Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans

Needless to say,I'm horrified by the devastation that Katrina has wrought. I can't watch much of it on TV; I prefer to get my news from the internet, not for immediacy, as usual, but for a bit of distance.

Of course, some of that coverage is more immediate than others. Reporters at The Times Picayune, even after abandoning their office, are giving frequent, on-the-spot updates online. I'm glued.

There are plenty of places you can give money to, such as the Red Cross, Operation U.S.A.,and others. Chances are pretty good that if you work for a large firm (as I do), your company will match your contribution in some way. It's worth looking into.

I'm feeling selfish and foolish, grieving for the loss of a city I've only visited, while so many people have lost their homes,their family, their livelihoods, their friends. It's a place my memory andmy imagination are drawn to, a place I've always wanted to live. But I don'tlive there. I just visit.

I'd give up every future visit I ever had coming, if that would put it in one piece again. It won't, of course. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Someday, not tomorrow, but someday --they'll be back on their feet again (with the help of tireless rescue and aid workers and donations from generous people all over the world). Afterthat they'll still need money. Beyond the incredible expense of dealing with the disaster, businesses will have been dormant, possibly for months. They'll need our support in the future, not just in the now. Tourist dollars are an excellent way to do that.

(This idea is no substitute for giving now. It's just something to keep an eye on for later.)

For now, this story by Wright Thompson for the Kansas City Star offers a little hope.


The People's Bid-ness

Sharon's right. This is a freakin' scream.


(For the maybe three people who read my blog and not hers.)


Back from the Philly Folk Fest for a day, and I’m still a little dizzy. It’s so strange to be completely immersed in a small community for even just a few days only to reemerge back into the world. But it certainly makes you treasure every shower like it’s your first.

The music was phenomenal. Kathy & I bought seven CDs between us; the past few we’ve only bought a few. The Red Stick Ramblers, a Cajun swing outfit, were probably my favorite band of the show. But maybe it was the Mammals, a bluegrass band with a sharp political tongue. Modern Man was certainly the funniest act we saw; it’s not on their album, but their bouncy theme song for “Abdul the Reluctant Martyr” had me in tears. The Avett Brothers have a crazy energy to their live show, and it carries through on their album, Mignonette; it’s gotten the most play from me so far. Kathy got three other discs, but I only saw one of the artists: the Wailin’ Jennies, a terrific female harmony group whose name must drive hard-of-hearing booking agents crazy. Marcia Ball, Ann Rabson, Arlo Guthrie, The Glengharry Bhoys – so much good music.

Campwise, it was fairly small this year: just me & Kathy, Jay and Mick. Fot the first time, we had a banner: we’re “The Confediracy of Duncez.” Gotta get the strategic misspellings in – no dunce is without ‘em. For some reason, we adopted the Robot Chicken theme song as a marching tune, and would cluck happily as we tromped around the muddy camp. (The very cool Lauren from Huzzah told us that there used to be another Confederacy of Dunces at fest, but they stopped coming a few years ago. I don’t remember them, but who remembers all of Fest, anyway?)

And dunces we were. Kathy and I were rushed in packing (having just come home from a vacation and being inveterate procrastinators besides) and completely forgot ponchos. They mighta come in handy on Saturday and Sunday. We did, however, have a brand new tent (which performed quite well in the rain) and an inflatable mattress (bliss!), which made camp life much more comfortable. When we weren’t soaked.

Sunday night is usually my favorite night in camp. A lot of people have gone home by then, but there’s still a decent amount who stay. There’s a lot less to see, musicwise, and I never find myself wondering what else is going on. I stand there, wobbly but completely in the now. Had a great conversation about music, movies, and technical writing with a gent named Leon who camps with the Flamingos. Wandered around the camp one last time. Enjoyed it all.

I should go now. Work needs me awake, which means I’ll need to sleep before then. But it’s hard adapting to a normal schedule again.


First Vacation Wrap-up

Honestly, I don’t have much to say except what a wonderful time we had. First of all, big thanks to Christoph, Nicole and Lucas for allowing us to share their vacation. Second, we shared a house with a ton of other people (some of them strangers), and got along famously. Seriously. Check Variety if you don’t believe me. And third, I rode some of the craziest waves of my life. Big, crashing ones that would spin you around or send you into the sand, but every so often would push you fast and far.

