past you. The album lends itself to hi-fi analog, to vinyl, so it’s no surprise the first pressing of 10,000-vinyl Metamodern Sounds in Country Music records seemed to sell out instantly.

Spotify gets you closer to hi-fidelity sound than most:

It wasn’t until I was 11 or so when I learned that not all country music is awful, woeful crying, guys bemoaning what they’ve lost over sorrowful tunes. Lost mah truck, mah woman and mah dawg. I started to realize there’s more to country than that, that some country is good, with instrument-playing talent high.

An understanding of folk and country is essential to have cultural literacy, common points of reference, etc., as an American; in Stephen King’s novels there are repeated references to Hank Williams Sr. lyrics, to throw up one example. But as a Southerner, understanding country can be crucial, and a healthy appreciation of country can be a social gateway to the South’s biggest musical fandom.

My favorite country nowadays is the more bluegrassy, rockabilly, and folk stuff—throwback folk like Old Crow Medicine Show, indie country like Steve Earle. So Sturgill Simpson is right up my alley.

I rate Metamodern Sounds in Country Music as the must listen country album of 2014 because of the rockabilly country swirled with grunge walls of sound, intricate but never cluttered or overkill-y.  It stays straightforward. And most of all for its originality, that it covers unusual subject matter to put it mildly.

In Voices, Simpson contemplates the useless voices of self-doubt, the vapid voices of junk news media, and more (it’s layered). And in the lead-off track Turtles All The Way Down, he lists some of the mind-expanding psychedelic drugs that went into creating the record, following this gem of a stanza…

Bet you didn’t expect THIS in that Kentucky hills accent:
“There’s a gateway in our minds
That leads somewhere out there, far beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light
Cut you open and pull out all your pain”
Turtles All The Way Down

When the above ^ was played on NPR, I’m sure that listeners worldwide did spit-takes, let the car slip into the wrong lane.

Doubtless the Turtles All The Way Down music video was NOT in the rotation of music videos on CMT. And that Sturgill Simpson detonates country music norms is what makes him so interesting and unique.

Spectrum Pulse music reviews pointed out Simpson’s existence to me last year. Big tip of the hat to Mark of Spectrum Pulse for that. Your review led to mine.

I judge every element of an album with the mix, instrument-playing, musical arrangement, lyrics, etc., all having weight. My music reviews don’t hinge solely or predominantly on vocals, which is mostly how music is judged today in the age of The Voice, X-Factor, American Idol, et al.
Sturgill Simpson’s low, East Kentucky hill-man’s country drawl might be jarringly unfamiliar or off-putting for some, especially for ya dadgum Yankees; for me it’s familiar – very like North Carolina hills or North Alabama accents.  B+ for vocals.

I give Metamodern Sounds in Country Music five out of five rabbits for the sonic tapestries offered, wall of sound-ish but with few instruments, uncomplicated. It Ain’t All Flowers is probably the best example; it closes the album on a front porch-philosopher contemplative note of resignment… psychedelic keyboards—think vaguely funereal Incense & Peppermints—create a dark descending spiral of notes, not as much alt-country on acid as it is acid on country… If you “listen small,” catching the small details and beautiful things, you’ll find a lot to love in Metamodern Sounds.
And, foremost, for its exploration of heretofore-untouched topics. The freshness is super appreciated; hopefully country music will grow some cojones and greenlight more unconventional country albums and offer us fewer cringe-worthy regurgitations of endlessly rehashed country clichés.

You can listen to the album here for free (via Spotify) or above (also via Spotify).

5/5

Image: Five out of five rabbits

 

 

 

SCORE: FIVE BUNS
ND-RRR (Nick Dupree Rabbit Rating Reviews)

Still waiting on dem luminescent lizard surgeons from outer space to descend for my pain-ectomy.

—Nick

Thoughts in October 2014: Flu Vaccines, Political Example-Stories, Confederate Ghosts in the Fog, and Mobile, Alabama memories

Posted by – October 29, 2014

“Down in Mobile they’re all crazy, because the Gulf Coast is the kingdom of monkeys, the land of clowns, ghosts and musicians, and Mobile is sweet lunacy’s county seat.”—Eugene Walter

So I was in Mobile, AL, a port city as complex as it is old, the Confederacy’s “undefeated” city, and my hometown, and I move from the Fox News in the pulmonologist’s office to the Fox News in the psychologist’s office.
It’s late 2004. George W. Bush already won reelection and both camels of Congress are firmly Republican-controlled. This is a red state epicenter, and the receptionist slowly shakes her head at all the evils of them dadgum liberals in Washington.

The Fox News reporter on screen is in Iraq, sandy winds off the desert dunes whip his polo shirt’s sleeves back, and he tries to keep his pencil-like physique upright as he shoves his big fuzzy Fox News-emblazoned microphone into soldiers’ faces. He was asking almost Colbert-like questions of the desert camo-wearing Army men, like how much have Senate Democrats harmed the war effort? and do you think the recent comments of Senate Democrats constitute treason?

More than one serviceman laughed the guy off.  None of them knew what comments Democrats had made. The questions were totally removed from the Army’s mission in Iraq and mostly seemed the ramblings of another clueless civilian or rear guard patriot.  Really apparent was the complete disconnect from the composition of government: Republicans unified the federal elected bodies and the executive branch under their control from 2002 and gained even biggier majorities in the 2004 elections, but it sounded like the Senate Democrats ran everything on Fox News.  The ever-present librul conspiracy is all-powerful and ALWAYS the problem.

This idea of eternal opposition is easy to understand in the undefeated city, our lady of perpetual defiance. This I understand easily, the rebellion is deeply ingrained in Mobilians’ DNA. Over time, surrounded by Confederate ghosts (some of them your relatives) and architecture, the big bronze Admiral Raphael Semmes statue looking at you, marinating in that culture and place and tripping over its ghosts in the lit beams of fog, you start to understand that the port cities have a different narrative from that of the plantationocracy, that for the urban South it’s more utopian.

