Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Flights of Fancy

The last couple days, between running around taking care of errands and getting last-minute items, have been more than typically crazy. Tomorrow I am heading out to San Fran to visit my other half, meet her parents and her family, and hang out with some of her friends. In between visits, meets-and-greets and cocktails, we'll try to hit a few museums, do a little shopping, spend some alone time in bed, and perhaps even get a chance to sleep some.

I've been meaning to visit her for longer than I can remember. My father's illness -- which appeared a year ago this past August 13th/16th -- is, for the most part, in the past tense. My father will be on my mind as I board the flight tomorrow and head West. He's been well -- ostensibly 100% -- for quite some time now, as evidenced by my infrequent mentionings and concerns about his health. But it's always in the back of my mind, and his being sick, as well as the other aspects of my life that were affected in the interim, have been significant obstacles to my planned visit West.

Now that that obstacle is no longer present, I am getting all ready: packed, organized, prepared, and thinking ahead -- for what promises to be a great, exciting, wonderful week. First of all, I can barely remember my last "real" vacation -- it's been at least several years since I was out of town for any length of time. And while I love NYC -- it's as much a part of my psyche and my being as anything could be -- I dig traveling. I've been to Europe, Mexico and to a variety of other countries -- Canadia, of course, is also on that list but it's not quite worth a mention -- so it's not me being lazy or agoraphobic. It's more that there's always been salient reasons not to go anywhere else -- too much work, too little time, etc. But now that there's someone worth me traveling to -- and the something that we have being so worthwhile -- I can't believe it's taken me this long to actually get out there.

On top of the usual stuff -- music, clothes, goodies, etc. -- I'm bringing a variety of equipment along with me. This morning I noticed I have four separate chargers -- one for my iPod, another for my Nikon, another for my Palm and the last for my cell-phone (and the bluetooth headset too). Two books (both by Anthony Bourdain) and a few spare DVD's for the plane/downtime, some workstuff (three on-the-Palm spreadsheets), some goodies for Kaia's nephews (one who is four, another who just turned one), some PC stuff for her parents' computer, and a litany of medicine, toiletries and other odds n' ends.

Either it's me fantasizing and being lazy, or mebbe just avoiding the inevitable packing I'll do tonight, when I briefly considered simply boarding the plane wearing the clothes I am now, carrying only medicine, my cell/Palm/iPod and a Yankee hat.

But that wouldn't be any fun. Eventually we'd wanna go out for dinner, and without pockets, I'd have nowhere to put my money clip or my wallet ;)

And more importantly, eventually we'll have to get out of bed and actually see some of the City, even if it's just from one of her apartment windows :)


I'll be checking back in here over the next week, so expect updates on a semi-regular basis. I'll also be linking to an online photo album I've started, and I will try and fill it up while out West as well. If there's anything you need, send an e-mail to houseNOofSPAMboogie@gmail.com (remove the caps) or be patient.

I'll be back.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

It Was Inevitable

Every time someone makes the open-ended, judgemental observation "Only in America..." my mind recalls the stand-up act of the comic Yakov Smirnov, who punctuated half his career with jokes concluding "America...what a country." The other half of his career was spent chatting with whoever at the time was hosting Hollywood Squares. Yakov usually wound up in a corner square -- for good reason...Whoopi Goldberg usually was the center square.

The reason why any of this is even remotely significant -- a long-shot at best -- is the more things change, the more they stay the same. In a post herein discussing "Super-Size Me," the Morgan Spurlock documentary about a 30-day diet of nothing but McDonald's, I concluded that the government should not take action against fast-food companies who sell billions of dollars worth of fat-laden, addictive crap to children and empty-headed adults, opining instead that the notion of common sense -- and caveat emptor -- should be our pilot, not warning labels and lawsuits, in living our lives.

I predicted that, sooner or later, the government would eventually get involved.

That day is today.

In a complaint filed Friday in LA Superior Court, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sought an injunction to stop restaurant chains such as McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's International Inc. from selling french fries without some form of warning. The impetus to the complaint is not, however, that french fries are unhealthy due to being overloaded with salt, starch, cholesterol (not to mention they clog up arteries and result in heart attack and certain death); according to Lockyer's suit, manufacturers of french fries (as well as potato chips) should identify the dangers of high levels of acrylamide, a chemical that studies have found is created when starchy foods are cooked at high heat. Lockyer's suit names McDonald's Corp., Wendy's International Inc., PepsiCo's Frito-Lay Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. (makers of Pringles chips), Burger King Corp., KFC Corp. (for its KFC Potato Wedges), Kettle Foods Inc. (makers of Kettle chips), and Cape Cod Potato Chips.

Lockyer's suit "asks manufacturers of these products to identify the dangers of high levels of acrylamide, a chemical that studies have found is created when starchy foods are cooked at high heat," according to an article on CNN's website.

The article mentions some uses -- many of them industrial -- of acrylamide. The article also cites the scientific study that suggested potatoes and other starchy foods cooked at high temperatures contained low levels of acrylamide. Other studies have discounted the potential toxicity of acrylamide to humans, especially at low levels.

So Mr. Lockyer (aka Big Dumbass) filed a complaint which has little, if any, merit. His explanation, incidentally, of why he filed the complaint is equally worthy of sympathy: "I know from personal experience that, while these snacks may not be a necessary part of a healthy diet, they sure taste good. But I, and all consumers, should have the information we need to make informed decisions about the food we eat."

Why did Lockyer stop at mandating cooked potatoes? Why didn't he go after the makers of soda? Soda, keep in mind, is almost exlusively -- in both sugar and diet varieties -- comprised of a number of chemicals which are even more dangerous than potatoes, cooked or otherwise. And odds are high that anyone irresponsibly consuming cancer-causing things -- like cooked potatoes -- are likely to be imbibing sugar-laden and/or diet soda. While at it, he should have gone after the company that manufactures cheese-doodles; those can't be safe for human consumption. They practically glow in the dark. And if we're going after that company, we might as well drop a wrecking-ball on Rold Gold; those pretzels, in all their salty, curvy, knotted glory have to be unhealthy, no question about it. While we're on the subject, we might as well take a shot at Ben & Jerry's -- even if their ice cream is made with mostly natural stuff, they're single-handedly responsible for adding extranneous weight -- which kills people -- on the entire American populace. And it would sure be a lot easier to put Ben & Jerry in prison than go find the Flying Dutchman that rules Haagen-Daaz.