I’m a simple man. Good friends. Good waves. Good lady by my side. What more could I want?


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Babe I'm Leavin'...

I must be on my way. I was hoping to write a bit more about the rave, but it's 3 in the morning and I have to wake up at 6. But the car is packed, and we're off to the Philadelphia Folk Festival tomorrow bright and early. Okay, dim and early, but absolutely fucking early.

So I never did write about what an awesome vacation we had last week, and I'm already onto my next one. Maybe I'll do wrapups of both at once.

It dawned on me a couple of days ago that the reason the Utah rave has me so riled is that it was singled out to be busted. I have no real worries that PA State Troopers are going to chopper down onto the festival stage this weekend and stop the show. And it's not because they've paid their permits, and it's not because none of the folkies and hippies and goofballs there would ever think of touching a drug. The real reason's plain as day: Ravers are young. And when kids step out of line, they scare grownups, and grownups strike back. Out of protectiveness or out of jealousy, grownups make kids toe the line they're unwilling to walk themselves.

I'll be back after Fest. See you then.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Editorials Begin

Two good editorials about the Utah rave raid. Here’s a fairly measured response from the Provo Daily Herald. To my mind, the money quotes are these:

To be sure, there were a number of drug- and alcohol-related arrests and citations arising from the rave. These are fair game by any measure. Once a crime is committed, a permit may be considered null and void. But of the 43 citations reported by the Utah County Sheriff's Office, about half appear directly related to the raid itself -- disorderly conduct, failure to disperse and related acts. Most of the others could have been dealt with on a case-by-case basis, without shutting down a concert at which the majority were not breaking the law.

A massive police assault on virtually any public gathering (a BYU football game, for example) would uncover similar illegalities, from drugs to weapons to expired driver's licenses. But if a crime is committed during a BYU football game, the game is not stopped. Offenders are trundled off individually. A general suspicion that something illegal might happen at a public gathering, even a rave, may not be the best basis from which to launch a major law enforcement action.

The Salt Lake City Weekly piece, called ”Iraq in Utah” is angrier, but hardly frothing. It concludes:

“There’s something telling, too, about the fact that the Sheriff’s Office learned at noon that day where the rave would commence, but waited more than two hours into the music—until 11:30 p.m.—to make 60 arrests and demand the area be cleared. Much was made of one young raver who “overdosed on ecstasy,” and then was released to her parents. If disaster was so imminent, and warranted 90 men in uniform, why wasn’t the rave politely stopped before it started? Perhaps because the spectacle of an outdoor event, like a rave itself, is a lot more fun than sitting at home.”

Hopefully, I’ll be able to write more on this tonight, but I’m packing up for a music festival of my own to go to. Here’s hoping it ends better.


One More (trivial) Thing

Sploid is also making some hay that Utah County Sheriff James Tracy claimed that, among other (worse) things, none of the officers used profanity during the raid. This, despite the fact that the video clearly shows an officer saying "Turn that off. Turn that music off or I'll take your ass to jail."

This hardly matters, but the video is irrelevant, profanity-wise. "Throw your ass in jail" is a vulgarity, not a profanity.

Here's the difference. Vulgarity takes impolite, crude things and elevates them to the level of conversation. "Gladys, I'm gonna take a shit in your sock drawer" is vulgarity.

Profanity is taking the sacred and lowering it to the level of casual conversation. Taking the Lord's name in vain (such as "Sweet Jesus on a tandem bike!") is profanity.

Just so we're clear. And so Jesus gets his exercise.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Utah Rave Update

Sploid reports that Jason Ramsey (of Reason magazine) spoke with Utah officials to verify the existence of the permit for the rave. He writes:

"I spoke directly with Jay Stone who handles the Mass Gathering permits for the Utah County Health Department’s Bureau of Environmental Health Services, and he stated unequivocably that the permit was applied for and granted by his department.

He also agreed to write a letter to this effect upon request. The questions about whether or not the permit was issued should be answered and not up for dispute.

