Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Gotta love those French hostages pleading with Uncle Jacques to lift the ban on the head scarf, because their necks are at stake. That's French courage and valor for you. You have to contrast that with Fabrizio Quattrocchi, the Italian who was murdered by these slobs. Mr. Quattocchi defied his murderers with "I’m going to show you how an Italian dies." This man was a real hero who wouldn't give into these vile murderers.
Yesterday's commentary about Gandhi got me thinking that indeed Gandhi wouldn't have been adverse to collaborating in some way with the Nazis. Gandhi had one agenda, and that was to get the British out of India. Under the presumption of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", it's not inconceivable; that's the way things work in that part of the world. Gandhi could've naively assumed that since the German symbol was a swastika (a benign symbol of good luck in India, as I've pointed out before) they couldn't have been all bad. I assume that in the course of Gandhi's canonization a lot of potentially controversial material about those times has been buried....
Monday, August 30, 2004
Quel est bon pour l'oie est bon pour le jars
You just have to love the way the blandmedia reports France's reactions:
In a televised address, Chirac appealed to the kidnappers to release the pair, but did not directly respond to their reported demand that the ban on head scarves be overturned.
Appealed. Uh, yeah. How about "Hand them over in one hour or the Mirages will bring death and destruction". That they understand....
"From the first day, everything, let me repeat it, everything, has been done to obtain their release. The government is totally mobilized."
Quoth de Villepin:
"France is the country of the French revolution, of human rights" "France has never stopped fighting for the freedom of all, for tolerance and the respect of the human being" "The French people as a whole, all origins and religions together, are together behind our compatriots Christian and Georges. Together we demand that they be set free."
Oooh. An actual demand. Backed up by exactly what, Dominique? The only thing these characters understand is that the entity with the power and will to exact painful retribution gets its way.
And in the big town, local ambassadors for the Religion of Peace(tm, spit, feh) were planning bomb attacks on subway stations, police facilities and the Verrazano Bridge. The money quotes from the article:
Although one high-ranking police official said the men were not linked to Al Qaeda or any known terrorist group, he said they were nonetheless representative of disenfranchised young Muslim men in the city who had become more radical by listening to sermons preaching jihad.
The official said such men were as capable of violence as organized terrorist groups. "What we have to be looking for is an organized attack like 9/11, but also disenfranchised people who are equally capable of committing violent acts," the official said, citing the Egyptian immigrant who shot and killed two people at an El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport in 2002 and the English teacher from Gaza who went on a shooting rampage on the Empire State Building observation deck in 1997, killing a Danish tourist and wounding six other people. The man left behind a letter revealing his seething anger at the treatment of Palestinians by the United States, Israel and other countries.
Note the repeated use of the word disenfranchised, an adjective meaning "deprived of the rights of citizenship especially the right to vote". According to the article, these charmers are not yet citizens. The families of course wail and ululate that their scions are innocent of these charges (you did hide the dynamite behind the drywall in the laundry room, didn't you Abdul?) , and interestingly enough at least one of the families is here on the basis of political asylum, no less. The problem of fellow travelers and lone wolves is likely to grow exponentially, and one of these days a resource-constrained law enforcement agency might miss some of these characters. Thank heavens we have the NYPD. These good guys set the gold standard for what a police force should be (Bruce Springsteen's opinions notwithstanding). They find these slobs coming out of the woodwork. Is it any wonder cops from all over the world come to study the NYPD (and scarily enough, does any cop come from a country where the Religion Of Peace [tm, spit, feh] has an established footprint?).
The current grandstanding by Gandhi's grandson with his Paleostinian pals needs a reminder of some of the things dear old Granddad said (courtesy of Israpundit):
Harry Turtledove once did one of his alternate history stories about what would have happened with a Nazi-occupied India, and the awakening Gandhi would have had at the last few moments before he got a "noodle" (German slang for a bullet). Well worth reading for anyone who may still inspired by Gandhi. As anyone who ever saw "City On The Edge Of Forever" can tell you, peace punditry is a very dangerous pursuit.
"I am as certain...that the stoniest German heart will melt [if only the Jews] adopt active non-violence. Human nature...unfailingly responds to the advances of love. I do not despair of his [Hitler's] responding to human suffering even though caused by him."
Gandhi also advised the Jews of Europe to commit mass suicide, as our forefathers were forced to do at Masada: "Hitler killed five million [sic] Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs." Louis Fisher, Gandhi's biographer asked him: "You mean that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?" Gandhi responded, "Yes, that would have been heroism."
Sunday, August 29, 2004
By Papa He's A Spy, By Mama He's A Spy, But From Spies Is He A Spy?
Very interesting timing on the release of the information on this AIPAC-Pentagon business doing it on a Friday night at the end of August when lots of folks have disappeared for the weekend or the week already. The obvious pitfall of it is that it gives Ubergruppenfuhrer Buchanan an opportunity to vent his spleen (not that he needs an excuse, but in a sound-bite world this one was tailor-made for him), and obviously by extension gives the loony fringe another rotten plank in their platforms. As to talk of this being manufactured by certain media outlets to take attention away from Lurch's troubles, I doubt it, however, those media outlets certainly aren't above a bit of schadenfreude at yet another quote unquote scandal to tar the Administration with. As to the foreign parties in this matter, if they're doing wet work, they're being awfully sloppy about it, given the fearsome and methodical reputation their intelligence services have. First, the nonsense in New Zealand with the passports, then this? After the Pollard imbroglio? The thought of this being a disinformation campaign of sorts does crop up, to perhaps convince someone that the parties are slipping... (more on this as it develops)
Here's a real cute way to make sure your kids don't develop a palate for anything other than blandburgers - use hot sauce to discipline them, especially when the quote unquote offense is oral in nature. You really have to laugh about the new parenting guru being a near-forgotten child star from a show that was so bad two sets of leads walked away from it.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through
The most disturbing of the political controversies was undoubtedly the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich games by the Palestinian group Black September. The terrorists' violence was compounded by the speech given by International Olympics Committee head Avery Brundage. Brundage declared that the games would continue—a controversial if defensible position. But in saying that the games "must go on," Brundage, who had enjoyed a warm relationship with Adolf Hitler during the '36 Munich Games, refused to plainly mention the killings. Rather, he bemoaned the fact that the Olympics had suffered "two savage attacks," a euphemistic reference to the murders and a campaign underway to expel Rhodesia, then a white-supremacist nation, from participating in the games.
Howard Cosell had it right when he said there was a time for Avery Brundage, the time of William of Orange. The obvious tie-in with currently accepted weltanschung of course hit the rounds of e-mail jokes this week:
Israeli Gal Friedman has won the Gold Medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.It is the first ever Olympic Gold Medal for Israel.In response to this Zionist achievement, the United Nations is considering a resolution proposed by the Arabs and the Europeans, to condemn Israel for itsvictory, and to impose sanctions on Israel for occupying the most sought-after spot on the medal podium.
Turning back to the transportation rants so rudely interrupted a few days ago, I had occasion to utilize a couple of TBTA toll facilities yesterday and noted that tolls on said facilities had increased 1600% from the original peage. Needless to say, any thinking person can understand that unless some form of endowment or sinking fund was created during the original payoff period for the facility, there will be no financial means for supporting maintenance requirements (depending on handouts from the gummint is a crapshoot, but even with tolls there is no guarantee that the money will be used effectively, witness the ongoing subsidizing of the fareboxes by motorists, and the horrid condition of some of the toll facilities). One of the great maneuvers of Robert Moses was the way he crafted the enabling legislation for the bonds that initially paid for the bridges, tunnels and roads, in such a way that in theory the issuing authority could reissue bonds in perpetuity and nothing could be done about it because of the inability of courts to intervene in a bond covenant unless there was something patently illegal about the transaction. However, as anyone who's been caught at a toll plaza during rush hour or a weekend crunch can tell you even with electronic toll taking there is a huge impact to traffic flow, especially at places like the southern end of the Jersey Turnpike. They're working around this now with E-Z Pass transponders on gantries instead of in traditional tollbooths, thus permitting traffic to flow almost at speed (the nominal limit on the Garden State Parkway's through toll lanes is 35mph).
