Sweet Spot #3

Posted in Audio transmissions on September 29th, 2009 by bill
The letter "I" seems to be very fertile ground, maybe because it is the land of ego, where human beings spend so much of their time. This week's short (<20 min.) agglomeration of songs all have titles starting with the word "I'm." The playlist is after the jump. Enjoy: PLAY I'm So Free/Lou Reed (Transformer) I'm So Green/Can (Ege Bamyasi) I'm So Proud/Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions (People Get Ready: The Curtis Mayfield Story) I'm So Tired (acoustic version)/The Beatles (The Esher Demos) I'm So Tired (album version)/The Beatles (The Beatles) I'm Sorry/Bo Diddley (I'm a Man—The Chess Masters) I'm Sticking with You (demo)/The Velvet Underground (Loaded: Fully Loaded Edition)

Welcome to Mount Chia Pet, Mr. Obama

Posted in Whatever Else on September 24th, 2009 by bill
So, yes, President Obama has had some troubles lately. The debate over health care reform has been bitter and divisive, and the conflict he inherited in Afghanistan looks set to become a historic quagmire. But in one way, at least, Obama already ranks up there with our greatest and most beloved presidents: Like Abe Lincoln and Geo. Washington, he is now a Chia pet. obama_unit_new For a fun activity, try repeating "Barack Obama Chia Pet" to yourself nine or ten times. Or maybe sing it aloud to the tune of "Lovely Rita, Meter Maid." Don't do this in a crowded office, though, or you'll make a spectacle of yourself.

Thought for today

Posted in Whatever Else on September 22nd, 2009 by bill
Autumn starts today, which is OK with me, because it is one of my top three seasons. In the Bay Area the differences between the seasons are pretty subtle anyway, having more to do with the length of the days than anything else. October and November are two of the nicer months, actually, so we've got that going for us. Of course, if you believe that the world is going to end in December 2012, as specified by the Mayan calendar, that means we have exactly 13 seasons left: four falls and three each of spring, summer, and winter. Some people say that the world isn't really going to end, just the world as we know it, marking a shift into some kind of new phase. Still others say that the whole thing is stupid, that it's the Y2K of ancient mystical prophecies. Either way, we might as well enjoy these next couple years as much as we can, eh? What would be the harm?

Love & the Alien

Posted in Whatever Else on September 16th, 2009 by bill
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[caption id="attachment_690" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The Alien and the spaceship passenger"]The Alien and the spaceship passenger[/caption] I can't claim to be much of an expert on Japanese politics, but I've noticed that big things are afoot there lately. Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan takes office as Prime Minister today, marking only the second time in 54 years that the Liberal Democratic Party has not held the office. For an analogy, imagine that before Barack Obama was elected the Republicans had held the White House since 1954 except for one year in the 90s. Hatoyama is an interesting cat. Both his father and his grandfather were bigwigs in the LDP, the party he just ousted from power, and he himself was an LDP member of Japan's House of Representatives before jumping to the opposition. His educational background is as an engineer, but he is given to touchy-feely rhetoric about the importance of "love and fraternity" in politics. Here's an excerpt from Hatoyama's recent editorial in the New York Times:
In terms of market theory, people are simply personnel expenses. But in the real world people support the fabric of the local community and are the physical embodiment of its lifestyle, traditions and culture. An individual gains respect as a person by acquiring a job and a role within the local community and being able to maintain his family’s livelihood. Under the principle of fraternity, we would not implement policies that leave areas relating to human lives and safety — such as agriculture, the environment and medicine — to the mercy of globalism. Our responsibility as politicians is to refocus our attention on those non-economic values that have been thrown aside by the march of globalism. We must work on policies that regenerate the ties that bring people together, that take greater account of nature and the environment, that rebuild welfare and medical systems, that provide better education and child-rearing support, and that address wealth disparities.
Pretty groovy, huh? Despite his political success, Hatoyama seems to be viewed as a weirdo in Japan; they call him "the Alien," which could be a reference to his abstracted and remote demeanor; his eyes, which look OK to me but seem to disturb some people; or maybe his wife, who claims to have ridden in a spaceship in the 80s:
"While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus," Miyuki Hatoyama, the wife of premier-in-waiting Yukio Hatoyama, wrote in a book published last year. "It was a very beautiful place and it was really green...." Miyuki, 66, described the extraterrestrial experience, which she said took place some 20 years ago, in a book entitled "Very Strange Things I've Encountered." When she awoke, Japan's next first lady wrote, she told her now ex-husband that she had just been to Venus. He advised her that it was probably just a dream. "My current husband has a different way of thinking," she wrote. "He would surely say 'Oh, that's great'." (Reuters, 9/2/09)
Give the Alien credit for one thing: He knows how to say the right thing to his wife. I don't know if he can use this skill to make major reforms in a tradition-minded country, but I hope he lives long and prospers.