I am currently attempting to reach the Utah County Board of Commissioners to resolve whether or not an additional permit would have been required by their office. Initial conversations with ‘Michelle’ at their office seemed to indicate that this was not the case."

So it's possible that the "no permit" justification for the raid may not hold water. Coupled with the fact that many of the drugs the raid produced had already been confiscated by security guards (who apparently did not have the legal authority to hold them), and I'd say that the matter at least deserves further looking into.

Here's some more coverage. And here. And here. Oh, and the Salt Lake Tribune implicity confirms that Alisha Matagi was the girl thrown to the ground in the video.


Rave On

The Deseret News on the rave.

Hopefully we’ll see some editorials from these same places in the next few days.


More on the Utah Rave

I'm sure more information will come out on this, but for now, here are two more links. First, here's an ABC KTVX 4 news report that doesn't include much more information, but some new visuals, including overhead footage of the raid. (It's unclear whether it's from a news copter or police footage; but since KSL has some of the same footage below, it's probably of police origin.) It does add that the landowner and the party promoter are facing charges.

Second, here's another report and more video from KSL 5, which also states that Yancy Childs, the property owner, was arrested in the raid; earlier accounts I read just said he had been forced to leave his land. Cody Childs (no relation given) was also arrested.

One detail that seems sketchy: The woman in red the video shows being forced to the ground. Witnesses say she was kicked in the stomach. Yancy goes further: "She had a broken nose, lump on her head, and bruises on her side. It's more like Gestapo tactics instead of coming in and checking it out and making sure everything's okay."

If the woman is indeed Alaisha Matagi, her booking photo doesn't reveal those facial injuries (to my eye, at least). But I have no idea what her nose looked like before, and the lump could be on the back of her head. And, of course, there are plenty of red sweatshirts in the world; it might not be her at all.


Monday, August 22, 2005

Paging Dr. Righteous

Armed, camoed soldiers busted up a rave in Utah last Saturday night. Granted, I don't know the whole story. The official version is here. The Sploid version tells a different tale, with links to testimonials from a bunch of the people at the rave. But it's undeniable that this video is disturbing to watch. Particularly when we see them wrestling this girl to the ground.

The thing that chills me the most, honestly, is hearing the soldier say "put the camera down." If you're in the right, you're not afraid of the light.

Just wanted to get this up while it's fresh; my vacation wrapup can wait.

UPDATE: Here's another piece that relies on more firsthand accounts. And here's the sheriff's statement.


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Beach Party!

I'll be hitting the shore for a few days. I might get a post or two up before then, but it's even more likely that I won't. But whatever you do with your week, for once, I won't be jealous of you.


Saturday, August 13, 2005

Batman, Guantanamo, and Me

Strange thing, I’m discovering. I’m 35, and comics suddenly are meaning more to me than they have since I was in high school.

In order for you to understand, I’m going to have to give you some background. On some comic book plots. If you’re normally not into the comic-booky goodness on this site, bear with me. I have a larger point than how cool Bloodhound is. (Still cool, by the way. Cancelled, but cool.)

In case you are planning to pick some of these books up, I’ll be discussing plot points from Identity Crisis, The Omac Project, and the “Sacrifice” crossover that ran through last month’s Superman and Wonder Woman titles.

The main one is Identity Crisis. Quick rundown: Sue Dibney, wife of the Elongated Man, was murdered. One of the chief suspects is Dr. Light, a villain long considered a buffoon. During the course of the investigation, the reader discovers a secret kept by a handful of Justice Leaguers – that years ago, Sue had been raped by a much more dangerous Dr. Light. The League apprehended him moments later, but even caught, he claimed he would do it again. And these members took a vote, and decided to alter his personality magically so that he couldn’t. (They had previously erased their secret identities from other villains' minds; this was a bigger deal.)

As this was being done, things got complicated. Batman arrived on the scene, and saw what the League was doing. He objected, and the members opted to use the magic on him, as well – stripping away those ten minutes of memory.

So Light becomes a joke, and Batman is missing ten minutes of time. It might not bother anyone else, but they’re not Batman. They say it’s often not the crime that gets you in trouble, but the cover-up, and that’s the case here. In The Omac Project, we learn that Batman eventually pulled his memory back together and realized he can’t trust even the Justice League. He sets up spy satellites to monitor superhuman activity.