Big Dumbass's lawsuit alleges that companies have violated a state law passed in 1986 requiring companies to provide warnings before exposing people to known carcinogens or reproductive toxins.

Why isn't there a state law requiring attention-seeking moron politicians to provide warnings before exposing the nation to paternalistic, ridiculous complaints, meddling and incredible stupidity?

America...what a country.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Does It Get Weirder?

Delays, delays, delays...too much to do and too little time in which to do it. That's my apology for not stopping in here sooner. It's been quite a busy week, so I'll simply return to that for which this space is known.

Fresh off the Terri Schiavo debacle, the Christian Coalition -- that is, a collection of politicians, broadcasters, and private individuals who believe the Bible, not the Constitution, should be the moral and political pilot of this nation -- needed somewhere to channel their angst, morality and superior knowledge about what He wants.

They got what they wanted in the voice of Pat Robertson.

Yesterday, in response to (Venezuelan president) Hugo Chavez's acerbic criticism of the United States (addressed by The House of Boogie here), and not to be outdone, Pat Robertson sounded off on the topic.

Mr. Robinson opined that "If [Chavez] thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war." He continued: [Chavez] is "a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Not unexpectedly, Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel accused Robertson of "making terrorist statements...The ball is in the U.S. court after this criminal statement by a citizen of that country," AP quoted Rangel as saying. "It's huge hypocrisy to maintain this discourse against terrorism and at the same time, in the heart of that country, there are entirely terrorist statements like those."

This saga, and the facts revolving around same, continue on, almost endlessly.

What is interesting, perhaps, is that Mr. Robertson, who has a history of making some incredibly stupid, public remarks (his comments on activist judges being more dangerous to the US than terrorists ranks among his more notable, and more moronic, commentaries). In this case, however, I happen to agree with him.

Should the US deem it appropriate to take action against Chavez, I would prefer they do so covertly -- with as little risk and publicity as possible -- to avoid the kind of long, drawn-out conflict that brings with it casualties, cricitism and a loss of purpose that is a hallmark of the American conflicts in Vietnam and, to a lesser degree, Iraq. Perhaps the Seals could make an impression on Mr. Chavez much like the Corleone Family did on studio head Jack Woltz -- and even if Mr. Chavez isn't a fan of prized racehorses, I am sure there is some way to convince him to find other topics about which to complain than the United States. And it wouldn't even necessarily cost the price of a bullet.

Despite both Ford's and Reagan's executive orders banning political assassinations, it's fairly clear that anything can be accomplished if the right people put their minds to same (two words: Iran Contra). The fact is that Chavez is probably too insignificant a threat to be considered a US target (except by Chavez himself). But the fact that this topic is on the table -- as is the production and supply of Venezuelan oil bound for the US -- only adds to the intrigue.

In either case, as they ably demonstrated in the Terri Schiavo matter, the Christian Coalition has managed, yet again, to usurp intellectual discourse and common sense and, in its place, purvey an arrogance, a stupidity and a foolish propensity to indiscretion. Whether or not Robertson is right or wrong -- and I agree that Chavez's term ought to be "limited" -- the lack of thought prior to these types of comments is somewhat disturbing.

Though it is entertaining.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

More Rule-Changes (Voluntary or Otherwise)

Way back when, on August 6th of this year, in response to the recent bombings in London, I discussed how the rules should change, ie how nation-states should alter their methodology in handling domestic "sleeper-cell" terrorism. And while I respect the fact that individual rights are -- and must remain -- a cornerstone of Western democracies, I support -- then and now -- the need for some shifting of how nations handle this universal and growing problem.

However, despite the clear and present need for a shift in the way each nation-state handles less-than-beneficial activity and conspiracy within their own borders, there too needs to be a change in the way nations address this type of activity outside its borders as well. For this discussion, we'll forego the de facto dogma of international law and simply accept the fact that every industrial nation has some measure of watchful eyes in every other industrial nation. From Israel to Greece to the US to England to Japan to China to Russia, every nation -- with and without permission -- has operatives keeping an eye on its fellow nations.

To wit, according to an article on CNN.com this morning, the US government initiated unofficial contact with a member of the Taliban government -- identified as Wakil Ahmed, "a close aide to Taliban leader Mullah Omar" -- soon after the al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which claimed approximately 200 American lives. In all likelihood, the contact was initiated as a result of these attacks. The topic of the discussion: the assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Despite the usual diplomatic back-and-forth -- notable since the US never officially acknowledged the Taliban as the proper government of Afghanistan -- the Clinton Administration didn't take action against bin Laden. In its place, Clinton ordered the bombing of an al Qaeda training camp in Khost. Ahmed, the aforementioned Taliban aide who had met with officials prior to the US bombing in Khost, had alternatively suggested the US consider eliminating bin Laden, as Omar regarded bin Laden as innocent in the US Embassy bombings. According to the article, Ahmed "said that the U.S., if it chose to do so, could arrange to have bin Laden killed by cruise missiles or other means, and there would be little the Taliban could do to prevent it."

The attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11/01 took place approximately two years after the above-described meeting occurred.

I've alluded to the Clinton Administration's inaction vis-a-vis Osama bin Laden in these pages before, mostly (but not exclusively) in response to people suggesting George W. Bush's actions as President -- specifically, the war in Iraq -- are excessive and will engender ill will towards the US. People tend to forget that Bill Clinton had the opportunity -- and a quasi silver-plated, engraved invitation from the Taliban -- to eliminate bin Laden, whether by cruise missile (as Ahmed suggested) or by well-coordinated ground personnel. The limited US casualties and the possible political cache lost in this ghost operation would have been far preferable to the losses incurred on 9/11 and in Iraq. Yet people continue to point a finger at the Bush Administration's action in response to terrorism as the cause of ill will towards this country. That's something I cannot quite understand. In either case, my response has been measured -- while I agree that, on some level, the Bush Administration has gone overboard in certain cases, I think it's fairly clear, at least in the context of the aforementioned article, that inaction is akin to pouring gasoline on an open flame.

