Tuesday, May 30, 2006

B.W.'s Book Report: Accelerando

The first stage of my quest to read all five Hugo-nominated novels is complete, and Charles Stross' Accelerando is one worthy nominee indeed. As I mentioned last week, it was slow going for me but definitely worth the ride - even if I'm still not entirely sure what I just read. To a certain extent it reminded me of watching 2001: A Space Odyssey (which gets a nod along the way) - while it might not make total sense on the first go-round, or even the 10th, it definitely tells the story of a profound shift in the nature of humanity, even if I don't completely grok. And Stross has more fun telling his story than Stanley Kubrick did in his oh-so-serious film.

I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to describe the story without massive spoilers, until Stross did it for me more than two-thirds of the way through. Sirhan, a major character in the last third of the book, is asked about the family history he apparently intends to write.

"I'm thinking about it," he says. "An old-fashioned book covering three generations, living through interesting times ... A work of postmodern history, the incoherent school at that - how do you document people who fork their identities at random, spend years dead before reappearing on the stage, and have arguments with their own relativistically preserved other copy? I could trace the history further, of course -- if you tell me about your parents [he's talking to his grandmother], although I am certain they aren't around to answer questions directly - but we reach the boring dumb matter slope back to the primeval soup surprisingly fast if we go there, don't we? So I thought that perhaps as a narrative hook I'd make the offstage viewpoint that of the family's robot cat. (Except the bloody thing's gone missing, hasn't it?)"

When I read that passage, the thing finally began to fall into place for me. That paragraph seems to sum up what Stross is up to. Accelerando is indeed an old-fashioned three-generation epic, except there's nothing old-fashioned about the first three generations after humans begin to merge with technology and artificial intelligence evolves into a life form of its own. And a reader will miss some major clues to the proceedings by not paying close enough attention to the cat.

The book is a nine-part story, three parts per generation, and began life as a series of nine short stories in Analog magazine between 2001 and 2004. To be honest, not until Chapter 8 ("Elector") did I feel like I had a handle on the story - but finding the handle is most of the fun - and I'm not sure the pay-off in Chapter 9 quite matches the buildup. But I feel rewarded enough to recommend Accelerando to anyone who wants a healthy dose of speculative fiction, heavy on the speculation.

Thirty-odd years after first viewing 2001: A Space Odyssey, I think it's one of the greatest movies ever made but I'm still not completely clear what it is I'm watching. Chances are good, I think, that if I'm still around 30-odd years from now, I will say similar things about Accelerando.


Monday, May 29, 2006

What is war, anyway

What is war, anyway, but a "breakdown in morality"? Memorial Day thoughts from Butler Schaffer.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Punishing excellence

Just when you think you've heard every brain-dead idea that could possibly conceived, along comes the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference with a new rule that if a high school football team wins by 50 points or more, the team's coach will be suspended for the school's next game.

Apparently we can't be cwushing widdle egos by allowing them to be humiliated by a superior team. The better team is now punished for its excellence by a rule that requires them to - to what? Tell the third-stringer who never gets in that he can't play as hard as he can for the only 10-15 minutes he might get on the field this year? Tell the defense to let the weaker team score (and how humiliating is that to the weaker team?)? Tell the quarterback to take a knee on every snap in the second half?

Jersey coaches asked to react pointed out all of the obvious flaws that apparently never occurred to anyone on Connecticut rules committee.

"Everyone wants to blame someone rather than look from within," said Rutherford coach Frank Costa, whose 1-9 team lost games by 55, 47 and 42 points last season. "Whatever happened to buckling up the chin strap and playing, and if you lose by 50 or more than you have to say to yourself, 'We have to get better.' If their second or third team is better than your starters, is he supposed to tell them not to score? ...

Rich Hansen, coach at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, whose non-public Group 4 state championship team routinely whips the competition in the HCIAA, said it's not always easy being on the winning side of a blowout either.

