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Thursday, February 19, 2009

A three-part post before departing the Insomnia

A quick three-note post this Thursday morning as I wait for the insomnia to drop from my brain. After a really good weekend with Dad, I spent the next two days in bed drowning in fever from a cold picked up last week on a run to Olympia with T to hang out with her friend and friend's daughter in the hospital. I don't know if it was really a cold I caught there in the emergency room or remnants from the cold snap of February in the Northwest, but I was fighting off something that made yesterday's blue sunny skies a pain in the rear.

Really, I'd rather be one of many Northwesterners bundled up with a touque on top of the head, sunglasses in eyes, and fingerless gloves arrayed against the cold as I type merrily away from the balcony on a Northwest sunny spring day. I'm not worried about the cold, so much, as getting the Vitamin D from the weather gods that atypically grin on the Sound. But since yesterday I spent most of the day hacking and coughing, a simple burrow under the sheets fully dressed in jeans and t-shirt with the window open and the sunlight streaming in was what I had to settle for. It is days like Wednesday that make you want a dog - in my case, a West Highland White Terrier (seriously, these things sound like Irish Wolfhounds if they're woofing it up) and in T's case, a "cute dog" - which I've taken to mean a dog that would be outclassed in size and weight by her current other male, a black-and-white feline named "Man" in Greek and prone to perching on my hip when I'm snoozing on T's couch (and thus acting like a lead balloon to my back. Thanks a lot, cat). You want the dog because running after frisbees is a really pleasant way to spend a day like Wednesday - and doing it yourself seems silly.

It is also the day I finally retired my very first "Talk Nerdy To Me" t-shirt, purchased from T-Shirt Hell. I felt kind of bad about it, but hey, the hole in the armpit couldn't be explained away any longer, and the black had fully faded from black to green-black to green-gray to gray. I was going to hang on to it, but really, I see no point in giving any money to T-Shirt Hell, or having any sentimentality to the products they sell any longer.

Which brings me to part one. Apparently, T-Shirt Hell was never going out of business. The guy who runs it decided that sending up huge sob story posts as a "prank" against the people who bought shirts from him would not only send business through the roof (which it most likely did) but also be a funny way of seeing how many people actually buy shirts from him. Thing is, it worked. He got marketing attention and a lot of free publicity from the circles of people who buy products from him.

And now he's never getting another dollar from me again. Nah, not because I can't take a joke, but because in the uncertain times of the economy, I don't feel terribly compelled to spend money at any vendor who acts like a retarded chimpanzee with a minimal amount of action/reaction comprehension. Act like a jerk to your customers, and customers generally don't return to your store. I was wobbling on them to begin with, having once ordered three shirts from them and getting two with the third sent a full month later, but absence (and long-term memory) tend to fade out the negatives. Now I remember - they're jerks both to their customers online and when they screw up your order - and you have to call 'em on it.

But hey, some of those shirts were funny, and it was going to be a pain to find a local t-shirt maker who'd be willing to do a single runoff of a shirt for me. So I held off. And like at any other funeral for a former acquaintance, you hold off on some of the coarser language. I have yet to hear "Yeah, Mikey sure was a mean son of a bitch when he drank, and not very good with kids" at a funeral. So it goes with Internet companies which view customers as things to abuse and lose packages for.

But, again, my original post holds true - I don't have the dollars to kick down for overpriced Made In China funny shirts any more, and I don't think I'll be adding many of those to my wardrobe. I have lots and lots of shirts, and still has a huge portion of smarmasaurus shirts that I will cheerfully don to meander out to the bars. Or not, since I've more or less cut all boozahols from my diet for the next ninety days.

Which brings me to the second portion of my post for the day - the Republicans of the Senate and House seem to be sneering at Arnold and the rest of the gang who are working across the aisle with Democrats and the President to bring an economic stimulus package to the table, and Arnold is making some cutbacks in his state of California.

Now don't get me wrong, I actually like Arnold. I think out of all the states, he's done the best turnaround so far, and while my California-residing sister and brother-in-law will likely disagree with me on that one, I see in Arnold a willingness to compromise and work things out that was rare in the past decade. Say what one will about the Guvernator, he is and always has been a proponent of his own state.

But now we're looking at a new playing field, and Arnold and Crew have to make some serious cuts and compromises. His administration needs to bring in some serious cuts and raise taxes to make the paychecks go out. And I don't think that many of the people who fought for years to keep spending the government of each state and nation into debt really thought about who was going to pay the tab.