The problem is of course that thousands of cars don't have transponders, thus causing the clogs. A simple solution, so brilliant even a four year old could think of it, why not require getting a toll transponder if you're registering a car? Let us count the potential objectors to such a policy; privacy advocates - what information are you really giving up if there is a record that your transponder paid a toll at the George Washington Bridge at 8:02am on Sunday? The only people who might have something to be concerned about in that regard are people who are cheating on their spouses or going to Washington Heights to buy drugs. Some quote unquote activists may squawk about imposing an additional "tax" on motorists, but registration of a car is a privilege and not a right, and if you can afford car insurance and a car, you can certainly cough up another fifty simoleans for the tag and an initial deposit. Obviously it would take years to implement, but consider for example what the New York Thruway did at the Spring Valley tolls, demolishing most of the plaza and leaving truck lanes only at the very edge of the northbound plaza. Consider the implications for removing most of the tollbooths at various bridges and tunnels for improvement of traffic flow (although it could reasonably be argued from a security standpoint that there should be some checkpoint established to catch bad actors; this doesn't work in the case of one-way tolls, of course).
Friday, August 27, 2004
Oh, THAT guy....
A cute thread on one of my favorite boards decided to skewer Esteban, the TV shopping guy who pitches his self-branded guitars and instruction courses. A quick perusal of Esteban's web site reveals that he was "given" his name by Segovia (which Segovia, Irving?), and various other bits of ephemera that are profoundly uninteresting. He hawks not only his guitars on the site, including his high-end acoustic-electric with an amplifier (one evening I caught this guy hawking this combo on TV, and it was hilarious as he showed that the amp was not only capable of clean sounds but distortion as well; the sound was horrid, and his attempt at a Hendrix-like cadenza was pretty lame for a guy who obviously does have a fair command of the instrument). His CDs include lots of covers, which must clobber his profit margin (I wonder if he's paying the statutory rate, or he got a deal from the Harry Fox Agency on the licenses?). The Zorro get-up ups the cheese factor, and he isn't exactly a threat to Martin or Taylor. For some reason I think of him as the spiritual successor to the Kelly Family, who hawked their Europop tripe for years on their infomercials (they've sold more records than Slim Whitman!) Ahh, but for the days when you'd get a really good cheesy pitch on TV, my favorite being the toupee guy "Hard to believe I'm wearing a hairpiece?" "I wouldn't lie to you for a very good reason, I'm the president of the company". Apparently said toupee guy was the inspiration for Morrie in "Goodfellas", and the real guy ended up just like Morrie....
And from our sharia-friendly neighbors to the north, we find that MP Carolyn Parrish has shot her mouth off again and called Americans "idiots". She's just symptomatic of the idiocy there; remember they don't have a Bill Of Rights, and that there were plenty of Quebecois Francais who wore swastikas as a sign of support (hey, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, according to them). Canada, where they're so brave they have to boo schoolkids, yet they meekly acquiesce to every idiot wearing a hijab or keffiyah, be it at Immigration or at town hall. And wonder of wonders, the local Clouseau constabulary found explosives in a van in Montreal, anyone want to take bets on its origin or intended target?
Finally, as long as we're talking about the lack of ethics of Francophones, check this beaut out. Must've been the Knights Templar or something. Couldn't be at the behest of the Quai D'Orsay or the Elysee Palace, not those fine folks.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Idiocy Du Jour
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
That Wasn't Chicken....
Two Tupolevs going down nearly simultaneously? Despite my long-held conviction that Tupolevs are dangerous crates and that I wouldn't get on one even if I was going to receive an astronomical amount of money, this one stinks to high heaven. About ten years ago, a buddy of mine from the FSU (Former Soviet Union) constantly fretted about the Chechens, saying to mostly deaf ears that these people were crazy mofos and that they were aligned with some seriously bad actors; his opinion was that they would start exporting and partnering sooner than later. Odds are that this one will be whitewashed in the same manner as the Egypt Air attack.
The latest on l'affaire Gibson is that pictures and inventory seem to be disappearing, reappearing, then disappearing again from various online sellers. Apparently there's significant pushback from the dealer community; my local Gibson dealer, who despite loving the guitars for both playing and profit, admits that they have "issues" with the company (in the sense of Paulie Walnuts' issues?)
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
On the corporate idiocy side, consider the latest flavor of the month (vis-a-vis TCO), Total Cost of Services. Undoubtedly there will be many large engagements where large consulting firms (especially including my own) will come up with metrics, dashboards and all of the other management ephemera designed to implement a methodology to calculate TCS. The logical consequence of which is that any such engagement to perform such services will be evaluated using the deployed methodology, or worse, the payment will be contingent upon a certain amount of savings or synergies to be generated (cut the budget by $X, or don't get paid, to put it bluntly). Needless to say there are methods for calculating intangible value generated by various means that will negate large portions of any cost rationalization effort. The net result of this will be the Mickey Mouse approach to cost savings, cutting per diems, preferred vendors, and generally inflicting misery on road warriors who know the assistant managers at hotels better than their next-door neighbors. Memo to champions of this approach - bandwidth is cheap. Eliminate travel altogether unless absolutely necessary. Of course, your buddies at the airlines and hotels who depend on the business traveler will scream bloody murder.....
Monday, August 23, 2004
Really Ticked Today.....
Let's see, our neighbors to the North are asking for more understanding of sharia law so that its local adherents can be more, ahem, comfortable. Likewise in Eurabia. Funny how when some slob who kills eight cops gets an easy ride to the other side with a lethal injection the Euros and the Canadians squawk bloody murder at how nekulturny we are, but I haven't heard a peep out of them as to how they can square their consciences with this. Oh that's right. Since the perpetrators of this are card-carrying members of the Religion Of Peace (tm, spit, feh), we need to understand their ways. A plague upon all their houses.
Since we're on the topic of the Religion Of Peace (tm, spit, feh) and their facilitators in Europe, here's a little practice session in Paris for the next Kristallnacht.
French President Jacques Chirac condemned the center's destruction and said the government was "determined to find the perpetrators of this unacceptable act so that they can be tried and convicted with the greatest severity" that the law allows.
The case has been referred to Paris criminal investigators, the Paris Police Department said.
That really solves things, doesn't it Jacques? A condemnation. And if things get really serious and bad, they'll issue a strong condemnation. You gotta love Chirac, though, he's a real traditionalist, strongly following the traditions of Laval and Petain (incidentally, consider that both Laval and Petain were awarded the "honor" of being shot for their crimes, as opposed to the normal ignominious methods of hanging and/or beheading used with assorted bad types at the end of that little party in 1945).
All together now, "Les Francais Sont Cochons". The only Farsi curse I could find before I got totally pissed off was "Madaretah sag gayeedah", which has something to do with dogs and mothers.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech
One thing that Gibson should realize is that their target demographic is aging, thanks to the idiotic policies of the record industry that put gangsta rap, Mrs. Ritchie, the soon-to-be Mrs. Federline and jerks wearing hockey masks who turn their triple rectifier amps up to 11 for that sludge sound ahead of folks who know about things like harmony, subtlety and tone. Us old farts with the money will probably be a lot more likely to buy something that looks like what Dickie Betts played instead of something with some asinine graphic (Of course, except an SG painted to look like Clapton's "Fool") that someone with multiple repeated consonants in his name plays (unless of course the kiddies want said asinine graphic because it's kewl, us parents do occasionally spoil our broods).