"I feel for guys whose programs are struggling. They are coaching hard and it is a difficult position to be in for both sides," said Hansen, The Star-Ledger's 2005 State Coach of the Year. ... "A 50-point win can be done with all the sportsmanship of a 21-14 game or it can be done with bad intentions. If there is a coach that does that and it is widely known, it is incumbent on the school and athletic director to restrain that coach and construct his coaching guidelines so that doesn't happen."

In Connecticut, the local school officials who should discipline their run-up-the-score coach are now relieved of that unpleasant duty - as soon as his team wins 56-3, the state will discipline him for them. As one coach told the New Haven Register, "It's the most asinine, insane thing I've ever heard of in my life."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cancel the cabin outside Winnipeg

This would make irrelevant all those plans to move to Canada if the totalitarian mindset gets a little too totalitarian. Thanks to James Leroy Wilson for unearthing the article.

"President Bush is pursuing a globalist agenda to create a North American Union, effectively erasing our borders with both Mexico and Canada. This was the hidden agenda behind the Bush administration's true open borders policy."

We don't need your steenkin' limited government - we need the biggest government we can muster ...


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The great credit card max-out

The first 20 pages of Empire of Debt is enough to convince me buying it was a great use of my money. Um, errr ... well, since I put it on one of my credit cards, it was an ironic use of my ... well, since 'money" is really a funny term nowadays, it was, um, let's just say I'm glad I made the exchange for this book.

Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin have written a book that ... well, since I've only read 20 pages, I guess I should make no declarations about the book. The introduction, "Slouching Toward Empire," sets the stage for what I expect from others' recommendations to be an entertaining but sobering book about, as the subtitle notes, "The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis."

Having experienced on a personal scale what the writers are saying about the "macro" economy, I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. If a person, or a state, spends every bit of credit available, and keeps borrowing more to finance more spending, at some point the creditors step in and say, "Um, can we make some arrangements for you to pay this back at some point? That's all the credit I can give you." The next few years after that give you an appreciation for the taste of macaroni and cheese mix made with no milk and the cheapest margarine on the shelf.

Bonner and Wiggin, who toss in some plugs for the Web site Daily Reckoning.com, argue that the United States is showing all of the symptoms of being an empire on the verge of decline - the profound belief that "we" have evolved into the best system of government ever known and have a moral obligation to spread that system forcefully around the world, using the military "to make the world safe" for that system. While past empires have funded these adventures by exacting tribute from conquered lands, the American Empire simply runs up its credit cards.

Some of the stuff in the first 20 pages articulates things that I have been trying to put into words forever, beginning with these thoughts about the inevitability of disaster by living beyond "our" means. Other stuff gives me new insights that make me a tad nervous, such as the suggestion that the price we receive for our labor historically was about the same around the world, got out of whack during the Industrial Revolution, but likely will even out as years go by - and not likely only by raising the rest of the world's wages. "The process could take several generations. It could stall. There could be countertrends. But there is no reason to think a man's labor is inherently worth more in France than in Bangladesh, or that a plumber with stars and stripes on his overalls should earn more than one with a crescent moon."

I'm the "Refuse to be afraid" guy, so I'm not saying this stuff to scare you or myself into a catatonic state, nor I suspect are Bonner and Wiggin. Knowledge being power, I expect the information will be useful in preparing as best we can for the inevitable macaroni-and-cheese days, which they note will come when everyone least expects them - it could be in a couple of weeks or in the next generation. The signs, however, point to getting prepared now. The summer days of the empire have been spent away - we're somewhere between September and the first day of winter.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Imaginary Bomb - Episode 2

How long did I sit on The Imaginary Bomb before working up the guts to share it with the world? Down in the basement this morning, I found the floppy disks I used to write the novel on my Commodore 64, back in 1989.

I'd like to say I decided to make the chapters short - they each take Warren a little more than five minutes to read - because I made a conscious decision to make the story flow fast and loose. The truth is, partially, that I kept writing until I ran out of room in the C-64's memory. It did help me with the pacing.