That's the thing - the last eight years were an orgy of spending and financing, and the party ended right at the right time for the Republican majorities - when the Democrats came on board. Like it or not, the pattern of the last two series of Republican majority Presidencies spent the United States into recessions and left nobody there at the end to pick up the tab. It's small wonder that the economy hyperinflates during a time of immense government spending and deflates when it's obvious the free rides are over.

And now the lawmakers who are watching George and Company run out the door are eying each other carefully and making protests against paying the bill (IE, raising taxes and limiting spending for things we can't afford - like two unfinished wars).

And that's the thing. Most of these men and women who protest higher taxes and complain about hardworking Americans who work hard for their money and don't want to be taxed voted unanimously for the vast blank checks written to the causes of George W. Bush and the Republican majority. It's not a bad thing, it's just that they should remember the first rule of credit 101 - you have to make the minimum payment, and if you don't, you need to find a way to pay the money back you overspent.

I don't know, I find it disturbing that there is still a high percentage of men and women in the establishment of the GOP that don't seem to grasp the idea that the United States has a checkbook, and if those checks bounce, the economy is going to be in serious trouble. The best way to get out of it is to put money down NOW instead of later, because those insufficient fund fees really are a killer.

And third: speaking of taxes and taxes that have full conservative backing, the infamous Porn Tax of Washington State was repealed before it even got wings. For those not in the Rain City Region, a Democrat from Federal Way proposed a porn tax - a tax on salicient items sold in Washington State to the tune of 19.5 percent. Anything and everything in the state sold to, as one sad strip club up on 15th Avenue puts it, "stimulate body and mind" would have had a twenty percent sales tax on it. Which, ironically would have been counterintuitive - during times of recession blue businesses and liquor store sales skyrocket while bar sales dwindle and strip clubs go begging.

I still find it funny that a guy from Federal Way decided that the most intelligent way to fund a program that helped people under the General Assistance - Unemployable was to tax sex toys, tapes, and DVDs, when the likelihood of those sales being able to support said program was laughable in the first place. But, of course, what sounds good on paper rarely turns out to be so - like several other taxes on specific goods and services (the ten-cent per cup of coffee tax in the city of Seattle springs to mind), the fairness of the tax didn't make sense, and I'm sensing that State Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, is likely going to make it into the annals of Puget Sound ridicule as the guy who wanted to make more money off porn.

Though frankly, I do wonder - I've been to Federal Way, and there really isn't a lot going on there in the later hours outside of sports bars. Maybe Miloscia saw a vast untapped pool of sales taxation in the region and thought, "Hey, why aren't we taxing the hell out of that?" But that does call into question A) how much time Miloscia spends outside Federal Way porn stores calculating revenues from a 20% sales tax on naughty toys and B) what kind of support his re-election will have from the local business community if indeed Federal Way's Adult Entertainment businesses are that successful, even in these economic times.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lily Allen - Still uncomfortably real

Lily Allen's second debut album rounded me out like her first one - a singer songwriter whose lyrics and music weren't terribly original and her voice not completely unique to the sound of girl pop, but her biting sarcasm against her exes and discussion of their failings a uniquely MySpacian, LiveJournal-esque diatribe against people who she'd dated from nineteen on.

I heard her first song "Alfie" rolling down the road on KEXP, picked up the import and listened to the whole thing in one go, and it took me like a butternut squash soup - overly sappy with enough backbite bitterness and out-of-sync realism that made me think it was actually well-written.

I really don't know that much about Lily Allen's songs or her abilities, her personality, or the fact that the British tabloid press seem to lunge at her every time she goes out in public with the paparazzi (of which I'm a little frightened, wondering if, at any point that I become famous in one form or another whether I'd have Nikons pointed at me 24/7 in the streets of London. I suppose having a good defensive strategy employed would work - a fully-charged D90 with giant cards available to shove my face behind and start taking pictures of everyone taking pictures of me might seem less interesting. Or, rather, demanding press credentials from each one and posting them plus home addresses on my personal website with a thanks for the picture taking. My motto: in Soviet Russia, celebrity stalks YOU, paparazzi).

What I do know is that I'm cringing at the rawness of the lyrics of Allen's new album. I will admit I have reveled in the misery of emo-rock wannabes for years. The teenage MySpacians at a Dresden Dolls show whose glamming self-portrait was ruined by my screaming, "PLAY FREEBIRD!" at the Dolls at a quiet moment - and the drummer and pianist breaking their serious face to laugh quietly before pulling it together and launching into "Girl Anachronism". The teenagers exchanged a look of horror at the guy in pink upturned polo shirt and tightly-belted jeans, Converse sneakers screaming for music from THEIR band playing THEIR music in THEIR sacred Showbox and slunk off to take their picture elsewhere. I snickered the rest of the night and I was bought more than one drink as a result. Like my friend Michael Holden says, you can get away with so much if you just call it performance art.

