July 21-29, 2015

So yeah, this week in a nutshell: Cops kill unarmed civilians. White dudes with guns kill unarmed civilians. Midwestern dentist kills beloved lion. Only one of those things is remotely unusual, sadly.

Other than that: work. We go to corporate headquarters in 2 weeks for our big end-of-summer expo, so everything is kind of frantic right now.

As per usual, I will refer you to my Twitter  for the blow-by-blow of this week’s momentary diversions and microaggressions.

Thursday night we went to this after-hours thing at the Museum of Life and Science, which was billed “The Science of Sour” but was mostly kind of like a trade show for local pickle makers & other vendors of fermented stuff. Lotta little tables, a lot of long lines, too many people. Would have been cool enough except it cost $25. Had we been more in the mood, we could have had comprehensive access to all of the cool interactive museum displays, so next time, that’s what we’ll do.

Friday night M demanded that we watch Point Break (the 1991 original, not the 2015 remake). By now I have seen it at least 3 times, probably more. She believes it’s Keanu’s finest & most nuanced performance. I haven’t seen everything he’s been in, so I really couldn’t say.

I tried to claim that Point Break marked the beginning of the sharp decline in Kathryn Bigelow’s auteurist period. Last week we watched Blue Steel (OMG, I think I forgot to mention that), which is a huge mess, plot-wise, but it’s extraordinarily stylized and has all sorts of weird sexual politics fluttering under the surface. I can see a weird but distinct through line from Bigelow’s debut, The Loveless (one of my favorite movies EVAR) to Blue Steel, but it’s harder to trace it through to Point Break.

M says I’m crazy & that KB is all about intense homosocial bonding, which I guess is totally true, and which makes Blue Steel the anomaly.

Anyway. Apart from movie-watching we mostly read & eat. I started Sarah Jeong’s The Internet Of Garbage, and the new Ta-Nehisi Coates. I enjoy Jeong’s tweets, and she makes some important points in her book, but she kinda writes like the lawyer/journalist that she is. I may finish it at some point (it’s really short, after all) but not until I finish the Coates, which is devastating and brilliant and just utterly beautifully written. Heartbreaking.

Reading it, it’s hard to imagine that there are people in this country — a majority of white people even — who literally don’t get it, who are, as he puts it, in a beautiful dream that denies that the fundamental history of the United States is one of bloody oppression, raping, pillaging, and enslavement.

This is the sort of book that should be required reading in every book club in America. I don’t care if y’all mostly read romances. Or graphic novels. Bump this to the top of the list.

It’s also exactly the kind of book that colleges across America are going to put on their freshman reading lists, and cue the outraged speeches on the floor of the nation’s state legislatures in 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1. Good. The more debate, the better, although his points aren’t really open to debate.

July 21-29, 2015

July 12-20, 2015

Let’s blame this extended gap on my Neko Atsume obsession.



Sunday the 12th we watched the slight, but thoroughly enjoyable documentary about Carroll Spinney, the man who has played Big Bird for the entirety of the character’s existence. He has an understudy now who apparently works ~25% of the gigs, I guess. Poor guy has been the understudy for like 15 years, too. Yet he genuinely didn’t seem to be seething with hatred for Spinney, probably because Spinney is a genuinely nice guy, I guess.

Work is busy busy, so most nights I get home & eat & have to catch up on all the nerding out I might otherwise have snuck in during the day. This week, after finishing that Charlie Stross novel, I couldn’t figure out what the next logical & compelling read was going to be for me, until I remembered that I had some comic books sitting on my hard drive from the last Humble Bundle I bought.

I have dabbled in comics off & on in the past, typically almost entirely of the indie/underground variety. My bookshelves contain all the usual suspects: Watchmen, Maus, a bunch of Drawn & Quarterly & Fantagraphics stuff. But it’s only recently, with the introduction of a full-size tablet into the house, that I’ve delved into the world of reading comics issue by issue, on a weekly/monthly basis.

So anyway, I had the complete run of Locke and Key just sitting around & I hadn’t even started reading it yet. That is emphatically no longer the case.