It seems to me that this example confirms, for better or worse, the war on terror requires constant action. Whether or not most Muslims are peace-loving people, the fact is that there are extremists within the ranks of same, hiding in plain sight, spewing and dogmatically obeying bile and hate. They're strapping on explosive belts in the Middle East, blowing up buses in Europe, fire-bombing synagogues in Eastern Europe, and they're hiding like cockroaches in safe-houses, flats, houses and dormitories all over the West. This problem is not something that will slowly fade, nor will it ever be truly eliminated. But it's clear that the way the nation-states of the West have previously handled this problem must change.

Firstly, the US -- together with other nations -- should, unofficially or otherwise -- rethink its position on policy assassination. Officially, the US eschews the use of assassination and opts for diplomatic solutions to problems with certain individuals. As of today -- if not sooner -- that policy should officially change. In his book "Vengeance," George Jonas discussed the massacre at the Olympics in Munich of the Israeli Wrestling Team by Muslim extremists, and discussed how -- following that tragic event -- Israel recruited a variety of Mossad agents to find each of the perpetrators and -- in lieu of bringing them to justice -- kill them.

The US, as well as other Western nations, should learn from this. Rather than await world reaction to the conditions -- good, bad or otherwise -- at Gitmo, the bulk of the "enemy combatants" should not be protected by the Geneva Convention or any other attempt at morality. These are people -- if they can be called that -- who have rather comfortably severed the heads from civilians and journalists as political statement -- so rather than burden our courts with this problem, I believe we must employ the SEALs and the other special ops units in our military to do their jobs and insure people who take up arms against the US are sent home in boxes, not via diplomatic exchanges or deportation proceedings.

It's about time for change, don't you think?
The Who - Had Enough

I've had enough of bein' trodden on
My passive days are gonna be long gone
If you slap one cheek, well, I ain't gonna turn the other.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The United States of Fox Television

In yet another episode that can be regarded as only occuring in America, the Paula Abdul scandal at American Idol -- in which Corey Clark claimed he had an affair with Abdul while a contestant on the show -- has been laid to rest. The network released a statement indicating its review was concluded, Abdul did not act inappropriately, and the network considers the matter closed.

CNN.com published an article on its website today detailing the process by which Ms. Abdul was cleared. Below is an excerpt from same:
Fox points to the facts they have made public: the respected law firms of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Morrison & Foerster handled the inquiry; more than 43 witnesses were interviewed and more than 600 legal hours and three months were involved.
I can't explain it; I'm a musician, I love music, and I don't dislike TV in an unhealthy, unnatural way. So why does American Idol make me wanna puke? I'm not sure; perhaps it's the crass, commercial, glitz, all-flash-and-no-substance-in-a-can that the show represents. Perhaps I've got better things to do. Or -- possibly -- I just don't care enough about watching people being cruel (Simon Cowell) or inept (80% of the contestants on the show) in the national spotlight.

I've never quite grasped the allure of the show; then again, considering the Backstreet Boys, Culture Club, n'Sync and Britney Spears have all captured the national spotlight at one time or another, I don't feel so badly exhibiting some taste and going against the grain.

However, what really blows my mind -- beyond any shadow of a doubt -- is the staggering, mind-numbing figures involved with the Abdul-gate scandal: 43 witnesses, 600+ legal hours, three months...this is waste -- garbage, rubbish, shit, et al -- on a mass scale approaching governmental, monumental proportions.

Do people really care this much about whether Paula Abdul nailed some zero? Or, put another way, do people really care if one zero nailed another one? I don't. Paula Abdul hasn't been sexy since the 80's (despite that fact, of course, Fox makes sure all photo stills including her show lots of skin). Simply put, do I really care whether she has an active sex life with contestants on the show? Or with Alex Trebek? I don't.

So the fact that Fox managed to piss away more than 600 hours of legal activity on what constitutes a meaningless (and baseless charge, perhaps) affair between two nothings doesn't necessarily amaze me -- but it certainly suggests why commercials cost millions of dollars per thirty seconds. This is clearly as ridiculous as were Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings, although that episode in American history was a result of a sitting President perjuring himself. This American Idol scandal merely involves a has-been and a never-was. And a lot of lawyers and lots and lots of billable hours.

I think, overall, what really irritates me about all this is Fox's attempt at conducting an "investigation" into a matter which is irrelevant. Moreover, Rupert Murdoch has no morals, so why should his network attempt the pretext of propriety? I'd deem the Clinton Administration to have higher moral standards than any major television network, so why the ridiculous attempt at legitimacy?

I suppose that Fox realizes that if people suspect the show is predicated on bullshit -- ie, if they suspect it's fixed -- they won't watch.

I've got some news for Fox -- people who watch your mindless drivel don't give a shit. They get off hearing incompetent people be abused by Simon Cowell, they don't suspect Fox is upholding some sort of pure, fair competition. Just like people believe Major League Baseball (until recently) was ignoring the steroid factor, and most of us believe the government never tells us the truth, does Fox actually think that the average viewer looks to the network to uphold truth, honor, justice and fairness? I'm not sure which is more ridiculous: that Fox is wasting all this energy on trying to appear "clean," that viewers might bag the show because of the appearance of impropriety, or me, for actually paying attention to this mountain of horse manure.

I guess all we need now is for Jerry Springer to run against Arnold Schwarzenegger for President -- that would pretty much seal the deal for me. Once the lines between legitimate government and celebrity fluff cease to exist -- Ronald Reagan being the appetizer pre-dating that inevitable shit sandwich -- then we can all pack up our things and quietly be on our way.

