Sunday, December 31, 2006

299th Post Extravaganza: Another cloud picture

For this milestone post, we present a photo taken back on December 17.

Yes. More clouds, with the late morning sun peeking out from behind them.

Perhaps you can discern the spot where this was taken from looking closely at the lower left corner. If that's the sort of information that's important to you.

(You weren't expecting this celebration until the next post, weren't you? You and your base-10 obsession.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Spam subject line of the day

The spammers insist on continuing to send me these messages and the filtering software continues to keep them from my inbox, but sometimes the syntax of correctly spelled, actual English words is too intriguing to let go unmentioned. Here's the best one from today:

To atop to marsupial

As with the previous posts about this, it's not quite intriguing enough to actually read the message.
That is likely to reduce the entertainment value, and why would we do that?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

And a Partridge in a pop song

Sometimes you don't know how ignorant you are while thinking you are informed until you look into it.

Last month while shopping for shoes in an outlet mall (and what else does one buy in an outlet mall but shoes?) in Smitheville, North Carolina, I heard amidst the slew of holiday music playing softly in the store the track "Thanks for Christmas". It's a more or less straightforward expression of gratitude for the spirit of the holiday (at least, I don't recall detecting irony in its tone when listening to it, but I could be missing that).

I knew the song from a album of b-sides (Rag 'N' Bone Buffet) by XTC. That's all I knew of it, because I tend to avoid the holiday music cavalcade as much as possible, and the Christmas songs I prefer are the "classics" (Bing Crosby, etc.). Thus, at the time I was in the store I was somewhat impressed to hear what I perceived to be a relatively obscure song by an English band that was never a household name in the U.S., especially in a semi-rural area of the South. However, I didn't find it that suprising that when trying to fill more than a month of continuous Christmas tunes, the programmers of the station were open to digging deeper to find material.

From what I heard played on the radio here in L.A. (and I listened to the station that played it a lot when the song came out in 1986), probably the biggest "hit" XTC had in the States was the acerbic deconstruction of the Almighty, "Dear God" (with the closing lines: "There's one thing I don't believe in/It's you, dear God"). At first glance, the sentiment of that song seems incongruous with a paean to the observation of the birthday of the Big Guy's son. However, a Christmas song is always a prudent career boost for any musician, so that's not so difficult to grasp.

[We've had well over a century of Christ's role in Christmas being reduced, and to a great extent (regarding the marketing) being completely excoriated. Thus, it's not out of the question that one could be an atheist but still celebrate December 25th—everyone else is.

Heck, it's tricky to get out of being involved, whether one has never so much as set foot in a building with a cross in front of it. It doesn't seem malicious on the part of those who seek to involve everyone—I'm sure their intentions are completely benevolent, and to be non-exclusory is in its own way admirable—but choosing to refrain from taking part in the celebrations turns one into a Dickensian villain; there is no taking "no" for an answer from these people.

I digress.]

Whatever the artistic motivation, one would think releasting a song not only critical of God but questioning His existence as well would get one banned from the radio in an area where there's more churches than convenience stores. However, clearly that was not the case, as "Thanks For Christmas" was definitely played while I was looking at loafers.

Again, at that moment of still relative ignorance, I figured it wasn't good ol' forgiveness of their "Dear God" to explain the inclusion of what I knew as the XTC holiday track in the mix, nor even that the people in charge didn't recognize the two songs as being by the same artist, but the real explanation of how "Thanks for Christmas" got in there has more to do with the nature of radio these days.

That concoction went along these lines: The signal was likely a satellite station piped in to the store because the corporate owners decreed that's what gets played in all their stores, regardless of location. Someone in New York programmed the songs, without concern for the religious associations of the listeners and how they may not jibe with the whole of the artist's catalog. There the only issue is whether the track in question is potentially offensive, and despite the so-called "war on Christmas" it seems unlikely the pro-"Happy Holidays in lieu of Merry Christmas" crowd is going to protest over this particular song.

Then when finally I did a bit of research, it turned out that the "Thanks For Christmas" song on the XTC b-sides album was originally recorded under the name The Three Wise Men, with songwriting credited to the names of the three kings. It was recorded as a single, in 1983, well before "Dear God". Apparently it got included on holiday sampler CDs throughout the '90s, and it gets played on those radio stations playing more "contemporary" songs during the holidays (the ones I don't listen to) with some regularity.

And somehow I completely missed that.

So, uh, nevermind. Stupid me.

I never did find an explanation for the lingering incongruity of having both a song in (at least ostensibly) honor of the big Christian holiday and one critical of their creator. However, it's somewhat easier to understand why those who would play it on the radio during the holidays would not notice that connection, once some research is done.

Don't hold your breath on me doing that again.

