Archive for September, 2004

Another contribution to the blogging noise on the presidential debates

Sep 30, 2004 in Current Events

So the first presidential debate has just ended, and in my opinion, Kerry dominated over Bush. (Of course, my opinion may be biased as an anti-Bush liberal, but I was pleasantly surprised by Kerry’s performance.)

Kerry was persuasive, forceful, and articulate. He stayed on point (as both candidates did) and made the important distinction between the Iraq war and the failure to capture Osama bin Laden. He often smiled and nodded in agreement when Bush brought up Kerry’s past comments on Saddam and Iraq, but refused to be dragged into a debate on the “flip-flop” accusations.

Bush, as we already know, is not the best extemporaneous speaker. His performance varied between confidently-spoken positions and occasional stammering and lengthy pauses. His responses consisted mostly of moral and ideological platitudes, and his rebuttals to Kerry were often “shame on you”-type responses, such as his repeated assertion that telling the truth about Iraq somehow weakens the confidence of our troops. (I’m sure the troops don’t need Kerry to tell them that Iraq is a mess.)

Near the end of the debate, in response to Kerry, Bush stammers and regurgitates some remark about Saddam Hussein. Kerry responds, “But that’s not the issue.” Bush looks stunned. I only wish I had a video, because that was probably the most defining moment of the debate.

Oh, and for you undecided voters, do some fucking research. If you can’t decide which candidate you prefer, learn what the issues are and read the news. There’s this thing called the Internet that has tons of information on current events, politics and opinions. There’s no excuse for you to be ignorant, unless you want to be.

Nellie McLie?

Sep 25, 2004 in Music

Joey, you’ll love this one: It seems that everyone’s favorite redheaded teenage chanteuse, Nellie McKay, has been exaggerating parts of her biography. The Buffalo News reports that McKay is actually 22, and not 19. In addition, she may not actually be related to Dylan Thomas, her grandfather was probably not a murderer, and her father is not really estranged from her (say he, who was interviewed for this article).

Why polls don’t matter in this election.

Sep 17, 2004 in Current Events

For those of us hoping for a Kerry victory in November, the latest polls aren’t so encouraging. Ever since the Republican convention, most polls have shown Bush ahead of Kerry; that is, when they’re not in a statistical dead heat.

Then again, you might feel better once you realize that the polls are bullshit, especially in this election. First of all, the different pollsters can’t even agree on who’s in the lead. Considering how close the election is, this wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that each poll declares a different winner, sometimes by a significant margin.

Secondly, their methodology is flawed. Significant portions of the population, namely young people and other first-time voters, are not being accounted for. This is very significant, especially in an election with many first-time voters and people who haven’t voted in years. The people who are most likely to vote for Kerry, namely first-time voters, young people, and long-inactive voters who are voting to put Bush out of office, are not being counted in the polls.

So, in other words, disregard the pollster behind the curtain. We won’t know who wins until the votes are counted on Nov. 4.

Be a songwriter! Write today for details.

Sep 17, 2004 in Music

Chances are, at one time or another you’ve seen an ad in the back of a magazine requesting “song poems” or lyrics for recording. The ads tempt the reader with a glamorous career in songwriting; an opportunity to have their own songs recorded and (allegedly) marketed. An entire shadowy industry has existed on swindling poor hapless suckers to pay good money to get their lyrics set to canned, fomulaic music. Oftentimes, the aspiring songwriter pays to get their songs recorded, only to end up with a stack of records that no one wants. No one, that is, except for ironic hipsters who hunt down and collect rare “song poem” recordings.

Song poem collecting has become so cool that a considerable amount of effort has gone into documenting this shadowy underbelly of the music industry. The American Song Poem Music Archives (ASPMA) is the go-to resource on the song poem industry. A PBS documentary, Off the Charts, was also produced last year on the song poem phenomenon. Several anthologies have been released in recent years, and mp3s can also be found if you look hard enough (ASPMA’s mp3 section currently appears to be down.)