That is, if Fox's lawyers are not too busy investigating one of their Saturday morning cartoon characters.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Great Leap of Faith

I heard the recommendations, I assembled and checked and ran through a quick, focused pros/cons list in my head, I reviewed the benefits and pensively stacked the inevitable fallout. With the depth and seriousness of a man buying his first family sedan after the birth of his first child, I blindly, boldly trudged ahead and installed the Firefox browser hoping I wasn't making a huge mistake in eschewing IE.

At this age, my father was buying a car that was to protect his wife and his children on the highway of life, not of information. His mission was to guard his family against vehicles large and small, from predators near and far, and from on-road calamities that might never be.

Me, I was worried about some Russian kid exploring a backdoor that could lead to someone getting e-mail passwords and 5,000 e-mail addresses I've amassed since 1983.

And just as my father, at this age, was hesitant in dismissing the old Cadillac in favor of a teutonic beast from Bavaria, I somewhat willingly installed the new browser (as the default) but kept the old beast and links thereto.

Just as the differences between his two choices of travel were -- in one day -- exposed and dichtomized, so too were mine: each did its job with relative grace, though one was a nefarious, ravenous glutton for system memory and resources, whereas the other was less so. But the subtle differences were plainly in view. Lines, layouts and options and settings were suddenly new, different, and less lived-in. A collection of bookmarks, some I've known as friends for over a decade, made the jump with far less difficulty and far more aplomb than had I.

If anyone asks, I'm supportive of and in my new choice. I'm not entirely convinced, just as I'm sure the absence of 14 cup-holders in that shiny metallic blue invader might have worn on his decision way back when. But the hesitance, and the pondering, didn't subside until very recently.

And every time I revisit this contrast I wonder which of my predecessors debated, tossed and turned and qualified his decision to be the first to own an automobile after many before him relied on natural and not man-made horsepower.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

So This Is How It's Gonna Be...

I don't quite remember a summer hotter than this one.

Now while I'm not collecting my AARP benefits just yet, it seems to me that the eco-freaks clamoring for protection of trees, the ozone and landfills weren't so far off. It's 108 degrees on the field at Yankee Stadium and it feels about that hot here uptown as well. I'd guess the humidity is at full blast as well, and while all the technical aspects of meteorology are well beyond my limitations, all I know is it's incredibly hot and disgusting outside.

What that means, essentially, is that all the plans I had are now in limbo. Aside from my disinterest in being outdoors, none of the people I was hoping to see today are willing to go anywhere but the beach, and now that's after 2, whoever intended to hit the beach is already there, and whoever woke up late is stuck enjoying the benefits of A/C.

Since I am among the latter, I am finding new projects to distract me from the regular work and weekend relaxation. For example, I noticed that the A/C usually keeps my apartment at a nippy 68.9 degrees. I have it set that way since my other half was in town; today, however, the apartment is at 72. I'm not exactly sure how the three interior degrees translate vis-a-vis humidity, heat and what's happening outside, but all I know is I thought it was hot this past week; today is dreadful.

At this point, I'm going to go prep some cold stuff -- salad, fruit, etc. -- and hang out near the A/C. While I hate wasting the day inside, it's either that or hit a movie theater, and historically, movie theaters in the summer fill up with people looking to do the same thing we are -- avoid spending the entire day in a comfortable, air-conditioned apartment. I'd normally want to get out, but with the brief excursion I took to the store for Diet Coke, bottled water and some fruit, I'm more than satisfied working, relaxing, reading, watching the Yankees sweep the Rangers and firing up a DVD or two. I'm not sure if these are the dog days of summer, but I'm more than happy avoiding the outside temp in any way possible, so I'll be sure and keep busy.

Hope where you are is palatable; if not, come on by -- and bring some ice.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Late-Night Cloudy Reflex, Part II

Excursions into the City during so-called heat waves are usually far from enjoyable, even if they deign to yield positive results.

Knowing this, I defied the odds (and the temperature) to head out into Gotham with several goals: have fun, stay cool and spend time with friends. Two outta three ain't bad.

The upcoming weekend is, essentially, a combination of laundry, checking out possible sites for an upcoming mongo-huge blowout party I'm throwing with a friend (any bouncers out there, drop me a line) and hanging with friends. I've also got some work on the agenda, and on top of that, I've got to schedule all this around my other half's busy schedule, as she's got friends visiting from New York via Detroit and London. And one of my friends and I are trying to synch schedules so we can finally see Wedding Crashers, after which we've each been pining.

On the sub-agenda: first up, listening to Eric Johnson's new release, Bloom; finishing one of two books I recently bought by Anthony Bourdain, the resident Chef at Les Halles in NYC. Right now I'm reading A Cook's Tour, which is the book version of Bourdain's show of the same name on The Food Network. Next up is Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which is his chronicle of being a line-Chef at Les Halles, a brasserie in the style of Balthazar. I'm pretty sure I mentioned him herein before, but since I recently delved into A Cook's Tour, I have been mighty impressed -- these are not foodie books, they're books that touch on the life experiences and views (not to mention sardonic, sarcastic wit) from someone who happens to love food. I once opined that the day I read a cookbook or something akin thereto would be the day pigs flew outta my butt. Well, thankfully, no porcine anal emissions have or likely will occur anytime soon. These books have as much to do with food -- French, American, fast food, what have you -- as Pirsig's Zen & The Art of Motorcyle Maintenance has to do with motorcycles.

One last note: I found it interesting that Billy Bob Thornton headlined the remake of The Bad News Bears, which was largely panned by critics. I came in tonight and fired up the original -- after watching this past Sunday's episode of HBO's Entourage -- and I remember now why the original, with all its 70's-era feel and oldness -- was so great. Walter Mathau's Buttermaker -- with his beer-cooler icepak, his inane, alcohol-tinged crankiness -- was pure perfection. Any remake that tries to improve on perfection is destined to fall short. And it makes me long for a jersey that advertises Chico's Bail Bonds.

More later.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Stupid Is As Stupid Reveals

There's an old adage that I learned in the corporate world: keep your mouth shut -- never let them know how much of an idiot you are. As a result, in a demonstration of extreme "smartitude," I've tried to keep it shut when- and wherever possible.

