Thursday, September 30, 2004

 

Une exercice de feu chinois

Chinese Fire Drill today, with a harrumphing sales type demanding a conference call at 4 because El Exigente (The Demanding Customer) is meeting with us on Monday afternoon, and he wants to make sure we send the right message. Needless to say this has resulted in my needing to craft various documents and Powerpoints with lots of instantiations of "synergy", "gap analysis", "remediation" and a ton of weasel words beloved by salespeople with absolutely no concept of technology or business. It also ends up absolutely clobbering any bandwidth I had at all today (not that today's all that enjoyable, as that cold from last week is returning with a vengeance and is bordering on bronchitis if my cough is any indication). Feh.

I must recount one minor amusing story before I disappear back into the realm of bullshit bingo meetings. Over the past few years, we've had some serious involuntary attrition at Respected Employer, and we were somewhat lacking in local resources to do Java development. Now, if you hear the words "Java developer", you automatically assume that will be handed to some guy named Sanjay working the lobster shift in Mumbai, but as I noted in a previous piece, if the code has business criticality, the only offshoring my clients want to do is send it to someplace reachable by PATH or New York Waterway. Since we're light on such resources, we've needed to resort to subcontractors, who by and large have been OK. For one particularly demanding Major Investment Bank, we provided a sub who had a glowing resume and qualifications from another Major Capital Markets Firm. When Major Investment Bank ran this gentleman through their background check, it turned out that when he was supposedly at Major Capital Markets Firm he was actually incarcerated for manslaughter. Needless to say Respected Employer has serious egg on its face (and I dearly would have loved to have seen the sales team squirm in the meeting).

I think that my current status can be neatly summarized as
10 Cough
20 GOTO 10

Robitussin. Chris Rock had the right idea.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

 

RIP Scott Muni


The dean of New York's disk jockeys passed away today. His career began as an archetypical fast talking Top 40 DJ, but he was best known as the backbone of the legendary and unfortunately departed progressive (I refuse to call it classic, because for its time, it was progressive) rock station WNEW-FM. Muni's measured, gravelly voice was a familiar sound until recently on New York's Q104.3, when a stroke incapacitated him. Muni's rapport led him to lasting friendships with rock's vanguard, including the Beatles. The radio interaction with musicians went from "What did you have for lunch?" to deeper sessions lasting hours where we could hear our favorite artists talking about what really interested them and what they were listening to. Most of all, Scott Muni kept the flames of the greatest rock music burning bright in an era when radio is more concerned with the demographic rather than the content.

 

Philosophy is to the real world as masturbation is to sex

Also posted on Blogcritics:

Unlike Pet Sounds, where you can set the CD player to shuffle and come up with a random auditory delight, this album warrants a serious listening session. It's a gorgeous, yet not necessarily an immediately easy listen. Sonically, the album is a first rate treat, recreating the feel of the original sessions and instrumentation. It's a bit jarring to realize that it isn't the Beach Boys on these tracks (including the vocal standouts Our Prayer, Cabin Essence and Surf's Up), yet the one thing that comes through on these tracks is the sheer enthusiasm for them, where the existing Beach Boy Smile fragments reek of nothing other than desultory going through the motions.

Our Prayer is juxtaposed with the early doo-wop "Gee", although "Gee" is altered into something else (As a side note "Gee" is co-credited to Morris Levy, undoubtedly the inspiration for Hesh on "The Sopranos"; Levy is also the ahem, co-writer of classic doo-wop such as "Why Do Fools Fall In Love"). The revamped "Heroes and Villains" is a much more satisfying, yet challenging effort than the original to my ears. If anything, the Beach Boys only fully realized "Heroes and Villains" on the great 1973 "In Concert" set, an album that put full-throated rock voicings to a lot of great songs like "Sail On Sailor" and "Marcella". The end of the first suite (for want of a better term) is the eerily beautiful "Cabin Essence", whose "Who ran the iron horse?" choral arrangement still sends chills down my spine.

The lushness of the arrangements works well with classics such as "Surf's Up" (another tragically underrated Beach Boys song and album) and "Good Vibrations", although the purists will cringe at the reworked lyrics of "Good Vibrations". The latter is especially poignant, as "Good Vibrations" was always Carl's song (there are affectionate dedications to Carl and Dennis in the liner notes, and the other members of the Beach Boys are notably absent in the acknowledgements).

While the arrangements are lush, the songs in many ways are simple, keeping to the original premise of "Dumb Angel". Not that much of this album can be heard out of context without a certain jarring sensation (although most of the previously mentioned tracks work well as standalones). It's definitely a whole being greater than the sum of its parts, as even on the instrumental "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow", there's little comparison with "Let's Go Away For A While" and "Pet Sounds".

It's rather hard to say even with the benefit of hindsight where "Smile" stands in relation to its "contemporaries". It isn't Lancashire with a touch of hallucinogens, and it feels a million miles away from "Pet Sounds", which was still recognizable territory (post-adolescent angst) for the listener. The ultimate product will probably be best compared with other contemporary sonic tapestries, some more absurd than others (the one that actually comes to mind of all things is Zappa's "Absolutely Free", with a more twisted American Gothic vision than this idealized one).
It's a worthy listen.

And now for something not posted on Blogcritics....

In the commerce is sometimes stranger than reality department, it seems that the Colombian Coffee Growers have opened a Juan Valdez coffee shop in Manhattan. Old Juan's been a pretty durable fixture in advertising, what's it been, 40 years? We always thought he was some sort of reaction to Savarin's El Exigente (The Demanding One, always spoken in Montalban-esque tones, no huge surprise since the actor who played El Exigente was Ricardo's brother Carlos). Mad even did a funny little bit about El Exigente passing on, and Juan Valdez doing the eulogy, but it does occur, do these guys think that there's any huge consumer loyalty because of old Juan? It's not as if there was a specific brand associated with it. I wonder exactly what blends they will use, because in my experience most supermarket coffees are mostly filler beans with just a touch of the good stuff for flavor, and if they're trying to promote purchase of supermarket quantities, the various formulations won't come anywhere close to what they're peddling in the shop. I know I'll probably be branded as hopelessly nekulturny, but my personal favorite coffee blends are Dunkin Donuts' and the blend the coffee cart vendors sell in Manhattan outside of the office buildings. I'll give Juan's a try for grins and giggles, though....

Finally, in the Quote Without (OK, maybe with a little) Comment Department check out this little pronouncement from TTBFKACS.....

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

 

When angry count to four; when very angry, swear

The Proprietor is in one seriously pissed mood today.

The reason for this is my former external hard drive, purveyed by a company called LaCie. It was quite reasonably priced for an external 160GB, and had a rock-solid case that apparently could stand up to the occasional impact of various toys and balls being thrown at it by the kids. There was one small caveat, one review suggested that the drive lacked durability. Pish tosh, I thought. I installed it around Christmastime, it ran fine and dandy, and eventually I moved it to 24/7 duty, figuring there would be worse wear with startups and shutdowns of the drive than just plain leaving it running. Yesterday, I shut the drive down (normally) for the first time since April, for some routine maintenance around the High Altar here. I fired up the main machine and hit the switch on the LaCie drive. Once the big box was up and running, I went to My Computer to reenable DLA for the DVD burner. I was mildly surprised to see that the external drive hadn't been recognized. Quickly moving into troubleshooting mode I moved it to other USB ports on the box, then moved it over to another computer to see if it would be recognized. No joy. At which point, I put my ear to the thing while it was powered up and heard silence. Ordinarily I relish quiet, but of course in this case it was the catalyst for the utterance of every four-, six-, seven-, ten- and twelve-letter Anglo-Saxon incantation and oath in my considerable profane vocabulary.

So what was lost? As I noted, it was primarily a backup drive, so I'm running naked for the moment (to be rectified later today). There was a collection of fully licensed software on there used for various projects, all of which is still available to me through Respected Employer, so I'll only need to invest some time getting those back. The big pain in the ass was the VMWare Virtual Machines I lost. I preferred to keep them on that drive as I use quite a few of them for various purposes. Ordinarily I would've backed them up to DVD media as a safety measure, however, all of the various patches that have come down the pike from Redmond and other vendors have made DVD burning a bit problematic (I suppose I should try an external burner just to eliminate the hardware from the equation, but having precious little time for experimentation I'll have to let that go for some time when finances and time permit). The biggest pain in the butt was the loss of my virtual machine that was a work laptop clone. The documents are saved in other places, so I'm not terribly worried about that, but back when I set it up in the first place it was a lot easier to bootstrap things because of the old VPN client. The new VPN client in theory can and should only be installed through the software distribution mechanism, but enough digging and pleading got me the installer and the correct parameters. So, I've got a lovely day ahead of me rebuilding and copying files.

Lessons learned here include not trusting consumer-grade stuff for mission-critical needs, and not to cheap out. As a friend of mine had a 20GB LaCie drive crap out on her last week (the drive being all of eight months old in her case), I won't consider another buying another one.

Cue the readership tsk tsking and something about shoemaker's children......

Update: New external drive in place. Critical VM recreated. Extra external for belt-and-suspenders coming this afternoon.

Courtesy of Blogcritics, we have this interesting absurd item:


Paul McCartney is involved in a campaign urging California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to ban foie gras. Last month, California's state legislature approved a bill to outlaw foie gras, and it now awaits Schwarzenegger's assent.


According to the BBC, McCartney wants California to be the first US state to ban foie gras pate, which is made, of course, by force feeding geese and ducks. Other stars, including Martin Sheen, Chrissie Hynde and Kim Basinger, are also calling for Schwarzenegger to approve the bill to outlaw the sale and production of the pate.


Paul, who was asked to write the letter by animal rights group Viva! USA, said: "There is clearly nothing humane about mechanically inducing disease in a bird by forcing a pipe down its throat and making it consume such an abnormal quantity of food that its liver expands many times its normal size. I feel sure that your natural feelings of compassion will encourage you to sign this basic humane bill into law."