Dave Barry posted a column yesterday that zinged Godzilla on its 50th anniversary. I will admit to using kaiju films as the butt of a lot of jokes, but like the James Bond movies, you have to consider that it really was a pretty successful franchise (Toho claims that they've retired the Big G, however, we've heard that one before). The interesting thing is that Barry probably never took a critical look at the original, both the US Raymond Burr version and the original Japanese Gojira. The movie itself was obviously inspired by Eugene Lourie's "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" (which if you think about it was really the plot line for the 1998 Roland Emmerich fiasco), but it really has a dark fable quality about it. The original Gojira is interesting to compare to the Raymond Burr version, with a vague suggestion that Dr. Serazawa was a war criminal, and Dr. Yemane not being such a nice old man (he actually orders Ogata out of the house when he advocates killing Big G). The language used in the Japanese version is a bit strong for the early 50s (the word "damn" in its various permutations is used quite often), but it's strangely effective. The only odd thing about watching Gojira is that since we're so used to the dubbed voices, it's rather strange to hear the actors' real voices, sometimes jarringly different than the familiar ones. And as to the special effects, all things considered, they were pretty darn good for the time. Perhaps they didn't have the stop-motion perfection of Willis O'Brien or Ray Harryhausen, but then again, it's hard to miniaturize everything (especially water effects) and it's a movie, for gosh sakes, suspend disbelief for a moment. Sometimes I think years of CGI and Star Wars-quality effects have jaded our perspective.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Semi-Fortnightly Short Shrift
The book du jour is The Battles Of Corrin by Brian Herbert. A lot of people have expressed dissatisfaction with the Dune prequels put out by Herbert, but they actually go a very long way in explaining and clarifying a lot of the storyline and concepts that occur in the classic Dune trilogy. There's a great explanation on the origin of the Navigators in this volume. The previous book (Machine Crusade) was a bit disappointing, however, the read so far (I'm about 1/3 of the way through it) is fast-paced and entertaining enough. There could be a legitimate criticism about predictability here, however, since it's a prequel, you know that it has to agree with the history of the main trilogy.
Keeping on the sci-fi novel theme, I've also taken a look at Harry Turtledove's Return Engagement, the latest in his alternate history of an ongoing war between the USA and the Confederacy. He's gotten up to the World War II analogue now, and the bad guys in the CSA bear an awfully strong resemblance to certain nasty Central European characters in real history. I've always been a sucker for alternate histories, and Turteldove's first take on a USA - CSA alternate history ("The Guns Of The South") was an absolute masterpiece, but this series suffers from one of Turtledove's main flaws, too many characters and plot threads to keep track of. It's interesting to see how Turtledove works in real people, such as Al Smith, FDR, and George Patton, but the most interesting storylines rarely intersect in these books (they do occasionally, and the results can be satisfying), but this one is probably best borrowed from the library.
Finally, the howler of the day. Mrs. Ritchie gave the soon-to-be Mrs. Federline a rare 12th century Jewish text. The money quote from the article:
"Britney was delighted with the book. She has read it thoroughly and seems completely taken with it."
I don't think the Zohar was translated into English in the 12th century, and if you ever read Canterbury Tales in the original Medieval English, you know how different it is from modern English. Therefore, the soon-to-be Mrs. Federline read it in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. I have one Yiddish lesson for the soon-to-be Mrs. Federline, "Zeit nisht mishegoss!".
Friday, August 20, 2004
You should always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't come to yours.
Recently you received a letter from Gibson regarding significant changes in the company's web policy. Gibson's intent is to drive more customers into your store, thus making your store a destination location. It has always been Gibson's desire to have sales of their instruments be done on a personal level, not on a "point and click" shopping cart level. It is only when the end consumer interacts with your sales staff can the "Gibson story" be told, and an instrument be truly matched to that individual consumer's personal needs. Pursuant to that goal, and effective immediately, all authorized Gibson & Epiphone dealers are expected to comply with the following: Internet sales of all new Gibson Brand instruments and products, including Gibson USA, Gibson Montana, Gibson Memphis, Gibson OAI, Slingerland, Tobias, Gibson Custom/Historic, Epiphone, Valley Arts, Gibson Strings and Accessories are to cease immediately. All authorized GMI dealers will be allowed to advertise that they are an "AUTHORIZED GIBSON DEALER" and link to the Gibson website, http://www.gibson.com/. Photos of "in-stock" instruments currently in dealer's inventory will not be allowed to be published on dealer's website. Consumers are to be encouraged to actually visit the store to purchase instruments, or contact the store regarding a purchase via phone or email. Authorized GMI dealers will be allowed to email consumers photos of specific guitars in dealer's inventory. Specific artwork and advertising templates for authorized ealers will be made available for dealer's use on their websites. These materials will be made available for download on Gibson's internet press site, www.gibson.com/press. Advertising outside of dealer's immediate market area as specified in the Gibson Dealer Agreement will not be allowed. This includes (but not limited to) any printed materials such as catalogs, flyers, etc. If there is a question as to your specific market area, please contact XXXXXXXXXXX at Gibson, XXXXXXXXXXX, XXXX. Sales of new Gibson brand instruments at guitar shows, music events, concerts, music festivals, etc. outside of dealer's approved market area are not allowed
The bottle's been uncorked with Internet sales for how long, and Gibson thinks it can turn the clock back to the 1970s?. Let's looks at the ways this will ultimately hurt Gibson.
- Most local dealers don't have a wide selection of Gibsons and Epiphones. If you're jonesing for an ES-345 reissue, you're SOL in most cases because most dealers simply don't stock them. Most dealers are going to stock either low-cost items that move fast (think the faded series) and a couple of Les Pauls.
- The waiting time for orders from Gibson is becoming ridiculous. My local dealer's Gibson specialist (who is a cool guy and always leveled with me) has told me that even getting things like an Epiphone Elitist (an excellent guitar, but quite reasonably priced - at most in the $1800 range for a Byrdland) is a multi-month process and no definitive dates for shipment are coming out.
- In many cases the only dealers who actually have the depth and breadth of Gibson products in stock are the big Internet dealers. People have little patience when they're willing to spend big bucks for something. If you don't have what they want right then, they're going to another dealer. See any car dealer to hear that story.
- In many cases local dealers are completely clueless when it comes to items outside the scope of the normal walk-in buyers' interest. Consider the Gibson J-160E, for example. This guitar is much beloved by Beatles fans (it's the acoustic sound of the Beatles, and also is the great electric sound on "I Feel Fine") but most shops don't have a clue what it is. If they actually can be bothered with pulling out the dealer catalog, you'll find Gibson's current version, a natural finish one with a Lennon doodle lithographed on it, one that most Beatles fans are singularly uninterested in (people buying this axe want it in the original tobacco burst, like you see it in "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help"). Ask about the original sunburst, and you hear that it just doesn't exist. A quick perusal of Musician's Friend's site proved otherwise, and I got my tobacco burst. (Yes, I know about Fuller's too, but they seem to have a long wait for them. I have a big bugaboo about plunking deposits down for guitars that have unknown arrival dates).
- Specialty items that are going to have limited market penetration by going to a bricks and mortar model are destined for discontinuance. Someone who wants a Byrdland, or a Riviera 12-string will suddenly find that because of decreased sales volume, it's uneconomical for Gibson to produce them anymore.