Standing figure of Admiral Raphael Semmes. He wears confederate attire, including a long coat which extends to his knees, and a cap on his head. His left arm is bent so that his fist rests on his hip, with sword hanging immediately behind. His right arm is at his side with binoculars in his hand. Erected in 1899, the bronze aged to deep green long ago like the Statue of Liberté in New York. The base features three bronze plaques, including one which depicts the C.S.S. Alabama at sea.

Big bronze statue of Admiral Semmes @ The Loop, intersection of Government and Royal, City of Mobile.

Yes it’s about a slave economy and getting them dadgum liberal Abe Lincolns off your lawn, but it’s also this idea of Alabama knowing how best to build Alabama.  There’s nothing libertarian about the state that they would choose; the vision is more Thomas Paine than Edmund Burke. There’s this idea and utopian dream of all types of creation-energy and creativity and building being unleashed once you get that damnable federal boot off your neck.

It’s mostly a pipe dream—AKA a dream you get after hitting dat pipe o’ opium—and also there’s NOTHING morally justifiable much less utopian about the reasons why the feudal lords of the Southern interior supported secession, that is slavery slavery and slavery. But the port cities that were bustling centers of New World civilization already when George Washington was in diapers really complicate whatever narrative of the Confederacy you have. They resist simplicity. The port cities (Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans) are/were full of madmen and poets and dreamers like Eugene Walter described. And they were not only about wiping out the invaders, but also trying to create a better society that isn’t trying to out-hustle the North but wants to make a nation that is culturally if not economically independent (slavery spreading because of capitalism on steroids, often with northern financing).
As uber lefty cultural historian Morris Berman often says, a Southern victory in The WONA (“War of Northern Aggression”) would not have necessarily “given us a better world–slavery having been the obvious dark aspect of the Southern way of life–but the destruction of a gracious, slow-moving, community-oriented society in favor of a frantic, commercial one is nothing to crow about.”

So I always try to understand the ideas behind the arguments. Wanting to get dem dadgum bluebacks out of your hair I understand.
But if your side never has to shoulder the responsibility of governance, is perpetually in opposition vs. having a share of the credit and consequences of success or failure as part of a ruling coalition, your party can become badly warped.

I think it’s advantageous to understand all sides as much as possible. I got really confused during the federal gov’t shutdown of 2013, especially as to the predominant ideas underpinning it, so I listened to right-wing talk radio for the week and tried, to the best of my ability, to explain Teapublican thinking at the time on this blog.  I think that it is more radical to attempt to get your head around the other side’s ideas than to knee jerk oppose, and more interesting.

GOP uernica – Daryl Cagle’s fascinating and ‪hilarious‬ GOPelephant parody of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

Even the SHUT IT DOWN extremism I could eventually understand somewhat, but there are things I seriously can’t grasp at all except as purposefully misleading, disinfo more than misinformation, especially with Fox News. It worries me about our nation’s ability to learn, to adapt to multiple decades of scientific data, move forward and lead the way so humans  don’t end up extinct.

Concerned about Fox Newsification of Medicine and Science

On the medical front, there are obvious policy differences on substantive issues, like the stem cell lines kerfuffle early on in Bush Jr’s presidency, but I mean things like blaming John Edwards and “librul trial lawyers” for the flu shot shortage of 2004. This was a talking point on Fox News repeated again and again, part of the “scandal of the day” format Faux News sticks with throughout its lineup of programs.

Like the disloyal Democrats’ comments brought up over and over again, even by FNC’s Iraq correspondent in lieu of actual reporting, there’s this consistent appeal to some story example that acts as a code word or proof-text of Demonrat perfidy—this time the librul conspiracy has gone too far!!  A good contemporary example is Benghazi, which for several years now is a code word for Barack Obama is a radical Islam and MURDERED that ambassador to cover up his traitorous support for terrorists OMG!!
In a way I understand this as coming from the story-example way of communicating so prevalent in the South, you can look back at 19th century newspapers and see how the openly partisan news media of the South would fixate on whatever meme of “Yankee radical” treason or perceived slight and milk it.

21st century partisan news media fixates on whatever obscure example and rides it for as many news cycles as possible, but an important difference is the whole South understood the example stories of 19th century newspapers, more or less, whereas the example stories of Fox News are little known outside of the conservative media bubble. Few know what Benghazi is or understand why Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being brought home from being a Taliban POW per no man left behind is another traitorous plot of the Obama. Example narratives like these circulate only among the conservative media niche, have no traction outside that narrow audience and even within the alternate reality of the Rightosphere they create a terrible hew and cry but aren’t salient past the few news cycles they’re designated talking points for…

So on this day, Faux News’ librul conspiracy meme of the day was this thing about John Edwards and the dadgum ambulance chasing trial lawyers. The pulmonologist and nurse were discussing the flu shot shortage crisis affecting us and the other patients, and that the lawsuits pursued by John Edwards and his parasitic ilk are the primary cause of vaccine factory closures and the shortage of flu shots. Conservative media was citing this as a proof of lawyers ruin health care and pass legislation to further immunize vaccine makers from lawsuits! 

I’d understand employing this example, if it were true.  But Snopes wholly debunked the claim.  It is 100% false.  John Edwards never sued vaccine manufacturers nor did his firm. Few suits have ever been filed on the flu shot, the controversy is primarily over the early childhood immunization schedule, MMR vaccine, DPT vaccine, the use of thiomersal and so forth. So the ramping down of flu vaccine manufacturing had nothing to do with lawsuits—no one was seeking redress of grievances against the flu shot—the low supply of flu vaccines in 2004, Snopes explained, had to do with flu vaccines losing money, and with vaccine makers transitioning production to the scary “live virusintranasal spray FluMist®.

When story examples are more important than fact and there is ONLY opinion, where does that lead us?