Spam subject line of the day

Today's most inexplicable arrangement of words in the subject line of a spam-filtered message:

chives headwind

Almost intriguing enough to make me actually read it, but I wasn't hungry at the time I checked my mail.

Open letter to my readers about a ficticious open letter to my co-workers

The following is something I just submitted to McSweeney's on Tuesday for possible inclusion on their site. Today they very kindly told me they're passing on it. (I was impressed to hear from them about a rejection, and so quickly.)

As my standards here are... well, let's just say not as discriminating... I present it here for your boredom alleviation (if not entertainment). I'll even change the font to imitate how it would have looked (sort of) on their site.

That's kind of pathetic, I know.

Open letter to the people at the office regarding my lack of attendance at the holiday party:

First, allow me to express my gratitude to those of you who keep insisting the festivities just weren't the same without me. I suppose I underestimated how much you enjoyed in past years my grand exhibitions on the dance floor, and how the pictures I snapped of all of us out there dancing proved to be the best way to capture the event. It's true: Those posed shots the "professional" photographer took of everyone as they came in, looking so nice, always seemed a hollow representation of the evening's festivities. Only a frozen moment of Sam from accounting doing the Macarena makes it look like anyone had any fun.

Thus, I feel some compulsion to apologize for not attending this year's party. I cannot help but think that in a way I let you down. From the reports I have heard, the party—while pleasant, certainly—was not as good as last year. Of course, with the cutbacks that forced the party to be held in an abandoned warehouse—I mean, "industrial ballroom"—it is perhaps unavoidable that some level of letdown was inevitable. Still, many of you have made it clear that my absence was definitely felt by those who were there. That's very flattering, I assure you.

However, I must get to the matter at hand. It has come to my attention that a rumor has been circulating that the reason I was not at the party was due to a photo I snapped of the boss at last year's party in a pose that, as best anyone could tell, was him attempting to "vogue" (and that it was taken when the DJ was playing "Baby Got Back"), and because of that I was forbidden by management from attending this year. That is a vicious rumor, started by those with a vivid imagination.

The reason I could not be at the party was due to out-of-town relatives visiting the evening of the party, and there was no other time when I would be able to see them during this joyous holiday season. Had the opportunity to reschedule with them been available, I most certainly would have made every effort to come to the party with you hideously dull people and taken more pictures of your drunken exploits so I could blackmail specific individuals, which in past years has allowed me to afford the gifts I purchased for my family and people I actually like.

Missing the party was quite a blow to my holiday budget, let me tell you. The holidays won't be quite so happy around my house this year.

I hope this clears up everything. Happy Holidays.


P.S. The DJ was actually playing "Dancing Queen" during that shot of the boss last year. Where these ridiculous details find their origin I'll never know.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Spam subject line of the day

Spam filtering keeps these unsolicited emails from my inbox, but their subject lines can still prove a source of entertainment. Here's the best one from today, exactly as it appeared:

Trust us your sexual problems for fast solving them

No, I have no interest in actually reading the message--that would only detract from the enjoyment. It could never live up to the expectations.

(I only pray that the syntax of that line doesn't cause sexual problems.)

Solstice alert

Winter kicks in at 4:22 pm (in the Pacific time zone). In the northern hemisphere, that is.

Just so you can acknowledge it in whatever way you do, which probably involves continuing to work, or watch TV, or sleep, etc.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Holiday lights

The Staples Center and Los Angeles Convention Center (which are right next to each other along Figueroa Blvd. just south of downtown) have lights to illuminate the exterior of the buildings at night. During December the lights have been hued green on both structures. I can only assume this was intended as vaguely holiday themed.

The top of the U.S. Bank tower (formerly known as the Library Tower) in the Bunker Hill portion of Downtown has panels that can display colors. During December, the colors chosen for the panels are typically white, red, and green.

The colors of the Mexican flag. And Cinco de Mayo isn't for months.

The Carl's Jr. restaurant in downtown where I occasionally have lunch was having a promotion where one if one purchased a 44-ounce drink, one got a collector's Coca-Cola cup, available in either red, green, silver, or gold.

I presume the association of green with the holiday season stems from the color of Christmas trees. Red I know comes from the color of what we associate with Santa Claus' suit. I also know that the typical image of "the man with the bag" was codified by the Coca-Cola company (not created, but codified) by the images they commissioned in the early twentieth century for their advertisements (so it's not surprising the cup promotion would include red).

I suppose the importance of the colors flows from the way they enhance "the holiday spirit" and that dwelling on the less than religious origins of some of them doesn't make anyone happier. It is through ignorance that most joy is found, and that's especially true of the time when Christmas decorations are overwhelming every area of our society.