Of course, when the company includes Martin Sheen, who spends most of his spare time getting arrested at various leftie be-ins, preferably at establishments for "special" weapons, and Kim Basinger, not especially known for her erudition and academic achievement, the impact of whatever the protest is for is seriously diluted and its credibility is nil IMSHO. I don't see their beloved French cutting down on their foie gras production and consumption (and I think that suggesting such to the petit bourgeoisie in the Perigord and Gascony who produce it would get a reaction similar to asking a real American to voluntarily give up his firearms). Personally I love foie gras. It's a once-a-year treat for me, but you know something? It's a product of family farmers, not big conglomerates. It's politically incorrect, which increases my enjoyment level immensely. I don't suppose that Macca et al have a clue how the producers and consumers would compensate for such a ban, typical of the idiots in the entertainment industry focusing on la causa without examining the impacts of it.

Monday, September 27, 2004

 

The most depraved type of being is that without purpose

So I installed XP SP2 last night on the main machine, no particular problems to report at the moment other than DVDXCopy appears to have been hosed by the upgrade (gee thanks Bill), although this machine is really sensitive to which recordable media I use. The generic DVDs from Staples seem to consistently fail, and TDKs are good about 70% of the time. I suppose the best test would be to buy an external DVD burner and see if the drive is somehow flaky, however, that'll have to wait for other moments when I have time to check things out. I've got a standard regimen for burning DVDs, disabling every background process I possibly can, DLA, screen savers, and the like, and there just seem to be times when DVDXCopy doesn't work. It sure as heck never works for a second burn in the same session, requiring a cold reboot. Thanks to the Political Whores Bought and Paid For By Disney (Hatch and Hollings, Primates) 321 Studios is of out of business and I have absolutely nowhere to turn for any sort of suggestion or support as to what to do. The other annoyance, of far less consequence, is that the new Windows Security Center reports Norton Anti Virus as installed but its status cannot be determined. If I don't let all the services start on the machine before logging in, Norton usually indicates itself as disabled for about a minute or so after logging in, then indicates normally. It's just that I really, really hate little red icons in my system tray (that's the consultant's traffic light model talking), and I don't care to disable anything in SP2 until such time as I know exactly what's going on. I suppose I should practice what I preach and turn this box into a nice Linux box with VMWare for the Windows functions I can't live without (i.e. Quicken), but being a busy and lazy sort that will have to wait for quieter times.

Lots of neat stuff has come out and is coming out this week that I want to take a look at. The new Neal Stephenson book is out, and after being wowed by Cryptonomicon, I have religiously acquired the books in the books in the Baroque Cycle, but have to find a couple of quiet weekends to actually crack the books open. Likewise with Alastair Reynolds' SF Revelation Space trilogy. The first book was one of the best new hard SF books I've read in quite a while, but time being the most precious commodity of all the subsequent books are on hold until some quiet time is available (the Munsters' raven would probably have the best comeback for this one!) Very much looking forward to Smile on Tuesday, although the purist in me cringes at the thought of a redone Good Vibrations, and next week Jan Akkerman comes out with a live DVD. I was quite surprised and pleased to see that Akkerman was still around and up to getting this out, and I must admit to looking forward to seeing how Hocus Pocus is really played. I would imagine that there will unfortunately be precious little closeups of Jan playing the guitar in the same mode of most performance videos (most every filmed performance of Hendrix focuses on his facial expressions at precisely the moments you want to see what's going on the fretboard, but the reality intruding is that most videos and films are made for the profanum vulgus, and not for the Stratocaster wielders).

Once again, Little Green Footballs proves itself indispensable with an interesting pointer to an article that claims that the "De Gaulle option" is our best exit strategy from Iraq. Considering that said strategy resulted in several nearly successful attempts on la grande Zohra's worthless hide, and over the long term resulted in banlieues and voisinages that are no-go zones not only for the petit bourgeousie but the postal, fire and police departments as well, the author of said article must have a horrid sense of history and weltanschung. Needless to say there is considerable incentive for a lot of parties to insure a less-than-smooth sojourn for the coalition, not the least of which being certain European countries who could be considerably embarassed by whatever revelations of dealings with the former regime are being suppressed. These types have some inherent belief in French and German honor, something easily dispelled by a simple perusal of history books. Examining the course of France after a successful OAS operation against la gande Zohra might be an astonishing exercise in alternate history (and likely would have resulted in a France far more cognizant of the threat it created for itself by giving Ben Bella and his ilk their way, leading by example for other more notorious vermin such as Arafat who are pestering the lovers of freedom to this day)

Sunday, September 26, 2004

 

Women should be obscene and not heard

Here's a real howler from The Terrorist Bagman Formerly Known As Cat Stevens. It seems that TTBFKACS is "initiating legal action" against the US because of his deportation. His reason for a visit to the US was somehow very vague, and on at least one board there was a suggestion that he would be "recording in Nashville". Now, considering that off the top of my head I can name at least three world-class recording studios in London that most musicians in the world would give their eye teeth to cut tracks in (that joint up in St. John's Wood near the crosswalk being the first one that comes to mind) and he wants to schlep to Nashville, for what, local color? Not to mention that there's absolutely no word of any new product coming out from him, something which any journeyman publicist would be all over months in advance (look at how the hype was nicely set up for "Smile" if you need an example). We can also reasonably imply that sensitive singer songwriters aren't necessarily endorsed by your average mullatollahs (the approval of Queen for public consumption in Iran sort of strikes me as analogous to those cynical Politburoniks who finally said it was OK for Russian kids to listen to the Beatles in the late 70s and early 80s, figuring it was just harmless kid stuff). While TTBFKACS might feel his dignity has been sullied, the simple fact remains that any country has the right to say who can visit. Permission to enter a country is a right and not a privilege.

Which of course brings us to Egypt and Mrs. Ritchie, where she is now persona non grata for visiting You Know Who (and if you need to understand the genesis of the term You Know Who, check out Tom Lehrer's immortal "Who's Next" from "That Was The Year That Was") and for the despicable action of become El Yahoud. Apart from the fact that Mrs. Ritchie hasn't formally converted to El Yahoud, and is into Kabbalah because of its trendiness by any reasonable observer, the action says an awful lot about the differences in countries. TTBFKACS was flagged by intelligence services as having contacts that might be distinctly unhealthy for any normal citizen to be around, and for moving money around for people who are entirely too concerned with rapid oxidation and air movements as long as it involves killing El Yahoud and Dar Al Kalb. Mrs. Ritchie on the other hand is merely an attention grabbing dilettante who's looking for the latest and greatest solution to the emptiness in her soul. If she were truly interested in Judaism and not celebrity voodoo, the process for conversion is well defined (tradition dictates that a rabbi turn down someone seeking conversion to Judaism three times, or at least to vigorously discourage the potential convert who might not realize what he or she is taking on). I do hope she finds what she's looking for on her journey (as I vigorously suppress the Henny Youngman reflex...)

Finally, even though this one is making the e-mail joke rounds it made me laugh hard enough to post it:

The Top 12 Signs the Call Center Employee You're Dealing With Is Overseas


12> Rather than reboot your PC to fix the problem, she suggests you sacrifice a chicken.
11> "John Smith... could you please spell that for me, sir?"
10> The hold music? Nothing but sitars, gongs, pan flutes and bagpipes.
9> He tells you the problem with your Gateway computer is that you're worshipping false bovine idols..
8> The loud noises in the background are perfectly in sync with exploding bombs on live CNN war coverage.
7> "[Burrrp!] So sorry -- my fermented yak milk is repeating on me today."
6> Her first step toward solving your DVD player problem is instructing you to "ejaculate the disk."
5> To sweeten the deal, he offers to throw in a couple of Russian orphans.
4> "And while I have you on the phone, Mrs. Smith, may I tell you about my aunt, the widow of the deceased chief secretary to the deposed Prince Regent of Nigeria? You see, he's living in exile and he has all of this money...."
3> "I'm sorry, Wing-Ma took the morning off for maternity leave. She'll be back after lunch."
2> "Boy, what a commute this morning. My bus plunged off a mountainside -- again!"
1> "Hi, my name is Bob Deathtoamerica. How may I help you?"



Friday, September 24, 2004

 

Days of Awe

First, best wishes for a speedy recovery to Beach Boy Bruce Johnston, who's recovering from cardiac bypass surgery. Bruce is doing well enough to briefly interact online, and will rejoin the touring group in November. Bruce contributed some incredible harmonies on "California Girls" and "God Only Knows", but strangely didn't get an official credit as a Beach Boy until the "Wild Honey" album.

Today's a Chinese Fire Drill Day, in that something has suddenly popped up that needed to be done yesterday, and that the truly appropriate people who should be tasked with doing this have managed to fob it off on me, therefore I really have to buckle down this morning and get it done, as I really, really want to be done before Yom Kippur starts, and I don't want it hanging over my head until Monday.

I'm not terribly comfortable with the Yom Kippur services I attend. Logistics dictate a Reform temple for me, and frankly, although the rabbi isn't a bad sort (although I really dislike his admiration of certain liberal icons), the services seem so watered down I don't feel any specifically Jewish connection with them. Lots of prayers in English, and a lot of repetition, one huge pet peeve with me. There's an old story where someone asks why a religious scholar prays so quickly, yet studies so slowly, and the scholar answers, "When I pray, I'm talking to God. When I study, God talks to me". That hugely resonates with me for some reason, in that as I take stock of myself and ask forgiveness in these Days of Awe, I don't think God particularly cares whether the service is exquisitely choreographed with choirs and soloists and choral speaking. I think God cares whether the person truly atones for his or her sins, and does so honestly and humbly. The setting isn't what matters. Another story is that at one nightfall, an observant, but unlearned man found himself without a prayer book, and said, "Dear God, I don't have my prayer book, but since you know all prayers, I'll recite the alphabet tonight, and you can form them into the prayers for me". God found that supplication more worthy than all other prayers that day for its simple honesty and humility. Trappings of services and wrapping oneself in holy garb doesn't necessarily make one a better person. Remember, the problem is never God, it's the fan club.

