Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's not turkey

A shot from last Thanksgiving, taken from the backyard of my fiancee's cousin's place. Yes, it's the moon, behind the leaves of a vine on the fence.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hitting 'em up

A couple of weeks ago as I entered the downtown train station a young man was hovering by the stairs panhandling. He stated that he was trying to get money for a ticket. It wasn't that he sought food; he sought to get somewhere, but apparently he couldn't put together $1.25 for a fare.

He was not disheveled. He was dressed in clothes that appeared laundered. He was clean-haven. But apparently he lacked even a dollar and a quarter.


As I walked by, a guy and two young women also passed near him and he changed his line from "Can anyone spare any change?" to addressing one of the women with "I'd also take your phone number." He started following her, telling her how beautiful she was. As far as I could tell she had no interest (and may not have even spoken English). But really, I can't imagine why she wouldn't want a guy begging for train fare.

He's going places. Well, as soon as he can convince someone for a few quarters.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If it's Sunday then this must be a plug for photos

As has become routine, this is an alert that new pictures are available over on the useless photo site (which lives somewhat in the shadow of this verbose one), so if you have a few minutes to kill, please feel free to click on over and browse.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wise men

I realized something: The next president and I were both born in the same decade--the 1960s.

Has there been a previous president who was born in the 1960s? No. The next most recently born was… yes, Bill Clinton, in 1946. (However, he's only a month and a half younger than George W. Bush.) They go back more than a decade from the one that saw both Barack Obama and me emerge.

This suggests that for the first time I will be of the same generation as the person occupying the Oval Office.

It was inevitable that eventually the presidency would catch up with me—or, perhaps, me with it. Still, it's a more profound moment of realization than I would have expected. I mean, of course there would come a day when someone born around my birth year would get elected. It's inevitable that someday a person who is younger than me will reside in the White House. Every year the pool of people who are younger than me and qualify to run for the office only increases; it will happen.

I'm not saying it's bad to have someone who comes from the same generation in that position. I'm sure a lot of people from my generation are absolutely giddy at that prospect, and they should be. I'm saying that I've long held a sub-conscious association: The president is old. Sometimes it's really old and sometimes it's kind of old, but still… old.

Don't get me wrong; it's fine that the president is old. There's a reason why there's a minimum age limit, and presumably it's to try to ensure that the person taking the office has a certain amount of life experience and presumed wisdom (of course, there's no guarantees—as evidenced by some presidents who shall remain nameless; hey, the people still voted for them).

And now I have constant reminders every time I turn on the news (okay, The Daily Show) that require me to consider whether I have the wisdom to run the country. (It's a short consideration. I don't.) In the past, with what I perceived as a generational disconnection between me and the person with access to the nuclear codes, it was always fine that they presumably had some wisdom I lacked. Now, the distinction cannot be applied based on a simple criterion like age.

I'm old, but I'm not prepared to be old. It's not that I mind getting older, or was clinging to my youth. No, I just cannot shake the sense that somewhere I went wrong and didn't learn… something I should have.

And it's all the fault of the president-elect.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Last weekend on the new CNN show D.L. Hughley Breaks the News, he held this segment with Dr. Drew Pinsky:

D.L. alluded to being thrown for a loop by the election results. He was pleased, certainly, but his world view was based on a paradigm that no longer applies. In a strange way he missed the sadness of the cynical take on the way things were that had been the foundation for his attitudes. It seemed even a fucked-up status quo was simpler to deal with than a new not-as-fucked-up world.

For me, it's also a weird and unprecedented scenario. Nothing as profound as what D.L. experienced, but something that threw me for a bit of a loop.

My streak has ended.

The streak was that I'd never voted for a presidential candidate who actually won previously. (Four years ago I offered this post where I first mentioned the streak.) Sure, some of those years were what some would call throwing away my vote, but I'd argue that in the last four presidential elections I would have thrown away my vote regardless. There had never really been a nominee who elicited in me a sense of being someone I wanted to vote for; there was merely one candidate who was worse and needed to be voted against.

However, that's not representation. That's the proverbial lesser-of-two-evils. And while many would argue that's what the system tends to be, it doesn't make it less of a waste to vote merely to keep out the one more feared.