Sweet Spot #2

Posted in Audio transmissions on September 15th, 2009 by bill
This picks up pretty much where the last one left off. As always, click "Read more" to see the playlist. PLAY I'm All Alone/Slapp Happy (Sort Of...) I'm Alone in the Wilderness/Culture (Two Sevens Clash) I'm Bound to Pack It Up/The White Stripes (De Stijl) I'm Confused/Handsome Furs (Face Control) I'm Gonna Be a Wheel/Fats Domino (Walkin' to New Orleans) I'm Gonna Booglarize You, Baby/Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band (The Spotlight Kid) I'm Gonna Dress in Black/Them (The Story of Them) I'm Not Down/The Clash (London Calling)

Amy, Amy, Amy

Posted in Dancing about architecture, Somebody's birthday on September 14th, 2009 by bill
[caption id="attachment_672" align="alignnone" width="248" caption="Amy Winehouse, before all the trouble started."]Amy Winehouse, before all the trouble started.[/caption] Today is the 26th birthday of the aptly named Amy Winehouse. This seems worth mentioning because there's no guarantee she's going to have a 27th, hell-bent as she is on self-destructing at an early age like her foremother Janis Joplin. This would secure her eternal street cred but would be a tremendous waste of talent. Amy not only possesses a freakish singing voice that had her sounding like the second coming of Dinah Washington at age 20 (despite the handicap of her Britishness), she can write songs, too. She is listed as the sole composer of stellar tunes like "Rehab" and "You Know I'm No Good." I recently bought Amy's debut album, Frank, and was amazed to discover that she was actually pretty cute before she got heavily into drugs, tattoos, and excessive eye makeup. Truly, it's a shame on many levels. Maybe it's not too late. She could still pull out of it and end up living to a ripe old age, right? Right?

The Sex Lives of Primates

Posted in Read it in books on September 13th, 2009 by bill
[caption id="attachment_665" align="alignnone" width="250" caption="That is one sexy ape. (Image courtesy Cecil Vortex.)"]That is one sexy ape. (Image courtesy Cecil Vortex.)[/caption] Following up on the theme of the last post, I'd like to share with you some things I learned recently from a book called Men and Apes, a 1966 bestseller by Desmond Morris (author of The Naked Ape) and his wife Ramona. In truth, though loaded with facts and excellent pictures, this is a bit of a dry read. The most compelling parts have to do with the sex lives of the different apes and monkeys, which vary quite a bit. The descriptions are alternately instructive, curious, horrifying, and downright steamy. Here are a few excerpts organized by species: Japanese macaques:
When a female comes into sexual condition she develops consort relationships with the dominant males. She never consorts with more than one at a time, keeping in close contact with the "male of the moment" for as long as two to three days. There are plenty of females to go round and there is little cause for squabbling. Indeed, in some of the very large colonies, certain females are able to sidle off into the bachelor fringes and set up secret consortships there with young males, without being caught by one of the dominant males.
Langurs:
When a female is in heat "she actively solicits the male, but there is no regular pattern to the order of males she solicits, and she may be mounted by the most dominant males at any time during oestrous.... When a dominant male is copulating with an adult female they are frequently surrounded by a group of adult and subadult males, and/or large male juveniles who heckle the pair. This heckling may take the form of dashing in circles around them, or moving in close to them and actually slapping the mounting male." The male is apparently good natured about the whole thing and seldom gives more than a mild threat.
Chimpanzees:
During 112 weeks of intensive observation of wild chimpanzees, Jane Goodall witnessed dominance disputes on only 72 occasions. Typically these were connected with minor bickerings over special food objects. As far as matings were concerned, it is sufficient to note that she once observed seven males, including one adolescent, copulate in succession with one particular female, without the slightest sign of aggression between them.
Hamadryas baboons:
On "monkey hill" at the London Zoo in the late twenties [the hamadryas colony] consisted of thirty-nine adult males and only nine females. One of the males possessed two females, seven possessed one female each and the other thirty-one were bachelors. It says something for the flexibility of baboon behavior that there was not an immediate and total bloodbath. But such flexibility as there was soon reached its limits and terrible fighting broke out. In vicious disputes over the females the latter were often killed by the very males that were making such desperate attempts to win them. Zuckerman describes the end of one of the sexual battles in the following words: "The fight lasted for several days and after the female was killed, twenty-four hours passed before the body could be removed from the Hill. During this interval fights continued to rage around the body, which changed hands several times. Its owners carried it around by the waist, groomed it, examined its ano-genital area, and often copulated with it."
Gorillas:
George Schaller describes an elaborate copulation that can hardly have escaped the attention of the dominant male in the group. The final stages are recorded as follows: "After about ten minutes the copulatory sound (ö-ö-ö-ö-ö-ö) becomes harsher and harder, and the female emits a short piercing scream. The male has her clasped now by the armpits and he is nearly covering her back. They have come to rest against a tree-trunk. The male thrusts rapidly and a hoarse, trembling sound escapes his parted and protruding lips, interrupted only by sharp intakes of breath. The sound becomes nearly a roar — and suddenly he sits back. The female lies motionless for 10 seconds, then walks slowly uphill. The male sits a minute and then he too goes." The mating began, in this instance, at a distance of only ten feet from the boss gorilla of the group and yet Schaller notes that "During the whole procedure the dominant male lay on his knoll and the copulating pair was in plain sight, but he paid no obvious attention."