To all, my best wishes.....

Thursday, September 23, 2004

 

Shaken, Not Stirred

Yesterday's news brought mention of one of my all-time favorite characters, none other than Jimmy Swaggart. While the news item itself merely concerned itself with one of Swaggart's asinine pronouncements, it's always good to see old Jimmy get some more visibility, even if he does (pardon the expression) look like hell. I used to get a real kick out of watching Swaggart on Sunday nights; PBS would occasionally run favorites like Monty Python, Fawlty Towers or The Prisoner which would distract me, but old Jimmy ran on what is now the UPN station (notorious for running old Warner Oland movies and the like) in a traditionally dead spot, and boy did he give us a hoot for Monday AM. You'd pass on the opening musical segments with the people who got rejected from Lawrence Welk for being too wholesome (BTW, I won't diss old Lawrence. His stuff wasn't my cup of tea, but he always put on a consummately professional show and he was a gentleman by all accounts, so I'll indicate my respect for the man), then Jimmy would come on and brother, was he open for business. By some accounts, Bruce Springsteen stole shtick from Jimmy, and you know, even if you weren't into his message, you had to respect the showmanship and the passion he put into it. Of course, after the show they put the bite on you, with his none-too-exciting son and formidable wife portraying the happiest of families while trying to con pensioners out of their Social Security checks to support transmitting the program into Tannu Tuva and building their own little empire in Baton Rouge. Then of course, he made the televangelists' consistent fatal mistake - he got caught. Not quite as bad as Bakker, but salacious enough (moral - don't tick off a fellow minister when you've got skeletons in your closet). Funny how it seems these guys have a penchant for getting into this kind of pickle, witness Paul Crouch's (my current absurd favorite) bit of dirty laundry being aired (and his wife, hoo boy. Tammy Bakker is an amateur compared to her.....). You have to love these guys even when they do something really bizzaro. My personal favorite was John Hagee dancing around on the stage/pulpit with a tallis, and for all the world looking like a fat Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

 

I've had a wonderful time, but this wasn't it

First things first, I want to thank all of my readers in the military. You guys are the real peacemakers, and you don't get enough thanks for all that you do. Stay safe, and I'm pulling for each and every one of you. Thank you again, guys.

Once again, Little Green Footballs proves what an invaluable resource it is by finding this piece about why Reuters is appeasing terrorists. The money quote in the article:
Schlesinger repeated this statement in a recent radio interview with CBC, when he described the 'serious consequences' if certain 'people in the Mideast' were to believe Reuters called such men 'terrorists.'

Certain people in the Mideast? I don't think they especially mean the shtreimel boys. Reuters is something that's an interesting case for me, as I regularly need to deal with them because of their importance in financial market data. Oh, Bloomberg may have better analytics, but even though they call it Open Bloomberg nowadays it's a far easier job to interface your pricing and portfolio systems with Reuters than with Mayor Mike's stuff. Truth be told, at least Reuters documented the stuff far better than any other market data vendor, and unless you wanted to roll your own ticker plant they are pretty much the big provider for the big boys in everything other than vanilla equities quotes. They aren't popular though, as I know several market data types who have a conniption when the word Triarch is mentioned. Reuters is in a bad position in that they have to change their data model to their recently-acquired Bridge network's paradigm in order to keep up with the rapid pace of data and new meta- and value-added data that's required in today's financial markets. This will force a lot of financial houses to put some serious investment into redesigning and rearchitecting their pricing and portfolio systems. That's serious bucks, and given the sensitivity of it, it won't be offshored. That I can guarantee. Oh, the big guys on the Street will put the plumbing and analytics development in Hyderabad without thinking, but if it even remotely touches real-time stuff, guaranteed the furthest that code will go will be Jersey City or Weehawken.

Which brings us back to Reuters. Presumably there will be some major pressure applied from the people who actually make their money for things to be done their way (you don't think reporting from spit,feh Palestine makes money for them, do you? Hell no. The money that keeps Reuters running for the most part comes from trading floors). The people at the institutions who provide Reuters' greatest revenues like things quiet, and would be disinclined to pressure Reuters on semantics, because it'll increase volatility. They'd call in the hit squads if a data field was moved and increased their risk, but they won't stand for a damn principle of calling a spade a spade.

The minor howler of the day is MTV's review of "Sky Captain". They gave it a thumbs-up but my nitpicking got this lovely little bit from the review:

The eerie posthumous presence of the digitized image of Sir Laurence Olivier ("courtesy of TMĀ©2003 Wheelshare Limited as successor to the estate of Sir Laurence Olivier by www.dmgworldwide.com, www.laurenceolivier.com," which would look really awkward above the title) as Dr. Totenkopf (that's "dead head" in German)

Obviously the guy who wrote this is unfamiliar with German. The word "Totenkopf" means "Death's Head", as in skull and crossbones. Not "dead head" as in fan of the band formerly known as The Warlocks. Totenkopf is of course the name of the notorious SS division that ran the vernichtungslagers, and there's enough symbolism attached to the term without that horrible karmic baggage to make it notoriously iconographic. Interestingly enough, the Yiddish term for "Death's Head" is tsaylem, which is also used to refer to a cross or crucifix.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

 

Adulterated Bile

One of my favorite jokes applicable to Memogate goes like so:
At a Party rally in Red Square, Stalin announces, "Comrades, I have received a telegram from Trotsky! It reads 'You were right. I was wrong. You are the true heir of Lenin. I should apologize'!" Thunderous cheers erupt, however, a small man in the front row signals Comrade Stalin discreetly. Stalin says, "Yes, Comrade?" "Comrade Stalin, for such a momentous message, perhaps it needs reading with a bit more emotion to properly express the sentiments". Stalin waves his arms for the throng to stop cheering and announces, "Comrades, this fine Soviet citizen believes he should read the telegram to you to express the true importance of this occasion. Come up to the stage, Comrade". The little man ascends to the podium, takes the telegram from Stalin, adjusts his glasses and reads "YOU were RIGHT and I was WRONG?????? YOU are the TRUE heir of Lenin??????? I should apologize?!?!?!?!"

One of my current pet peeves is the increasing move to electronic statements and check images rather than cancelled checks. Apart from wanting to control my own destiny more closely, I rather dislike the thought of a statement disappearing somewhere into the bit bucket, and not popping up in e-mail. That paper statement sitting in the inbox on the desk is a lot more comforting in that I know it's going to bug me until I go ahead and pay the darn bill (which I much prefer to do electronically, incidentally). I'm just a bit squirelly with the thought of needing to produce a cancelled check somewhere outside the quote unquote normal time frame you'd need it (I've gotten dunning bills from doctors from years ago for copays paid by check that their stupid billing clerks never properly recorded, and it's awfully fun to fax the check over with a nastygram on the cover sheet). Having been around banks and financial institutions and seen some of the technology implementations, I can say that sometimes a bit of knowledge is too much for one's own good, as the archiving and HSM systems in a lot of these institutions leave quite a bit to be desired. Let's just say that they are works in progress. The thought of a statement vanishing somewhere into the ether is ordinarily not one of huge concern, however in the case of a company which reports to one of the major credit bureaus, you're not going to get the friendly "Did you forget to send the check?" treatment before you're marked lousy with a credit reporting agency. And if for some reason you do need to clear a black mark with Experian et al, remember that once you get the nice letter from the creditor saying that all is copacetic, it'll still take them at least 90 days until it gets purged (if it does indeed get purged at all). It says an awful lot about mainframe job scheduling and databases, not to mention just how old some of the code that manages this is. And even worse, thanks to Congress, there is no legal recourse against either the creditors or the reporters if there is a foulup. Arrrrgh.....

Spam's up to about 40% on my private e-mail addy over the last couple of weeks. In certain ways I think the KGB did have things right, at least in the case of how to deal with persistent or potentially persistent issues. Start by removing digits, proceed to genitalia, and send the dismembered results to other persons or organizations likely to be persistent issues. The only thing spammers will understand is painful retribution, as undoubtedly they will be counseled or sanctioned by whatever international and local authorities who might deign to take responsibility for such issues. Speaking of which, can someone please bitch slap Kofi Annan? Please. I'll be your best friend....

Monday, September 20, 2004

 

Monday

The beginnings of a nasty cold are laying me low today, and I'm not feeling very verbose. A quick look at who's reading shows an interesting mix, and I thank all of you who spend a few moments of your precious time reading these rants. Taking a look at who comes in randomly, I see that a lot of searches come from people interested in guitars, Bugs Bunny, and various New York ephemera. Once they come in, they usually hang around for a while perusing the other articles on the site, and I hope that they too will become regular readers.

For the entertainment value du jour, I humbly propose a pool for the readers on which event will happen first with the now-Mrs. Federline - birth of a child sometime less than nine months from now, amicable separation, or appearance in a men's magazine. My money is on the first, especially given her glowing appearance. My perception is that the other two scenarios will occur sometime within the next couple of years, and we're merely waiting on an implosion somewhere on the order of Dana Plato's. Odds will be posted as soon as I have some sort of probabilistic basis other than sheer gut prognostication.