The same applies to politics. The more you say, the more you will reveal your cards. The game of geopolitique is somewhat akin to poker -- try to keep your opponent guessing, don't clue him into the measly pair of threes you're riding by running yer trap.

Someone, apparently, forgot to explain the merit of this school of thought to Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez. Yesterday, as reported at CNN.com, during a youth festival celebrating students across the world, he spoke out against the United States. He decried the US's theoretical plans to invade Venezuela, saying "If someday they get the crazy idea of coming to invade us, we'll make them bite the dust defending the freedom of our land." This, of course, coming from the leader of a Socialist nation, is especially optimistic... He also labeled the US the "most savage, cruel and murderous empire that has existed in the history of the world." Guess there's a shortage of accurate history books to go along with shortages of intelligence, freedom and reality as well.

He spoke during the opening ceremony of a world youth festival bringing together student delegations from across the world, convened under the slogan "Against Imperialism and War." In the past, most host countries have been anti-US, so it's no surprise that Chavez, who is a fountain of anti-US bile, was fervently critical of US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Chavez, however, was supportive of the newly-elected Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is less than surprising Mr. Chavez is supportive of Iran, a country that has sponsored terrorism -- hijackings, bombings, kidnapping and assassinations -- in the name of peace and religion.

Which reminds me of another old adage I learned early on: freaks of the world unite.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Satchmo & Other Spare Parts

About a month ago, a mysterious e-mail appeared in one of my 27 inboxes; it was an evite for a party at the Jersey Shore, something about a Tiki bar party. It mentioned the specifics -- August 6th, the location, and the attire -- and not much else.

Knowing where I've been, I am not unused to getting weird, obscure party invites. Invariably, I've gone out, met friends of friends, handed out business cards and e-mail addresses, and two months later I'm on the mailing list for party invites, openings, premieres and gallery functions. So I didn't pay particular attention to this specific invite.

However, as with most online communities to which I have prominent or fringe membership, slowly the details began to emerge: I had been (and recently, have been) spending a lot of time in one particular chatroom, and the party was being thrown by a friend of a friend of mine. Since my other half was scheduled to be in San Fran that weekend, I didn't pay much attention: most of the attendees of the party were single and looking to hook up, and as much as that can be fun, the idea of random, casual, lustful sex with a beautiful woman doesn't interest me -- all I want is my other half (wink wink). So the party invite loomed quietly on the back burner. In the meantime, I did my thing.

A couple weeks ago, I got a call from a friend I've known for over ten years. He had worked at Electric Ladyland (the studio Jimi Hendrix built) when some college friends and I were all NYC residents and jamming together on weekends, and he used to sneak us in to catch the random celeb sighting (Keith Richards, Jack Bruce, et al). After awhile we began showing up after midnight with instruments and a few hours to waste, and if the studio was empty we'd be quietly ushered into a vacant space and allowed to wail for awhile. 5AM, bleary-eyed, half-drunk, reeking of all kinds of smoke and sweat, we'd put together six or seven songs, lay them down on DAT, abscond with our booty, our instruments and our contact, get some food at a diner nearby on University Place, and still manage to wake up on Monday morning, 24 hours later.

Since then, most of the members of this loose-knit jam company went elsewhere -- one went to Japan for a "day-job" (working in finance and making shitloads of money), another to New Jersey and then Miami, and yet others to Cali and beyond. We keep in touch but it's not the same; but every time I hear "White Room" I think back to those late-night sessions.

Back to the present: my friend Eric called me a couple weeks ago and left a strange message, noting that he knew it had been awhile since we'd talked but he was at another major studio -- one he knew my firm had done work for in the past -- and thought I might want to stop in on August 5th and 6th, as a guy was coming in he knew I'd want to meet.

When I called him back he let me know Joe Satriani was coming in to lay down some tracks and to prep for an upcoming album. Since 1987 I've been blown away by everything Joe has done so it certainly didn't take me long to call him up and let him know I'd be there. Without a moment's hesitation I accepted the offer, despite the cryptic e-mail evite I'd received long ago.

Last night, I ventured -- despite having some sort of stomach virus happening -- to the studio, guitar in hand, minus my digicam, and sat in with about a dozen people, mostly record company exec-types -- a lot of suits and ties, cell-phones, and quasi-interest in Joe's new material. I watched as he and his band ran through an hour behind the glass, then he came out, did the pleasantries with the suits, and hit the bathroom as the procession exited the premises. That left me, a few other hangers-on, his wife and his son, and the engineers. He came back into the main area and my friend introduced us; I was pretty much a babbling idiot, although I think I made a few jokes here and there because he laughed in my direction.

At some point, he looked down to see a Fender hardcase at my side and asked what I had with me. I smiled and just said "Here, lemme show you" and produced my first electric, a 1996 Strat Plus Deluxe -- tobacco-burst, locking keys, rosewood fretboard and lace sensors. He told me to take it out and plug in -- at which time I nearly soiled my shorts (from excitement, not the stomach thing) -- and for the next 45 or so minutes, I tried to keep up with a guitarist who I'd consider to be a virtuoso. Another of my guitar heros, Eric Clapton, is steeped in the blues, and I can play 80% of his stuff; Joe Satriani, however, is so fluid and talented on guitar it's almost as if he's above any one particular school of study. Any member of the list of guys I believe redefined the electric guitar -- Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and Joe Satriani -- are guys who took a known genre and turned it on its side. Satch, as he is called, didn't merely take it to another level: he took the guitar and flung it into a new dimension.

By the time we'd wrapped up, it was about 2; I played with he and his band on "Red House," "White Room" and "Sunshine of Your Love," and managed a decent solo on White Room (and got a "nice solo Boogie" from The Man). Otherwise I just did my best to keep up and tried to stay the hell out of the way. The studio was plenty big, but standing next to a guy who's maybe 140 pounds, skinny and bald, and hearing the sonic, epic cascade of sound he is able to create, was, literally, awesome. I also met his wife and his son, briefly, but by then I was in a state of euphoria I've seldom achieved. I thanked him and his band for letting me sit in and apologized if I wasn't up to their level and offered to leave my guitar with them if they believed I was unqualified to use it. He smiled and said "Hold onto it -- bring it with you next time." Another near-miss on the soil-shorts.