These have secretly been taken over in a comic-book/SF way, by a guy named Max Lord. Lord has limited mind control power, but he’s spent years working on a way to control Superman. He sets him off, having Superman beat Batman into intensive care. Wonder Woman tries to stop him, and she and Superman get into a knock-down, drag-out. Eventually she gets her Lasso of truth around Lord, and she asks him: What do I have to do to eliminate your hold on Superman. Unable to lie, he says “Kill me.”

She does.

So this is pretty much where things stand. Batman has spied on his fellow heroes. Wonder Woman has killed a man. Superman, while he didn’t participate, actually knew about the memory wipes of supervillains and didn’t say anything; they helped keep Lois safe, after all. Now some supervillains have regained their memory and have attacked the Justice League’s loved ones. And the time has come to vote again as to what to do.

This stuff has been knocking me out. It’s not all hero vs. villain stuff, or at least not all black and white. It raises all sorts of questions: Is safety worth constant surveillance? How far should a hero go to protect others? What happens when you cross a moral or ethical line in order to protect someone? Will you cross it again? Is the line permanently redrawn? And if we draw that line too timidly, and fail to act with enough force, are we culpable for any deaths that stronger action could have presented? Can we trust the people who protect us? Should we?

These questions lead to questions about superhero tropes in general. What right, for instance, does Superman have to send someone to the Phantom Zone? Why does Batman get to break and enter to find evidence of a crime, or beat up thugs for information. Why is it okay for Green Lantern to put a supervillain out of harm’s way in a green cage on the moon, but if I lock up someone in my basement I’m a dangerous sicko?

It makes me think of the internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, and the prisons in Abu Ghraib. Locking up people without due process is wrong – but is it keeping us safer? Some people think so. Torture is wrong, but some people think it’s effective, despite the evidence that the information it yields is unreliable.

What the comics let me – and people all over comic book message boards -- do is this: They let us discuss these issues of ethics, morality, power and security while keeping our preexisting political viewpoints out of it. The ideas we’re talking about are relevant to the times we live in, yet aren’t charged with the rhetoric that inflames most political discussion (including my own, certainly).

Also, it lets me look obliquely at these issues without reducing me to a quivering lump of despair and fear. Terrorists will try to attack us on our home soil again, just as Dr. Light promised to find Sue once he escaped.

This is not a new idea, I realize. Science fiction and fantasy have always addressed contemporary issues, and comics are no different. But it’s taken me a while to articulate it, since it’s more a metaphor of tone than an analogy with direct correlations in the plot.

And I have to say that I’m hooked. What I’m getting lately are adventure stories that have relevance to my own life. But instead of trying to deal with reality in the plot, their hook is in the theme: What moral compromises are we willing to make to keep our loved ones safe? It’s a fascinating struggle, and one I don’t think any hero can truly win.


Friday, August 12, 2005

The Big Squeeze

Check out Political Animal on oil. Scary.


Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Prophetic Dream

I am atremble.

I woke up in the middle of the night, after what I can only call a prophetic dream.

I this dream, I told myself (or someone wise that I trust told me – it’s hard to remember):

You have two mountains to climb,
Two novels to write.
One grown from hope,
The other rooted in fear.

What really freaked me out was the feeling I got that I was supposed to work on both of them at once – probably the surest way to complete neither of them.

Still, the dream also had me convinced that, with the write slopes and putting the right English on it, I could snowboard from Montana to my house and back. So nothing’s impossible, I guess.


I’m an Insensitive Lout

After rereading my post below, I want to clarify something.

When I gave my loose definition of a person as “someone with a birthday,” I was generalizing for comedic effect. Obviously, viability issues come into play, but, not having been through the whole parenthood process, I’m not really sure at what point that starts, or if it’s different for every baby, or what. Better not to go into it, I figured.

More importantly, however, I also don’t have firsthand knowledge of how a mother feels about the child growing inside her, or how a father feels about the child growing 2 feet to the left of him when they go to the movies. (Can’t pinpoint their relative positions, otherwise.) I can guess. And I didn’t mean to dismiss that bond in my earlier post.