I will note that, being a Californian, it was always a virtual given that the state's 55 electoral college votes would be given to the Democratic ticket, whether I voted for them or not. If I voted in the evening, shortly before the polls closed, it was not uncommon for the news to have already called the state. In that case I could vote for a third party, which was closer to doing something I believed in; I did fancy the notion of developing a viable third party, and it seemed only by them getting a noticeable percentage of the ballots would that ever be likely to happen.

And really, how could I pass up the chance to cast my vote for Ross Perot? I mean, that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to vote for someone who was quite possibly insane.

Anyway, starting in 2000, I'd attempted to keep W. out in two consecutive elections (not because I was sold on the Democratic candidates but because... well, do I need to elaborate?) and had that backfire. It seemed like if I voted for a candidate he was doomed not to be inaugurated. I'm not saying I was a jinx, but there seemed a distinct pattern developing.

I was therefore reluctant to sincerely vote for Obama. I didn't want to screw up the first time I felt like I was really voting for someone. However, I could not pass up this chance to vote for a candidate who I felt came as close to representing me as I could ever recall.

I never believed he'd win, even though all the pundits said he was a lock.

I'm not suggesting that my lack of belief is what contradictorily propelled him to victory. I don't like to think I have that level of influence, and I'm certain I don't. Still, I had a particular take on my relationship with the political system that was long established, and even if it wasn't a source of happiness it was something to which I was accustomed. I'd watched Bush the first, then Clinton (twice), then Bush the second (twice), all with a sense of eh-there-it-goes-again.

And this time I had to adjust to I-can't-believe-it. However, on election night itself, I was rather emotionally distant, mostly because I'd been hearing for weeks that McCain could not win (Obama could lose, but McCain couldn't win). So after all that saturation, at the point of watching Jon Stewart confirm that outcome it was somewhat like watching the favored team win the Super Bowl and more than cover the point spread, with the end result never being in doubt. However, over the days since then, I've had more chance to ruminate on how amazing it all is.

No, I don't mean just that a non-white male got elected; I also mean that I could favor a candidate (non-ironically even) and not have it blow up.

It's a new world, and it's going to take some time to get used to.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The other post-election blues

Back during the weeks leading up to the election, I got a considerable amount of mail from those either in favor of or opposed to particular propositions (most notably the local ones). Every day my mailbox was stuffed.

Since election day I have received nothing from them. No notes thanking me for voting as they recommended or condemning me for going against them. Nothing.

It's as though they only cared about me for my vote, as though I had no thoughts, no dreams, no aspirations. It seems I was just a nameless member of the electorate that they wanted for their bidding.

I feel so used.

Is it time for the next election yet?

Monday, November 10, 2008


From the sit-down-for-this-one department:

I was listening to some TV On The Radio tracks I downloaded. They were from the band's material on the Touch N' Go label, and I could tell that they were good. Previously I had heard their last major label album (Return to Cookie Mountain), which featured a successful single ("Wolf Like Me") which didn't sound like the rest of the album. However, their sound tends to be that: Not all the tracks sound the same. That isn't a bad thing from an artistic standpoint.

Their tracks aren't generally "catchy" so they do take some time to grow on one (or at least on me); overall I was not inspired to listen to the Cookie Mountain disc after we got it more than once. It was not bad, by any means; it simply didn't strike that chord with me right off like some songs do--songs which are almost certainly of a lesser artistic quality.

However, it is very easy for me to listen to the TV On The Radio tracks and detect that there is talent behind them. I hope they come up in random playlists for a long time.

[This post on Aquarium Drunkard has some live TOTR tracks that are quite good.]

What intrigues me is that in their fall music preview*, Entertainment Weekly did mention TOTR's latest album, Dear Science. While I accept that in the early 21st century here that such bands are not relegated to underground publications, and that such a situation hasn't been the case in nearly two decades. Still, EW has such a mainstream, populist association for me (not that what they cover is necessarily restricted to that, I know consciously, but that doesn't change the connotation in my mind) that seeing a band that I'd consider as non-mainstream as TOTR to be something outside of what EW should spotlight. That's probably more reflective of the better marketing that such artists can get these days than anything.