Gibson, like any manufacturer, can set a Minimum Advertised Price and hold its dealers to that, but frankly, I think that a MAP is anti-competitive. One would assume that becoming a Gibson dealer entails meeting certain requirements as to financials, inventory commitment, and customer service, and if real value is being added by the dealer a premium price can be justified. To be blunt about it, the most value-add you receive from any dealer is a set-up and perhaps a few picks and sets of strings. Ultimately, guitars are commodities, perhaps not analogous to soap, but certainly an analogy can be made to cars. If there are four Ford dealers within a 20 mile radius you're going to choose on price, availability and service. Any dealer is obligated to perform warranty service (in the general case, there are of course cases in the music industry where you have to go to specific dealers to obtain warranty service). Gibson's reputation has been checkered for a long time, Carlos Santana once saying they're like McDonald's, just throwing a burger at you (this was in a Guitar Player interview over 20 years ago).
One thing Gibson can ill-afford to forget is that if you're just looking for a high-end guitar, there are plenty of other choices out there. Paul Reed Smith for example. They also pull some nonsense with not allowing prices to be posted on the Internet, but a simple e-mail or phone call will usually get you the selling price (and that's another bugaboo. I really don't have time to schlep to some Historic Dealer or most high-end shops, and for the most part I prefer to order things like this over the Internet or the phone. The personal touch isn't that important in a sale, because frankly, most salespeople in music stores are not knowledgable enough; been in Guitar Center lately, or hear some 22 year old in a dirtwater store make fun of the Beatles? "Neal Peart is awesome, dude". The dealers who do get it for the most part are few and far between, just like the aforementioned Fullers in Texas, Dave's in Wisconsin, Ed Roman in Las Vegas, and many others. My local dealer is a relatively cool shop, but when their Gibson specialist just can't get what I want, I simply have to look elsewhere. Making me spend an inordinate amount of time doing so is going to make me more likely to look at used instruments or at other manufacturers.
The only value that a local dealer really offers is the ability to actually sit and try the thing out, but in the case of a lot of dealers, the attitude problem has reached the point where I simply won't walk in. Certain dealers on 48th Street in Manhattan treat everyone who walks in as a potential shoplifter (same as GC), even when they're on the wrong side of 40 and wearing a suit. I especially dislike the nasty sneers about belt buckles (sorry guys, I wear a pager and a cell phone, so I have to wear a belt, and I'm a big enough boy to know to give something back in the same condition I received it in). For the most part, Internet dealers recognize you're buying something sight-unseen and are fairly reasonable in return and exchange policies, so you're covered in the event you're totally unhappy.
I was in the market for a Goldtop, but I'm seriously reconsidering it now. If I do buy one it'll be used. This is an anti-competitive, anti-consumer move on Gibson's part. Obviously they are out of touch with what goes on in most retail music stores, and don't know how bad the situation is. Funny, other music instrument manufactures have really gotten with the program and are really in touch with what their consumers want. Take Gretsch for example. Not only does Dinah Gretsch regularly interact with players, but they've listened to what people want. They set up the distribution deal with Fender, and since enough people were asking for an exact 1962 Country Gentleman reissue (the "King George" as it's affectionately known), they responded, built it, and got it out there. John Hall of Rickenbacker has always interacted with his customers, and his presence on many forums is always appreciated.
I wonder if this quote from the FTC website has any applicability: "....the antitrust laws make it unlawful to maintain or attempt to create a monopoly through tactics that either unreasonably exclude firms from the market or significantly impair their ability to compete. A single firm may commit a violation through its unilateral actions, or a violation may result if a group of firms work together to monopolize a market."
Just to make sure everyone understands here, I have no problem with any Gibson dealer, and would gladly give them all an equal chance to compete for my business. I intensely dislike this business about dedicated territories and artificial price support for a product. What this does is take away our opportunity to easily comparison shop. I don't always have a lot of time during business hours to spend on the phone with a dozen different dealers, and it's not terribly cost-effective for the dealers to spend several minutes answering each routine price inquiry. Give everyone the chance to maximize their time efficiency, and if someone needs extra hand-holding then a dealer can provide such value-added service to them at whatever price the market will bear.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
French Delusions Of Grandeur
I'll say it before and I'll say it again. Les Francais sont cochons.
Choo Choo Charlie Was An Engineer
Caro's book on Robert Moses criticized him for not including support for heavy rail (read as rapid transit as opposed to mainline rail) on several major bridges in the NY metro area. The idea of rails across bridge infrastructure generated much political give and take going as far back as the Brooklyn Bridge, where the running gag was that the trackage originally installed on the bridge was put there for the convenience of Brooklyn politicians wanting to get up to Saratoga for the weekend. The Brooklyn Bridge's trackage was removed during its late 1940s upgrade supervised by David Steinman, reflecting realignment in the subway infrastructure as much as gaining additional traffic lanes on the bridge. Subway trackage was removed from the Queensborough Bridge when the Second Avenue elevated line was demolished (the original plans for the bridge had four subway tracks crossing, however, the designing and consulting engineers found some errors in the load calculations before the bridge opened, and had two tracks removed and diverted to the tunnel which feeds the Astoria line). Obviously, the Williamsburgh and Manhattan Bridges both still have their heavy rail trackage, but both of those bridges have been under constant repair for decades, in the Manhattan Bridge's case in large part due to torsion effects from the trains passing over (the IND tracks on the north side of the bridge were much more heavily used than the BMT tracks on the south side, causing lengthening of the suspenders). Interestingly, all four bridges had light rail (trolley) tracks, which rather nicely provided service from all parts of Brooklyn and Queens (even those rather underserved by subway service) into Manhattan. Of course, New York City abandoned light rail altogether in 1950 (although there is the occasional squawk about putting in light rail on major Manhattan cross-streets like 42nd).
Of course, there were plenty of other light rail systems that were eliminated around then, apocryphally with a bit of help from certain bus makers. The famed examples include the Pacific Electric system in Los Angeles, and the Key System in the San Francisco area (the Key system was an effective feeder for the East Bay area into downtown SF, via the Bay Bridge; the bridge originally had traffic flowing in both directions on each level of the bridge, additional traffic load required changing the configuration to dedicating each level to a single direction, and to maintain capacity, the tracks had to go). Interestingly enough, the Bay Bridge and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philly are the only other modern examples of rails on suspension bridges in the US (the original Roebling bridge at Niagra Falls did have railroad tracks on its upper level, however, this bridge has long since been demolished). The generally accepted wisdom up until fairly recently was that heavy rail was in general not a good thing for suspension bridges, due to flexibility and torsion issues, as well as load issues associated with freight (since in the US, there were no mainline railroads using suspension bridges, this was pretty much a moot point). However, worldwide, there have recently been several new major suspension bridges kitted out with heavy rail, such as the Tsing Ma in Hong Kong, the Inland Sea in Japan, and the Tagus (I really know it as the Salazar Bridge, but I guess it's not PC to mention him these days) in Portugal has actually been retrofitted with trackage. However, a couple of major new bridges had trackage nixed - the Akashi (Japan) and Great Belt (Denmark).
Which brings us back to the Tappan Zee Bridge, as sooner or later the bridge is going to replaced or upgraded. There is a huge regional planning push for trackage on the replacement, which makes sense in a number of ways. First, a well planned connection from the Metro North and New Jersey Transit lines on the west side of the river to a reasonable cross-Westchester line (with adequate stops along the I-287 corridor to enable feeding the campuses) could substantially reduce the commute traffic, and potentially enable a one-seat ride into Manhattan from Rockland if planned properly (an additional track is being added to the Harlem line, and there are four tracks on the Hudson line; the alignments would be tough, but doable given the resolve to do something). Thinking even further out, a rail corridor along I-287 could conceivably feed into the New Haven line near Port Chester, with the concomitant easing of traffic to and from Connecticut; it would also potentially greatly help out on those all-too-frequent occasions when something goes wrong on the New Haven line between Woodlawn and Harrison and no trains get out for hours).
More to come......