It's a holiday tradition, and why it's a holiday tradition is not something with which we need be concerned.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

All aboard

Inside Union Station, L.A.

Storming out of the world

For many years now I've been part of a Microsoft Word listserv (yes, the same one mentioned in this post), and as such I've seen messages (both questions and replies) from a group of regulars, and from these pseudo-interactions we've sort of come to know certain of the more helpful and/or more interesting characters on the list.

One such person on the list over that time has been an Australian who identified himself as the Word Heretic (for he didn't go along with the dogma of Micro$oft), and he was not only very knowledgeable about the innards of the program (down to the level most people would never even know exists), he had a very colorful way of responding to questions; one might not understand his reply, but one was never bored by it. When explaining complicated subjects he'd often employ the religious metaphor; the heretical moniker was not merely a clever affectation.

It wasn't merely us on the list who were impressed by his knowledge; he'd even signed on with Microsoft in their MVP program, seeking to influence improvements in future versions. (Yes, perhaps ironic given the heretical metaphor. I digress.)

Today, he sent an email to the list stating that he'd had enough. Despite doing everything one should do to maintain a PC, his machine was going BSOD near daily, and he was quitting the MVP program and "giving up computers generally." Within hours, he said, everything (whatever that might include) would be boxed up, and that would be that. Shortly thereafter, as responses started pouring in (although not to be seen by the Heretic, who was offlist before his message hit the list), someone noted having checked the Heretic's website, which was no longer found. By all appearances, he wasn't bluffing: he'd really gone off the grid.

I concurred with the many who replied to his farewell message with words of praise and sadness that he was gone, and I certainly could relate to being fed up with computers (even without knowing them anywhere near as deeply as he did). Frankly, my thought really boiled down to this: Lucky bastard.

I was sincerely envious of being in a position to just chuck it after having one's last nerve be struck. That kind of freedom inspired genuine jealousy. I think he made a living as a freelancer, and I got the impression he was well into his middle years, so perhaps it was easy for him to declare his instantaneous retirement (from the tech world at least): no boss to give two weeks notice, etc. I don't know what will come of him, or what he'll do now, or whether it will be any better than dealing with the vagaries of these machines, but I thought being able to change one's life so dramatically that suddenly was pretty cool.

Perhaps the email to the list was his approximation of marching into the boss' office to give the "take this job and shove it" declaration, then walking out with a dramatic trail of papers following him out the door. I've seen that sort of thing in fiction, but this was the closest I'd seen in real life.

It was giving the finger to the device at which the entire industrialized world suckles. It was showing those often-godforsaken machines the comeuppance they've deserved for a long time. It was the step I could never take every time something went wrong with my computers; I'd thought of hurling the laptop out the window or bashing in the side of the desktop with a fireaxe.

It was the scene from Office Space where they get medieval on the fax machine, only without the literal destruction or the gangsta rap overdub.

And the thing about it is that one need not even have been frustrated by computers to appreciate the act. Anyone who has fantasized of just dumping one's job (read: everyone) can relate. The difference is that for the rest of us, we have to satisfy ourselves with the mere thought, being bound by our responsibilities.

The modern world, for all its conveniences and so-called advances, still has plenty to push one over the edge, to try one's patience and sanity. Moreover, it's too complicated for an individual to overcome; it's like the Borg have assimilated us already, without us realizing we were on a huge cube.

If resistance is futile, then giving up and getting out is heroic. Nay, heretical. In a very necessary way.

Monday, December 18, 2006


"And what is literature, Rabo," he said, "but an insider's newsletter about affairs relating to molecules, of no importance to anything in the Universe but a few molecules who have the disease called 'thought.' "
- Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard, 1988

Feliz Navi-papa

The square by El Pueblo de Los Angeles, Olvera Street, Downtown L.A.
(Last night.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Decemberists is the cruelest month

I've listened to the latest album by The Decemberists, The Crane Wife. It's pretty good. I won't attempt any sort of review other than to say I'm enjoying it. I shan't even deconstruct why that is; let's just let the enjoyment speak for itself.

What I do find more interesting, given their "indie rock" roots (and quirky take on the pop song), is where I bought their album: Target.

Yes, the chain stores that aren't as evil as WalMart. (Not as evil.)

I can remember a time when the only music one would expert to find in the music section of that chain would be the latest from whatever pop flashes in the pan that are on the Top 40, or the greatest hits from established radio staples.

The Decemberists don't even get played on the so-called alternative rock radio (to the extent I pay attention to that). They are pretty far from household names. Yet, their disc was amongst the featured albums on an endcap display. Not only was it featured thusly, but it was on sale. (Yes, this is where they are somewhat evil like WalMart.)

That's the main reason I purchased it there. I wish I could be a bigger supporter of the smaller music stores, but I like a bargain when there's a moment like this where something I would have otherwise paid more for is available.