I've been studiously avoiding commenting on Memogate for the simple reason of so many other bloggers having more time to devote to a quality analysis, but I must admit to a certain anticipatory delight in waiting for CBS' dance around this one. I never understood the perception of CBS as the most respected broadcast institution, other than the fact their coverage of the space program in its heyday had an excellent reputation. Funny enough, towards the end of Apollo, I perceived a major falloff in the quality of Uncle Walter's presentations in the coverage, and much preferred the other networks' coverage, even though Uncle Walter indeed occasionally managed to snag Werner von Braun himself for the show (and don't forget one thing about Uncle Werner; since he was a Junker, it was de rigeur for him to join the Allgemeine SS, quite voluntarily. The Allgemeine uniform of course was the notorious black threads).

Sunday, September 19, 2004

 

Vamos A La Playa

A guest editorial in the Sulzberger Entity deigns to opine on Brian Wilson's upcoming Smile release. The writer makes a very valid point in that the original songs were written for the Beach Boys' voices, an instrument as unique and distinct as Hal Blaine's drums or Roger McGuinn's Rickenbacker, and that it is somehow sacrilegious to hear Smile finally voiced by others. Interesting thought, in that we've actually heard a lot of Smile already, not just Good Vibrations and Heroes and Villains, but the more obscure stuff like Vegetables and Cabinessence is out there. Cabinessence is a particularly interesting track (I've also seen it titled as Cabin Essence), with a wildly alternating theme that runs the gamut from a plinky, rubato bluegrassy part to a ghostly chanting chorus, with an oddball rideout with lyrics about the Grand Coulee Dam (Van Dyke Parks had an oddball sense of humor). The chanting chorus part is a wonderful showcase of the Beach Boys vocal prowess, yet it's one of the least commercial tracks ever released by them; it's almost creepy in its provenance.

It's interesting to compare Cabinessence with the Beach Boys other more commercial tracks of the time frame. The Beach Boys were an unbelievable live band in the late 60s and early 70s (check out Live In London and the 1973 In Concert sets for great examples) with really cool uptempo stuff like Break Away, Aren't You Glad and I Can Hear Music (one of my favorite Carl vocals), incidentally) for the pop side, and great rockers like Sail On Sailor. Brian didn't really lose his commercial touch, but a lot of the studio tracks of the time have instrumentation that's for want of a better word, rinky dink. For instance, the piano on a lot of those records has the sound of an out-of-tune upright that's been sitting in a spinster's living room, and the guitars have no oomph whatsover. The latter observation is something that plagued the Beach Boys records pretty much since the beginning. Dick Dale was getting a much fuller guitar sound with the exact same setup that the Beach Boys and their studio musicians were using. The guitars on the Beach Boys' records are always thin and unsatisfying, although on the two live sets previously mentioned they've got some really great tone (Carl, may he rest in peace, was a great live player, and Al could always get a good tone live out of his white Stratocaster).

Brian's recent live sets have been very joyous performances, even allowing for the limitations of his voice (The Wondermints covered nicely for him, and Jeffrey Foskett leads a first rate band; I was very pleased with the quality of the Pet Sounds live set and amazed at how they really nailed the instrumentals). The problem of course is that these records aren't the Beach Boys doing those songs, and what passes for the Beach Boys nowadays is an insult to their legacy and importance. I remember seeing them Christmastime 1972, and even without Brian, you sensed an unbelievably special quality of the performance. The mix of songs was so eclectic, yet you knew they would finish up with a killer combination of Good Vibrations, Surfing USA, Barbara Ann and Fun Fun Fun and leave the hall dancing. The last time I saw the Beach Boys (around 1992) the show was far less joyous. There was little eye contact and interaction amongst the band. Even Carl, who held the band together, couldn't be bothered with the effort to pretend that it was anything more than an oldies show. Mike Love just hogged the show, and overpowered any sense of community. We left with a bad taste in our mouths. Funny enough, I picked up a CD of Al Jardine's current band (which included Brian's daughters and Al's sons), and it felt much more like a real Beach Boys show than that travesty I saw in the Meadowlands.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

 

Absolutely No Value Added In This Post

Well, I'm somehwat disappointed that Dick Clark didn't show the Giant Matzoh Ball dropping on Wednesday evening. I think he got the zmanim wrong (that's an in-joke, son). Back to our normal round of skewering today...

The good stuff first - I took the kiddies to see Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow last night, and apart from the insane prices at the theater for admission and refreshments (note to Loew's - find some primate that can actually serve the popcorn and sodas at a rate greater than one every six minutes; this isn't exactly rocket science), we had a blast. I've always been a sucker for old serial-type movies, I must've paid to see Raiders Of The Lost Ark four or five times when it came out, and I religiously watched Flash Gordon chapters shown by a local PBS station. Great art deco vision of New York in the '30s, although the movie totally avoids mention of certain real life villains of the time frame (although interestingly enough the name of the villain is Dr. Totenkopf, which translates as Death's Head, and of course was the name of the murder squads of said real life villains). Lots of real cool allusions to Buck Rogers, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and even Operation Crossbow and Captain Scarlet of all things. Suitably cheesy acting from Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, and wonderful CGI (you know, they did pretty darn good considering all of the backgrounds were generated through CGI and they had to react to stuff they couldn't see). Lots of fun, and recommended.

I had hoped that the Olsen twins would gracefully fade into obscurity upon their attaining majority, however, they're still managing to annoy people through the injudicious use of publicists and wo es rauch gibt, den es feuer gibt behavior. The latest news item planted on their behalf finds them hawking Happy Meals for Chez McDonald's in Chiracistan. I understand that Mary Kate will be pushing Le Grande Froid Sirop de Ipecac as the healthy alternative to Coca Cola.

Mrs. Kerry made a lovely little point about hurricane relief the other day, saying that kids should go naked while other priorities were sorted out, such as water and food. Anyone who does disaster work will of course tell you that things like clean water, food, water and shelter are priorities in that situation, and that people can live for a bit in dirty clothes. However, there's something awfully dismissive and heartless about the way she phrased this. After seeing those poor kids in Beslan, I'm appalled at the way she can so casually use that terminology. Every time she opens her mouth reminds me a lot of this....


In a stunning example of the continued irrelevance of Rolling Stone magazine, they've traced rock music's origin to none other than Elvis Presley. Never mind folks like Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and the early doo-woppers like the original Drifters (Clyde McPhatter's lineup). Presley in a lot of ways was a musical dead end, and if you really look at what were the foundations of rock, you'd see the aforementioned Messrs. Penniman and McDaniel, along with Mr. Berry and Mr. Holly at the top of the list.

The NY Daily News reports that black activists were demonstrating at the magazine's offices yesterday, calling for "reparations". OK, we all know that most of those guys got royally screwed, and that there was no way that Morris Levy co-wrote "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" with Frankie Lymon (interesting reference to that on "The Sopranos"; Levy was a real gonif, and thought nothing of messing on other people's territory. Apparently he was the one behind the notorious "Alpha Omega" Beatles greatest hits bootleg, and forced John Lennon to record the "Rock and Roll" album because of Lennon's borrowing of the "flat top" line in "Come Together"). Needless to say, the second you hear the word "activist" the word "shakedown" comes to mind.

Brings up another interesting point, the vox populi as depicted in the Daily News. Most of the letters seem to either be in response to other letters, telling the original correspondents off in monosyllables, or complaining about the most parochial of matters. For some reason, WCBS-FM seems to big a big topic for correspondents to pick on, complaining that they no longer play their favorite musical distractions. Funny that people would choose this forum to complain about it, as I'm sure that the management of WCBS-FM doesn't give a rodent's hindquarters about what the Letters To The Editor page of the News says, only caring that they get their Arbitrons and keep their advertisers happy. Sorry guys. but the audience for doo-wop doesn't have the demographic that keeps ad rates high. WCBS-FM would change format to Slobbovian folk dances if it improved their ratings. Pitiful...


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

 

If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull

Unfortunately short shrift day today, as there's a big meeting at noon I've been dragooned into, and then it's time to get ready for the holiday. No postings until Saturday AM, as I have to show at least a tiny bit of respect for the religion of my forefathers (cue a ticked-off frummie going, "Nu, posting on Shabbos????" Which actually brings up an interesting point, as a friend of mine grew up, quite Jewish, looking very Jewish, with a recognizably Jewish name in Borough Park, and the local frummie community would regularly ask him "Are you Jewish?". They couldn't bear the thought of a young man not walking around in the clothes of a 17th century Polish nobleman....)

The rant today is about the big meeting and the various preparations for it. The client is a big client of ours, with mixed emotions about us. Sometimes they hate us like poison, and other times they just hate us period. Needless to say, there are about seven or eight sales types interjecting constantly into the meeting preparations all about the need to "tell a story" to the client (the personification of which just happened to formerly work for us, so he knows the "story" all too well). We're a big firm (you'd know the name if I mentioned it, but discretion being the better part of chicken-liveredness I'll refrain from doing so), and there's really no story to tell other than that yes, we've got a boatload of smart people working here, and we can do the project. The sales guys are in love with Powerpoints, and they're insisting on every different kind of slide with chevrons, arrows piercing planes, multi-dimensional problems represented as icons that look like complex hydrocarbon molecules, in short every managment consulting sales cliche that is imaginable being thrown into a fifteen page Powerpoint that says we're good for your company. Now, it so happens that I've done work for this particular client on one occasion, and they're not bad sorts at all to work with, but they really, and I mean really dislike our sales guys. The gig I did with this client was kind of sensitive due to the fact that the business unit engaged us to check up on the technology guys, and since we ordinarily sell to technology guys, the sales guys didn't want us saying anything that would screw up the gravy train. Needless to say the sales team was demanding daily reports and implying that we'd better say that things were copascetic or else. As it turned out, things were more than copascetic, and we actually had a fun time meeting with everybody and giving a comfort level, but a very senior person at this client (C-level, major, and I mean major, financial services institution) said in reference to one sales person who was very concerned about the whole affair, "Don't bring that ZZZZ into the meeting". The big meeting went smoothly, and there was little static about the whole thing, except from the sales guys who felt they'd been cut out of the whole process. To quote Charles Johnson, Bwahahahahaha!!!!.