The plot is kind of hard to explain — it involves three kids, a spooky house that has been in the family for generations, a whole bunch of supernatural keys, demonic possession, and high school. The artwork by Gabriel Rodriguez hits what is for me a sweet spot — thick lines, in a clearly “comic book” style, but rich & detailed backgrounds & color work. And the scripts — by suspense novelist Joe Hill — are complex without being convoluted.

It’s good. Check it out.

Wednesday we watched the Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. The thing about this movie that I had to keep reminding myself is that it’s not really “about” metal, or is at any rate much less about metal than the first one was about punk. The first one captured many of the bright lights of the LA punk scene in its prime, but Decline II hits the LA glam metal scene after it has already begun to be eclipsed, on the mainstream side by Guns N Roses (who don’t appear in the movie, but who sit in with Alice Cooper to cover “Under My Wheels under the closing credits), and on the True Metal side by Metallica, Slayer, and all their ever-more-extreme compatriots.

The only thrash band who appear in the movie are Megadeth — was it because Dave Mustaine’s hair was poofy enough? Otherwise, there are the old pros (Kiss, Alice Cooper, Ozzy), the actual glam successes (Poison, mostly) and the also-rans (and never-really-starteds).

The point is that it’s not a documentary about “metal” — it’s a documentary about fame: what it means to the people who have it, and what it means to the people who don’t have it but desperately wish that they did. In that, it succeeds wildly, which is to say it’s equal measures hilarious and profoundly depressing.

Thursday I came down with a wicked sore throat, which lasted through the weekend & into Monday. By Sunday morning I was sufficiently worried about strep that I hauled myself over to the CVS on Hillsborough Rd to visit their Minute Clinic.

I didn’t have strep. It was fascinating. The Physician’s Assistant who was singlehandedly running the place was a diminutive self-professed germophobe (as would I be, if I had to spend an average of 30 minutes per patient locked up in a windowless room half the size of my bedroom at home). She took the shorthand version of my medical history, did all the data entry, checked my vitals, swabbed me for strep, interpreted the test results, ran my insurance info, asked me what I do for exercise & gave a strong positive recommendation to a $30 hand or foot pedal contraption from Wal*Mart.

Her bedside manner tended slightly to the neurotic, but she was smart, efficient, and genuinely concerned. It was clear that she’s well aware that the majority of her patients, unlike me, likely don’t have primary care physicians & probably have scattershot & uncoordinated interactions with the health care industry. She did her best to play all of those roles, and I salute her.

Sunday night we watched Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which I had never seen. It absolutely lives up to its reputation for rip-snorting seafaring action. Even if you don’t believe you crave rip-snorting seafaring action, you more than likely actually do, and just don’t realize it, due in large part to the dearth of such in most movies made after the 1930s. It’s great. Rent it.

In other news, since I’m going to the Afropunk Fest in Atlanta in October, I spent some time putting together a YouTube Playlist of all the artists.

July 12-20, 2015

July 4 – 11, 2015

The struggle to post more than once a week is real, I tell ya. Last Saturday (our nation’s birthday) I spent grappling with the Singular Endless Computing Project that is WXDU. But I also found time (as documented previously) to eat a hot dog & tater tots because America.

At nightfall we drove out to the boonies to wish Jenks & Elysse well on the occasion of their wedding. Useful tip: Every wedding party would be substantially improved by amateur backyard fireworks displays. Mark that down. A+++

I didn’t (and still haven’t) listen to any of the “Grateful Dead” farewell shows from Chicago. I never much cared for Bobby’s songs even when Jerry was alive, and I don’t really see the point of paying attention to the remnants of that band now that Jerry has been dead for 20 years.

(My curiosity has been piqued a little bit by Will Hermes’s coverage in Rolling Stone, and even moreso by Lee Ranaldo’s report from the front lines. NYCTaper has two of the three shows up for download, so maybe one day.)

Nevertheless, nostalgia & the zeitgeist demanded some Grateful Dead. I gave away my tape collection decades ago, but nowadays there’s the internet. I had a hankering for a good “Franklin’s Tower,” which is how, thanks to Google, I wound up at headyversion.com, a site where Deadheads attempt to settle the age-old debates over which shows featured the best versions of which songs via simple up-or-down vote.