So, in short, it's a different world than this probably fictitious one that is the basis for my associations. I fully admit that I tend to think that to be immensely popular is to be egregiously mediocre. (And that's not knocking egregious mediocrity; I happen to like a lot of songs which are that. I'm just identifying the relative artistic quality.) Thus, there's a certain level of difficulty for me to reconcile the non-mainstream and artistically worthwhile with being discussed in the same way as the mainstream and less artistic work that tends to be popular.

That's kind of stupid, I concede. I should be pleased that what is more worthwhile is getting its due, rather than the same ol' drivel being crammed down the throats of the masses. However, I came from a situation where there was that distinction, and it became something of a badge of honor. I can remember going to concerts in the late '80s and early '90s (my heyday for that) with my friends and looking around at the others in the crowd and thinking, Look at these poseurs. You can tell by the way they're dressed that they're not as into this band as we are. Clearly they're just here because the band happened to get a fluke hit on the radio. They probably can't even name a song off the band's last album.

The thing was: Those same people were probably looking at my friends and me and thinking the same thing about us.

It was very much a matter of being able to identify who was sincere in their appreciation of that which we took very seriously as opposed to who was merely jumping on a trend (and who undoubtedly would be jumping off as soon as that novelty wore off). When the "quality" artists were not household names, not being mentioned on TV, not something that the average person would hear about, knowing about those bands carried a tacit fraternity. Those people knew the secret handshake in a manner of speaking. Popularity was what the unworthy achieved, by allowing themselves to be sold to everybody.

That's not how it really was, of course. That was the bitter grapes attitude we unconsciously adopted to make up for not being in the mainstream. Everyone probably starts out wanting to be popular; smart people eventually figure out that being popular is as much of a curse (if not more) than a blessing.

I imagine that's what was too much for Kurt Cobain to reconcile. (Note: I was merely a Nirvana fan, not a Nirvana fanatic, so please don't jump down my throat for not having read every book about him—or, to be honest, any book about him—in the wake of him shooting himself.) I get the impression that Kurt came from that same mindset, and that's what made it particularly difficult for him, given that he more or less single-handedly (well, with the help of Krist and Dave and Butch Vig) and quite unintentionally played the key role in changing the way the situation was between what the mainstream media covered regarding the world of music. He should never have become that popular; that wasn't the way these things worked out, and that was how everyone had been comfortable with previously.

Yes, it is entirely convenient to attribute the shift to the public reaction to Nevermind (and in particular to "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), but I was 23 in 1991, and remember quite well how I perceived the distinction of what was covered by non-music magazines (representing the mainstream here) before Nirvana's major label debut came out and what is covered by them now, and I know it's what everyone (whoever that is, yes) says made the difference. I agree, based not on hearing it over and over in rock documentaries but on my personal experience. It could be completely wrong, but I don't think there's any actual "right" or "wrong" in this scenario; it is whatever one perceives it to be.

I digress, of a sort.

Anyway, I alluded to how it was likely that everyone aspired to popularity initially, but that some eventually gave up, either because they accepted it wasn't going to happen or because they saw through it and realized it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. However, there was another way that could go: They could actively sabotage the likelihood of gaining mainstream popularity.

Behold the Replacements, the patron saints of underachievement. Leader Paul Westerberg wrote some phenomenally good songs, and a watered-down version of their sound was taken to the mainstream by the Goo Goo Dolls (who were admitted 'Mats devotees), so the possibility of them getting more popular with the non-college rock crowd clearly could have happened, were it not for one thing: they stuck a metaphorical middle finger toward that.

By the very late '80s their label was trying to get them exposure by having them open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on a nationwide tour. It's a difficult position for any band to fill that opening slot and try to win over another artist's fans, but Paul and the guys would come out on stage drunk (and sometimes in drag) and actively insult the crowd between songs--when they actually finished their songs.

And apparently that doesn't tend to make people want to buy your albums or request your songs on the radio. Funny that.

Sure, they recorded some songs that seemed pretty clearly intended to be radio-friendly (not that their better songs were radio-unfriendly, by any means), perhaps seeming a good idea while in the studio or to appease the label who was paying for the recording, but in the end they went out of their way to shoot down mainstream success.