News Flash: Monkeys Like Metallica

Posted in Whatever Else on September 11th, 2009 by bill
monkeymusic Because I am interested in everything having to do with our cousins the monkeys and apes, I was fascinated by a recent piece on the Discovery News site entitled "Monkeys Appreciate Monkey Music and Metallica." You can click the preceding link to read it for yourself, but allow me to excerpt the key parts here:
To create music with more monkey appeal, [cellist and author David] Teie composed pieces using specific features in the tamarin calls, manipulating rising or falling pitches and the duration of various sounds. The music was inspired by sounds the tamarins make to convey one of two messages: fear and friendly affiliation. When the music was played to seven pairs of adult cotton-top tamarins housed at the University of Wisconsin, the monkeys became more anxious and jittery when they heard the fearful monkey music. They then calmed down, and sometimes even foraged, upon hearing the affiliation-based music. Regular human music was also played to the monkeys, which predictably showed little response, except for a very surprising, calming response to the heavy metal band Metallica.
That last bit is perhaps the most surprising—not just that monkeys like Metallica, but that they find it relaxing. Perhaps another manifestation of the phenomenon that makes Ritalin calm down hyperactive kids? Some genius better get a grant to study this. And here's another news flash from the same site that just caught my eye: Chimpanzees Empathize with Animated Apes

The Blue Soup

Posted in Read it in books, Something about the Beatles on September 9th, 2009 by bill
BlueMoonSoup I was at the Red Cross today, feeling a little lightheaded as the blood ran out of my right arm, when I read the following passage in Kurt Vonnegut's Happy Birthday, Wanda June:
HAROLD: America's days of greatness are over. It has drunk the blue soup. PENELOPE: Blue soup? HAROLD: An Indian narcotic we were forced to drink. It put us in a haze — a honey-colored haze which was lavender around the edge. We laughed, we sang, we snoozed. When a bird called, we answered back. Every living thing was our brother or sister, we thought. Looseleaf stepped on a cockroach six inches long, and we cried. We had a funeral that went on for five days — for the cockroach. I sang "Oh Promise Me." Can you imagine? Where the hell did I ever learn the words to "Oh Promise Me"? Looseleaf delivered a lecture on maintenance procedures for the hydraulic system of a B-36. All the time we were drinking more blue soup, more blue soup! Never stopped drinking blue soup. Blue soup all the time. We'd go out after food in that honey-colored haze, and everything that was edible had a penumbra of lavender. PENELOPE: Sounds quite beautiful. HAROLD: [Angered] Beautiful, you say? It wasn't life, it wasn't death, it wasn't anything! Beautiful? Seven years gone — like that, like that! Seven years of silliness and random dreams! Seven years of nothingness, when there could have been so much!
And because one corner of my brain is devoted to the Beatles 24-7 these days, I thought immediately of Mr. Lennon:
Everybody seems to think I'm lazy I don't mind, I think they're crazy Running everywhere at such a speed Till they find, there's no need Please don't spoil my day I'm miles away And after all I'm only sleeping
Yes, yes, the eternal question...drink the blue soup or face reality head-on. Lennon was a blue soup guy; Vonnegut's character Harold Ryan is not, though it must be noted that he is more or less the villain of the piece. It's a question most of us face every day, save those courageous few who have sworn off the stuff for good. The blue soup, mind you, isn't necessarily a substance; it could be a comforting delusion or an unquestioned ideology. To see with clarity and deal with the consequences, this is no easy thing. In the future, I'd like to do more of it; at the moment, however, dreamland beckons.

Mind Bender

Posted in Audio transmissions, Something about the Beatles on September 8th, 2009 by bill
Today's treat is a music mix I'm calling "Mind Bender," which is what you'll hear John Lennon say in the sample from the Beatles Anthology at the beginning. The playlist is after the jump, but here's a hint: every other song is by the Beatles. PLAY 1. Dig a Pony/The Beatles (Let It Be) 2. I Can Dig It/Alex Chilton (Stuff) 3. Dig It/The Beatles (Let It Be) 4. Dig My Grave/They Might Be Giants (Apollo 18) 5. She Said She Said/The Beatles (Revolver) 6. Dead/Pixies (Doolittle) 7. It's All Too Much/The Beatles (Yellow Submarine) 8. Too Much 21st Century/Bauhaus (Go Away White) 9. Taxman/The Beatles (Revolver) 10. The New Pollution/Beck (Odelay) 11. Hey Bulldog/The Beatles (Yellow Submarine)