I actually got about one-third to one-half of the way through a sequel, too. While I was perusing that manuscript, a drawing of the Betsy Ross fell out of the papers. This week, in Chapter 4, you find out how it got that design. And no, it has nothing to do with a certain battery-operated product made famous by Jewel Staite's second-funniest line in Serenity.

Thanks for checking out my little story. Thanks to Mr. Bluhm for bringing it to life. I doubt I could do this without him. Someday I hope I can tell you the whole story about how this all happened.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Gasoline at 10 cents a gallon and falling

George Reisman's explanation of the gold standard is so clear that even an economic dunce like myself can understand it.

"Gold is now at $700 per ounce, and rising. Above is a picture of a $20 United Stated gold coin, known as a Double Eagle. If you look carefully, at the bottom of the coin, you can actually see where it says 'Twenty Dollars.'

"This coin contains approximately one ounce of actual gold, which means that at today’s market price of gold, it’s worth $700. And this means that one gold dollar is worth $35 of today’s paper dollars. And that means that one gold dime is worth $3.50 in today’s paper money. This last, of course, is roughly what a gallon of gasoline costs in today’s paper money. Which means that a gallon of gasoline costs just 10 gold cents."

It's enough to make a guy sit back and go "hmmm ..." And after a few "hmmms," it's enough to make a guy very, very nervous.

Lessons in writing

I'm glad I took Wally Conger's advice and watched Aeon Flux a second time, this time watching along with the commentary by screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi. It's a fascinating 90 minutes spent with a couple of guys who think they wrote a really good movie, and the compromises the suits made in the script over the objections of the writers and director Karyn Kusama.

At the very least it's a great commercial for the director's cut, if we ever get to see it. They do a great job of painting a verbal picture of what the film could have been - and what the film actually was before the corporate editors went to work. I wouldn't mind spending more than a couple of hours with the story they describe, but someone "up there" wanted a 90-minute action flick for the attention-span-challenged MTV generation.

At the most Hay and Manfredi offer all sorts of advice for would-be writers about such keys as how to pace a story and the importance of investing "minor" characters with humanity. I very likely will purchase this DVD and review the commentary when it's time to sit down and take my next stab at The Great American Novel.

Have I mentioned that even with the various slashes and burns that little minds ordered, Aeon Flux is a pretty darn good little movie? OK, just checking.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

B.W.'s Interim Book Report: Accelerando

You know how some people will eat only one thing on their plates at a time? Go through the dinner bun, empty the field of mashed potatoes, rip through the beans and save the meat loaf for last? I'm sort of that way with books.

I have a small library of stuff waiting for me to dive into, and instead of sampling a bit here and there as my mood takes me - maybe I'm in the mood for peas or ice cream today, not prime rib - no, I have to keep plowing through Accelerando. This Charles Stross book is very intriguing, but in parts it's slow going.

I'm not a dumb guy, but (as you can guess by my affection for vinyl records) I'm not always state-of-the-art techno-wise. As a result this very cool book sometimes loses me, which is OK - I like to be challenged - but it makes for slow going, as I said. It took me a good 50 pages or so before I could settle into the rhythm of his writing, but so far - two-thirds of the way through - it's been worth the journey.

And what's the book about? Won't know until I reach the end. Sometimes it's exploring the way human beings interact with technology to the point where, one day, it'll be hard to distinguish where the "meat puppet" ends and the artificial intelligence begins. Sometimes it's about the rights that artificial intelligence will inevitably demand. Sometimes it's a more traditional sf story about encountering alien cultures, but tackled in a not-so-traditional way. And sometimes it's a generational saga; from the dust jacket, I know pretty soon I'll be meeting the grandchild of Manfred Macx, the wired guy who was the main character of the book's first third.