I have long held the opinion that those of us who are big fans kind of like that fact. It may be on a subconscious level, but we appreciate that when we allude to the Replacements that we never have to make the follow-up statement about liking them before they got big; they never got beyond the realm of being relatively well-known in the world of those who aren't that well-known. Those 8 albums of theirs remain perfect because if you own them, you probably still listen to them; you didn't buy them because they were "hot" at one time (because they never were). They weren't spotlighted in EW or such magazines as something to look forward to.

Thank goodness.

I sincerely believe that would have kind of ruined it.

I have to imagine that had the 'Mats gotten as big as, say, R.E.M. (with videos in heavy rotation on MTV rather than just on 120 Minutes, playing amphitheaters rather than just concert halls, being a band whose name virtually everyone at least recognized, etc.)—and Paul Westerberg is a better songwriter than Michael Stipe, so it wouldn't be out of the question—then instead of just putting out a couple raw early albums, four really good albums, and two more that were Paul sliding into a solo career before officially breaking up and cementing their rock legacy as a tremendously influential band who never sold out (not that their label wouldn't have loved that), they would have transformed into something that all of the diehard fans would have stopped liking.

We were all underachieving as well, and on an unconscious level we almost certainly felt represented by them.

That's not suggesting they were shooting their prospects for big-time success in the foot just to keep from losing their audience; they simply weren't any more comfortable with being that successful as their fans were.

Of course, that's just my take on it; I could be wrong. And I'm sure I'll be told that I am. (That's why there's a Thoughts on This link below.)

* Yes, the EW issue in question came out weeks ago. I put this post on hold until after the election stuff subsided.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Weekend update

Taking a break from all the words to cast a little light on pictures, and suggest you click over to the useless photo site and have a look at what's been posted recently.

Friday, November 07, 2008


For those of you who read this post from last week, you've probably been waiting anxiously to see how an important event turned out.

Namely, how did my Halloween costume go over at the office last Friday?

First, a reminder of what I wore a week ago:
In short, it was a big hit.

In the pseudo-contest amongst those who bothered to dress up, I got a prize (I tied for "most creative"—which, considering how much make-up and props were involved with the other winner in that category, I have a hard time feeling good about it; however, considering the prize was a plastic skull and a CPK gift card, it's not like it's a big deal one way or another).

(In case you're wondering: There were two Sarah Palins in the costume contest... who tied for "scariest costume"—the judges had a very particular political inclination.)

The people in my department who remembered my previous costumes were appreciative of the conspicuous absence of the neck wound. (See reminder from 2005 at left.)

Not only would have going with a "zombie PC and Mac" have pushed it over the top, undoubtedly it would have ruined the best part of the costume I selected.

No, it wasn't winning a prize, nor the fact that no one else was in the same costume.

Unlike with more gruesome ensembles of past years, at no point did anyone ask me, "So, what are you supposed to be?"

My costume took a few seconds to sink in, but it operated without explanation (well, there were a couple people who don't watch TV and didn't get it, but even they didn't ask what I was; they accepted it as what it seemed to be). I even got some nods of approval from strangers I passed when I went to lunch.

In past years I would get confusion or repulsion or dismissive rolling of the eyes. And while that was entirely expected at the time, I must admit: it got old after eight hours.

The lesson: It's better to be clever than to be gory (even if it's gory and kind of clever). But it's best to be something easily identifiable.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Not judging anything

Last night The Daily Show and The Colbert Report teamed up for a live election night special: Indecision 2008: America's Choice (see it here on Hulu).

However, at the beginning Stephen Colbert thought "America's Choice" was too weak, and came up with his own title for it:

And although the ridiculous stream of words flowed quickly across the screen, I noticed something immediately that distracted me.
"Judgement Day."

In case it doesn't jump out to you, in American English it's generally considered correct to spell it "judgment"--dropping the "e" off of "judge" before appending the "ment" to it. (The British still spell it with the middle "e," but I doubt Colbert's graphics people would be paying intentional tribute that, even though they are our allies now. Without shaking off their empirical shackles a couple centuries ago, we wouldn't be having the event that inspired the special, so it seems inappropriate given the nature of the show.)