Nick

 

Key link: snopes.com: John Edwards and flu vaccine shortage

 

Why The Doctor Who Series Opener Was Awesome

Posted by – September 13, 2014

a bit belated, but…

The debut of the new Doctor—episode 8.1: Deep Breath—was great,
because…

1. the female Tyrannosaur inadvertently loosed on Victorian London…

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener "Deep Breath," this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I'M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener “Deep Breath,” this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I’M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

 

CAUTION: Spoilers Ahead

2. Badass lesbian kung fu detectives, one of whom is dino sapiens, in Victorian London.

Madame Vastra, actually part of the Silurian or homo reptilia race, an early Eocene civilization that rose from the dinosaurs and I call dino sapiens, and wife Jenny Flint are awesome leather-clad ninja space detectives who help the police of Victorian London fight crime and kick ass, especially when unusual or otherworldly villainy is afoot.

Vastra and Jenny as the tyrannosaur walks the Thames.

Apparently awakened from cryo-hibernation by the early construction of the London Underground, explained here, Vastra took to eating Victorian commuters until The Doctor gave her a pep talk. Thereafter, Vastra has mainly limited her diet to the worst of London’s serial killers, child murderers, and the like; she catches them, then “has them for dinner” so to speak.

Madame Vastra and Jenny are totally badass… and after Sontaran nurse Strax was nearly killed alongside the pair while helping The Doctor in the Battle of Demons Run, Strax joined the woman and dino duo in 1888 London.  Being an alien potato of non-imposing stature (roughly 5-feet) in appearance and a super aggressive commando programmed to fight for the “glory of the Sontaran Empire” in behavior, Strax doesn’t exactly blend in easily in Victorian London.  But his attempts to understand humans from the point of view of a mono-gender world of cloned super soldiers provides a lot of comic relief.
Internet rumors about a Vastra-Jenny-Strax spin-off show are indicative of little more than the three’s huge popularity, but I want to go on record as totally FOR such a TV series! The trio, also known as the Paternoster Gang after their HQ (Vastra’s manse) on Paternoster Row, is a lot of fun, and certainly a big part of why I loved the episode.

another favorite Paternoster Row moment of mine: Jenny thought she was posing for a painting – but Vastra just thought her posing “brighten[ed] the room” …and because “art.”

3. A scene that confronts Ableism and Agism

This episode is about the new Doctor, The Doctor regenerating into a new body.

The Doctor regenerating into the Twelfth Doctor (TV: The Time of The Doctor)

During regeneration, disorientation, loss of function and motor control, and sleeping for 24 hours or something are the norm, and there can be regeneration sickness, even regeneration madness as with the Sixth Doctor, who tried to kill his companion Peri during regeneration-related insanity/disorientation.  The Tenth Doctor had some regeneration sickness and was revived by a strong cuppa tea.

In this sensitive time of regeneration, The Doctor is… well, disabled doesn’t seem the right word, but certainly vulnerable, not himself, not in his usual fighting shape. The Doctor, the Time Lord who protects all times of Earth’s people, suddenly needs protection. Often, by coincidence or purposefully, alien enemies attack right when The Doctor is least prepared to fight back. This regeneration, The Doctor is disoriented and blacking out when the space detective trio takes him (and Clara) to Paternoster Row, and gives Clara a reality check that is unforgettable.

As the new Doctor is recuperating, Clara, the latest in Doctor Who’s cavalcade of pretty companions, is being weird and whiny about The Doctor regenerating as an older, less flirty, not-Matt-Smith.  Madame Vastra reacts by indirectly calling out Clara as a stranger, then dons the veil of srs bzn™ and brings Clara into the sitting room for a serious business sit-down.  The exchange that follows is epic, smacking down Clara’s superficiality, agism, ableism. The takeaway: even allies need to check their own biases, reality check. Checketh yourself before you wrecketh yourself. 

Clara being smackdownt

The sitting room smackdown scene. I definitely relate to being “lost in the ruin of [your]self,” I feel those feels of late…

4. the art direction

Doctor Who keeps getting more beautiful, more well done.  This episode didn’t have the type of visual flourish and experimental quick cuts/editing like 6th series (11th Doctor) standout 6.11: The God Complex; it’s visually awesome in its own way.  “Deep Breath” has big movie looks, brilliant and cinematic wide shots, and great use of color.  Someone behind the camera really understands how color works.  It isn’t over-killed thankfully, but different settings have unique color schemes.
The example that sticks out most is the T-Rex post-mortem from a bridge scene, where everything is bathed in orange from the immolated dinosaur.  Whatever future technology the villains used to burn the tyrannosaur, it has set the Thames aglow, and in bouncing off the rippling waters, colors everyone in fiery tones.

Like this…

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange...

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange…

and this…

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Fiery rebirth, The Doctor rising from the dino ashes…

5. the villains: Space Age Clockwork Repair Droids

The Clockwork Repair Droids, last seen in the totally awesome Tenth Doctor episode 2.4: The Girl in the Fireplace on the 51st century ship Madame de Pompadour, are a threat to humanity because

The Clockwork Repair Droids (minus V for Vendetta-ish masks) in early Tenth Doctor episode The Girl in the Fireplace.

they’re programmed to repair/maintain their ship and themselves by any means necessary, up to and including cannibalizing people for parts.  While the Clockwork Droids the 10th Doctor faced seemed almost accidentally villainous, repair AI gone wrong after massive damage, these clockwork droids (evidently from the sister ship Marie Antoinette) seem way more psycho and evil as they seek “The Promised Land,” whatever that is.
We don’t know what caused these droids to come to Earth, whether they (and other robo-foes of The Doctor) were called to Earth but didn’t know what century, or if the Clockwork Droids were trying to find what happened to the sister ship Madame de Pompadour‘s droids The Doctor deactivated in 18th century Versailles, accidentally ended up in Mesozoic times and were tampered with or signaled later on, but the unrelenting drive to get to “The Promised Land” is intriguing.

That these droids would dedicate such an inordinate amount of time and energy to extract parts and skin from people for a hot air balloon of human skin instead of robbing or buying a balloon from the local hot air balloon vendor—by this point, 1898, hot air balloons are a long-established and commonplace technology—and that they would go to the trouble of building and running Mancini’s, like “if Hannibal Lecter were to open an Italian restaurant,” fancy cuisine and YOU are the main course… it means that they are so whacked out, perhaps from all the human elements they’ve incorporated, becoming inverted cyborgs or near it, they’re human-obsessed, now almost singlemindedly people scavenging.  That is very creepy, and an excellent nemesis to begin the new Doctor with…

they also look really cool.