I understand that season 2 of Rocky and Bullwinkle is out on DVD, and it's got a couple of the biggies on it, Upsadasium and The Oogle Boid. Unfortunately the Kirwood Derby isn't on this one. Think about it, the Kirwood Derby arc wasn't all that funny, unless you actually really know who Durwood Kirby was and of his absurd reaction to the whole thing (the apocrypha says he threatened to sue Jay Ward over the sullying of his sterling reputation).

I'll leave the typography wars to everyone who's already jumped in in the blogosphere, however, this eBay auction has the last word on the subject :-)

To everyone, L'shana tova tikasevu, and may you be inscribed in the Book Of Life.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

 

Reductio Ad Absurdum

Nominations for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame came out yesterday. As if you didn't expect it, this causes certain observational tendencies to come out, and I feel compelled to comment. While there were certainly many nominees that I heartily agreed with, there was one that I vehemently disagree with, for the simple reason that it isn't rock and roll. Not that not being a rocker is necessarily a disqualification from being part of the rock hagiography, people like Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash and Louis Jordan certainly are appropriate inductees. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five is the nominee in question. Why does this nomination bother me? Because if one was to borrow a theological metaphor, hip-hop is to rock as replacement theology is to ecumenism. Someone will undoubtedly cite Run-DMC and Aerosmith's collabortion, much less the Beastie Boys and all sorts of vile combinations like Linkin Park as justification that rock and hip-hop are connected. Spiritual brethren, perhaps, but not connected; divergent might be the right term.

Someone on Voxtalks made an acerbic observation that it Grandmaster Flash is to be inducted into the rock hall of fame (I refuse to capitalize the organization as a proper noun because yet again The Ventures have been rudely neglected in the nominations) the odds of a reciprocating nomination for Paul Revere and The Raiders in the hip-hop hagiographic halls were somewhat low. True enough, as kids who listen to hip-hop would likely make a face at best at Mark Lindsay and Company, but there will undoubtedly come punditry that will say, "but hip-hop's got the rebellious rock attitude, therefore it belongs". I think there's a bit of difference between Eddie Cochran and some clod rhythmically shouting into a microphone at SPLs that distort the capsule about hos and the improper use of Tek-9s. Once in the subway, I noticed a poster of Wyclef Jean, plugging his latest appearance (with a small print notice that Lauryn Hill, apparently the star of the show, would definitely not be appearing), and the photo of Mr. Jean reminded me nothing else of Bob Dylan, ca. 1966. "Ahh, there's rock attitude" I though in a moment of political correctness, thereupon suddenly realizing that Mr. Jean was likely partaking of Mr. Dylan's favorite pause that refreshes and thus had the same vacant "I don't care" look as an obvious consequence.

I well remember the early days of hip-hop and rap, as it quickly became very pervasive and shut out any music we considered palatable from clubs. One memorable evening around 1979 , a friend mentioned how while on jury duty, a fellow juror had deemed rap/hip-hop "universal", and everything we were listening to irrelevant. We then dissected a rap record currently en vogue, drawing horselaughs from the forum at such profundities in the quote unquote lyrics as "I said damn!", rhythmically spoken like an elementary school presentation. I asked my friend if the young lady who had made her pronouncement on the universality of rap listened to anything along the lines of Jerry Butler or Otis Redding, and my friend's headshaking indicated that she obviously didn't.

Monday, September 13, 2004

 

Semolina Pilchard

Portions of this review are also posted on Blogcritics.

The obvious question in recording any Beatles tribute album is "Why?". The original canon is holding up nicely forty years down the road, and most of the "tributes" that come out in various media are either bizarre affairs or add no value to the proceedings whatsoever. Oddly enough, the ones that are actually fun are those done by the various tribute bands, more as a memento of a live show, but occasionally with a great live interpretation of songs the Beatles never performed live. The group 1964 The Tribute did precisely that, with a live album that had an excellent four piece rendition of "And Your Bird Can Sing" (the original recording of course featured that wondrous harmony lead guitar line, played by George and Paul, but it's of course exceedingly difficult to reproduce correctly live if the band is in character as the Beatles in their touring days; it's certainly possible to play a very credible version with only a "George" handling lead, but it isn't going to match the original recording).

Yellow Matter Custard is a (pardon the expression) supergroup composed of neo-prog-rock faves Neal Morse (Spock's Beard) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theatre), guitar magazine cover icon Paul Gilbert and Matt Bissonette. There's some excellent musicianship in this group, which likely had its genesis in Transatlantic, which featured Morse and Portnoy regularly covering Beatles songs, including "Strawberry Fields Forever" on "Live In America" and most of the second side of Abbey Road on "Live In Europe". The versions on those albums are respectful, yet allow the band's personality to come through, and are actually a bit of an inspiration to a few of us weekend band warriors looking to expand our repertoire a bit beyond the obvious. Morse's "Testimony" DVD features some behind the scenes video of the band goofing around on Beatles songs backstage and on the bus, and it's obvious that Morse wanted to do a full-blown Beatles tribute project. This of course isn't something where they're in character as the Fabs, more along the lines of an ongoing tribute project called the Fab Faux. The Fab Faux, unlike a lot of tribute acts don't stock their stage with the Beatles preferred toolset (various Rickenbackers, Gretsches, Hofners and Epiphones, Vox amps) but merely concentrate on reproducing the canon as best they can. Yellow Matter Custard is in that same vein, however,some photos on the album show Morse with a Rickenbacker 360/12, and Bissonette with a Hofner. Truth be told, most bands reproducing the Beatles mid-period live don't have the correct amplification, for as lovely as a Vox AC30 sounds, the sounds of Revolver and Sgt. Pepper were more those of the ultra-rare Vox 7120 (and other than the 1966 US tour, the Beatles were never known to have used the Vox Super Beatle amps produced under license by Thomas Organ).

This is a one-off live show, and it shows in the looseness of the performance. Even though most anyone who's picked up an electric guitar sometime in the last 40 years has played Beatles songs, there are a few flubbed words (not that the lads themselves didn't pull a few boners with lyrics onstage themselves, the live version of "Help" on Anthology being a notable example. This actually leads to an interesting side discussion as to what went on with the alleged sweetening of the Shea Stadium concert soundtrack. Although it's obvious that the studio version of "Act Naturally" was used in the film with overdubbed screams, there are just too many clunkers in "Twist and Shout" and "I Feel Fine", obviously caused by the huge screaming as well as the heat of the evening that would've been edited out in any real sweetening of the concert audio). The great part of this is that although it's obviously just a one-off, the band is having a high old time playing this stuff, and the choices are sufficiently eclectic to make any Beatles fan smile.

That said, sometimes the tempos of the songs seem off. Oh, they're keeping time just fine, but more than a few of the songs are a touch too fast. Another bit of a jarring note is that the drums and the bass are rather thundering. Given Portnoy and Bissonette's excellent chops, it sounds great, but Ringo and Paul are lighter players without a lot of thudding about (and of course we have to take into account the technical limitations of recordings from those days, the sound of the Beatles CDs for the most part coming nowhere near what primo condition Beatles vinyl can sound like). During "Revolution", Paul Gilbert launches into a bit of fretboard tapping to accent the keys, and it's way too incongruous for my taste. On the same track, the distortion tone on what would be John's part just seems a touch wimpy, surprising for a band with these chops and quals.

Looking at the set list, early stuff includes "You Can't Do That", "I Call Your Name", "I'll Be Back", "When I Get Home". a couple of rarely covered tracks from Beatles For Sale - "Baby's In Black" and "No Reply", and a great trio from Help, "The Night Before", "You're Gonna Lose That Girl" and "Ticket To Ride". A couple of personal favorites from Rubber Soul are included, "Think For Yourself" and "Wait" (I've only heard "Wait" covered once before, by the Gin Blossoms of all people, who also did a dynamite version of the Byrds' "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" that evening). Revolver unfortunately is underrepresented, although there's a very good "She Said She Said". "Rain" and "I Am The Walrus" are excellent. Lots of the original tracks' sound effects were sampled for the show, giving both "I Am The Walrus" and "A Day In The Life" an almost too-authentic air (in certain ways I wish that Morse and the additional keyboard player had just come up with their own parts that approximated the originals; it's a bit disconcerting to go from the live tracks to the originals then back. Any veteran of the New York metro area bar band circuit will tell tales of how bands like Yasgur's Farm, Zebra and Rat Race Choir had great keyboard parts for songs in the English prog-rock genre as far back as the mid 70s). Abbey Road is also underrepresented, with only "Come Together", Oh Darling" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" covered on the CD. A couple of oddball choices are "Free As A Bird" and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)".

The problem of course with any eclectic set list like this is that a couple of pieces you might want to hear are necessarily excluded, say "I Need You" or "Another Girl". The tribute cover sometimes misfires badly, amazingly enough in the case of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers' sappy performance at The Concert For George (which was a major disappointment, as Petty has always done some pretty fierce Byrds covers, and it isn't that far a stretch to do "Taxman"), but there are no misfires here, just incongruities because the originals are so ingrained in us that even the slightest "treatment" will cause our inner nitpickers to rise to the occasion.

The complete track list:
CD 1

  1. Magical Mystery Tour
  2. Dear Prudence
  3. Dig a Pony
  4. She Said She Said
  5. I Call Your Name
  6. You Can't Do That
  7. When I Get Home
  8. Nowhere Man
  9. Rain
  10. Free As A Bird
  11. Come Together
  12. I Am The Walrus
  13. While My Guitar Gently Weeps

CD 2

  1. Baby's In Black
  2. I'll Be Back
  3. No Reply
  4. The Night Before
  5. You're Gonna Lose That Girl
  6. Ticket To Ride
  7. Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except For Me And My Monkey)
  8. Oh Darling
  9. Think For Yourself
  10. Wait
  11. Revolution
  12. I Want You (She's So Heavy)
  13. You Know My Name (Now Look Up The Number)
  14. Lovely Rita
  15. Good Morning Good Morning
  16. Sgt. Pepper Reprise
  17. A Day In The Life

Available only from Radiant Records. If you're into Neal Morse, Spock's Beard, Transatlantic or any of the other artists on Radiant's roster, please buy directly from them and give them some support.