Consensus suggested the October ’76 shows in Oakland, so it was off to archive.org. Be sure to scroll down & read the comments, as they are a remarkably accurate representation of any/all parking lot or dorm room Deadhead discussion.

My love/hate relationship with live Dead recordings goes back to high school, nearly 30 years, and all of those mixed feelings were brought into extra-sharp relief by this show, which features some exceptional highs scattered in amidst copious quantities of the wretchedness that every Dead hater loves to carp on.

I lapsed into a bit of a Twitter reverie:

My friend Bo stepped in & summed it up remarkably well:

I kept listening, though. Some things just get so baked into your brain that there’s no point in struggling against them.

In other news: Confederate flags are coming down all over parts of the South, going up in 10x strength all over other parts of the South. Harper Lee’s pre-Mockingbird debut novel, in which an older Atticus Finch turns out to be a reactionary racist, is finally published.

I haven’t read it, and I’m not going to read it (hell, as far as I can recall, I haven’t even read To Kill a Mockingbird), but it’s remarkably topical, if the reviews are to be believed. Near as I can tell, it’s all about how Atticus was fine with loving people of all races back in the 30s, when “everyone knew their places,” but by the mid-late 50s, he’d been spurred by the rise of the Civil Rights movement and the NAACP to choose sides. And as a white man in Alabama, he chose the only side that represented the preservation of the status quo & his own self-interest.

Today all the news is about the internecine battle between the pragmatist racists who want to take down the rebel flag to get themselves out of the spotlight & back into the comfortable shadows, and the absolutist racists who want to fly it from every pickup truck and public building in the land.

Sunday night we watched that soccer game, along with everyone else in the world. It was fun, although I was a little bit grossed out by all the cheering & “U S A !” chants from other people in the bar where we were watching. Soccer is supposed to be the sport of underdogs and weirdos, the sport that’s mocked & ignored by the “U S A !” contingent.

Plus it was embarrassing because the first half-hour of the game itself was embarrassing. I mean, I don’t know how else it could have been played, but it seemed untoward to keep racking up the points against a team who so clearly hadn’t bothered to actually show up, mentally.

There was a ton of great playing to watch, though. I just felt bad for Japan & thus was disinclined to jump up & applaud when we kept scoring ludicrous points against them.

This week I blazed through the new Charlie Stross Laundry Files novel, the Annihilation Score. Like all of the books in that series, it was pretty good. Unlike all of the books in that series, it was narrated by Mo O’brien (Bob Howard’s wife) rather than Bob. This was a welcome change, although Stross kinda struggled throughout the first half of the book to establish a voice for Mo that was substantially different from Bob’s.

Honestly, the whole series has kind of meandered slowly downhill since the Atrocity Archives, so I tackle each new book with diminished expectations. But I still read them — and enjoy them in the moment.

Last night we went to see Amy, the documentary about the decline & fall of Amy Winehouse. It was extraordinarily unpleasant to sit through, inasmuch as it kind of replicated the conditions under which she fell victim & eventually succumbed to drug addiction, alcoholism & bulimia. Lots of focus on her dysfunctional relationships & her struggles with celebrity; less & less attention paid to her art the longer the movie went on. It is in many ways as exploitative as the tabloid coverage that surrounded her when she was alive.

The filmmakers clearly intentionally used large amounts of footage of Amy entering & leaving buildings & cars under a barrage of flashbulbs & clacking shutters — it became a recurring motif throughout the second half of the movie. It was at times unbearable to watch — literally. Not the spectacle of Amy being besieged, but the actual flashing & clattering & yelling. In that sense, it was hugely effective as a device, but horrible to endure.

(I found myself thinking a lot about paparazzi, and about how digital photography has totally transformed that experience. Nobody was bothering to select angles or frame shots — they were just holding the shutter release down & shoving their cameras in her face. Were it me, I think I would devote a hefty percentage of my income to paying big burly dudes to grab & smash cameras, and settle the resulting lawsuits.)

Ultimately, I don’t think the movie did Amy justice as an artist at all, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t already familiar with her work. But it’s a grim depiction of the life & death of a modern supercelebrity.



July 4 – 11, 2015