The half of the Half-faced Man that has moving clockwork exposed.

The idea of inverted cyborgs, androids using so many human replacement parts they’ve ambiguized the distinction between droid and cyborg but are still computers at base-foundation, networked and controlled by one “control node” android, is fascinating.
And it is a good way to debut the new “The Promised Land” mystery arc.

I think that the “Promised Land”/Missy’s virtual world (see Who is Missy?) is a virtual world, digital world, and that the Half-faced Man is uploaded first is significant.  The Half-faced Man is the control node for all the Marie Antoinette clockwork droids, but he awakens in psychotic Mary Poppins’ “paradise” and no clockwork droids reactivated as far as we know. This, and that the miniaturized soldier woman in the following episode is obliterated at the atomic level but appears whole and non-miniaturized in Missy’s “heaven,” implies that the consciousness is being uploaded at the moment of death, NOT the body moved. So far, all Missy’s “guests” are from atomized or abandoned dead bodies, and this leads me to believe that the Great Intelligence, or somebody/something with G.I.-esque upload abilities, is uploading people killed in The Doctor’s missions.

and in case you’re wondering if The Doctor killed the Half-faced Man or not, that’s his MURDER FACE™ after the deed!

6. The Doctor (now Peter Capaldi)

The new Doctor got some great, hilarious lines, like the one about “attack eyebrows” that are so “independently cross” they’re liable to “cede from” the north of his face (a sly topical crack about Scottish independence).

But no one really loves this Doctor. Because you’re not supposed to…not really.
The blog An American View of British Science Fiction shed light on this for me… the new Doctor is more like the First and Sixth Doctors, the hardcore, colder, more alien Time Lords.  That, I think, will be a freshener for the series if it doesn’t veer too dreary.

Check out Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014) | An American View of British Science Fiction for the explanation, how Twelfth Doctor is like the Sixth Doctor and First Doctor. It’s made me want to look into the Classic Doctors.

Nick

Elsewhere on the web:

VoteSaxon07’s SPOILERIFIC REVIEW : Deep Breath is a detailed video review I like, and I agree with the bit about Clara and the Matt Smith cameo – if she’s still too thick to figure out who The Doctor is by the end of the episode and all he did, including rescuing her from vivisection at the hands of the clockwork droids, she should leave, not get a bonus phone-a-friend.

Doctor Who blogging: “Deep Breath” | FlickFilosopher.com – another in-depth review I admired and recommend.

TV Tropes: Deep Breath – I love their dissection of popular tropes Moffat employs in this episode.

TARDIS Wiki – Deep Breath

Stuart Reviews Stuff: The Girl in the Fireplace Review– on why this Tenth Doctor episode is one of the best episodes “of Anything” EVAR

Watch the Classic Doctors: Classic Doctor Who on Hulu

The Hawkmen’s Sky City Runs on Radium

Posted by – September 3, 2014

and now for something completely different

Depictions of Radioactivity Fears in 1936 Flash Gordon Serial

Defining my terms: Up until at least the mid-1950s, newsreels, cartoon shorts like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, and this week’s chapter of your favorite movie serials were shown before or between the feature(s)—the full-length movies—and the afternoon at the movies was the main audio-visual mass media form people consumed, the core method industrialized societies used to spread images, information and propaganda.  Before being supplanted by TV shows, movie serials were hugely popular.

Lest I sugarcoat, I say this up front: the problematic aspects of the old serials are… well, glaring and intensely pre-civil-rights in content and tone. “Talkie” film serials are part of American culture in the 1930s and ’40s mostly, so they’re a time window showing a very different country… in the Flash Gordon serial, the first ever space adventure on the silver screen, the supervillain Ming the Merciless is obviously in the mold of the Fu Manchu evil genius.  The imperial court, the costumes and sets, the official state cult of Tao, and high concentration of non-Earth humanoid races give the series a definite otherworldly—even bizarro world—look and feel, and that mitigates the Fu Manchuness of Ming.  At its worst the Ming depiction is tame compared to the WW2-fueled anti-Asian hate that pervaded later serials¹, but this early Flash Gordon has no shortage of very Earth-like sexism (despite the uber-strong Princess Aura²).

I dig movie serials because their story structure is really prominent, clear, and crucial, the story mechanics are visible like exposed wooden planks and beams.  Serials also offer a bounty of delicious cultural tropes and images: fresh, raw, not adulterated or distilled, as they originate here or appear for the first time in this new visual form, the picture show.  For example, most subsequent space operas imitate, derive from, or refer to Flash Gordon, since it invented the opening crawl, and, along with the comic strip it sprung from, created the first visual depictions of sci-fi elements—themselves mainly borrowed from pulp writer and space opera originator E.E. Smith—including the space fleet, the tractor beam/gravity beams, the Evil Interplanetary Overlord, the planet of crystal spires and togas (proto version) and more…

Even The Sky City Has an Energy Crisis

Spoilers ahead: The hawkmen’s sky city, and it is truly the “city of the hawkmen,” with not a hawkwoman or hawkchild ever seen, and no women in the city at all excepting visitors Princess Aura and Dale Arden and background servant-girls who don’t wear hawk gear.  The spire-laden city

The hawkmen’s sky city in the Flash Gordon serial (1936), held aloft by gravity beams powered by the atom furnaces.

is ruled by Vultan, King of the Hawkmen, who is like a Viking warlord of the skies complete with Beard of Barbarism, big hammy laugh, big ambitions, and big appetites for babes, beer and beasts (always om-nomming a leg of roast beast).

The sky city feels both medieval and high tech, great lumber doors like a castle and moody candlelit walls, for example, the mega technology backgrounded (as befitting a civilization of togas and crystal spires).  The underlying technology is abruptly foregrounded, however, when King Vultan sentences Flash and his bros to feed the steampunk-looking atom furnaces piles o’ radium with the other prisoners (apparently we’ll use manual labor, slaves doing rote grunt work in the space age).