How Kerry can win the election

Sep 16, 2004 in Current Events

The Kerry campaign should listen up: Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice outlines how Kerry can clinch the election. Just bring up the failure of the Bush administration to pursue and capture Osama bin Laden.

It seems that Osama has been all but forgotten in the last two years. Even Donald Rumsfeld confuses Saddam with Osama (Anyone watch last night’s Daily Show?). This is hardly surprising, given the administration’s insistence on replacing al Qaeda with Iraq as the gravest threat facing America.

Three years after 9/11, the group responsible for bringing down the towers is still alive and well. In the meantime, the Bush administration has been diverting valuable resources into a war that is only tangentially related to terrorism. Homeland security initiatives have gone underfunded, and did I mention that Osama is apparently still alive and well?

Americans apparently have a short memory. Terrorism and Iraq are so closely intertwined in the American psyche that many people think they are one and the same. The key for the Democrats is to seperate this tenuous notion and emphasize the failures of the Bush administration to stop the real terrorists. Our leaders’ habit of ignoring Osama only serves to distract us from the real threat.

The finished Smile album finally sees the light of day. And guess what? It’s good!

Sep 12, 2004 in Music

The new, finished edition of Brian Wilson’s Smile is scheduled for release later this month, and the official website is streaming several tracks from the album (requires email registration).

For those of you unfamiliar with Smile, it is the lost Beach Boys album that was slated to be the follow-up to Pet Sounds. The project was scrapped, and all that remains are a handful of muddy-sounding bootlegs and a few tracks that appeared on the Good Vibrations boxset and other Beach Boys albums.

Judging from what I’ve heard so far, the new Smile sounds as amazing as the original. The arrangements are very similar to the original tapes, and several songs, such as “Barnyard” and “Roll Plymouth Rock,” are fully fleshed out with lyrics and arrangements. Even though Brian Wilson’s voice is long past it’s peak, it doesn’t distract from the beauty of the songs.

Here are a few resources on the Smile legacy:

The Smile Shop - a website dedicated to the Smile album
A previous blog post on the upcoming Smile release
An essay I wrote several years ago on the Beach Boys’ late-sixties output

Dim mak, the “touch of death.” Kung fu hooey or lethal martial arts move?

Sep 11, 2004 in Uncategorized

The “death touch,” or dim mak, is a mysterious and fatal technique that has been used in numerous martial arts films. The idea is that a strong blow to a critical spot on the body can be fatal within minutes. In the films, the recipient of the death touch walks around normally, only to suddenly collapse moments later.

Most recently, this concept has been utilized in Kill Bill 2 as the “five-point palm exploding heart technique,” and the dim mak has been theorized to be the cause of Bruce Lee’s death.

After seeing this dubious concept in several films, I set out to find any information I could on the validity of it. So the question is, is it possible to strike a fatal blow that will kill a target minutes later? Like much of what is portrayed in kung fu films, the dim mak technique is greatly exaggerated and fictionalized. But theoretically, it appears quite possible.

In the Chinese arts of acupuncture and acupressure, “pressure points” on the body are manipulated to produce healing effects. These pressure points correspond to various nerves in the body. The same pressure points, if struck forcefully, can cause great pain or even temporary incapacitation. (Writer Lori Ann White explores the connection between acupressure and dim mak in this article.) In fact, a form of Japanese karate called kyusho-jitsu is concerned solely with using pressure points to easily incapacitate an opponent.

There are examples in the medical literature of people who died shortly after receiving an apparently mild injury to a critical pressure point on the body. Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope recently answered a question on dim mak, and notes several cases in medical journals which confirm this.

But whether it is possible in actual practice to kill someone with dim mak techniques is still a mystery. Likely it would take years of training to become proficient at it. Techniques such as dim mak have been shrouded in mystery and disbelief due to the systematic withholding of advanced and lethal martial arts knowledge, especially from Westerners. Critical blows and techniques were stripped from the martial arts that are popularly taught today, for obvious reasons. Many martial arts techniques and styles have been lost over the years, and certain techniques, such as dim mak, have only recently been rediscovered.