Sunday, September 12, 2004

 

Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others.

The kids came home with the fundraising envelopes on Friday, the dreaded annual affair where you get to select overpriced items from a glossy catalog on the basis of guilt, pay through the nose, then wait an unreasonable amount of time for the stuff to be delivered, only to discover it's schlock-house stuff. Let's look at the multitude of levels on which this is a really bad thing:

Frankly, I don't want any of the crap in the catalog. I'm still using last year's wrapping paper, and if I want chocolate there's an excellent chocolatier in my town who's also quite reasonably priced. If I want to bake, I would much prefer to use real vanilla than the artificial stuff some schools peddle. I also don't want to pay an inflated price for something where altogether too much of that money is going to the fundraising company instead of the school itself. I unequivocally refuse to abuse my personal and professional relationships to peddle this junk.

Make my life easy. Send a note home, tell me how much you expect for a contribution from my family. Maybe, maybe, I'll write a check if I feel it's an appropriate contribution. But lose the candy sales....



Saturday, September 11, 2004

 

In Memoriam

As a child, I often puzzled over a comment made by a rabbi at an unveiling, that a headstone was there because it is silent. As I grew older, I understood that silence and deeds speak much louder and more eloquently than words can in the momentous times around us. God bless the victims of that horrible day and their families.



Image courtesy of asmallvictory.net.

Friday, September 10, 2004

 

9/11

In one way, it began the afternoon before for me. The weather was quite dreary that Monday, and a nasty cloudburst was coming down around 3:30pm. We were sitting in a top-floor conference room in one of the towers of the World Financial Center, with an expansive panorama of New York Harbor, and the sturm und drang of the weather momentarily distracted us from the meeting, which was dragging horribly. We made idle chit-chat about the weather and wearily turned back to business, when someone idly mentioned, "You know, we really should start planning for disaster recovery and business continuity for the project". We made the usual morbid jokes, and set an action item for it later in the week. I silently murmured the police and fireman's prayer, "Dear Lord, not on my shift", and started finishing up for the day.

As I packed up, I realized I didn't have an umbrella with me, but remembered that on previous rainy days an umbrella peddler could be found at the foot of the south pedestrian bridge across West Street. I pushed through the turnstile at the security barrier and headed for the footbridge, and to my consternation at the bottom of the steps on the World Trade Center side, there was no peddler. The rain didn't appear heavy, and I knew there was a news stand further up on Liberty Street near the fire house where I could certainly buy an umbrella. I decided to make a dash for it, but sure enough the heavens opened up and by the time I got to the news stand, I was completely drenched, including my shoes and socks. I endured some ribbing from my train kaffeeklatsch as we headed back out to Bridge and Tunnel Land, as the dazzling urbanites refer to it, but I got a few zings of my own in and wearily returned home.

I was actually looking forward to Tuesday. The project itself was getting quite bogged down into a lot of fingerpointing over interdependencies, and my counterpart at the client and I had a meeting set up to cut through the bullshit and get everything back on track. We had a great working relationship, and could easily resolve the gordian knot that the discipline heads had created out of the many facets of the project. In about two hours we could get things moving, and then get back to real work instead of creating the infinite justifications and reports demanded by every person with a minor stakehold in the project. I had one minor BS conference call unrelated to that client scheduled for that morning, but that one would require little effort on my part, so I decided to bite the bullet and just listen in. I laid out my clothes for the morning, and seeing that my shoes were totally soaked, pulled a new pair out of the box, groaned at the thought of breaking them in, and hit the sack.

Tuesday dawned beautifully, and even our jaded train clique commented on how spectacular the day was. We all quickly got down to train business of snoring or yakking, and all too soon we got into Manhattan and headed downtown. For some reason the subway was horridly slow that morning. As anyone who rides the IRT knows, the express trains are anything but during rush hours. A ride from Wall Street to Grand Central that normally takes about 10-12 minutes during off-peak hours can take as long as 3o minutes, depending on congestion, with express trains languishing in the tunnel two local stops before each express stop, while the local trains make their appointed rounds in a more deterministic manner (although getting horridly crowded along the way). I emerged from the Wall Street station, and headed down Liberty Street. I pretty much ignored the Trade Center, unless there was a huge crowd coming out of the PATH train, which there wasn't at that particular moment that morning and I continued down Liberty toward the south bridge. I passed the firehouse, and glanced in at the firemen, as I often did. It seemed like a perfectly ordinarily morning, albeit with spectacular weather. At the foot of the south bridge, there was usually a coffee vendor and a fruit vendor. I was in the habit of buying coffee and something for breakfast from the coffee cart, and this morning was no exception. For some reason the fruit vendor wasn't there that morning.

I made my way up to my office, which faced the Trade Center. I began upacking my briefcase, plugging in my laptop and settling in for the morning. I pulled my Palm Pilot out of my jacket's breast pocket, set it on the desk, and waited for the computer to boot up. I glanced at my watch and it was around 8:45am. I opened the lid on my coffee, took a bite out of my pastry, and saw the login screen appear on my laptop. At that moment I heard the sound. It was a buzz at first, then a roar, and I looked out the window. I saw a large twin engine jet heading south at a very low altitude heading towards us. The only thought which went through my mind was that something was really, really odd here, but then I saw the plane deliberately bank and aim right for the North Tower. It really couldn't have been more than five or ten seconds from the time it registered as a roar and deciding to look out the window until the plane impacted the tower.

I screamed out "Oh my God" when the plane hit. We saw immediately that the opposite side of the tower had been breached, and I knew there was extremely serious structural damage. My first reaction was to call my wife and tell her I was alright, though. I got her on the phone (this was less than thirty seconds after the impact, so the lines hadn't jammed yet) and told her that a plane had just hit the Trade Center. She asked what kind of plane, and I said that it was a twin-engine jet, possibly a 737 or an Airbus (I had only seen the plane from the front, and couldn't tell anything other than it being a twin jet). She asked what had happened, and I was at a loss for an explanation. I momentarily considered it being a bizarre takeoff or landing accident, but quickly discounted that possibility.

If you think about the air traffic patterns around New York City, the only commercial traffic that moves over that part of Manhattan generally moves northbound (more or less). Traffic heading for LaGuardia's runway 4 will descend over Brooklyn, Maspeth and Astoria. Traffic for LGA runway 22 coming from the west will occasionally turn left at a point approximately over the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Bridge, head along the river up until approximately over Yonkers, then head east out toward Long Island Sound where it can line up for 22. Traffic approaching LGA runway 31 generally comes in over Brooklyn, as well. Traffic heading for Newark obviously is routed southbound over Bergen and Essex counties miles inland from the river. Seeing something southbound at such a low altitude and high rate of speed discounted the possibility of a landing accident, knowing the takeoff patterns discounted that, and the simple logic of knowing that a good pilot would do anything he could to minimize collateral damage from an aircraft incident totally eliminated any thought of accident.

My wife asked me if I could come home early as a result, and I said I'd try to get out as early as possible, although I told her I'd likely be dragooned into keeping systems available if the business guys demanded it. I made a mental note to myself to get out early, possibly as soon as lunch, and as soon as I could be sure I wasn't going to interfere with the emergency workers, who I could see already were going to have their hands seriously full. My office unfortunately had an excellent view of the proceedings, and it quickly crowded up with people looking at what was transpiring across the street. Then we saw the first jumpers. We didn't know what it was at first, we thought that people were knocking windows out with furniture and that was what was falling, but then we realized they were people. It was almost too much to look at, and I quickly called my mother to let her know I was OK, but I quickly broke down while leaving a message for her, saying how horrible it was to watch people committing suicide before your eyes. I fled my office, and found one of my coworkers in the hallway, near the secretary's desk. He was crying badly, as he used to work at Cantor Fitzgerald, and fearing badly for his friends, and the realization that had he not moved to this job recently, it might've just as easily been him in that horrid position. We tried as best we could to talk and reason it out, with a few other coworkers joining us and leaning on each other for support when we heard another explosion.

Someone called out, "Another plane just hit the South Tower!" and all hell broke loose on the floor at that time. No one thought anything about keeping things running or any sort of normalcy, we knew the shit had hit the fan, and we were running for our lives. I took one look at my desk, decided it was better to lose one's laptop than one's lap, and headed for the fire stairs (the bureaucracy associated with replacing a lost or stolen laptop was horrendous, and actually brings an amusing coda to the story). The traffic on the stairs quickly bunched up, and there was a lot of shoving and cursing going on. The opposite staircase was virtually empty, and some people bounded over the gap between the stairs to try and get down faster, but it was too dangerous in my eyes to attempt. The sudden horrid realization hit us as we shoved and screamed for people to move and get off the stairs ahead of us was that they might be going for financial institutions or related firms. We reasoned, Cantor, Morgan Stanley, and Lehman in the Trade Center, the World Financial Center had American Express, Dow Jones, Merrill, Deloitte; we were a pretty attractive target for the bad guys. I never prayed so hard in my life while I was in those stairs. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, we hit the exit at the bottom of the stairs, and bounded down the now stopped escalators and headed down to the street level. I reasoned that the Boat Basin would be a reasonable rendezvous point, and sure enough I found several coworkers there. We quickly counted heads, and after a brief heartstopping moment for one coworker looking for her husband (they fortunately found each other quickly) we began exchanging phone numbers to call each other when we got home (the implied "if" weighed heavily on us). It was rather amazing how people were mesmerized just looking at the towers burning, one poor lady was in shock, and I went over and said, "Lady, you're going home to your children now. Start walking, and get home". I quickly realized that there was absolutely no good that could be done by my lingering waiting for anyone else there, and hooked up with my coworker and her husband to walk north to the commuter rail stations. My friend who formerly worked at Cantor told me to come home to Jersey with him, and he'd figure out how to get me home, but I didn't want to be on the wrong side of the river if things were going to get really bad. It was about 9:30.