Flash Gordon and his bros enslaved by the hawkmen and made to shovel “radium” into the “atom furnaces”… hawkman overseer(s) are always present to whip the slaves. We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future?

 

Most of what I’m talking about appears in Chapter 6 of the Flash Gordon serial:

The sky city is featured in Chapters 5-8…

 

the moving, setting, re-setting of the “hands” on this clock is essential to the atom furnaces’ operation …somehow. The clock, which a hawkman worker mans at all times, moves in rhythm with the gears, the fires… industry as performance art.

 

The atom furnaces look and feel like relics of the bygone days of steam power, Vultan’s prisoners seemingly shoveling coal just like in an old steamboat engine room, but the narratives around these “atom furnaces” are unambiguously modern.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that his friends will continue sentenced to shovel radium into the atom furnaces until he finds a “new force” to hold up the sky city.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that the sky city is held aloft with gravity beams run on radium-fueled atom furnaces, but there are fears of running out of radium. Like concerns today around peak oil, peak coal, peak uranium, and increasingly, peak water, King Vultan is—between bursts of boisterous laughter—worried about “peak radium,” having neared or passed that point of no return or peak where the depletion of a finite resource is only a matter of time thereafter, raising the possibility of the hawkmen’s sky city crashing to the ground and bringing an ugly, apocalyptic end to hawk-civilization.

Vultan wants Zarkov to discover a “new force” to hold up the sky city, which sounds funky, but it is 1936. Einstein had published Special Relativity just 20 years previous, electromagnetism as one invisible force was being translated into radio and other magic things, new theories of physics droppin’ right and left, and amidst all that a “new force” or new field being discovered didn’t seem so implausible. Sci-fi stories and novels of the ’20s and ’30s—I’m particularly thinking of E.E. Smith “the father of space opera”—often draw on a hypothetical fifth force of nature³ being discovered and harnessed to propel space adventurers through the solar system and used to beam at foes.

Dr. Zarkov replies to Vultan with concerns that Flash and friends will get lethal doses of radiation from shoveling radium. The subtext is our fear as we enter “the atomic age.”

Vultan answers “it’s a pleasant death! LOL!” and that they’ll indeed be radiated until Zarkov invents a new alternative energy source. Dr. Zarkov does eventually discover a new force of physics to beam the city aloft. He turns on the new beam, powered by an unexplained new infinite force, just in the nick of time, right after Flash Gordon + super-bros explode the atom furnace. No word on what happened with the deadly radioactive fallout from all that radium goin’ up like a roman candle.

Lots of implications here, lots of subtext…

 

“Will Radium Restore Youth?” Article in Popular Science Monthly, June 1923 (copy of the issue). Not only was radium injected and chugged as an “elixir of life,” it was used in all types of cosmetics, and there were even radium condoms for superpowered radioactive wangs; read more at the excellent blog post Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin

My last post on radium in fracking wastewater was written in part to lay the groundwork for this post… RADIUM: it’s not just for Marie Curie anymore.
RADIUM: coming to an aquifer near you!

there are some disturbing (mildly disturbing, depending on your perspective) themes, images and subtexts in the Flash Gordon serial… pretty sure that I would want to give younger or more sheltered teens an explainer/guided watching… and most of the more disturbing aspects aren’t about radiation…

I understand that the writers want to set up King Vultan and the hawkmen as formidable opponents, so when they turn to aid Flash Gordon against Ming the Merciless, it is a really high stakes event, Vultan and Flash shaking on a Fire Forged Friendship that really matters.  In all Flash Gordon incarnations, Vultan ends up friends with Flash Gordon on an “enemy of my enemy” basis, and in the 1979 animated series Flash goes from forced labor at the atom furnaces to Fire Forged Friends in the course of one episode—view it free on Hulu—and his threatening turn feels more like a Challenge of the Week.  But here, King Vultan is closer to a serious villain.  Though he has some human moments, like trying to get Dale to eat her roast beast, Vultan electric-tortures, radiates, and almost executes Flash!

And then there’s this…

A hawkman guard aggressively greets Dr. Zarkov (unfortunately still in the mandatory hot pants of Ming’s Go-Go Enslavement) with a heil salute. The hawkmen use the heil again and again. Given that these serials were shown before/after newsreels of the Nazis (1936) how would audiences have reacted?

Thank you for reading!  Hope I gave some nutritious food for thought…

The hawkmen continue to echo down the decades, not just in the many subsequent and new Flash Gordon works, but in the DC universe, the Justice League and related content… since the DC Comics heroes Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Hawkgirl, et al were inspired by the Hawkmen in Alex Raymond’s founding Flash Gordon comic strip.  Hawkman creator Dennis Neville said that he modeled his Hawkman design on the hawkmen of the sky city on planet Mongo.  I feel that the Silver Age Hawkman, Hawkgirl and other Hawk-characters, hailing from crystal spiresque high towers (sky city-like) on the distant planet Thanagar, are an even more direct homage to the old Raymond comic strips

Recommended Resources:
Tropes in Flash Gordon serial – TVtropes.org – listing some of the cultural tropes invented or employed by the Flash Gordon serial
Know Thy History: Flash Gordon – from the excellent comics review blog The Webcomic Overlook

Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin
9 Ways People Used Radium Before We Understood the Risks | Mental Floss

E. E. Smith novels – public domain audiobooks @ LibraVox

 

Tip of the hat to the wondiferous disability-in-moving-pictures blogger spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacecrip for inspiring me to blog about film again.

Nick

 

Footnotes:
1. Especially during the War with Imperial Japan, racist depictions of Asians hit an all-time low. In the original Batman serial (1943) they refer to Japanese internment as “…the wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed japs” (view on youtube).  Though the concept of internment is inadvertently revealed as failed and ineffective moments later, when the evil genius and supervillain Dr. Daka, Hirohito’s baddest agent, is introduced as the antagonist, conspicuously non-imprisoned and unfettered in his evil-doing. I hate the sugarcoating and outright omitting of the ugly moments of our history, and I want my descriptions of the past to feel near as close to the real and biting reality of the people who lived it as possible in blag format.
2. Princess Aura is one badass woman, probably ahead of her time, but she is also really complicated. She can evil-rescue Flash, seem the heroine one moment, seem villainess the next…  In the animated series, done by the He-Man producers, she’s largely a copy/paste of their She-ra animations, but is more the Action Girl than in the old serial, where she’s daddy’s little villainess exemplified, but villainess wanting the hero always applies…
3. something akin to a fifth force of nature may still be possible, if physicists can figure out dark energy/matter.