I thanked my friend Eric, who gave me a ride uptown; we were both invited by the mini-entourage to go get some dinner -- at 2AM -- with Satch and his crew, but my head was swimming and my stomach was doing backflips and I opted not to push it. Besides, I was tired and elated and spent and running on pure adrenaline. The only less-than-great thing about it was not having Kaia with me; Satch isn't her cup of tea, but I think she would have gotten off seeing me in the same space with him (and wailing away on guitar). Eric told me he took some pictures with a disposable he keeps in the studio, so when the roll is developed he'll get me some of the shots, but as much as I'll look forward to seeing those photographs, I'm just glad for the experience and am waiting by the phone for my next late-night trip to the world of Satchmo.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Changing The Rules

In almost every episode of Law & Order, no matter which subset of characters were the focus, each time the cops went out and arrested the perpetrator of a crime, the battle was only half-won. Thereafter, it was up to prosecutors to somehow find a way to prove the defendant's guilt. Most times they were successful; however, there were times when they were not. This aspect of reality is why the show is as excellent as it is, and the reality depicted therein is that many times, there is no way to prove a defendant is guilty, which leads to a great many criminals being released back into the cesspool of society.

This aspect of reality is less than charming. And I sometimes wonder if we should overhaul the justice system and change the rules.

On a more global scale, yesterday's news brought some interesting developments from the other side of the pond. Tony Blair, in response to the pair of bombing incidents in London as wellas subsequent threats made against London by al-Qaeda, announced a variety of anti-hatred crackdowns, including, but not limited to, deportations of those advocating terror, imprisonment of those who seek to harm society through extremist views, and the ban of terrorist training in or outside Britain. Essentially, he explained that free speech isn't going to be stifled, but hate, terror and extremism will.

Mr. Blair also indicated that extremist groups will be outlawed and anyone inciting terror will be shown the door. It's about time.

Not too long ago (July 21st, specifically) I opined that the status quo -- they attack our cities, we mourn the victims, beef up security and wait for the next attack -- was not the answer, but in its stead, we should find the cancers among legitimate, law-abiding citizenry and remove them -- deportation, imprisonment, the morgue -- however possible.

Finally, things are beginning to change. Not necessarily for the better, mind you -- but the fact is that speech -- whether shouting fire in a crowded theater or as incitement to terror on young, impressionable muslims -- has repercussions. So while this nation was predicated on Voltaire's oft-quoted proclamation "I don't agree with a word of what you have said, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it," there will -- and must -- be some limits to that speech.

If I were muslim, I would view Mr. Blair's policy shift with some skepticism, but I would also welcome it on some level. Yes, Blair's government will increasingly scrutinize Muslim thought; but at the same time, this scrutiny will -- hopefully -- draw a line between legitimate political dissent and the type of anti-state hatred that leads to people dying indiscriminately. It's one thing to see young, uneducated, brainwashed muslims burning an American or a British flag on a crowded street in the Mideast -- it's another watching ambulances, police and fire vehicles scurrying around New York & London hoping to rescue victims of that same type of free speech. A free society protects unpopular thought, but not that thought which is meant to destroy it from the inside out.

As Adlai Stevenson once said, "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Worthy Hiatus for Reflection

Before I delve back into the muck of Americana on which this House typically focuses, I apologize for the innocuous, last-minute absence of yours truly from these pages. My hiatus was an impromptu reaction to a number of things: an excess of stress derived from work, a dearth of worthy topics on which to contemplate and wax both poetic and profane, a complete and utter disgust over the recent play of the New York Yankees, a malaise in part contributed to by the immense and repulsive heat and humidity pervasive throughout the entire northeast, and, finally, the fact that I just didn't feel like comin' in. So kiss my bubinga.

Good...now, then, we can resume festivities.

There's not much on today's agenda so for those of you whose lips are wet with anticipation, don't ring Pavlov's dinner bell just yet. There are a mere three topics on which I have intended to focus, and none of them are particularly important, relevant or interesting.

The first flavor of the day is, of course, the news about the Space Shuttle Discovery. I certainly commend the bravery, ability and courage of the crew -- fixing, mid-mission, glitches with the shuttle's hardware -- yet the question on my (and apparently a lot of other peoples' minds) is who in charge at Nasa decided to send up the flying Oldsmobuick with parts missing, stuff leaking and the insulating foam -- the stuff that kinda put a wrinkle in the LAST shuttle mission -- up into space in the first place? What the hell kind of program -- space program, cafeteria lunch program, TV program -- goes ahead with a life-and-death mission, knowing the same problems occurring now wound up killing seven people that went up during the last mission? And who the hell builds the shuttle that it keeps having problems? GM? Sorry, with the chance to burn up during re-entry, I'll pass on the NASA Employee Discount and opt for a nice, safe BMW M6. I've always wanted to fly, but if you can't build it better, I'll stick to flying with four wheels on the ground. There's less debris/litter, it can make pitstops, and I can always swing by the Wendy's Drive-Thru ("Eat great, even late," you gluttonous lolly-gagger) if I need some grub.

So I commend the bravery of the astronauts on the current mission -- doing 7 g's in a tin can of nuts and bolts made by people who couldn't assemble a Lego 12-piece set is mighty courageous indeed.