This is not all the reading I've been doing, of course. The new Liberty arrived the other day; I've zipped through the latest pamphlet in Wally Conger's nifty series of libertarian writings by Samuel Edward Konkin III; and a friend has sent me an H.L. Mencken essay that, like much of the stuff this friend sends me, has shaken my assumptions to the core again.

But with stuff like Empire of Debt and Old Man's War sitting on the shelf waiting to be transferred to my nightstand, I'm really tempted to break out of my old habit and try a mouthful of beans, then a bite of mashed potatoes and back to the meat loaf. I kind of suspect introducing that kind of variety would break the mental logjams and make my reading life a lot more fun, but holy wah, old habits die hard.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Idol malaise

Heard this morning in our household:

"You want me to set the tape for American Idol in case we both work late, Sweetie?"

"Nah, that's OK. With Chris Daughtry out, I'm not interested in watching anymore."

"That's funny. I feel the same way."

I think bumping Daughtry may go down in music history with the Decca A&E guy who took a pass on The Beatles because guitar bands were on the way out. I have proven to be not a very good predictor at what the public will go for, so all I'll say is that Idol will have at least two fewer viewers tonight, and I still can't wait for Daughtry's first album. I can't believe we're alone, and I wouldn't be surprised if the ratings sag just a tad at a time when they should be soaring.

Monday, May 15, 2006

It's he-ere

And I think it turned out rather well. But you're the judge of that now. Hope you enjoy it!

Two almost-perfect nights at the movies

This weekend's Netflix offerings were so entertaining and so close to "right on," I almost hate to quibble philosophically with them, but what the heck.

Aeon Flux and Good Night and Good Luck are from different universes for the most part, but they both have positive things to say about freedom and the rights of the individual. There's just these moments ...

And I confess while I enjoyed Aeon Flux a great deal more than critics and the box office had led me to expect (There I go again, the Serenity fanatic thinking disappointing box office has something to do with quality), there's a flaw in the plot that undermines its creds as a tome to liberty: The people of Bregna live under the dictatorship of a family named Goodchild, and the struggle turns out to be between the malevolent dictator brother and the benevolent dictator brother.

When the good guy wins (does the good guy ever lose in modern flicks?), the ruling council strolls up to him and a spokesman says, "We're waiting for your orders." The good guy replies, "You're not part of this?" and in a moment that must have made my buddy Wally Conger cringe, the spokesman says, "Whatever we are, we're not anarchists. There have to be rules."

So, except for the "joy of monarchy" theme and the perhaps-inevitable equating of anarchy with chaos, Aeon Flux is an entertaining diversion - I suppose any movie with Cherlize Theron in "pretty" mode will be an entertaining diversion.

Good Night and Good Luck is the acclaimed dramatization of Edward R. Murrow's well-known effort to document the assaults on freedom that accompanied the fear of communism in the early 1950s, especially as personified in Sen. Joseph McCarthy, although as Murrow correctly noted, "He didn't create this situation of fear - he only exploited it."

The movie and accompanying DVD featurette are brimming with great Murrowisms; perhaps the best one to direct to those who believe in the Wilsonian/Bushevite American Empire is "We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the results. We proclaim ourselves, indeed as we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

But halfway through the otherwise interesting featurette, it takes a wrong turn and the speakers start talking about how much better it was when the Federal Communications Commission required television stations to devote a certain percentage of their programming to news and "the public interest" because the airwaves belong to "the people," doncha know. It's kind of jarring for the makers of a film that demonstrates the misuse of state power to reminisce about the good old days when the state kept its iron thumb on the electronic press.

Still, the overriding theme of these two movies is liberty and standing up for the rights of the individual - so why quibble? These films sure beat 24 hours spent cheering Jack Bauer on as he runs roughshod over the Constitution to protect the innocent and preserve our security.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory

Morons in the New Hampshire Senate have crushed an effort to stand up against the federal government's REAL ID madness.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Oh boy, it's a music meme

Over at Yak Attack lewlew has launched a new opportunity to make lists, and I love lists, especially music lists. Heck, High Fidelity is one of my favorite books in part because of all the music lists. So here goes with my answers to this list:

What three sad songs make you feel happy anyway?
"The Mercy Seat" by Johnny Cash
"Happy Together" by The Turtles *
"Teen Angel" by Mark Dinning
(* It sure is sad - look it up!)