Essentially, I was speaking of the fetus’s legal status more than the fetus itself. Splitting hairs, I know, but I think it’s important that the law doesn’t confuse children with beings with the potential to be children. If the law were to recognize a potential future event, I’d be locked up for murder a hundred times. You too, probably.

Maybe for killing insensitive louts like me.

I apologize if I upset anyone. It wasn't my intention.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Too Hot For Ya?

Rest easy. Hell's about to freeze over. I have a kind word to say about Rick Santorum.

This putzwad may actually not be a hypocrite. In one area. Until he backpedals like Bizarro Lance Armstrong, that is.

See, what with all the furrowed brows and concerned tones over so-called human life (such as stem cells and whatnot), he and his cronies tend to focus a little obsessively on abortion -- when plenty of what fits their drastically lowered bar for "human" gets thrown away is bio-bags every day from fertility clinics. And Rick's against it.

And okay, I think he's wrong about this, like he's wrong about stem cells and abortion. I'm no scientist, but in the broadest possible terms, here's my definition of a person: someone with a birthday. Without that, you're not in the fraternity yet. You're pledging.

But Rick believes differently. Through and through, apparently. And while I disagree and think he's a poisonous whackjob, at least he's consistent.

So congratulations, Rick Santorum, on taking that bold stance against couples who desperately want to have kids. Say no to parenthood. Maybe infertile couples shouldn't be able to marry, either?


(P.S. In case you were searching, the kind word was putzwad...which is much more polite than santorum.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Testing, Testing

Just wanting to see if I can get one of these new-fangled picture thingies to work. Let's see, shall we?

Well lookee that! There's Pogo!

You know, I've gotta read more Pogo one of these days. Walt Kelly's comic stip was praised up, down and middle, but I don't remember it being in our newspaper until a watered-down revival of it (without Kelly, from what I recall) showed up around when I was in high school. Didn't seem like any great shakes to me then, so I didn't read it. But the few reprints I've read -- and the out-and-out applicability of the above quote -- are reason enough to buy a fat collection and dig in.


It's Carnival Time...

...and everybody's drinkin' wine...

The Carnival of NJ Bloggers is up at the Center of NJ Life this week. Pay a visit. Find a new blog. Eat some funnel cake. Throw some beads. And by all means, join the second line and shake your thing!

Here's the link.


Saturday, August 06, 2005

Okay, I did it too.

Here are the results of my 3-D humor survey:

the Wit
(65% dark, 30% spontaneous, 16% vulgar)

your humor style:

You like things edgy, subtle, and smart. I guess that means you're probablyan intellectual, but don't take that to mean pretentious. You realize 'dumb'can be witty--after all isn't that the Simpsons' philosophy?--but rudenessfor its own sake, 'gross-out' humor and most other things found in a fraternityleave you totally flat.

I guess you just have a more cerebral approach than most. You have the perfect mindset for a joke writer or staff writer.

Your sense of humor takes the most thought to appreciate, but it's also the best, in my opinion.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: Jon Stewart - Woody Allen - Ricky Gervais

Which is all well and good, and I like the company I keep, but what sort of motherfucking language do I have to use to get a higher "vulgar" rating, you cocksuckers?? Sixteen goddamn percent doesn't nearly fucking cut it, muthergrabber.

Just sayin'.

UPDATE: Here’s the link.


Friday, August 05, 2005

A Few Good Books

"You want me on that shelf! You NEED me on that shelf!"

Been reading a bit this summer. And listening to books on tape. Here's a rundown on my recent reads.

Catch-22. I know I wrote about this before, but I just want to say again that Joseph Heller's abusrdist look at the military (a microcosm for American society, turned up to 11 via life-and-death situations) is something to marvel at. It's very episodic, and completely disjointed in time, lulling the reader into a feeling that it's a collection of anecdotes loosely strung together, sort of like watching reruns of M*A*S*H on both TBS and the Hallmark channel, where TBS is still in the Trapper years and Hallmark is post-Radar. But then things start connecting. You might not ever realize it at first, since incidents are told from different points of view, and no one ever seems to get the full story. (Was that naked man in the tree during the funeral a hallucination? Must've been...)