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Lurch Thinks He's Patton
"Can you spare some change for a peasant?" "No, I'm saving it all for the aristocracy"
Conspiracy to commit a public nuisance by the use of radioactive materials, toxic gases, chemicals and or explosives.You can't help but love British understatement. Propers to the gang at Little Green Footballs for the lead. And for whatever its worth,in what is surely one of the wildest coincidences possible, note that there isn't an Isadore, Sven or Mary among them... My driving and rail adventures, along with this article on a frustrated British commuter taking matters into his own hands were the inspiration for this rant. As anyone who's driven I-95 anywhere between Richmond, Virginia and Kittery, Maine can tell you, our interstate road network has long since passed its design capacity and in many cases is nearing (or at) the end of its useful life. Infrastructure projects have been woefully underfunded for decades, a combination of NIMBYism, fear of Robert Moses-style mayhem, and creative accounting so as to pay for vote-garnering expenditures (little things like quote unquote entitlements). The results of deferred maintenance and static capacity are biting us as we speak, with miles-long traffic jams, increasing driver fatigue and anger, and worsening air quality making driving absolutely miserable.
That's not to say that rail travel is any huge panacea. The Northeast Corridor has its own bottlenecks and speed restrictions, and for some reason the use of the express trackage is managed very inefficiently (consider a ride through New Jersey on the corridor, Amtrak will often as not be put on a local track behind a New Jersey Transit local commuter train due to some perpetual trackwork that no one can actually commit to finishing; likewise north and east of the city). In fact, in some cases, tracks are being removed (downsizing say from four to three tracks on the Hell Gate Bridge for example, two of which are used by Amtrak and the third for freight) in order to cut down on rail maintenance expenditures. Then, there's electrification. For some reason, many communities in Connecticut were and are dead-set against electrification of railroads. There was a big stink a few years back when the catenary went in east of New Haven, fears that boating-happy communities would be impacted by additional trains running on Amtrak (the compromise was that several railroad drawbridges would be kept open and only closed when a train passes). A branch line that was formerly electrified cannot have the catenary restored (even though it desperately needs it to improve service) because of NIMBYism from the very wealthy communities it services (a recent article that looked at upgrades for this branch was talking about $1 billion being needed for both the electrification and a potential double-tracking).
The branch I just mentioned which was de-electrified for the most mercenary of reasons. Since the New Haven Railroad at that time (late 1950s) was in receivership, they pulled the catenary down for the copper salvage; likewise, the New Haven pulled the wire down on its freight route which extended from the Hell Gate Bridge down to the car floats in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, a much faster and less roundabout way to move freight than schlepping it across the Poughkeepsie Bridge to Maybrook. The New Haven actually had to put wire back up briefly on the Bay Ridge line because they got an incredible deal on electric freight locomotives from the Virginian Railroad, but then pulled it down again as the Penn Central merger made that trackage less important. (Moral - there is no such thing as a merger; there are only takeovers. Someone always loses in the name of synergies and cost savings)
If you look at the New York metropolitan area, there are several factors impacting both road and rail traffic that have conspired to make getting around the area an exercise in frustration. First, consider the accident of geography that has pretty much forced all freight traffic to terminate in New Jersey. While as I previously noted, there was carfloat service across the harbor at one point, that service all but died at the time of the Penn Central's bankruptcy, forcing an interesting traffic matrix that thoroughly congests the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, as well as the George Washington and Goethals Bridges. There is no railroad bridge across the Hudson River south of Selkirk (necessitating a 240 mile detour to cross the Hudson; the Poughkeepsie Bridge has been thoroughly damaged by fire and decades of neglect, and is impassible), therefore rail delivery of goods into the city proper from the west is impractical, unless it comes by way of the old Water Level Route. There are only two tracks into Penn Station from New Jersey, both of which are tightly scheduled, and because of clearance and safety reasons are impractical to use for rail freight (although assuming the clearance and safety issues could be worked out, bringing freight through to a terminal colocated with the Sunnyside Yards might be an effective solution for distribution within the city. There is indeed a freight line that goes into Staten Island, however, its history is most puzzling. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad built a new lift bridge adjacent and parallel to the Goethals Bridge in 1959 to replace the previous low-level span, however, the lift bridge (which set a record for the longest such span) was always very lightly used, only seeing traffic to and from a powerplant and a Proctor and Gamble facility. Both industries have long since been decommissioned, and the bridge has basically sat idle for the last 20 years or so. The lift mechanism has been vandalized, and the bridge remains stuck in the open position. There's an interesting detailed discussion in this document about various alternatives to alleviate the traffic crunch in the city caused by trucks bringing freight in from New Jersey.
However, the problem that any transportation planner faces is what happens when the traffic matrix becomes more diverse, as opposed to the normal model bringing large amounts of traffic into a central location whence it will disperse locally (e.g. the normal commuting into Penn Station or Grand Central, thence walking to the office). In some cases a reverse commute model works (e.g. Grand Central to Stamford, Philly 69th Street to Villanova / Bryn Mawr) but there is a dependency on local transit or paratransit for destinations not within walking distance of the rail station. In many cases, there is no reasonably close rail station to a densely office campus setting (think of the many office parks populating the Route 1 corridor in New Jersey that are far from either the New Brunswick or Princeton train stations, or the large office complexes out in the Basking Ridge area) that would make paratransit a difficult option for getting people to and from the train station to meet schedules. Train scheduling is of course a huge issue, as the British gentleman in the article mentioned at the top of this missive found out. Most train schedules are fairly dense from about 4:45 to 6:30, give or take a few minutes, but there's a rapid fall-off at seven PM that makes life difficult for folks who traditionally have to work a bit later than that (think financial services types). Worse of course is the reverse commute pattern in the evening, where someone who lives in the city finds inbound trips on an hourly schedule at best.
The next question is of course reliability, as capital investment in railroad equipment is an expensive proposition that needs funding by expensive bond issues, and as such equipment is pushed far beyond its useful life. Even when the equipment is relatively new, it is plagued with problems. Consider Metro-North's aging fleet of FL-9 diesel-electric locomotives, which were originally acquired by the New Haven Railroad back in the late 50s. The management of the New Haven was in quite a financial pickle, and bought the FL-9s to facilitate removal of the electric catenary east of Stamford (as part of the same program I mentioned earlier), and to eliminate engine changes in New Haven for through trains to Boston. The FL-9s unfortunately proved supremely under-designed to meet their task, being astonishingly unreliable and with a nasty penchant for catching fire when powered by the third rail, yet they far outlived their normal EMD F-unit brethren, a few are still in service to this day on Metro North. However, Metro North, faced with the reality that these locomotives were running far longer than any other diesels do (most diesel locomotives seem to have about a 15-20 year lifespan, occasionally they'll be resold to smaller railroads for light duty work), and bought P32 "Genesis" locomotives similar to those that Amtrak uses for long-haul traffic (although with third rail equipment to take advantage of the third rail in and around NYC), however, the Genesis locomotives are finicky beasts (the trainmen tell me they're miserable on hills) , their head-end power units fail almost as often as the FL-9s did, and there are the occasional spectacular fires just like the FL-9s.
Long missive today. Let's pick this one up again tomorrow.....
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Why Best Of Lists Suck
Then there's "One Two Three". There are several Billy Wilder films on the list, so it isn't as if he isn't represented, but this one is my favorite out of all of them by far. The plot setup has Jimmy Cagney as a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin just prior to the Wall's construction, and Cagney is entrusted with watching over his boss' scatterbrained, hot-blooded daughter (played brilliantly by Pamela Tiffin). The daughter falls for and marries an East German communist (Horst Buchholz) and Cagney has to go through an incredible series of machinations to get the marriage annulled and then reinstated so that the young couple (with the daughter most inconveniently schwanger) have to meet the parents. Cagney's rapid fire delivery, especially in the scene when they transform the paramour into a capitalist tool is hysterically funny. The supporting cast is first-rate, with Arlene Francis as Cagney's acid-tongued wife, Lilo Pulver as the busty secretary, Hanns Lothar as the devoted assistant (with a past) Schlemmer, and Leon Askin (yes, good old General Burkhalter) as Comrade Peripetchikoff (a brilliant piece of alliteration!). The dialogue will split your sides open:
"That old Gestapo training, eh Schlemmer?"