What is the silliest song that you enjoy?
"Witch Doctor" by David Seville
"They're Coming to Take Me Away" by Napoleon XIV
"Bohemian Polka" by Weird Al Yankovic

What song are you almost embarrassed to admit you like?
"Boogie Oogie Oogie" by A Taste of Honey. See? Now you're embarrassed to know me.

Who put on the top three concerts you've ever seen?
1. John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson with special guest Vassar Clements. Ohmygod, I was smiling for weeks afterward.
2. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - I stopped going to concerts for almost 20 years in part because I knew it was impossible to see a better one (Hey, who knew John and Jimmy and Vassar were up to that challenge?)
3. Sara Groves with special guest Joel Hansen - if you have any interest in contemporary Christian music, Sara is someone you have to check out.

What is the weirdest album you've ever owned?
Boy, that's a tough one, I love weird. Let's go with "Audio Fidelity Sound Effects, Vol. 1."

What song gets your blood racing?
The obvious one: "Born to Run" by Springsteen.
An obscure one: "I'm the Ocean" by Neil Young.

If you have a favorite band from your region, who are they?
Assuming the answer should be more regional than "The E Street Band," I'll say Joe Gruschecky & the Houserockers.

Name one song from the year you were born that you like:
You don't know it, but this is a trick question, so here's a trick answer: "Good Lovin'" by the Young Rascals.

Name one song your whole family enjoys:
"I'm Henry VIII I Am." (Or should that go up with the "embarrassed" question?)

Name one song that reminds you of a good friend:
"Thunder Road" by Springsteen.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Missing the point

One of my leftover vices from my years as a Republican apologist is that I'll still listen to "conservative" talk radio from time to time. Today I heard a couple of shows where downplaying the telephone database story was the main mission.

One played up the fact that the U.S. gummint is only collecting the numbers we've dialed; it's not like they've been actually listening in on all of us. And anyway, it apparently turns out that the New York Times reported this exact same information last Dec. 24 (when everyone's first impulse, of course, is to read every article in every newspaper), so this is OLD NEWS! WHERE YA BEEN?

The other berated Democratic critics of the Bush administration because it turns out the database was collected under the auspices of the Communication Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed by a Democrat president. Bernie Sanders and Teddy Kennedy are HYPOCRITES - they VOTED for this law! Hillary Clinton is a HYPOCRITE - her husband SIGNED it! Why are they complaining now? It must be OK for a Republican administration to do it, because a Democrat administration passed the law authorizing it.

Lost in all of the rhetoric was the simple question: Is it right to compile a huge database of information - "the largest database ever assembled in the world" - about innocent people's private conversations in order to sift through it to find a handful of bad guys? Of course it's not right. And even if it's true that today you're only "looking for bad guys," tomorrow you're using it as an excuse to invade our privacy in some less innocent way. Today the database is in the hands of "good Republicans," but after the election it will belong to the "evil Democrats," and who knows what THEY will do with it?

Yep, lost in all the rhetoric was a simple fact: The assault on our liberty is a bipartisan effort, and don't let all the yabbering to the contrary fool ya.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Daughtry is a star

Back on Feb. 24 I predicted the American Idol finalists would be Chris Daughtry (this fella here) and Taylor Hicks, and I was looking like a genius until tonight, when Daughtry was shockingly "voted off the island." My suspicion is that the vote was rigged because there was no suspense left in this year's competition - all along I believed Taylor was the guy who would win the right to stand next to Chris when Daughtry is named this year's winner.