Nick Reviews Neil Young’s “Freedom”

Posted by – June 1, 2014

Neil Young’s 1989 “comeback album” Freedom is probably Neil Young’s best work, and I think it should be considered in the rare category, “best Folk rock albums ever.”

Freedom opens with an acoustic performance of “keep on rawkin in the free werld” live in concert (cut from an outdoor set he did at Jones Beach, New York).  Though concert recordings can be annoying with the crowd noise and whatnot, and this is no exception, bookending the beginning and end of an album with acoustic and electric versions of the album’s lead single or most representative song is a Neil Young tradition. In addition to that, the following track, 2 – “Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero Part 1)”, has simple guitar lines that mirror “Keep on Rockin’ In The Free World,” so leading off with it established something Young builds on…
One track lends itself to the next, music and lyrics setting up a foundation for the next song. This “album as a cohesive whole” isn’t seen as often today, nowadays an “album” is more a “best of” collection of an artist’s recent songs, selection of stuff recorded over a certain timeframe, or worse, hit single… filler… random crap… potential single #2… filler… more filler, then please become a single #3.
One of the things that takes a record from great album to one of the “best evaaaaar” is its “as a whole” impact. Though Freedom‘s wholeness isn’t as clear/blatant as a concept album’s with a single unifying theme or story, the songs unite loosely around ideas of political, personal, and relationshipal freedom. Not just the songs themselves but their sequence, how one song sets up the next, matters here, and I definitely give more points for the whole album being a canvas.

Favorite moments:
As mentioned above, “Keep on Rockin’ In The Free World” is an excellent lead-off for the very related second song “Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero Part 1).” Like its predecessor, “Crime in the City” throws out vignettes about street-level reality in 1980s North America or “the free world,” backed by simple but powerful guitar lines. Then, Young adds more: electric guitar compliments the acoustic guitar that’s driving the longer, almost spoken word-vignettes, and following the second vignette about a producer there’s a touch of pedal steel guitar, then separating the third and fourth stories more pedal steel guitar in the fill, then the fill between stories four and five is a sweeping swirl of pedal steel guitar, almost like the Hawaiian-style of steel guitar, then the final lengthy musical break brings in subtle saxophone lines that mirror the guitar lines. All brilliantly done, and the vignettes or dispatches from the front lines of urban decay are touching and real. The third story even has you sympathizing with the corrupt 1980s cop on the beat as he improvises survival amidst the inner city hellscape.

Song #3 – “Don’t Cry” is grunge rock in its purest form, raw guitar feedback-y as hell backing raw emotional lyrics, one magnifying the other. If songs like this don’t make the point that Neil Young is one of the founding fathers of grunge, that grunge’s Mt. Rushmore would have Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Black Francis/Pixies, and Neil Young, then Neil Young’s 1995 album with Pearl Jam, Mirror Ball, will hit you with that point until it’s blatantly obvious.

“Hangin’ on a limb” is #4, an achingly beautiful song of love and loss and freedom with Linda Ronstadt’s backing vocals subtle and muted but not too muted, just right. The lyrics say a lot in a few subtle lines:

And when the melody
Through the window called
It echoed in the courtyard
And whispered in the halls
He played it through the night
She knew he had to go
There was something about freedom
He thought he didn’t know.

and though their love was hangin’ on a limb,
she taught him how to dance

The part about a melody’s infectious whispers changing lives is striking, and this, along with the lines in 7. “Someday” reminding us where men’s labor goes “Workin’ on that great Alaska pipeline / Many men were lost in the pipe / They went to fuelin’ cars / now smog might turn to stars… Someday” brings it home for me… We need great songwriting like this to express human life and its intricate adaptations to horror and beauty and everything.

I judge everything, with each element, instrument-playing, musical arrangement, lyrics, etc., all having weight. My music reviews don’t hinge solely or predominantly on vocals, which is mostly how music is judged today in the age of The Voice, X-Factor, American Idol, et al.
Neil Young’s high, abrasive countertenor might be off-putting for some, but I give his 1989 comeback album Freedom five out of five rabbits because I “listen small,” catching the small details and beautiful things.  This album is like a small, intricately arranged piece of jewelry with each element subtle and measured to never be gaudy or overkill-y.
If you like folk rock and/or country love songs and/or the grunge sound, check out Freedom.

You can listen to the album here for free (via Spotify) or above (also via Spotify).

5/5

Image: Five out of five rabbits

 

 

 

SCORE: FIVE BUNS

—Nick

Nick Reviews Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”

Posted by – March 12, 2014

This album, Random Access Memories, won the Grammy for Album of the Year last month, sold umpteen-bajillion copies/went platinum in an era of “people don’t buy albums,” and hit number one in over 20 countries, and after listening to it I understand why.  It has the mass appeal of Europop/techno-dance, while being way more clever and creative than most any discothèque-type techno that came before it.  You do get the repetitive loops endemic to techno, and that annoyed me sometimes, but often Daft Punk mixes it up so much with a diversity of sounds and actual musical instruments, and modular synthesizers like their obvious forefathers, Kraftwerk, that it works.

Evidently they had all the tracks recorded live with real musicians performing all the instruments, and limited the use of electronic sounds to drum machines, a modular synthesizer, and vintage vocoders. The music is still predominantly electronic, but it’s electronic music with a distinctly “analog” feel, again the Kraftwerk sound, and the album is so creative because it puts the music of the 70s and 80s in a blender, ending up with an interesting gumbo of electric sounds and musical instruments. Track 6 – “Lose Yourself to Dance” reminds me of how “Der Kommissar” (original Falco version) layers electric guitar over synthesizers.