But my point is not to vilify a simple lack of running a spell check (and it's likely that the graphics program used lacks spell checking capability). My point, as always, is that my brain cannot stop noticing. And that detracts from my enjoyment in ways that people with (shall we say) a less discerning mindset presumably do not experience; they laugh at the joke without pause.

And most important: Because they didn't notice in the first place, they feel no compulsion to note it on their blogs.

Lucky bastards.

So, if someone could please sneak up on me and hit me in the back of the head with a blunt object--just enough to knock this awareness of how words are spelled, not enough to make me seem like a good Republican vice presidential nominee or someone who'd vote for Proposition 8--I'd appreciate it. (Please don't let me hear you coming, or else I'll almost certainly flinch and that might ruin everything, leaving me with only a concussion and full cognition.) I mean, I'd like to still be able to understand the rest of The Daily Show, without having my viewing options reduced to merely Fox & Friends.

After that, I'll be able to watch TV and read the internet, all without being encumbered with useless knowledge regarding the arbitrary quirks of how our language has been tweaked by whoever* the hell it is that decides how words are supposed to be spelled (even if the country from which that language originated still spells them a different way) and the distracting consequences of that knowledge, which is my right as an American.

(If you could, please hum a few bars of "God Bless America" to yourself to help accentuate that last paragraph. Thanks.)

I'd say maybe it's just me, but that's stupid; of course it's just me. That's my point. I'm tired of it being just me.

No matter what the election results might imply, elitism is the bailiwick of the unhappy. And I'm willing to give a bit of happiness a try.

Someone can knock me slightly senseless. We can do this.

Yes we can.


Let's make it simple: In the Thoughts on This section below, please just indicate on a scale of 1 - 10 how much of an asshole I am.


* Addendum on November 8, 2008:
An astute reader noted in the Thoughts on This that in the sentence indicated with the asterisk above the term "whomever" should have been used. And that's true. At least I think so. I have used "whomever" in all these posts before; clearly on more than one occasion I have exhibited some awareness of the distinction.

However, now that I think about it, I think that in the moment I was typing that line I was overcome by the spirit of Colbert. And by that I mean I unconsciously adapted "truthiness" for grammatical purposes, and went with what felt right.

For that reason, I shall leave it as is, with apologies to those who are aware of the rules of usage for "whomever" and come across it. Undoubtedly that will cause them to be distracted by it in much the same way I was distracted when watching the show. Therefore, I recommend any such readers rate me high on the asshole scale in the Thoughts on This.

More important than that: This self-revelation about why I did what I did granted me insight into what happened on the show. When those who prepared the graphic in question included "judgement" it wasn't so much that they sought to acknowledge any variation in how it can be spelled. They felt that the "e" was the way to go, and they went with it.

That doesn't change whether the common spelling in American English is "judgment"--and in the Blogger editor it flags the alternate "judgement" as misspelled, as is also the case with the Microsoft Office dictionary for "English (U.S.)" so I'm having to ignore those little red underlines as I type this--nor does it alter my reaction to seeing that spelling on an American TV show, but it does explain how the graphic was completely consistent with the Colbert philosophy.

With any luck, continued viewing of his program will have the same mental effect as the blow to the head mentioned in the original post. I can only hope.

And now is a time for hope.

(Let's continue to not dwell on this starting sentences with conjunctions I've been doing rampantly, okay?)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I voted. It was okay.

Just before I walked out the door this morning to go to my polling place (in the old folks home—er, retirement community—next door to the condo) I got a text from my fiancée, who noted that up where she was (in L.A.), the lines were around the block. This was at roughly 8:00 a.m., an hour after the polls opened.

Down in my neighborhood in Long Beach, it took me a total of 12 minutes to complete my voting transaction. And that includes walking to and from the polling place (which, as noted, was only about 40 yards outside the front door). I did have to wait a couple minutes to sign in (there's always someone who has difficulty with being able to state his or her name, and the people behind the table almost always struggle with finding the names on the list, even when you spell them out), and then after getting my ballot I had to wait another few minutes for a booth to become available. Once in the booth, it took me approximately a minute to punch the holes for the candidates and propositions on the ballot; I did spend some time prior to getting there identifying how I planned to vote, so it wasn't terribly challenging. When I went back to the person who collected the ballots, she commented "That was fast." I smiled politely. She tore off the stub from my ballot and handed it to me. I asked if I could have an "I Voted" sticker, and she said, "Oh, sure," tore off two of them and gave them to me.