Where is the music? (Rock is Dead redux)

Sep 07, 2004 in Music

Marilyn Manson, that erudite shock-rock philosopher, once pointed out on the eve of George W’s election: “I think music and all art really flourishes and becomes much more exciting under a conservative president because there’s a need to react against limitations.”

The history of rock music in the 20th century certainly bears out Mr. Manson’s observation. During times of national dischord and general youth malaise, rock music has responded with a burst of unbridled creativity, furthering the genre into new and exciting musical territories. Witness the timeless music of the late 60’s, the roar of punk rock that took root in the post-Nixon years and flowered through the Reagan eighties, and the culmination of punk’s spirit and creativity that resulted in a phenomenon known as grunge and alternative music in the post-Gulf War nineties.

Today, in a time that is more turbulent than any period since the Vietnam era, one thing seems to be missing. Where is the music? Where are today’s Beatles, Hendrix, Joplin, Clash, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, or Nirvana? Where is the wellspring of underground creativity that threatens to burst into the mainstream, unhindered by that mainstream’s rules and values? Where is the movement that threatens to change rock, to take it in exciting new directions? Will today’s kids grow up without their own equivalent of the Grunge Era, the Punk Era, or the Summer of Love?

Perhaps this is a symptom of what I have long pondered: Perhaps rock is dead? It seems to me as if rock music has reached the end of it’s evolutionary cycle, and there’s nothing more to do at this point than to simply rehash what has been done before as authentically as possible. Witness the latest generation of protest music, which borrows so much from it’s sixties counterpart as to be almost indistinguishable from the music of that era.

While musicians of all genres are speaking out against Bush and the War in Iraq, there has yet to be a bubbling cauldron of new acts to seize the spirit of the day. Those musicians today who are politically motivated have, in many cases, been around long enough to see the previously-mentioned revolutions in popular music, and have often been a part of them. This time around, it seems that Mr. Manson’s observation has yet to bear fruit.

So kids, pick up a guitar, get creative and get pissed! Stop trying to sound like your favorite bands, and try re-interpreting them instead. If every band since 1965 tried to sound like the Beatles, we wouldn’t have the sheer diversity of music that we do today. It’s time to create some new genres of music that truly reflect the 21st century.

Anime vs. the Governator: Wired Edition

Sep 01, 2004 in Pop Culture

From the latest issue of Wired magazine: Charles Mann reports on the upcoming films from anime giants Mamouro Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), Hayou Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) and Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira). The article touches on the influence of manga (Japanese comic books) on modern Japanese animation, and the influence of Japanese pop culture on the West.

An old roommate got me into anime about five years ago, when we attended weekly showings of the anime club at Ohio State. While there is some really good anime out there, like anything else, 90% of it is crap. This goes especially for the stuff they pass off as anime on American cable television. (How does a series like Inuyasha remain an incredibly popular late-night staple, while the excellent samurai saga Rurouni Kenshin gets confined to the ghetto of CN’s schedule and eventually winds up cancelled?) The sad truth is that truly stellar series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion or Ranma 1/2 will probably never see the light of day on American TV.

I’ve always noticed that American animation tends to stick to three main genres: 1. Comedy (The Simpsons, South Park, etc.), 2. Family fare (Disney movies, Shrek), 3. Kids stuff (Pretty much everything else). Whereas anime, on the other hand, runs the gamut from four-year-olds to extremely graphic adult fare. Non-Japanese audiences are recognizing this, and as a result, Japan is the largest exporter of pop culture aside from the United States.

Also in the same issue is the cover story on California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; a balanced, yet somewhat glowing analysis of Arnold’s unique political style. The article also includes a short feature on how to overhaul the electoral system. (The best suggestions: Open-source the electronic voting machines, and abolish the electoral college, replacing it with computerized runoff voting.)