Chris Daughtry is simply the best talent the show has ever found, an honest-to-God rock star whose album I can't wait to hear. Maybe this is a good thing, because now he's not doomed to make the simpering album they always force the Idol winner to make.

My new prediction: Taylor Hicks goes next week. Elliott Yamin and Katharine McPhee are both worthy talents and, apparently more importantly, more of the "safe" variety that the Idol producers seem to favor. This is a pop star competition, not a rock star competition.

The final four did a medley of Elvis songs tonight and I was struck by how well they sang together. As a group they could be the next Monkees. Not gonna happen; I'm just saying.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Time for a healthy dose of blind panic

Tuesday night at 8, ABC-TV presents Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America, designed to frighten us into asking the government to save us from a deadly disease that likely will never arrive.

Note that the common thread of the plot, as listed on the ABC Web site, is the trust in government agencies to save the day: "The story is seen through the eyes of other key characters, including Collin Reed (Keach), Secretary of Health and Human Services, who is the primary go-between for Dr. Varnack with the state and local leaders back in America; Denise Connelly (Cusack), wife of the American businessman, as she deals with his illness and then helps to support other infected people; Governor Mike Newsome (Cohen) of Virginia, who, upon learning of this deadly virus, puts his city in quarantine and then breaks down the state into communities that can nurture each other; Alma Ansen (Machado), a hospital nurse in New York City who suddenly finds herself in the midst of escalating chaos working at a new and hastily constructed flu facility; and Curtis Ansen (Ramsey), Alma's husband in the National Guard who was brought back to New York."

Because as we know, only the central government and martial law will be able to contain this mythical outbreak when/if it ever occurs.

The only true statement about avian flu in the summary of the show is the first sentence: "To date, there have been no cases of the H5N1 virus in the United States nor has there been a human transmission of the disease in a form that could fuel a pandemic." It's fiction, folks, but how well so many people are trying to conceal that fact.

I think my favorite line is the thought that a governor could break his state down into "communities that can nurture each other." Such power our kindly rulers have!

As always, there's only one answer to this bald-faced fear mongering: REFUSE TO BE AFRAID!!!

Was I right? Maybe not ... maybe so

I had a feeling the $3-a-gallon gas would start keeping people away from the movie theaters. The alternate theory, advanced by Sunni M, was that the Tom Cruise wackout factor might do the same thing.

Well, Mission Impossible III had an opening weekend take of $48 million, not exactly a disaster. But the headline is indeed about how it had been predicted as much higher, perhaps as much as $60 million. That's about 20 percent off.

I accept that weariness of Mr. Cruise could be worth $12 million off the box office. But I'm not ready to give up my theory - if gas stays around $3 a gallon, there'll be fewer movie nights, I humbly believe.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Imaginary Bomb trailer #2

It's another exciting sneak preview of the most exciting B.W. Richardson novel since ... oh, hang on a second. It's the first B.W. Richardson novel ...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Although maybe it's worth the wait

Wally Conger put up an Amazon link to Neil Young's new album "Living With War" album (Note to self: Wally has good idea) just as I was ranting about vinyl, which got me curious. Young has been very good to vinyl fans, and all of his recent stuff has been put out there in lovingly crafted LPs. The curiosity led me to Classic Records, which will release the record May 30. For $33 plus shipping, you can get a real analog pressing on ultra-quiet 200-gram vinyl. From past experience I can say it'll sound awesome.

Worth the extra three weeks and the extra money? Let me say this: Last year the need to have it now got the best of me, and I purchased Springsteen's "Devils and Dust" and Young's "Prairie Wind" the week the CD/DVDs came out. (I also was suckered by the guy at the local music store, who does not keep up on vinyl releases and convinced me that even these two classic rockers were getting out of vinyl. Needless to say I'm not making it a priority to give him business anymore.) When I put the albums in my CD, I was fairly underwhelmed. When I put them on my turntable two or three weeks later, they breathed with a fresh intimacy I swear is not on the digital versions.