“Get Lucky” (Track 8) became the biggest international hit single in recent memory.  It’s so popular that it has prompted innumerable parodies and tributes, some of the weirdest include Postmodern Jukebox‘s ridiculous (but wonderfully violined) Irish tenor version, and the partially a cappella version performed for the Sochi Olympics opening ceremonies by the MVD Police Choir (video here). This wasn’t just the most surreal moment of the Sochi games, it was quite possibly the most surreal moment of any Olympic opening ceremony ever.  
The American media, typically oblivious, reported this as the “police choir,” but the MVD is the Interior Ministry.  The MVD are bodyguards for the Czar “president,” top ministers and other key officials, alongside their core role of beating protesters with clubs in the streets, silencing the opposition, spying on dissidents, etc.; these aren’t “police” in U.S. or UK terms, and we’ve yet to coin an American neologism for “combining the jobs of the U.S. Secret Service and the East German Stasi,” though “secret police” almost covers it and “Interior Ministry” more than gets the point across in European and Eurasian/Mideast contexts.  

This weird moment exemplifies the growth of a global language & pop culture: note that Random Access Memories is in English, every lyric sung, every word spoken, but is being embraced nonetheless as a European discothèque-type thing from Sochi near the North Caucasus to Reykjavik to Helsinki, and this is super clear watching the diverse hodgepodge of Russian guys in the secret police Glee club belting out perfect imitations of an English language song.  
This surreal performance also epitomizes how many feel about Russia’s Olympics: “oh great, the oppressive regime’s doing a celebratory butt-dance and singing perfect harmonies about getting lucky on every TV screen in the world!”  It isn’t my favorite track.

My favorite track is Track 10 – “Motherboard,” which throws a symphony orchestra into synthesizers, now string section, now woodwinds, live drums, then toward the end throws (what sounds like) ectoplasm or quicksand or viscous Cthulhu dung or something atop that.

There are a lot of oddball collaborations here, with the song done with “Rainbow Connection” songwriter Paul Williams, Track 7 “Touch,” in which Williams (still alive!) sings the lyrics he wrote about…touching… over/between electronic experiments, the weirdest by far. The Daft Punk + Paul Williams collaborations (he also wrote—but doesn’t sing—lyrics for Track 9 “Beyond”) will go down in history as one of the most bizarre musical collaborations ever, right up there with the weird Bing Crosby-David Bowie “Little Drummer Boy” duet.

Paul Williams also gave the acceptance speech for Daft Punk’s Album of the Year Grammy.

I don’t usually like electronic music. But overall, I give this album four out of five rabbits.

Image: Four out of five rabbits

 

 

SCORE: FOUR BUNS

 

—Nick

A Few Thoughts on Theme in Popular Sci-fi & Fantasy Novels

Posted by – November 27, 2013

In an incidental comment in a previous blog post, I wrote:

Personally, I think the novel is best used when your/my/the author’s ideas about something large (our past, our future, technology, childhood, humanity, the soul, big stuff) are deep enough that you need an entire novel to explore them in proper detail. Length of a given novel should be tied to exploring its theme, I guess I’m saying…

I thought theme deserved a post of its own.  I think that it’s crucial, and understanding theme important, but too often overlooked.

In Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the theme is empathy, or …answering how humans are different from androids, what makes us human, which, in the novel, largely boils down to empathy.

Rick Deckard is one of two android-bounty hunters employed by the San Francisco Police Dept., but when the senior bounty hunter gets injured—damn-near killed—by the new androids with the uber-sophisticated Nexus Six brain types, Rick suddenly has the Nexus Six assignment on his desk.  The SFPD wants all him to “retire,” deactivate, kill, these loose Nexus Sixes, and since they’ve proven so

Nexus-6 androids vs. humans... if you could duplicate the human brain exactly how would be different?  do androids dream?

Painting by Nick Dupree, September 28, 2013: Nexus-6 androids vs. humans… if you could duplicate the human brain exactly how would be different? do androids dream?

dangerous, they want the mission done within 24 hours.  This complex and super tough assignment falling to Rick is the inciting incident.
Hunting down the “andys” is more difficult than ever, since the difference between humans and the most advanced androids has narrowed so much; they’re physically indistinguishable and psychologically and socially getting harder and harder to tell apart.  With the Nexus Six brain types, the only way to identify one as non-human is to either with the Voigt-Kampff test—measuring empathetic responses in increasing facial blood flow, or lack thereof, when asked a series of questions—or the simpler Boneli Test, which measures reaction time to visual stimuli, as it’s a fraction of a second slower in androids.  Rick only knows the Voigt-Kampff test, meaning he has to put facial electrode pick-ups on andys and interview them before killing them, excepting active combat situations, when a post-mortem bone marrow microscopy test is used to confirm inorganic status.
It’s possible for the Nexus Sixes to appear indistinguishable from humans with psychopathic tendencies or stunted or low empathy on the Voigt-Kampff test.  It’s implied that the upcoming Nexus-7 brain types, expected to be released in a matter of months, will be able to pass the Voigt-Kampff test and the Boneli test.

The questions on the Voigt-Kampff test stem from the culture and dominant philosophy/religion of post-apocalyptic humanity, Mercerism.  Humanity has mostly left for the Mars colonies, since Earth’s an irradiated, desert hellscape following the nuclear devastation of World War Terminus.  The government incentivizes emigration with free android helpers for Mars colonists, but enforces an android ban on Earth, where few people remain aside from those whose jobs require it (like Rick) and the population who’ve been affected by the radiation badly enough it has lowered their working-skills or I.Q., and are officially regarded as mutated subhumans, and therefore banned from emigrating by the government; unofficially they’re called the derogatory name “chickenheads.”
Mercerism has apparently grown up in response to the android dystopia and fallout-induced extinction of most Earth animals, and is built around the importance of empathic connections with humans and animals.  So questions on the Voigt-Kampff test take for granted that Mercerism is everyone’s belief, assuming strong empathic connections with animals, and asking things to elicit horror and disgust around eating, killing animals, fur rugs, etc.