I know the world of popular music really did change in the wake of Nirvana—it may be glib to attribute it to that, but I remember what it used to be like 15 years ago to try to find music like the Decemberists, and that's why it still astounds me to find Target carrying them. And that Target would be the best deal on it, even lower than bigger music-only chains (of course, those are slowly becoming extinct, probably because they are losing what used to be their bailiwick—non-mainstream artists—to stores like Target).

However, I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised to see Target carrying their CD in light of the promotion they seem to be getting. I saw a bus stop bench with a big ad for The Crane Wife across the street from the Grove. And they got mentioned on The Colbert Report for having a contest on their website similar to one Stephen Colbert had.

So they quickly are approaching household-name status. Of course, having songs that are 11 minutes long may keep them off the charts.

Some things don't change. Thank goodness.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sitting on a rock by the bay...

A distant sailboat on Monterey Bay (taken back in September), as seen from this alcove of the wall.

Look closer. It's a sailboat, I promise.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Um, yeah

For those observant readers who may wondered: Yes, the site has changed.

This area for the posts now features dark text on a light background. (With any luck this is easier to read than the old layout, with white text on a black background.)

Perhaps most important, thanks to finally upgrading to the Blogger beta, on the right there's a list of categories for the posts, so you can peruse what I've blathered on about by topic. (Note: At this time not all posts have been categorized. That will be an ongoing project.)

Please feel free to comment on the changes. That's what the "Comments" link below is there for.

(That's right. I ended a sentence with a preposition. I'm a grammar rebel.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Remember the Ala-ho-ho-ho

In case you were wondering whether there was a large Christmas tree outside the Alamo (yes, the Alamo in San Antonio):


It was there the day after Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hold on

I was thinking of posting something today, but I have no indication of my friend Tracy having read the last post, so I'm going to wait for her.

Or if someone else happens by and leaves a comment (to prove someone read it), that would also suffice.

(Embrace your fate, I say.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

These aren't the droids we're looking for

The other day I posted a link to my friend Jim's diatribe against the first three (which were actually the second three) Star Wars films. He dissects the myriad plot flaws and poor filmmaking decisions that abounded in Episodes I – III. His list numbered 40 items by its end—and he wasn't just nitpicking little things—and he probably could have gone on longer (without getting nitpicky).

The impetus for his rant stemmed from his love of the New Hope – Jedi trilogy. The same love that enough people around the world shared to turn the franchise into a multi-million dollar enterprise, and essentially into a new mythology for our time. And then a couple decades later omnipotent George Lucas takes advantage of technological advances to produce prequels that ultimately disappointed the fans.

And not merely because the expectations were raised to levels beyond belief by the aforementioned worship of the fans.

Jim obviously watched them much closer and more times than I did, and he explicates the flaws much better than I'd ever have time (or inclination) to do. Like him, I don't purport to keep up with what others have said on the message boards.

I'll merely mention a thought I had, more than once, back when Episodes I – III were released: It would have been better had the prequels never been made.

The kid in me who saw the films in the theater back in the '70s and '80s, multiple times, hates to think that, but the kid in me is ultimately who makes me think that.

Not only did Episodes I – III subject us to Jar Jar Binks and the atrocious acting (even by Star Wars standards) of young Anakin, but it ultimately undermined the ominous cachet of Darth Vader (and the stormtroopers and Boba Fett). How can we be intimidated now when we see the ominous caped figure in A New Hope when we've seen what a whiny little kid he was? The legend of Vader (as built by Obi Wan when telling Luke) was far more interesting than seeing how it actually came to be.

The only aspect of Episodes I – III that was moderately satisfactory proved to be seeing Yoda kick ass with the light saber in II. That was more or less obligatory. But that alone doesn't justify the prequels. Not by a long shot.

Making Episodes VII – IX would have been better, inasmuch as at least we wouldn't have grappled with why the technology was better (as regards what we saw the characters have on screen, not merely the clarity with which it could be made to appear on screen)—it's in the future of where Jedi left off, so of course it advanced.

They would have been disappointing—that's a given, but at least they wouldn't just be fulfilling obligation, and might have actually had a story with some sense of wonder.

Like we had decades ago.

Oh, and it would be easier to refer to "the first three" as the first three.

I will say this about George Lucas deigning to make a bunch more money by producing the prequel trilogy: We could stop speculating about how cool they might be and start the endless analysis of bad they proved to be. I suppose that's something.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Autumn's survivor

Back to Durham, NC, for today's pictures. On the right is a tight shot of a leaf on the tree right outside my mother's house, showing its autumn colors.

And on the left, here's the whole tree. Can you find our friend from the picture above?

Friday, December 01, 2006