"Please Mr. Macnamara, you mustn't say that"
"Just between us Schlemmer, what did you do during the war?"
"I was in the Unterground, the Underground"
"No, motorman. You know, in the subway"
"And you didn't know anything about Adolf?"
A jeweler comes in during the transformation scene, and announces himself using the German word for jewelry very loudly to Macnamara (Cagney). Unfortunately, the German word for jewelry is "schmuck" (which of course translates as something entirely different in Yiddish, although the Yiddish word is more likely derived from the Slavic "smok", which means a boorish person). Cagney's reaction is priceless at that moment. Run, do not walk to add it to your collection.
Getting back to the AFI list, here are some of the ones that in my somewhat unhumble opinion, don't belong or are overranked:
- MODERN TIMES
- THE GREAT DICTATOR
- CITY LIGHTS - Chaplin is vastly overrated, and one thing that film school academics forget is that the Three Stooges did their first Hitler parody before "The Great Dictator". Not to mention that Moe was a hell of a lot funnier. And why in heaven's name are these three ranked so highly, when "Sons Of The Desert", by the much more beloved Laurel and Hardy is all the way down at #96?
- MOONSTRUCK - Blah chick flick. One good bit.
- AMERICAN GRAFFITI - A nostalgia piece. The comedy is very secondary
- SHERLOCK, JR.
- THE NAVIGATOR - A pair of silent movies. I don't see Buster Keaton, Snub Pollard or any other great silent comedians here.
- AUNTIE MAME - They are kidding, aren't they?
- MANHATTAN - Not exactly Woody's best.
- MRS. DOUBTFIRE
- VICTOR/VICTORIA - Drag humor works well in Bugs Bunny and Monty Python, not here
There's about a dozen others that I really would take off this list, but I'll refrain from enumerating every single one. They did get a lot of right entries, and I was especially pleased to see "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" on the list, as that one is not only Bud and Lou at their best but also is the last great Universal monster flick (and you can see that the cast was having a great time with this one; and wasn't Lenore Aubert just yummy?) "Sons Of The Desert" is a personal favorite, and the ending gag with Mae Busch chasing Ollie out of the house with "I'll show you, you Son Of The Desert!" is still hysterical. "Road To Morocco" scores extra points for the Bob Hope reefer gag. And of course, much Marx and Mel madness makes the Proprietor laugh.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Examples of instant channel changers for me include (in no particular order):
- "In The Ghetto" - Elvis Presley
Elvis always pretty much left me cold. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, now there was great music. I can tolerate some Elvis including "Hound Dog", "Jailhouse Rock" and of all things "The Wonder Of You" (the song is sappy but since I'm a huge James Burton fan I like it). But "In The Ghetto"? Pseudo-socially relevant crap from someone whose career was starting the final tailspin.
- "Short Shorts" - The Royal Teens
A staple of New York oldies radio, its only historical merit is that the group was a precursor of the Four Seasons. The lyrics are inane and the Fran Drescher background singers are painful.
- "Mr. Lee" - The Bobettes
Another New York oldies radio standard, it's an extremely annoying song by a bunch of junior high school girls about their principal. The hiccupping vocal style drives me up the wall (it ain't Buddy Holly)
- "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" - Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers
Overplayed to death. Lots of other good Frankie Lymon material out there, like "I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent" but truth be told it all sounds the same.
- "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry" - The Four Seasons
The Four Seasons did some absolutely incredible records from 1964 to 1966 or '67 when they were on Philips, but their Vee-Jay stuff has aged very badly. The line about a "twist party" in Sherry is painfully dated, and frankly the arrangements of this era are last-gasp doo-wop.
- "Sugar Shack" - Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs
Someone once mentioned that the Fireballs were supposedly a very hot band from West Texas, even better than the Crickets in their prime. This horrid little piece of wimp music sure puts the lie to it. Perhaps the lamest top ten hit ever - a line like "Espresso coffee tastes mighty good" makes my teeth hurt.
- "Venus" - Frankie Avalon
- "Blue Velvet" - Bobby Vinton
Anything by a Frankie or Bobby or other Dick Clark creation makes me retch.
- "Love Me Do" - The Beatles
I know, I know. Everyone reading this is going, he's a huge Beatles fan, yet he changes the radio station the instant "Love Me Do" comes on? Not that unusual. There are a couple of songs that consistently annoy most Beatles fans (for some reason "Mr. Moonlight" seems to top the list, but tell the truth I actually like that one), and "Love Me Do" is up there. Its simple song structure is incomprehensible especially in light of hindsight knowing that "Please Please Me" was coming next. And I do change the channel when I hear "Yesterday" only for reasons of massive overplay fatigue.
- "Riders On The Storm" - The Doors
Paul Rothchild nailed when it he called this one cocktail music. I'll never understand how Ray Manzarek got such a crummy lounge tone on his keys on this one.
- "Spirit In The Sky" - Norman Greenbaum
Overplayed in the same sense that Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" is. Song has a certain cheesiness that grates.
- "D'Yer Mak'er" and "Trampled Underfoot" - Led Zeppelin
Not my favorite Zep songs by a long shot, but somehow beloved by program directors. For what it's worth, I do listen to "Stairway To Heaven" when it comes on the radio.
Not a comprehensive list to be sure, there are others (any disco will result in an instant channel change, just for an example). This is just a list of the most egregious tracks.
It's back to work today, so tomorrow's posting might be a bit light depending on how much manure accumulated over vacation.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Sacred Cows Make The Best Hamburger
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
- William Shakespeare (Henry VI)
One of the perils of an American public education is that one is generally exposed to generalizations and platitudes as opposed to material that is truthful, timeless, interesting and relevant. The average geography textbook has feel-good text along the lines of "There are many good roads in Framistan", whereupon hitting the real adult world one suddenly finds out that Framistan is a junta-ruled pesthole specializing in exporting bad seeds to the First World and manipulating futures prices on their natural resources to the detriment of the world economy. The average civics curriculum is painfully out of touch with the realities of government operations. I well remember one class on the government of New York City that had us focusing for an interminable amount of time on the Department of Markets, no, not the financial markets, but the bureaucracy that regulated the wholesale and retail food markets. The slight problem with this class was that when I got a copy of the then-current city charter, the Department of Markets had been abolished about two revisions before the current charter, and its' functions subsumed into various other agencies. When I brought this up, the teacher politely smacked me down and told me to get with the program (In elementary school in the late 60s, we had textbooks that were so old they referred to plans for a tunnel between Brooklyn and Staten Island, five years after the Verrazano Bridge had opened; when I pointed out this minor fact, the teacher insisted that I write my homework according to the textbook's version of reality).
It's somewhat reminiscent of that scene in "Back To School" where the economics professor is giving an example of widget production, and Rodney Dangerfield gets up and delivers a hilarious lecture on how to do things in the real world. In higher education, of course, the disconnect between academic reality and the real world is quite well known as Messrs. Merton and Scholes learned the hard way during that little party at Long Term Capital Management. However, one thing seems to be a total sacred cow at all levels of academia, and that is law and lawyers. Obviously there is a need for both, but when things like SLAPP suits happen, someone has to start asking questions as to where the checks and balances really are in this world.