And on some level I see that in Lily Allen's music. Much has been made of Allen's musical style and intentional rips on other women. The men she sleeps with must wonder if their masculinity will be ripped to shreds in verse and lyric; her feminine side the brassy-in-your-face British pop rock cigarette-and-torn-clothing emo rock of the British. Chords pulled from 1980s hiphop and played with a backbeat or urbanity don't hide the pissed-off chick lashing out at men who hit on single women in bars, or the ex-boyfriend she gets revenge upon, or the whole vengeful giggle at those silly boys.

It tempered Allen's popularity with the women who buy CDs from singers writing passionate, deeply personal songs about what it's like to be misunderstood or excluded from the game. Frankly, Allen looked like a bitch, and a nasty drunk one as well. Even Elton John was quoted at one point cheerfully catting about Allen during an awards ceremony where Allen, sloppily drunk, slurred into the microphone.

On some level Allen's bad-girl vibe was what she had going for her - the sweet, lilting lyrics chanted with top-high lyrics and lyrics that described in tiny little chirps the myriad ways her exes failed to satisfy her in bed. For the men described in her music, it must have been like being patiently mauled by a sparrow with a sharp beak while the subject can't quite either believe the sparrow is A) doing it or B) really going to keep going as long as it can, nipping off triangle-shaped pieces of flesh.

But the music she just dropped slams into the latter category. Allen's freshman debut was the equivalent of a precocious teen - vicious, hormonal, angry, sweet, demure, and tart with a background of urbanite London behind it. The second is the bar girl who comes out of the girl in the uniform on the streets, charred with cigarette smoke and too many pints of lager behind the bar, the wisdom of feeling too many hands in too many bars and eventually finding oneself sick of the cattiness of others.

Admittedly, Allen's sophmoric debut is again filled with angst - the kind of angst found in the Strangers I, Anonymous but without the satisfying rebuke of a comments section. Allen has the ability to revile her former lovers in song; her own reviling comes in the same album. With her aging as an artist came regret and the maturity to admit that there are mistakes in brashness. But there's something in Allen that just doesn't ring true to me. The Mockney accent. The clothes. The flashiness. The attitude. The devil-may-care attitude about her life and where she came from - her success based very little, in many ways, on her own precious talent and more in the revolutions of success built by her mentor (and one of my favorite musicians, Joe Strummer) and her other somewhat famous relatives. The ironic nature of the push many Britishers seem to have in adopting the Thug Life from 1980s and 1990s Los Angeles to formfit to 2009 London - complete with tricked-out bikes and the hipsters who shove it into the forefront.

Hell, Allen's 23 and brassy, a chick with an attitude and a full docket of success based entirely on her being young, attractive, and counterpoint to the saccharinity of the USA's exports of Jessica Simpson, Brittney Spears and Kelly Clarkson. The irony being that Allen didn't get to where she was through being successful. An Alanis Morisette a decade later, Allen's bad-girl, biting, angry, vicious lyrics will fade with time into a mellower, tea-sipping girl who looks back at her wild years and wonders if she really was such a flaming bitch.

The album, if not her last, still tastes like a standard sophomore debut - holding onto the anger and the crash, reminiscent of what propelled her sound forward once the cast of helping hands shoved her to the forefront and the MySpacians fawning over her, but with that edge of sadness and regret. Allen's figured out that pubs and making fun of overgrown adolescents have a limit break, and after this, it'll remain to see if she fades into struggling popularity ala that one chick with a beehive that periodically shows up looking like a strung-out heroin-addicted transvestite on a hangover or she'll find her niche, find the balance between wryness and linguistic sweetness that hallmarked songs like "London" and "Alfie" and dips into that same realm of tough-chick songwriting. The problem is, Allen still looks and sounds like an overly-made up teenage girl trying on the ripped tights and giggling over the pilfered whiskey, whining about how much boys suck and diving into as many chemicals as possible.

It sells, because yes, that fragile, bitter, angry girl (and boy) capable of lashing out at anyone still exists in most of us. But it is nothing more than popular songwriting in the vein of the current generation whose instant description of exes can cut to the bone on networking sites. It panders to the crowd loving mediocre poetry loving how much the music speaks to them and envelops them in its own emotional trainwreck.

And god help me, I love it because listening to Lily Allen is like peeking into a journal full of tawdry, dirty secrets - stained with the last sips of vodka, smashed with the sweat from a two-days worn bra, the smell of cheap perfume sprayed over all the clothes and hair held back in a club outfit worn both as armor and attractant to the right kind of boy, the Mockney accent betraying the expensive education as surely as a Harvard Law graduate finds slang easing towards diction in the south of Texas among the "honest folks" who have lived, and learned that language by actually living there.