On my walk to the train station I passed another polling place (in a church rec room about four blocks away). And there I could see a line of people waiting that was at least as long as the distance from my front door to my polling place. None of those people would be in and out in 12 minutes, that much was certain.

My experience with my polling place has been the same every time I've voted there since 2004, whether voting in the morning or evening. It's always as relatively quick. But clearly that's not common.

Now, I do not believe that the people working at that location are intrinsically more efficient than people working at others. (They aren't necessarily hideously inefficient, but to call them a "well-oiled machine" would be a stretch.) So why were there so many more people waiting at that other location?

Well, conceivably more people who were assigned there chose to vote before work. The retired don't need to worry about hitting the polls in time to get to the office. Or maybe more of the people over on my block were of the percentage who don't vote.

Or maybe the answer was implied by what the woman said to me about the expediency of my voting time. Maybe the people at these other locations are making up their minds when they're in the booth, without having done the research ahead of time. If a majority of those voting are taking up the available booths for considerably longer than it takes for those at the check-in area to process the folks, they'll just hold up the line outside.

So maybe the people on my block who bother to vote are also more inclined to make up their minds ahead of time.

Maybe the people at other polling places, where there are long lines, liken the process of preparing for voting to sitting on a jury, where one is supposed to withhold judgment until all evidence has been given. And that would apparently last until they get in the booth.

Hey, perhaps they figure they're giving all the people waiting in line time to read the sample ballot.


Remember: Less than half of eligible voters actually do so. Thus, if you voted today, you're in a minority, and therefore an elitist.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Run for your life or your polling place... or neither

From the crappy-last-minute-ruminations-on-the-election department:

Before we start today's post, I would like to take this time to remind my readers that I have a big corn dog up on the masthead. I think we can all agree that I am in no position to be telling anyone else what he or she should do.


On the eve of the election, it seems a lot of people are essentially beseeching everyone to vote. However, I imagine most of those people have very specific loyalties regarding for whom they intend to vote. Thus, in truth, it's probably not so much that they want everyone to vote, but that they want everyone who does vote to vote for their preferred candidate. The implication is that they somehow believe that the ambivalent 2/3 of the country who don't vote would somehow be in favor of their candidate if only those people invested some time in the process. Or perhaps they merely prefer that their side achieve victory by whatever means necessary, and if getting people who really don't give a shit one way or the other to pretend to care about their side for as long as it takes to fill out the ballot, then that's fine with them.

Sure, that's hideously crass. And I'm not saying it isn't. Hell, I admitted four years ago that I am the problem. But that doesn't mean it isn't an accurate deconstruction of the situation. (And if you're so inclined, I'd really appreciate it if you could click on the Thoughts on This link below and tell me how full of shit I am.)

Despite my cynical leanings, I will be voting tomorrow, but as to the rest of you, I say: Vote if you want to. If you don't want to, that's certainly your prerogative. If you weren't going to before reading this, I don't delude myself into thinking somehow I could (or even should) try to convince you otherwise. And if you were going to, I imagine you already have a pretty good idea for whom you intend to cast your ballot.

I would only hope this: You will vote for the candidate who inspires you in whatever tiny way politicians can these days, not for the candidate whose campaign made you afraid to vote for the other side. If you're merely voting against the side you dislike most, if I were giving any suggestions I would encourage you to intentionally undervote. (That is, when you're in the booth, if you don't have any modicum of belief in any of the candidates, leave it blank; don't vote for any of them.)

Seriously. You don't have to. It doesn't invalidate your ballot. It just means you don't have any preference one way or the other.

Which, it sounds like, represents your feelings perfectly.

I know this won't happen, of course. I'm just being idealistic in a horribly cynical sort of way. I'm aspiring to see an election where the tally indicates what people really believe in, not what they're afraid of, nor what they figure they have to resort to.

Fat chance. I know.

The system is well-established, which means it has little to do with how the system could be. Voting's not likely to change that, but hey, it's all we have.


Anyway, while it's still a modicum of a free country, please do what you think is best. Even if that involves just following what someone else tells you to do.

As long as that person is not me.