SLAPP stands for Strategic Legal Action against Public Participation. It's basically a technique used by lawyers to shut people up when they criticize some sacred cow (usually a corporation or some servant of the public) either as a whistleblower or merely voicing their opinion. If these suits do receive face time in front of a judge, they are likely to be thrown out as frivolous, however, the plaintiffs in these affairs tend to count on the fact that they have a lot of resources and can pay lawyers beaucoup bucks to keep the thing going long enough to run up a significant bill for the defendant, who will hopefully cave in long before it gets to a judge (remember that the mere act of filing a lawsuit doesn't require anything beyond the ability to get the paperwork out and pay the fees, hence the old joke about suing the Pope for being Catholic. Ultimately such suits won't prevail, but the defense effort and cost is so onerous that it is impractical to fight). The logic used by the plaintiffs is that the defendants are somehow impairing their ability to do business or defaming them, in the same logical sense of freedom of speech not being equivalent to license (in other words, no yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater; I once had the misfortune of being caught in a nightclub on Staten Island back around 1980 that was quite overcrowded, and there was a severe bottleneck at the exit as the clubgoers tried to exit for a breather in between band sets. Some idiot decided to yell "Fire" because he thought it was funny. The crush getting out was decidedly unfunny, there were a lot of scrapes and bruises).
Of course, any sensible person or entity when confronted with a legal action will try to Make It Go Away very quickly, and as any person who has been on jury duty recently will tell you, the mere presence of a jury pool, much less the empaneling of a jury is enough to make the parties get back to the negotiating table such that very few cases actually do get to trial. However, the problem here is that sometimes SLAPP suits (or the threat of them) are coming from parties such as spammers and other dubious businesses trying to preserve whatever veneer of respectability they might have. Usually the white hats are volunteers or other small fry with a complaint, and thus the lack of resources to defend against this sort of thing are especially acute. Not that every respondent in this sort of thing is totally on the side of the angels, but a cursory look at some of the incidents I've seen shows that there may be a serious question as to whether the First Amendment is being infringed. In one case, someone was criticized on a public BBS. (Obviously, since I'm a scared little rabbit I won't recount the specifics). The criticism was a sort of ongoing needling thing, a bit biting at times, but something that a public figure (albeit minor, but the complainant makes plenty of information about himself public on the web) would be subject to. (An interesting question here is what level of biting criticism actually crosses the line into actionable. I would suppose that for example, suggesting that someone co-hosted a Martin Bormann telethon would be close to the line, but would not cross it unless the allegedy aggrieved was in the tzitzit business).
The complainant had his attorneys threaten a SLAPP suit, and the webmaster is now forced to manually delete every reference ever made on the board to that person, or face an expensive defense. For some reason this reminds me of the apocryphal story about the producers of "The Godfather" agreeing not to use the word "Mafia", and another Hollywood type saying that was like asking the producers of "Patton" not to use the word "Nazi".
There are certain companies that are predisposed to threatening or filing this sort of action, particularly in the case of former employees, contractors or other parties who've had dealings with them and have been in some manner been disillusioned with those companies. There isn't an issue with NDAs or non-competes in these cases, which would be an entirely different legal issue, these are people who are nominally exercising their First Amendment rights. If there is proprietary, defamatory or other injurious material in the respondent's public commentary, surely an injunction can be sought such that there is a timely independent judicial review of whether there merit to the complaint, as opposed to a mere intimidation effort.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
May The Schwartz Be With You
LONE STARR: But, Yogurt, what is this place? What is that you do here?
BARF: Merchandising? What's that?
YOGURT: Merchandising. Come. I'll show. Open up this door. Ha, ha, ha, come. Walk this way. Take a look. We put the pictures name on everything. Merchandising. Merchandising. Where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs - the T-shirt, Spaceballs - the Coloring Book, Spaceballs - the Lunch box, Spaceballs - the Breakfast Cereal, Spaceballs - the Flame Thrower.
YOGURT: The kids love this one. Last, but not least, Spaceballs - the Doll. Me.
Yu-Gi-Oy. Ninety minutes of the most incomprehensible gibberish I've had the misfortune to see since my mother-in-law handed my wife and me tickets to see "Cats". The obligatory cute kids, a character named Pegasus who seems to serve no purpose other than comedy relief in a Charles Nelson Reilly / Paul Lynde vein, a vague Egyptian plot with a couple of visuals that look like storyboard rejects from "Raiders Of The Lost Ark", and that game. The rules of 43 Man Squamish make infinite more sense than the chazzerai I sat through.
The plot basically involves some infinitely powerful Egyptian types who create this cockamamie game, and the bad guy gets locked up after losing some titanic battle. OK, so we've got touches of "Stargate", "Gamesters of Triskellion" and "Aladdin" not five minutes into the flick. Cut to the present day, and Yugi (the Good Guy, who is in touch with the spirit of the good pharaoh) is in a fierce rivalry with the Bad Guy, who is going to channel the spirit of the bad pharaoh. Cue some horrid animation of various monsters that look like Toho rejects, and a bunch of cute Pokemon rejects. Yugi and Bad Guy throw cards around, generate lots of smoke and noise, and there seemed to be some attempt at explaining the strategy and rules of the game to the audience. To make the long story short, Yugi and the good pharoah's combined entity takes a serious ass-whupping from Bad Guy, but they manage to do something devious to trick Bad Guy and Bad Pharoah (with an ending battle scene that's definitely been inspired by the bit in "Aladdin" where they trick Jafar into turning into a genie) and ensure the safety of the world for additional merchandising.
Fortunately, Loew's decided to only run 15 minutes worth of coming attractions and commercials, so the overall misery wasn't prolonged egregiously. The promotion did give out "limited edition" Yu-Gi-Oh cards to the attendees, which of course led to several fights amongst various broods over who got the best card (apparently the one with the pyramid is the best one). And I'm sure that this will lead to some extended card sets available at your friendly retailer, which will be demanded by the kiddies just as surely as a politician will lie.
Today's interesting CD is actually an out of print offering from The Kaisers called "Squarehead Stomp". The Kaisers sound is pure Cavern, an affectionate pastiche of the beat groups. Lots of Cavern standards like "Some Other Guy", "Money" and a dynamite version of "Soldiers Of Love". As for the original songs, well, no worries for any major chart toppers here, but it's just a fun offering touching not only on the beat groups, but with a touch of Joe Meek and the rest of the pre-Invasion English scene. Nice touch naming the group after the Kaiserkeller, the Hamburg dive that gave a lot of Liverpool groups a real lesson in honing their craft.
Finally, the absolute last word on the Thunderbirds movie comes from the great Mark Steyn. I can only disagree with him on one point, saying that "Marina" was a cut above most contemporary ballads (ahem, do the words "Sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble" ring a bell?), but he does hit the nail on the head that Barry Gray did some absolutely fantastic original music for the various Gerry Anderson series. This compilation looks like a great sampler of Barry Gray's work, and it looks as if his "No Strings Attached" album will be released on CD (in England) in two weeks. Alternately, if you're willing to spring for a Fanderson membership (not cheap, unfortunately) you can get Anderson show soundtracks here.
Friday, August 13, 2004
RIP Julia Child
Je me suis retourné
Speaking of anime, I've been deputized to take the kids to see the Yu-Gi-Oh movie today. I suppose that the purists in the readership would duly chastise me for referring to this as anime, but to my rather uninitiated eyes almost any Japanese animation falls into this category. Of course as a kid, I was into Astro Boy, Gigantor, Eighth Man and Speed Racer, and I probably wouldn't mind seeing some of those shows again just to see how I'd like them as an adult (disclaimer here, I did buy a Speed Racer DVD for the family, even Mrs. Proprietor wanted to check it out, but I glanced in while everyone was watching and a character who surely ranks up there in the Top Ten Of Insufferable Cartoons - Spridle - was onscreen. I beat a hasty retreat from the family room). I will report on Yu-Gi-Oh tomorrow (and I promise no sarcastic comments on the ahem value of the experience).