I imagine it takes a little longer to process recordings for vinyl. So I'm going to quit complaining, be patient, and make a CD copy for the car when the LPs arrive in the mail. Oh yeah, there's another advantage to vinyl: No secret code that sends messages or prevents copies. And if I get impatient to hear the album, Young is streaming it at his Web site.

And as for "Living With War" itself: It's downright great, and what's with all the astonishment about how fast he made it? Young has churned out about an album a year for more than a decade now, and I would argue a lot of it is among his best stuff ever. And even Neil Young's clunkers are more interesting than most of his younger competitors' offerings.

Friday, May 05, 2006

LP aficionados are second-class consumers

OK, I'm a throwback when it comes to music. Twenty years later, I'll still buy an album on vinyl instead of CD if I have that option. And two decades later, they're still trying to talk me out of it.

When CDs first came out, they'd do stuff like release Amy Grant's "The Collection" with 12 songs on the LP, 15 songs on the cassette, and 18 songs on the CD, and then they'd publicly shake their heads in wonder when the sales figures came in showing that people "prefer" the non-vinyl formats. Nowadays they just treat vinyl customers as an afterthought.

I have every Bruce Springsteen LP, so naturally when I saw the new "Seeger Sessions" record at the Sony Music Store, I pre-ordered it. When a week went by after the album's release and it hadn't arrived, I made the inevitable inquiry. They responded by pointing out what I hadn't noticed before: The vinyl version will be released May 23.

Some folks have managed to get hold of the thing and put it on eBay, but new records tend to get a little pricey there, so I'll wait. And fume.

A couple of postscripts: The Amazon turntable I've had posted plays 78s. That's the coolest feature of the old turntable that's still spinning along in my system, and I heartily recommend it to any audiophile who wants the full experience. Make sure you track down a 78-specific stylus, however. You'd be amazed how much better the old things sound when you treat them the way they were built to be treated.

And some people have gone the other way and given the vinyl wackos extra treats in recent years. There are bonus tracks in the vinyl versions of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" and Jewel's "Pieces of You," extra instrumental tracks of four songs in Brian Wilson's "Smile," and a 19-minute interview with Neil Young on Side 4 because the tracks on "Prairie Wind" fill only three sides. Now those artists are way cool.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

No glee over this anthem

Today's fuss in the puppet theater seems to be over altering The Star-Spangled Banner. Those rascally Spanish speakers have (gasp) sung the National Anthem in Spanish. And changed some words in the second stanza! How dare they?!

Did Britons, I wonder, have such a cow over God Save the Queen being bastardized as My Country 'Tis of Thee?

Surely this is the most flagrant abuse of a venerated song since This Old Man was translated into Barney-speak. The culprits deserve to be knick-knack paddy-whacked on the public square.

I think it's only appropriate that we join in solidarity with those who object, and sing a rousing chorus of the words as they were originally written. Ready? All together now:

To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,
A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
That he their inspirer and patron should be.
When this answer arrived from that jolly old Grecian:
Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,
I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,
And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine
The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Down to the ant heap

You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between a left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down - up to a man's age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order - or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.
- Ronald Reagan, Oct. 27, 1964

I am a Reagan Republican who will defeat Al Gore.
- George W. Bush, Feb. 28, 2000

Our Nation is blessed and bound together by a creed of freedom and equality that is entrusted to all Americans. Preserving the ideals of our founding requires the service and sacrifice of every generation, and on Loyalty Day, we celebrate the gift of liberty and remember our own obligation to this great Nation ... Loyalty Day is also a time for us to reflect on our responsibilities to our country as we work to show the world the meaning and promise of liberty. The right to vote is one of our most cherished rights and voting is one of our most fundamental duties. By making a commitment to be good citizens, flying the American flag, or taking the time to learn about our Nation's history, we show our gratitude for the blessings of freedom.
- George W. Bush, May 1, 2006

Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope.
- Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

I do not advocate for the course Mr. Henry suggested that day, but when a self-proclaimed Reagan Republican proclaims a day in which "we celebrate the gift of liberty and remember our own obligation to this great Nation" - as if we owe the Nation for granting us rights that were once declared "unalienable" - and a day in which we "reflect on our responsibilities to our country as we work to show the world the meaning and promise of liberty" - as if we have a responsibilty to send soldiers far and wide to enforce the promise of liberty at the point of a gun - one wonders how we wandered so far astray.