The structure of the book is byzantine and rewarding, but the message ("War is stupid, and people are stupid," as Culture Club would say) is clear from the start, but gets reinforced gently at first, but then with greater and greater strength. The book is about power and aggression, a gigantic king-of-the-hill game of army against army, general against general against major against captain against sergeant. It begins amusing, and ends with desperation and brutality. Maybe the message is really "I fight authority, authority always wins." But despite the depression and the futility, there's hope in the fight. I still can't talk about it clearly, but for god's sake, read it.

Then there's The Cold Six Thousand, by James Ellroy. Man, is his writing easy to parody.

Ellroy writes. Ellroy types short sentences. Ellroy loves jive. Ellroy vibes cool. Ellroy uses racial epithets. Ellroy gut-punches readers. Ellroy works a knife around in the wound. Ellroy starts his book with Jack. Jack's in Dallas. Jack's a sitting duck. Jack's a dead man, and three guys are in the middle of it.

Ellroy tails them. They go to Vegas. They go to Vietnam. They go to Klan rallies and race riots. They plot. They undermine. They kill and age and get taken for chumps. They talk to J. Edgar Hoover. They see it all happen from the inside. Ellroy follows them through Martin. He follows them through Bobby. He watches. We watch. We see it all go down.

Good god, that's addictive. I listened to this book on tape, and the staccato sentences sometimes got on my nerves, but they set a wild, propulsive tone that never really lets go. Ellroy's one of my favorite writers, but I always need a break (and often a shower) after reading one of his books. His is not a head I want to spend too long in. If you're new to Ellroy, don't start with this one. American Tabloid introduces these characters. The Black Dahlia is also a good choice.

I also listened to Bushworld, by Maureen Dowd. It's a collection of her columns. I expected to like the more recent stuff more, as the seediness of the Bush White House has seeped into view, but it turns out the earlier columns were more illuminating. It's hard to put yourself in the mindset of a couple of years ago -- how do the older columns stack up against what we hazily remember from Pre-9-11 Bush? Otherwise, though, the book seemed repetitive and more than a little precious to me. Get it from the library and flip and skim. Don't overdose.

Probably the standout of the summer was A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey. This is a first-hand account of Frey's time in a rehabilitation center to recover from his addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine. Frey's writing style is immediate and brutally honest. I wasn't really expecting to like the book -- my brother Tom gave it to me and made me promise to read it, but the subject matter didn't interest me in the least. Shows what I know. Pieces grabbed me from the first page, and pulled me along through a ton of horrifying shit -- including a dental visit without the use of any painkillers that's about the worst thing I've ever heard about anyone actually enduring.

The best thing about the book is that you really do get a sense of Frey's struggle, but also of his accomplishments toward his recovery. He rejects a lot of the tried-and-true recovery methods -- AA's Twelve Steps -- and just pushes toward his goal with guts and determination. Along the way, he meets a number of interesting people -- chief among them is his friend Leonard, a connected wiseguy who's also getting clean. Frey's followup is called My Friend Leonard, and you can bet I'll read it as soon as it's in paperback. I can't recommend this highly enough. Thanks, Tom.

Those are my picks. Whaddya say, sirs?


Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Big Night

Last night Kathy & I stayed out late to see Glory Road, Greg Senf and Gregory Max's musical updating of Tartuffe with a family of televangelists. It was a lot of fun, and heck, we even got to see our friend Jesse sing! The only thing that marred the evening was the theft of one of the actors' guitars during the show. The building has security cameras, but who knows if they actually have tapes running in them. Either way, there's little chance of getting it back, and my heart goes out to her.

Years ago, I had a trenchcoat stolen from a theater. I was using it as a costume for something, and it just disappeared overnight. It's a horrible feeling, to have a place you feel is safe suddenly proven to be anything but. To get shaken up like that in the middle of a show, and still have to perform? She's a trooper, and a fine actress, to boot. I never suspected anything was wrong.

The night before, we went to another Spontaneous Combustion, in which our friend Jen wrote one piece and acted in another. It was another fun night; a couple of the plays were seriously inventive, and most of the rest were breezy, lighthearted fun. Overall I'd rank it a stronger night than the one I was in, but then, I always did like the funny.

Tonight, though? Straight home, then sleep.