Allen's sophmore album is more of the same: false, tawdry, bitter, angry, and exhiliratingly dirty. She's the chick you meet in a bar and buy a drink for, but never take home to meet Mom and Dad. And she isn't the girl you'd ever play except when you wanted to mull over old relationships you never thought you'd want to remember. But as a guy who still loves peering into the LiveJournals of favored drama queens and kings whose writings and meanderings run the gamut of venting anger, illogical frustration and clear ass-in-head decisionmaking to get a daily dose of Schadenfreue, I'll gladly listen to Allen's music and wrap myself up, again, in the reality that strikes each and every night as drunken bargoers from my digs in Seattle stumble up the street, cursing heaven and earth about their failed relationships.

Allen just puts their ramblings, bitterness, and self-righteous pityfests into lyrical form, and for the same reason I love leaning off the balcony with a megaphone to yell, "Because you smell bad, you wear too much cologne, you have acne and you have no sense of humor, ya pighead" at the sobbing drunk guy plowed across my complex's porch, I love listening to her lyrics and music - because if her songs aren't a front, then simply plugging her CD in is like peeking at an ex-girlfriend's diary of thoughts from the former breakup - and laughing at her.

But then, I'm male. And kind of a jerk when it comes to this sort of thing. But I also can't stand emorock males who whine about how much their lives have been destroyed because of some emotional betrayal or breakup.

Which is why I'll still happily scream, "PLAY FREEBIRD" at any concert populated by emogoth rockers and MySpacian tweentwits absorbing atttiude and asshattery. Because hell, if the band finds it funny while their teenaged fans immediately screech about disrespect to THEIR music, I'd say someone out there needs a little bit o'reality.

Monday, February 2, 2009

PETA and the SuperBowl Ads

I used to love watching the SuperBowl, but not for the football. It was always about the ads. The only thing is, in the evironment of media connectivity these days, I wound up playing World of Warcraft while my laundry ran and I had the advertisements of the game playing in the background. This year, the only ad I was really fascinated by was the ad that DIDN'T run - placed by PETA.

It's weird, really, when a media event takes up more of the time with commercials than the actual game does. And on many levels, since my collegiate days when the convergence of technology and advertising revenue streams were meeting up for the first time, the ads have gone far, far downhill.

Advertising is no longer about the ideas of creatives, because showing a series of one-second Miller Lite ads seems to be more effective than placing a thirty-second spot in the middle of the show. All the shows that are out there simply don't tend to hold revenue as much as they used to.

Specifically, newspapers are the first hit by the technology change. The quality and content of many regional and national newspapers have changed for the worse as advertisers flock to online advertising more than they do print and television media. Even radio is shifting - when I can create a 24/7 media stream online as a radio station and place my voice on every single person's desktop who simply clicks on a link, the old guard of radio programming is slowly moving by the wayside.

I think I'm more concerns about the quality of the SuperBowl ads because not only did I not watch them in context (IE, for the SuperBowl) but I didn't care, and I didn't watch the ads as commercials, but as entertainment. The notorious (and still crazily wacky in the head) PETA threw out a commercial (NSFW, depending on where you work) scantily-clad women doing things with vegetables that didn't show up until 3AM on Cinemax until recently to promote veganism. The fact that PETA's ad didn't hit the airwaves didn't matter as much - their political pressure points, while sophmorically attempting to be "edgy", really don't do much for the "cute fuzzy widdle animals with faces" cause.

I'm dating a farm girl, and one of the things I still can't quite get over as a city boy is her family's attitude towards animals. I freak out whenever I see a horse-drawn carriage; she sees it as more or less a natural extension of the animal's physical purpose in our current society. I still believe in ham, bacon, and other pork products coming neatly packaged - she's raised and slaughtered chickens, pigs, cows, and sheep, including cute little baby lambs (and turkeys). I do my hunter-gathering at or Amazon's Fresh when I'm feeling particularly lazy, she still digs out packages of white butcher paper meat from the freezer on her parents' farm. And yet I am POSITIVE that the animals on her family's farm live healthy, happy lives that are fulfilling and rich - as far as any cow or pig's life can be without dying of old age.

And while PETA's political argument is, and continues to be, "You are a bad bad man for munching on a hamburger and we have sexy chicks dancing around vegetables who WON'T if you keep eating those baby back ribs", the shock treatment of the audience is fading away. Had NBC broadcast the ad, I doubt it would have generated much more than a prurient salivation of most of the male audience. It's not because PETA didn't hire sexy girls to gyrate on pumpkins - it's because sexy girls gyrating on pumpkins doesn't have as effective a selling point any longer in the massive market of advertising and information.