We started walking north past the NYMEX, every security guard directing us away from the vicinity looking scared but trying to be calmly brave. We finally ran out of Battery Park City and had to start trudging north on West Street, watching the emergency vehicles head southbound. My coworker and her husband were getting scared about getting home to their kids, and were worried about whether their will was in place and the insurance enough in the worst event. I silently worried the same thoughts with them, but just concentrated on what we needed to talk about, how to get to the commuter rail stations as quickly as possible and to stay out of the way of people who needed to respond to this thing. We constantly glanced back at the burning towers, and we discussed the structural damage we'd seen. None of us were structural engineers by trade or education, but we knew there was severe damage.

At Franklin Street, we decided to turn off West Street, and find a route uptown towards Penn Station. We walked along the side of 388 Greenwich, the Travelers/Citigroup building, and we finally were far enough away from the proceedings that we could make a nervous joke about things. I drily said, "Hey, if they're going after capital markets, the least they could do is go after Sandy (Weill, the Citigroup CEO)". The chuckle was drowned out by bloodcurdling screams. We looked to the south and saw the South Tower imploding. We ran like hell at that point. We heard fighter jets as we ran past the Holland Tunnel entrance, which was of course closed by that point. About the next thing I remember was my shoe coming untied somewhere along lower Eighth Avenue, and being so flustered that I couldn't even tie it. My coworker bent down and tied it for me, and we stopped in a bodega to get some water. Radios were blaring and people were hungry for any bit of news they could get, but it was really very chaotic, rumors that a plane had been shot down were rampant, we didn't know what had happened at the Pentagon, all we knew was that we were under attack. We were further up on Eighth Avenue, up near a restaurant we'd gone to on a couple of special occasions, when the North Tower collapsed.

We got to Penn Station, and found the entrances blocked by police, We reasoned that perhaps it would open if things normalized, and we agreed to call each others families whenever we reached a working phone to let them know we were all right. I wished my friends bonne chance, and headed to Grand Central, zig-zagging through the street grid to avoid any potential targets. I got to Grand Central and found it closed as was Penn Station, and despaired for a few moments. My new shoes had grown seriously painful over the four plus miles I'd walked already, but I resolved that if there wasn't a train, any train getting out of Grand Central in a little while, I was going to start walking until I hit a highway in the Bronx or Westchester, then start hitchhiking. By the grace of God, the doors opened at Grand Central and I put myself on the first train out. It took what seemed ages to get out of the Park Avenue tunnel (it was about a half hour, later on I read that they were being careful in case there were bombs in the tunnel). The train was completely packed, worse than a Tokyo subway train. The train stopped at every station along the way, including the very local stops in the Bronx that no train ever seems to stop at. Because the train was so long, it had to discharge passengers, close the doors, move forward and discharge more passengers at several of the smaller stops. It took a very long time to get to what I considered a safe distance from the city.

Toward the end of the ride, someone tried his cell phone and couldn't reach his boss. His traveling companion asked him why he was trying to call his boss, and he sharply replied "To tell him I'm moving to North Dakota!". My cell phone couldn't get through anything, until I was in my car a couple of minutes away from home. My cell phone and pager started going off madly. I dragged myself home and gratefully kicked the painful new shoes off. There were abrasions on my feet, and my knees were killing me. My family welcomed me home, and I pulled out a bottle of single malt Scotch, put it next to a chair in the living room, put my feet up, and didn't leave the chair until bedtime. The bottle was empty by then.

The phone rang off the hook throughout the afternoon, and I managed to get an e-mail out to my friends and coworkers from my personal account just before going to sleep. Being the good little corporate drone, I reported the laptop's status the next morning, and had an unbelievable conversation with the petty little bureaucrat responsible for such things.
"You lost it?"
"No, I know exactly where it is, room xxxx in Y World Financial Center"
"Why don't you go get it?"
"It's across the street from what used to be the World Trade Center"
"When do you think you can get it?" "
"Ask the New York City Fire Department"
"Did you file a police report?"
"I think the New York City Police Department has better things to do today than to take a missing laptop report"

She finally agreed to get me a loaner after considerable oaths and incantations upon my part. (unbelievably, I managed to get the stray laptop back a few weeks later when my friend, the ex-Cantor fellow, got up into the building to recover various important things).

That same morning, we received a call from one of my kids' teachers, asking us to come in for a quick discussion at lunchtime over his behavior (he'd gotten frustrated the day before and broken, gasp, a pencil). The teacher was giving us her spiel about teaching kids to respect property, and she reprimanded me for not paying attention to her. I told her precisely where I was the morning before, and that I had other things on my mind. I then told her that I'd pay for the fucking pencil, and that if she bothered me again with such a trivial concern in such momemtous times, I'd address it with her in a more ahem, substantive way.

Things slowly returned to their normal absurdity. New York City was too polite, too measured, for weeks. Then one morning, crossing 6th Avenue in Midtown, a cab, another motorist and a bicycle messenger got into a classic knock-down, drag-em-out brawl over a minor traffic incident. Lots of present participles of Anglo-Saxon oaths being used as adverbs in the discourse. Every 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12-letter name was being used. And all of us commuters watching this spectacle, of every rank and station, race and religion stood there and broke out laughing, as we finally saw a slice of normalcy back in our lives.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

 

Semantics and Sophistry


Kudos to Mark Steyn, Daniel Pipes, Michele Malkin, Cox and Forkum and Dennis Prager, amongst many, many others for speaking up and calling things as they see them. How the Sulzberger empire, the BBC, Reuters and Agence France Presse can look themselves in the mirror while using every euphemism M. Roget wouldn't have come up with for fear of dishonor is beyond me. You see, this week, I'm kind of sensitive about this sort of thing. Three years ago on Saturday, I had a ringside seat for another mass murder, and I'm still haunted to this day about it. I'll recount that story on Saturday, but you know, as a parent, I can't help but cringe anytime I see any reporting about what happened in Beslan. The mass media can barely be trusted to report a traffic tie-up, and yet the euphemisms fly because they don't want to offen someone. Let's see, by calling those terrorist murderers "captors" (Associated Press, if you must know) I'm offended, as a freedom-lover, a law-abiding citizen, a parent, on any number of levels. But I'm not one of the constituencies that's got a hot line into Channel 7's news desk making a geshrei every time some quote unquote religious leader is offended by something, to wit calling someone a terrorist because of little things like slaughtering kids, things like that.

Which leads to a minor rant about the news media's choice of shamans in general for segments. Consider that in New York City, for example, on the Jewish High Holidays there will invariably be a report from Temple Emanu-El on the evening news. This doesn't particularly sound offensive on the surface, but consider that Emanu-El is located on 5th Avenue across from Central Park, therefore its congregants tend to be not exactly representative of the cross-spectrum of Yidlach, and it's also the most visible exponent of very Reform Judaism. Honestly, if it weren't for the Aron Kodesh you'd think you were in a Lutheran church. Jacke Mason once did a totally devastating rant on Reform vs. Orthodox rabbis, wish I could find the transcript, but it was totally on target, comparing the old-fashioned "khubde khubde" type with the Reform guy with the horn-rimmed glasses who gets on TV and talks in measured tones that sound like William F. Buckley strained through Sheepshead Bay. Needless to say, there are several of these pet Reform guys who get on TV and pontificate, and you start wondering if these guys make broches over the tannenbaums. (And if you need to wonder why I didn't capitalize a proper noun there wait for tomorrow's post...) I once mentioned how I found a particular Reform rabbi who managed to get on TV for various Yom Tovim and whenever a dovish viewpoint was demanded by the news desk very annoying for his pronouncements to a friend who is of all things a Reform rabbi, and my friend's reaction was incredulous to say the least. My friend couldn't see under the hood of the veneer, the polish, that said Rabbi was clueless, and divorced from (dare I say it....) tradition (as I write this I just hit the Play button for "Exile On Main Street" to get that damn song out of my head...).

And have you ever noticed that when a frum Rabbi is on TV it's always in the context of lighting a menorah from a cherry picker, some local news of limited relevance, or in the height of absurdity? Frequently of course the latter two merge, as in the reporting of the virtual panic in Williamsburgh and Borough Park over the microscopic crustaceans in the New York City water supply and the sanctity of the human hair used for shaytlach. Very rare to see a genuine frum Rabbi actually speaking on topics that matter (sorry Shmuley, you're a bissel show biz for me), although I do have to give the Republican Convention's organizers propers for having Rebbitzin Jungreis as a speaker.

And for today's example of why "Faster, Cheaper, Better" doesn't work for my favorite space agency, consider the denouement of the Genesis space probe. First, the money quote:
"Clearly something has gone wrong here," Chris Jones, director of solar system exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which managed the mission, said in a NASA TV broadcast of the landing.

This one ranks up there with "Obviously a major malfunction" (NASA play-by-play man after Challenger blew up, in case you don't remember).

If the rescue had happened as planned, when the capsule entered the Earth's atmosphere, traveling at 25,000 miles an hour, an initial parachute would have deployed at a height of 21 miles. It was not clear yet if that took place. A few minutes later, at an altitude of four miles, the main parachute, a winglike parafoil, would have deployed, and the capsule would have glided over the Utah desert.