With most animals extinct, remaining animals are highly prized, and owning an animal (very expensive) a major badge of honor and status symbol.  Men having a midlife crisis buy a goat or something, not a car, since animals are rare and flying cars ubiquitous.  Mercerism has made people more human, or at least people have focused on the human characteristics that android duplicates can’t mimic or understand, empathic connection with animals and the main ceremony of Mercerism, the empathy box, which is sort of a virtual world that lets the people connect with the prophet Wilbur Mercer and feel his pain as he’s pounded with rocks.
Mercerism and the valuing of having an animal at home to empathize with, those are my favorite parts of the novel.  There’s kind of a keeping up with the Jones competition around owning an animal… “I own a goat,” “well, I own a mare, and she’ll make more horses,” but it’s a competition to restore species.  The demand for animals is so great, some get electric animals, as they’re less expensive, or perhaps duplicates of species that are legitimately extinct (like owls and most other avian species).  Rick Deckard finds his electric sheep deeply depressing, though.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is theme driven, more theme driven than any other example I can think of… because the theme question, “how are we different from identical-brained androids?” drives the plot. In order to hunt down the andys on his list, Rick Deckard has to understand the difference and is haunted by the similarities, so his search, the plot, is all wrapped up in the theme. If the human brain can be duplicated with exactitude, synapse by synapse, which (by the way) IBM’s Blue Brain Project is working toward and is already seeing progress with, how would we humans be different from androids with those identical brains and flesh and bone that’s indistinguishable until put under a microscope? (the Battlestar Galactica reboot’s cylon duplicates seem to be inspired by Philip K. Dick’s androids in this book)
Assuming an identical-brained android, humans are different in their having a soul and the capacity for empathic connection, these are things that can’t be duplicated. And all this zeroing-in on what makes us human is done through showing, not telling.

While Rick Deckard struggles with the lines between android and human, J.R. Isadore, the novel’s other protagonist, a “chickenhead” who empathizes with andys and animals (electric and otherwise), in fact he can’t always tell them apart in his job picking up electric animals as a driver for an electric “animal hospital,” is hoping for connection in his abandoned neighborhood.  J.R. Isadore is clearly the most autobiographical character here—Philip K. Dick used J.R. Isadore as a pen name a few times—and his empathy and generosity, almost like his mental disabilities also deteriorate the logical walls most people have to divide up empathy, is poignant and beautiful. He empathizes with the androids, and the most terrifying scene is one where this female andy, incapable of empathy but super-intelligent and manipulative, something close to a high-functioning human psychopath (moreso than the other andys), begins to dismember a spider, perhaps the last spider on Earth. J.R. empathizes with the spider, empathizes with the andys (and they outnumber him 3-to-1) and there’s nothing he can do; we feel his conflicted agony as this horrible female disrespects and maims a life-form she doesn’t understand or appreciate in the slightest.
Having J.R. Isadore there illuminating other facets of the theme takes Do Androids Dream from great sci-fi novel to great literature that adds to our humanity. It works so well because its theme neatly drives the tightly-structured plot, which covers an incredible amount of ground in just over 61,000 words.  It is extremely organized storytelling, ironic coming from an author known for stream of consciousness narratives and, literally, being schizophrenic.
This book has so much humanity in it: there’s something really beautiful about how the gentle J.R. Isadore and violent Rick Deckard alike want animals to love and connect with… both feel this terrible yearning for extinct species to return, that the human race is incomplete without all Earth’s animals. They are part of our Earth family.

The version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I had (from the New York Public Library online MP3 audiobook collection) was packaged as Blade Runner, the name of the 1982 movie (actually taken from the title of an Alan E. Nourse novel), a new audiobook version released in 2007 by Random House Audio to coincide with the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut. But this audiobook, read by Scott Brick, has the same content as Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Blade Runner

Blade Runner
I rate it a must-read, a classic.

Theme, well-written, can be the difference between good, great and classic.

What’s the theme of George R. R. Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones? (the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series)

I don’t know what the theme is… perhaps you’d have to read more books in the Song of Ice and Fire series before a clear theme emerges.  The first book is roughly 284,000 words long, and though all of the words seem needed for all the complex, viewpoint-characters—chapter-breaks mean a different character’s point of view, telling the story from multiple viewpoints—I started having difficulties with book two, A Clash of Kings, which weighs-in at a daunting 326,000 words (approximately).  It’s clear why it takes Martin five years or so to complete each novel in this series: they’re hefty behemoths.  I got bogged-down in A Clash of Kings because of the length, the fact that characters from the background in book one (that we’ve not had time to really know and invest in) are given chapters to helm the viewpoint, even total a-hole Theon Greyjoy.  And an obvious theme to buy-into is not readily available.
The theme is probably like this George R.R. Martin quote that’s been going around Twitter: “History is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging.” It reflects a bleaker worldview than Philip K. Dick’s novel with killing eerily-human robots on a devastated, irradiated, dead Earth ^

But A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t bleak really, because the theme—even assuming it is discernible and I described it remotely accurately—isn’t prominent in the novels. Martin foregrounds character more than anything else.  A Song of Ice and Fire is character-driven, as is typical of epic fantasy, and it works so well (and nearly sells more copies than the rest of the fantasy genre combined) because of

Tyrion “the (p)imp” mural, filling the side of a building entirely, somewhere on Herbrand St., London, England

its awesome, iconic characters, his uncommonly vivid characterizations and rich story-arcs for viewpoint-characters that draw you in like no one else’s characters.

Richly-complex, iconic characters like Daenerys, Mother of Dragons™, Tyrion the Imp™ and Jaime the Kingslayer™ drive the story and are hard not to follow and root for, even when richly-layered with past misdeeds and evil-doings, and that’s why they translate so well to the screen (and to hilarious internet memes).  Thanks to the HBO series, Martin’s characters have become pop culture giants.  Tyrion (as portrayed by Peter Dinklage) has become a disability icon of sorts, making what’s obvious in the disability community—that the physically “other” are no less protagonists (or villains) than anyone else, even amidst medieval civil wars—mainstream.

I grok that many novels won’t have a theme, and it’s okay to mainly focus on character and/or plot; not everything has to explore deeper issues,
Still, I love a good theme.

Nick

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