Some, even Mr. Henry himself, argued that the battle was lost as long ago as when the Articles of Confederation were usurped by the Constitution. I find myself reflecting that the war was lost in the 1964 election that occurred shortly after Reagan's speech - for by the time Reagan became president, and certainly after he was shot, even Reagan seemed willing to trade freedom for security. And today, security - not freedom - seems to hold the higher value in so many minds.

Henry's speech - which concludes famously "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" - came a month after Lexington, after government troops had fired upon the Massachusetts militiamen who were defending their homes. The shooting war, Henry noted, had already begun.

I can't argue with history. Violence - and persistance over the next eight years - won American independence from Britain. But these are different times. Folks like Gandhi and Martin Luther King have shown the power of ideas; as Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta, "Ideas are bulletproof." And the tyrants of the 20th century showed you can slaughter people by the millions and still fail to defeat an idea as powerful as liberty. In fact, those tyrants by their actions simply proved how evil an unrestrained government can be and how futile is the "solution" of killing one's enemies.

At the end of the Vendetta film, a crowd of people brush past a cadre of armed guards, armed themselves with nothing but an idea: We are going through you in the name of that idea, and you will have to kill us all or let us through. Perhaps unrealistically, the soldiers let them pass. The crowd could not know, however, that the soldiers would do so. They had to be prepared to be killed, without killing in retaliation, to achieve the goal of living in peace and freedom.

How many such deaths would it take before we know that too many people have died? How many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free? I don't claim to know the answer. I do know the Vendetta crowd had one answer: Stand up to the threat of violence and be free anyway. Perhaps the soldiers' decision to stand down was unrealistic, or perhaps it was perfectly realistic: Even the tyrants who opened fire have never managed to kill every soul yearning to be free, and they never will.

Stand up. Be free. The oppressor just may surprise you and stand down. And even if he doesn't, you're still free.

People should not be afraid of their governments ...

Patrick Sovereign doesn't post very often, so it's been a while since I checked his "Enemy of the State" blog. And whoa.

Your Government has used fear to imprison you. Fear has allowed your freedoms and dignity to be robbed from you without a whimper of protest.

The news bombards you with fear to further cloud and contaminate your mind and prevent you from seeing the evil going on all around you.

... If there is one thing I truly hope happens as a result of this Anti State Masterpiece of powerful messages (not the least of which is that it is individuals that make a difference and not collectives) it is this.

I hope people shake off the fear and realize they allowed fear to enable their Government to do evil things in their name and that they will be motivated to put a stop to the madness of it all.

Yowzer! Amen! Et cetera!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Burning movie tickets in the gas tank?

I have a theory, which we can test this weekend. I'm perfectly willing to be proven wrong.

I recently heard the executive producer of Serenity say, on the podcast The Signal, that the film's $10 million opening weekend was disappointing. I was surprised that he said they were only expecting $15 million, but when a movie falls 33 percent of expectations, you have a problem.

My theory is that Mission Impossible III will fall at least 33 percent short of expectations this weekend, because something is happening now that was also happening Sept. 30, when Serenity opened: Gasoline is selling for about $3 a gallon.

Despite all the assurances that most people are unaffected by the jump in gas prices, the money has to be diverted from somewhere; we're not all just running up our credit cards, although that certainly must be a factor. I'm guessing that we're spending fewer dollars on stuff like going to the movies. Let's check back on that Sunday night.