Next up on the BoogieBlotter is a story out of New York suggesting that the July 7th bombings in London were a result of terrorists using common household items as explosives rather than high-grade stuff like Semtex, C4 and dynamite. There's no question that there are chemicals under the world's collective sink that will go boom when mixed together -- new parents have been using those little plastic childproofing things to stop kids from finding this out first-hand -- and there will always be available to people (see "evil-doers") things which they can corrupt so as to aid in making their sick, twisted thoughts reality. But rather than outlaw toilet bowl cleaner and facial astringent, here's a thought: catch the assholes responsible for committing these acts and not SC Johnson & Wax. As far as I'm concerned, police and security people searching supermarket aisles for bad stuff are barking up the wrong tree: as a society, we need to focus on finding and isolating people that don't want to ascribe to the notions of peace, respect of life and freedom. Some of you might disagree and suggest that we as a society are somehow to blame, ie that the war in Iraq -- which apparently encouraged the July 7th bombers, aka copy-cat nitwits, to perform this act in the first place -- was the cause of their unhappiness. Well, here's a newsflash -- if the Western foreign policy is to blame, and if every move those countries make outside their four walls is going to be scrutinized by Islamic fundamentalists everywhere, then we should close down Israel, hang a little "Going Out of Business" sign out front, and call it a day. If those anti-Iraq war advocates believe it's more important to cow or appease the extremists of the world, then go practice and profess your beliefs in the Middle East or in Southeast Asia. The extremist position is not to engage a political, non-violent debate -- their position is to convince as many people as possible that cutting off the heads of innocent civilians, bombing places of worship (both churches and mosques) and killing women and children is somehow mandated, if not okayed by their religious beliefs. Bullshit on all accounts. These are animals who have taken a religion -- a relatively law- and humanity-respecting system of beliefs -- and corrupted it. Granted, Islam is a religion as tied to the sword as it is to the Koran -- but nowhere does it legitimately suggest that civilians and its own people can be sacrificed. And that's what it is: sacrifice. So, while those opposed to the war in Iraq have their own thoughts on the war, they should avoid at all costs the notion that the West should somehow alter its policies as a result of the chagrin of four imbeciles and what they're planning with their backpacks.

Speaking of imbeciles, news out of the sporting world is that Rafael Palmeiro, a journeyman DH/1B playing this season for the Baltimore Orioles, tested positive for the steroid stanozolol, which, for those who know, is pretty powerful. Mr. Palmeiro not only testified -- emphatically -- to Congress that he never took steroids, he also very recently reached a milestone of getting his 3,000th major league hit. Unfortunately for him, his accomplishments this season, as well as all those before this one, will be forever tainted. The almost comical aspect of the Rafael Palmeiro story -- the antithesis of the pathetic fact that this jerk knowingly, despite his assertions to the contrary, took illegal, performance-enhancing drugs -- is that he also did an ad for Viagra, another (legal) performance-enhancing drug. So between testifying (and perjuring himself) to Congress, collecting a pretty significant milestone on the playing field, and being revealed as a cheater and a liar, Mr. Palmeiro has had quite a season. But now, keeping in mind that taking steroids shrinks (and eventually destroys) the testicles (among other things), it's no wonder that Mr. Palmeiro takes the little blue pill. It all seemingly makes sense now.

I can sense a new Viagra marketing campaign taking shape. Open with a shot of an afternoon baseball game, from a distance...then the voice-over asks: "Feeling a little underpowered and overwhelmed by major-league pitchers and their bevy of fastballs, curve balls and high-n-tight sliders? Take some of this stuff." Cut to the bedroom, a couple sitting side-by-side, she resembling a porno star, he with a sheepish, embarassed look on his face. "Feeling a little underpowered and overwhelmed by major-league groupies in bars and hotels, with their ample cleavage, stilettos and suitcases of B&D equipment? Take some of this."

Three hours later, cut to the couple engaged in vigorous sexual activity, with the male wearing batting gloves, turning to the camera with gleam in his eye: "Thank you, Viagra!!!"

I'm gonna be rich. Either that, or sick.

Or both.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sometimes There's A Remainder

Many of my friends, associates and cohorts found themselves inexplicably drawn to cyberspace sometime in the last decade, tickled virtually pink at being able to patronize Amazon.com to buy a book they could instead have in their paws within 20 minutes or check sports scores and statistics online that ESPN funnels on a per-minute basis across the top or bottom of the telecasts on one of their 31 different networks.

Similarly, in business, the onset of web-friendliness began seeping its way in around two or three years ago; where clients and daily work-buddies once towed the "just fax it to me" route rather than bother with printing papers, envelopes and stamping something in time for the five o'clock mail pickup, they now suggest "just e-mail it to me."

The instantaneous, insidious prevalence of these two phenomena is equally staggering.

In the case of the latter, I don't presume to use "the fax is tied up" as a means to delay or deter clients and cogs in the ever-present wheel of productivity. However, reality -- ie, meeting face-to-face with clients or at least speaking with them on the phone -- has been, largely speaking, replaced by the instantaneous, vapid efficiency of e-mail. Why fax a bunch of sketchy, staticky pages when, thanks to Adobe Acrobat, those same documents can be neatly funneled and bundled into an e-mailable mass of data? Why bother calling someone with an answer to a question when instead the answer, and the data supporting same, can be tucked neatly below a mass of 256-bit-encrypted headers? No reason.

As for the former, just consider that once, the world (the Northeast Corridor of the United States) was once roamed, in part, by milkmen and Encyclopedia salesmen. No longer. Now the world (see previous definition) is roamed by UPS and Fedex delivery people. The occasional Fresh Direct truck notwithstanding, the need for milkmen has gone the way of being able to work with raw chicken without fearing bacterial infection. Printed encyclopedias are a rare antiquity -- the web offers, with little or no ability, an instantly, constantly, omnipresent, everchanging litany of information. Why buy something in print that will be obsolete before the ink on the page is dry? Why would any New Yorker choose not to patronize Fresh Direct, a supermarket delivery service that is all but bulletproof? Some people like to eviscerate, smell and feel their own produce -- fair enough -- but with the compression of daily life, and the increasingly rare existence of "free time," who has the luxury of visiting a cramped market, squeezing and sniffing canteloupes, trying to remember what constitutes "freshness," and then standing in a line -- replete with screaming babies and cashiers that need their nametags to verify their own names -- and then somehow get the fruit of the earth into their living spaces? No one has any time for anything anymore, especially not for that.

The onset of technology in our daily lives -- compact discs (and iPods) over LPs, digital cameras over traditional shoot-and-develop 35mm film-based ones, text messages and e-mails over phone calls -- demonstrate a certain progress, and yet they ostensibly remind us of a minute, barely-perceptible shift toward a less tangible and a less meaningful quality of life.