Cliff Fleming, the pilot of the lead helicopter, was to make the first attempt to snag the parafoil with a 20-foot hook in the back of the helicopter. Mr. Fleming said that except for one deliberate miss as a test for the other pilot, Dan Rudert, he successfully caught the parachute in every practice run. "We did not ever miss one," Mr. Fleming said on Tuesday. "I feel quite confident."


If the parachutes had functioned properly, the pilots would have had enough time to make four attempts to capture the capsule before it hit the ground.


Uh, to ask a silly question, why were the engineers putzing around with Rogallo wings for recovery, an idea that was nixed as far back as Gemini?. Let's see, capsule hit at 136 fps, weighed about 450 lbs, there's a fair amount of kinetic energy on impact.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

 

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

For some reason Blogspot is having a great deal of difficulty posting this today. This has to be about the eighth time I've tried to get this epistle up....

Well, I racked my failing grey matter for the better part of yesterday, and finally came up with the name of the restaurant chain that became the subject of the 60 Minutes piece and subsequent federalarity. The establishment in question was called "Wild Bill's Family Restaurant" (the latter two words of course always being a culinary danger indicator for the most part), and interestingly enough there are very few references to it on the web, one from Entrepreneur magazine (a suitably cautionary piece on franchise fraud, unfortunately with few details), and the other being an appellate court decision relating to subpoenas for all of the related "60 Minutes" material, outtakes, notes and the like (I didn't wade through the entire document as I did with Berlin v. E.C. Publications, as the material is very dry, procedural stuff with no humor value whatsoever). The decision did clarify the timeline for me, as the "60 Minutes" piece aired in December 1978, and the indictments were handed down in September 1979. The excursion out to Wild Bill's must've happened at the latest in early '78 (I remember the excursion as being on a cold and rainy late afternoon, and my friend, being somewhat inept with the simple concept of the defroster keeping the windows of his car - a '72 Satellite - open enough to keep the humidity at the correct level to ensure visibility and hypothermia)

Said friend was notorious for impromptu road trips to restaurants in those days, invariably deciding on a place singularly inconvenient given one's schedule. I should also mention that said friend was a spectacularly bad driver, although never managing to get into an accident himself he caused several by virtue of his abysmal reaction time and road-hogging instincts. His parallel parking was astonishingly bad, and the aprocryphal story about one of his many licensing road tests had him ending up perpendicular to the curb. The gentleman in question also invariably preferred local streets to highways unless there was simply no way to avoid them, often with hilarious results. Needless to say if was invited on a road trip, the arrangements were invariably presented to him as a fait accompli lest he volunteer to drive and scare the hell out of the poor unfortunates who would end up in his car. Some of the young ladies in our social circle made it quite clear that they would refuse to accompany us to whatever the evening's excursion was if my friend was driving. He was also quite opinionated, and given to sharing that opinion vociferously, even when it was quite inappropriate. Needless to say any outing with this gentleman was worthy of study in the same sense one would study fractals and probability, trying to determine if there was any reason or pattern to the oddball stuff that would emerge and make the outing interesting (sometime in the Chinese sense of the word).

One memorable Sunday (when of course I had a test the next day to study for), said friend called at about noon and said he was going with some friends out for burgers for lunch, and would I care to join them? As it was a fairly nice day and I wasn't going to study until later that afternoon, I acceded and joined them. When ensconced in the '72 Satellite with some other unfortunates I made the mistake of asking, "Where are we going, Burger King, McD's?" and my friend announced instead that we were going to an establishment that served its meat by the ounce, and that said establishment was on Northern Boulevard (that's a main commercial drag that extends from the Queensborough Bridge all the way through Queens and beyond, for the NY-impaired among you). We were a bit aghast at having to schlep all the way to Queens for a burger, but went along with the gag. We got to Northern Boulevard, then headed east, into Long Island. The conversation quickly bored the hell out of me and I fell asleep, waking up to the same banalities that had put me out before, and when I looked at my watch, I noticed it was now 1630, and a distance sign had put us seriously out into the North Fork of Long Island, heading towards Orient Point. I asked politely just where the hell we were, and my friend responded, "Northern Boulevard". At this point I was panicking with thoughts of the test the next morning and my text books sitting at home in the high double digit miles away, and said "Northern Boulevard? The sign there says 'Last Gas Before Portugal'! Where the hell is this dive we're going to????". Needless to say the journey wasn't quite over yet, and we finally got to the boite in question in time for the dinner hour.

At this point I was too famished to care about my exam, and devoured a large order of ribs and a half chicken. My friend, who incidentally, was also quite a cheapskate, ordered a two ounce hamburger. That's right, two ounces. No typo. I gently enquired as to why he would go three quarters of the way to Providence for such a small burger, and his rationale was that since the food was an unknown commodity, he wasn't willing to gamble that much on it. Having a flat forhead at that point from continually smacking myself from the absurdity of the outing, a hunched down in the back seat of the Satellite for the journey home, which of course, on a Sunday coming from Long Island meant beaucoup traffic, and I didn't get home until about 10pm. As I slammed the door on his car, sweating bullets about the upcoming exam, and fumbling with my keys so that I could storm inside and have a good scream, my friend rolled down his window, and said "Wait, how about some money for gas?"

And that dear readers, is the definition of chutzpah.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

 

Why Best Of Lists Suck Redux

Someone on The Gretch Pages posted a link to what Guitar World magazine considers the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. Needless to say this piqued my interest in taking a look at what the quote unquote cognoscenti have to say, and with leaded skewer in hand, we shall analyze the opinings. "Stairway To Heaven" tops the list, no surprises there, but then again, it's a majestic piece of work. Number two is "Eruption", a piece which has considerably waned in my estimation over the years. It's nothing more than a self-indulgent dive bombing cadenza, with the dubious distinction of popularizing fretboard tapping (Brian May had done it years before with little notice).

If polls are any reflection of readership, the guitar world has a heap of learning to do, since Kirk Hammet and Dimebag Darrel have songs placed higher in the Top 20 over classics such as "Heartbreaker", "Cliffs Of Dover", "Little Wing","Highway Star" and "Bohemian Rhapsody". "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a notch ahead of Stevie Ray's immortal "Pride and Joy". Down in the 30s, Dimebag Darrel again bests classics such as "Sweet Child Of Mine", "Whole Lotta Love" and "Reelin In The Years" (I would imagine Dimebag Darrel would turn tail in shame if he ever tried reproducing Elliot Randall's monster chops on "Years"). Dickie Betts doesn't pop up on the list until #47, Steve Howe incredibly not until #68, George Harrison not until #69 (although at least they did choose "And Your Bird Can Sing" as his best), and incredibly, "Sunshine Of Your Love" isn't on there at all. Dimebag Darrel and Kirk Hammet seem to get as much respect as Clapton, as far as this poll goes. Needless to say Phil Keaggy is nowhere to be found.

There was a thread on Fark about favorite chain restaurants that have gone out of business or otherwise disappeared, which got me waxing nostalgic for a couple of favorite places. Like any New York kid who grew up in the 60s, my first thought at that thread was Wetson's. McDonalds didn't make it into the boroughs (at least discernibly) until around 1970, (although I remember seeing McD's for the first time in of all places Sayreville, NJ). Your choices, if you wanted to eat fast food were pretty much White Castle or Wetson's, both of which induced far worse looks of anxiety from our parents than the ones we have when our kids demand McD's. Wetson's was seriously greasy, and nearly everyone had a food poisoning story about them. There were some small local chains such as Benson Burgers (one of which was the site of a legendary gang rumble in the late 60s), but as far as kids went, the overwhelming preference was for Wetson's. There was the usual cycle of overexpansion and significant quality decline (considering the initial quality it was pretty hard to tell) and Wetson's soon became a fond fading memory. I wonder if it was simply throwing the towel in against the invasion of the national chains, or simple bad management. I suppose if they opened one up for sheer nostalgia at inflated prices there are a lot of 45-55 year olds who would willingly take their chances on ptomaine if they could recreate the taste.

That actually set off a craving for Howard Johnson's in me. The last time I had HoJo's it was on a road trip with the Mrs., something like 15 years ago, and the place (somewhere in Massachusetts, if I remember correctly) was positively pathetic. Service was glacial, and the fried clams could've been used as a long-term substitute for ball bearings. The butter grilled hot dogs were a bit funky, but went down easy. HoJo's was a real treat when I was a kid, we used to there with Grandma, and get not only ice cream after lunch, but also got to hit the candy counter by the cash register (HoJo's correctly anticipating the marketing trend decades before the "exit via the gift shop" routine at whatever family attraction you go to, hmmmm). Remarketing HoJo's against say Denny's or the loathsome casual dining chains might be an interesting exercise, as there's probably still enough fondness for the name to get people in the door, but it's probably a moot point.

Then of course there was Jack In The Box. Only a couple of 'em that I can recall in the NYC area, but they lasted quite a while. A late night road trip for a couple of their fried burritos (the term chimichanga hadn't come into currency yet) was a common occurrence. The tacos weren't bad but the burgers had issues, as we say.....

Then, there was the fast food joint that was advertised (this was either the very late 70s or very early 80s) as sort of a cross between a themed (think the one bearing the stage name of one Leonard Sly) burger restaurant and a Tex-Mex joint. There were very few franchisees of this place around, and we finally heard of one that had opened up on Long Island somewhere (way out in Suffolk if I remember correctly). I had a friend who was quite the aficionado of the chain restaurant who was most interested in checking this dive out, and he dragged a few of us out there one memorable Sunday afternoon to check the place out. We got there at the dinner hour, and there was no one in the dining room, not a terribly good sign. The restaurant staff was like "Wow, customers!" and needless to say my sense of foreboding deepened. The food was unremarkable, but I felt it wasn't hot enough, and thankfully there were no after effects, so I chalked it up to experience and forgot about it. About a year later, there was a "60 Minutes" piece on this particular chain, showing that the entire enterprise had been some kind of franchising scam and that various Attorneys General were most interested in the operation.


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