One thing that I noticed in Gigantor (and I believe in Eighth Man as well) was the er, interesting way the translated scripts danced around World War II references. I clearly remember seeing weaponry in those shows (the ones I'm specifically recalling looked like artillery shells) emblazoned with swastikas, and hearing the soundtrack say something inane like, "These must have been from some war long ago". I presume that they were referring to the ancient tribes who used the swastika as a symbol of the circle of life, or good luck. That actually brings up an interesting point, in that traditionally, swastikas used in benign contexts had their hooks pointing to the left (you can see this in some Indian neighborhoods or Hindu temples), whereas the Nazi swastika's hooks point to the right. Despite the extreme anger that happens when you see a swastika daubing, sometimes it's good to have a minor laugh over the fact that half the time the idiots who do such things can't even point their graffito in the correct direction. An interesting little tidbit about Gigantor that didn't seem to make the translation from the original Japanese version (Tetsujin 28) was that the robot had been designed as a Japanese vergeltungswaffe, of course being converted to good use by the wide-eyed hero.
I'm somewhat sorry I missed afternoon talk radio driving back yesterday in that it would've been hilarious to hear Bob Grant's commentary on l'affaire McGreevey. Grant is a cipher in some ways, as I once heard him spend an entire segment discussing Mr. Stern in a respectful manner, and in other cases his view on popular culture is completely ossified (a discourse on why "The Golden Girls" was the funniest thing on TV was painful). However, when he digs into a politician, the skewering can be occasionally hilariously satisfying, witness his memorable "Mario, assenza me. Tu se propio uno sfaccime" shtick (apologies on the spelling, it's been a while and for some reason Google doesn't have the quote). Politicians messing up is of course a major part of the spice of life, and far more impactful in a general sense than say, Mr. Jackson's antics. I presume that the good burghers in Jersey will end up footing the bill for an investigation of some sort in the same manner the freeholders of Connecticut are still sorting out the Rowland mess, but it will at least give some fodder to the old lion. He's been a bit toothless since his move to WOR, but since he has a stake in this one as a Jersey taxpayer, I imagine it might liven up metro NY talk radio a tiny bit (unless Sean Hannity jumps on this one). Darn, I miss the good old days when folks like Alan Burke and Joe Pyne could get really into meaty messes like this one.....
Monday, August 09, 2004
Taking A Few Days Off
Since it wouldn't be fair to leave without just a minor rant, I've analyzed the last month's spam, and the following parametric statistics may be of amusement:
- I receive an average of 5 spams daily
- The most I've gotten on any given day is 11
- The ISP who hosts the most spamvertised domains by far is Hanaro (about 42% of my spam hawks something hosted by these guys)
- The next two ISPs on the roll of dishonor are Chinanet and BrasilTelecom, each of whom host about 16% of the bad guys
- Moving a little lower on the food chain, Hinet and Epnetworks each host about 9% of the spammer sites.
- The rest of the spam hosters are onesie-twosies, and are in the noise level statistically.
- The sources of the spam are all over the map, but an observable pattern is evident in about 20-25% that are sourced by boxes in Hanaro, Hinet and Chinanet's address spaces.
See the pattern here? The bad guys are hosted by ISPs in countries that simply do not care about intellectual property rights. Spamhaus has 75 Hanaro hosted domains listed in its real-time blacklist. Chinanet has so many subdomains listed on Spamhaus it'll take way too much time to total them up.
I think it's time to request my ISP to block ASNs 9318, 4134 and 4813 at least. That's the nice thing about BGP. So much easier to implement policy at the macro level....
I should be back on Friday or Saturday with more trenchant commentary. Have a great week!
Sunday, August 08, 2004
Boy was I parochial back then. Pedal steel not a rock instrument? Bah. Just think of those gorgeous lines Pete Drake did on "All Things Must Pass". Not to mention the steel swells in Neil Young's "Winterlong", Sneaky Pete Kleinow with the Byrds and the Burritos, and how many Yes pieces? And recently, Robert Randolph's smoking live performances have reawakened my interested in this wildly expressive instrument (I first encountered Randolph while channel surfing, and came across him playing "Ted's Jam", and I was simply amazed at how he was making the pedal steel sing in a Hendrix-like vein complete with wah-wah. Watching Randolph play for the first time, I could only think back to 1971, when I saw the famous PBS Roy Buchanan special for the first time, and being similarly wowed).
My curiosity got the better of me and I picked up Bruce Bouton's pedal steel instructional video, and it seriously whetted my appetite to take a crack at this instrument. It's a bit of a scary thought for a regular guitarist, as you've got ten (or twelve) strings, an open tuning (the most popular tunings are E9th and C6th, but the problem is that there are variations on the tunings amongst players), and the addition not only of the pedals, but also the knee levers, which raise or lower the pitch of the strings affected (and not only that, but amongst players, there are variations in how the pedals and knee levers are set up, so that there's really no definitive standard setup). I suppose that as a standard guitar player, I can relate to the pedals and levers in the sense that they're sort of equivalent to putting fingers on the fretboard in various positions to form chords, but I've got a sneaking suspicion teaching myself the pedal steel is going to be an interesting exercise.
Actually buying a pedal steel is going to be an interesting exercise, since they aren't particularly stock items in music stores in the Northeast. The nearest dealer I could find who stocks pedal steel guitars is in Maryland, so it's a tad impractical to pop over and check one out. A pro-quality pedal steel is an expensive proposition, but the Carter Starter model goes for around $700 from various web dealers, and while it's not exactly an impulse purchase, is at least reasonable enough for something to knock around on to see if I can translate my six-string chops into something that makes some sense on the steel. There are plenty of great rock guitar players doubling on pedal steel (folks like Nils Lofgren and Ron Wood to name a couple of the biggies, and a very talented fellow named Eric Brenton who does some really neat stuff with Neal Morse), and being the sort who likes a challenge, I may just give this a shot.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
In the "Sometimes It's Hard To Be A Sopranos Fan" Department
A fabulous detail about Fulani, incidentally, is the hold that she seems to exert on the cast of The Sopranos. Dominic Chianese, who plays Uncle Junior, is a regular at the All Star Project, co-founded by Fulani and Newman, which puts on Newman's unwatchable dramas, and has taken along other members of the team, including James Gandolfini, for photo ops. Analyze that, if you dare.
The "Newman" referred to in the quote certainly isn't Wayne Knight's character on Seinfeld, but rather a character who seems to get all of Lyndon LaRouche's rejects. Needless to say, he and Fulani are thoroughly loathsome creatures, and they're tied in with folks like Ralph Nader, Louis "I Didn't Order The Hit On Malcolm But He Deserved It, Didn't He?" Farrakhan, and Pat Buchanan, who of course never met a member of the Totenkopf Schutzstaffel he didn't like and admire.
Sometimes separating the art from the artist is quite difficult sometimes. I recall a trip to Austria where we walked by the house Herbert Von Karajan was born, and I was going "Cool, my favorite conductor was born here" (OK, no lectures on conductors. I was younger then and was just beginning to explore classical music). Then I remembered who Von Karajan worked for in the 30s and 40s. And of course, one doesn't need to go very far in popular music to find examples of musicians who you really like who shoot their mouths off in ways that make any reasonable family-oriented person's skin crawl. I don't suppose I'll stop enjoying the Sopranos any more than I'll get rid of the parts of my music and media collection that have talented dunderheads entertaining me. I suppose I could live with most of the revenue being siphoned off by media conglomerates with the ethics of tapeworms, but one has to consider if we really are validating in some way the crap that these entertainers believe and associate with it, and if our hard-earned bucks are going into the pockets of someone like a Leonora Fulani.
Dominic, he who lies with dogs wakes up with fleas.
Oh, and Ralph? The Corvair was a great car.