Sure, I love digital cameras -- who doesn't want the ability to photograph anything and not worry about 'wasting a picture?' Provided you've got enough battery/juice and a large enough memory card therein, your camera can capture your every move, every day, over an entire lifetime (or until a new, cooler camera is released). And the fact that those nimrods at Fotomat won't be handling my personal photos -- and that I don't have to pay for film or the privelege of having said Fotomat employee's paw-prints on my shots -- is a tremendous advantage. But as the ease and the access of something as aesthetically crucial as photography increasingly becomes a disposable part of life rather than a means of artistic ability and expression best reserved to people like Herb Ritts, the art of the thing disappears. Some people have a creative, expressive ability to frame a photograph; others, digicam in hand, just take a picture and have no concept of shutter speed, aperture, or lighting. As long as that little icon-thingy isn't blinking, take the photo and go back to the foaming mochachino latte grande de-loox. It's just a picture.

Another concept which I've found uniquely American, for better or worse, is our need to fill the empty spaces (I should have probably listened to Pink Floyd's The Wall for some background effect on this topic, but it doesn't translate to mp3 so I rarely bother these days). What I mean by this "empty space filler" mentality is that we're increasingly a nation of multi-taskers. That means we will make a business call while en route to a lunch appointment with friends to discuss another topic on a third idea we got while spending time with other friends in a bar in anticipation of yet another big event taking place simultaneously at another time. The chain is linked ever tighter and ever longer, and there's no abatement in sight. I'm not an anti-social person, and I multi-task too; but I find that the minutes seem shorter and the pressure seems greater, so every free minute has to be done doing something else; on the way downtown to file papers with a City agency? Review the schedule (on the Palm) for tomorrow's meeting with a client. Waiting for a bus? Make a call -- you've got 90 seconds until the next one rolls up. I'll listen to a CD via the iPod that I got (and ripped and installed into said iPod) a few weeks ago. Albums I once awaited and purchased on the day of their respective releases barely make it onto my iPod, let alone into my ears, a month after their releases and/or purchases. The plastic is still on some of them because I'm so busy it's just easier downloading them from the nearest server (located either somewhere in the Balkans or in the former Congo or in a section of what used to be known as the Soviet Bloc). We're moving faster, we're juggling more, and we're using more technology than grey matter in our daily travels. There's nothing wrong with it, just like it's an overall boon to our daily lives that cashiers just punch in the amount of money they're handed and the device tells them how much to return in change. Their job is simply to be a conduit between me and the thirty-seven cents I get back after buying a pack of Ultrawhite Mint Chewlies. That cash register just saved me thirty wasted seconds of my day. For that, I ought to forfeit that thirty-seven cents. Odds are the casheir can't quite count it him- or herself anyway, so it's likely that some of that thirty-seven cents is staying in the drawer anyway. Then again, I'm too busy to be bothered to count it, so it's all good.

The advent of the cell-phone in our daily lives is a blessing and a curse; 9/11 exposed that for its glaring truth. We once lauded the wired, "landline" phone as a quasi-necessity; how could our forefathers have existed without the ability to call across the street, across the country or across the world? Now, that question is qualified with a "I will call you from the bank, the car, the market or from the hotel." Boundaries, both of time and space, are irrelevant. The world is shrinking along with each minute we're entitled therein. But as long as each minute falls within our calling plan, no big deal.

To wit: a vacation was once sought out of refuge from the deluge of pressure. "Getting away from it all" now means not sitting at a desk, thanks to cellular service worldwide. I could be on a beach in the most remote part of the world, without a human near me for miles -- but I can still participate in Thursday's sales meeting. There are parts of the world -- much of South America, incidentally -- where cellular service outranks traditional landline phones due to geography and topography. So getting away from it all, essentially, means that unless you're dead, sleeping or in the shower, you're reachable, which in turns means that the only way to get away from it all now is to die. Hmmm. The leash that was once loose and essentially invisible has slowly, quietly and voluntarily began circling tighter and tighter. If you don't want to be found, the excuse "I'm sorry, I was out of the office for a bit" will soon, if not already, be replaced by "I'm sorry, my cellphone died."

I'm not railing against technology; I embrace it in all aspects of my life. Like many, my microwave is more active than my stove. The printed numbers on my cell-phone are wearing down; I haven't listened to Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall in months because they do not translate well, as uninterrupted musical works, to the mp3 format. I haven't used a paper-based datebook in over a decade (and I still manage to keep appointments -- mostly). I've got a collection of LP's with no real sense of how I'll ever be able to play them; they'll likely wind up on E-Bay to be sold as collector's items to someone who will cherish and finger the black (or blue, or red, or white, or marbleized green) vinyl while listening to the same recording on compact disc. I've got more than a dozen friends I've never met in person. I've got over 75 people on buddy lists across three instant-messenger networks; people know me by my screenname and e-mail address. And the children being born this minute in the United States will grow up never knowing what film is for, what an LP is, or what an answering machine is (they'll be confounded by the little box where all the voicemail is stored).

What I have noticed, if it's not readily apparent, is as the world increasingly is broken down into ones and zeros, a little something of the original flavor and the original content is lost. Sometimes there's a remainder. Whether it's listening to a brand-new LP on a capable stereo system vs. a compact disc or reading an anthology of short stories via book vs. an online version thereof, the two are different. Digital cameras will produce wonderful prints, given the right paper and resolution; but nothing will ever surpass a really wonderful, well-composed photograph. And as much as the children of this coming day will enjoy the unblemished, sterling sound emitted from a little aluminum disc, peeling a vinyl LP from its paper sheath and enjoying it uninterrupted -- without getting a fax, an e-mail, a text message or an instant message -- is a lost part of a life long gone.

Pining for the good ol' days is not my goal; but if, in only 20 short years, we've gone from there to here, how much further can we go before we cease to become 90% water and instead become 90% binary?

That's assuming, of course, that we're not already. And even then, I'll still focus on what's left over rather than what's already gone. As my algebra teacher in ninth grade once advised me, "The remainder is as important as what fits in properly the first time around."

I never quite knew what he meant, but I think I'm beginning to understand.