The disassociation of the smaller, core group of advertisers using the SuperBowl as a realm to play the best work of elite teams for both entertainment and the satisfaction of their clients is something that just bothers me for some reason. It's the same reason I like reading articles by journalists based in Seattle at the Post-Intelligencer and don't like the Seattle Times' heavy reliance on Reuters and the AP for content.

I get the feeling that with the advancement of advertising avenues, the SuperBowl's relevancy and the subsequent viewing options are going to reduce dramatically. When you need to put together SEO options, AdSense ads, print, radio, television, Internet Video and meme-style advertising, the quality of your presentation drops dramatically. Hell, I'd rather post a picture of a movie from 1921 in my apartment than the most artistically detailed computer-generated CGI - regardless of how much craft the CGI takes simply because the artistry of the original is far more real than the mass-generation of items.

I also find it difficult to believe that with the push towards the SuperBowls ads and the shock value PETA went for with their ad that we're not going to find an improvement in the entertainment of the ads any more. They're just not there. And Miller's Ad campaign of one-second commercial spots simply isn't going to be a one-off - I have a strong feeling that such ads will continue on both cable and network television.

Anyway. I keep thinking it's entirely possible that in 2010, the SuperBowl may be a webcast-only event, with advertisers using targeted ads, and the experience of each user customized for tailor-made ads. Cheaper, and less of a show. But then again, maybe that's what we're looking for in our media these days. One day or another, we might just return to straight text news.
One of the things that I noticed recently is the acceptance of many people to use the software they have, instead of the software that they need. For instance, my parents still use Internet Explorer, rather than Safari or Firefox because, as my father says, they know the software. Even with the volume of errors and breaches that the software such as IE has and can harbor, they choose to keep using it because they know the software.

Which is funny to me, because even if I know a documentation program isn't the right tool for the job, or I'm looking at doing a specific task, the cost behind making the change to the right tool is often prohibitive for me to get it done. I can't use FrameMaker on a Mac, ergo, I look for an alternative that is Mac-based unless I wanted to get my PC up and running. And while I can (or could) install Vista on my Mac with Bootcamp, I've found that it's usually easier and less painful to use one machine at a time with the programs you need on it shared.

Which is why I still find it weird that I'm seriously considering getting my PC fixed so that I can not only get all my materials from the hard drives on them, but also so that I can load up IE and play the online version of Settlers of Catan. It's ridiculous. Utterly and completely ridiculous. I am contemplating replacing motherboard, processor, and RAM not because I need the information on that PC but because I want to play a game that I can't play on a Macbook.

Admittedly, I'm planning on converting the PC into an entertainment system and NAS server anyway, capable of hosting both my files and keeping my movies organized on the hard drives, but still. On some level the idea that I'm just going to take a chunk of hardware and put it in the living room to play a virtual board game online is a little silly, when it comes down to it.

But then that's technology. Nobody thought, "Hey, you know what would be awesome? To take this collection of over eight thousand vinyl records and put it into a device that I could carry with me that's no larger than a deck of cards." Nobody thinks "I need to drive a vehicle capable of driving offroad through insane conditions on a very specific style of pathway originally specified by the chariot makers of ancient Rome."

Technology is often one of those things that people think of as a "must-have" but the energy coils that make my toast brown in the morning have been around in one form or another for over fifty years. My stove - while a shade of hideous mustard yellow - is still functional for heating foodstuffs. While the technology of magnetic induction exists, I still do know how to cook over a charcoal fire or wood fire - both to bake and to boil.

The shift in technology as a communications vector really does make it interesting for me, thinking about the ways that people use and live. So much of our lives are promoted as a value of active consumerism in technology, but without the common sense push towards its innate value.

For someone who intends to reduce his own footprint of possessions, I find it more interesting that I'm slowly paring back the number of items I actually own, and reassessing the technology that not only would allow me to hang on to the stuff I have now (CDs, cookbooks, favorite stories, old vinyl records) but also to seeking out the nontechnology - the things that if I recycled or simply let fade away into used bookstores and junkshops, I wouldn't be terribly upset about.

One thing I have been doing and am interested in is replacing the heavy, heavy albums of photographs on sticky paper with a printed version of my family album. I don't think this is going to be too hard, but I will have to remember to hang onto the originals in one form or another. Of course, I -could- simply recycle all of these old photographs into a paper pile, but at the same time, I keep thinking that even though the film negatives may crack and fade, I still want to keep them. Even if they do take up more space than their digital counterparts on a saved hard drive.