Monday, November 24, 2008

Oil Help

Okay, I need some feedback here about the price of oil, because I simply don't understand...and as any regular reader knows, I hate to feel ignorant.

• When oil was pushing $50 a barrel, the whole world threw a shit-fit. Fifty bucks was considered a very "psychologically important barrier" to pass, and no one seemed to be in the mood to see it happen.

• Same thing when oil approached $60, then $75, then $100 a barrel. Each "psychologically significant" price was viewed with a combination of fascination and dread, like a bad car accident. And the talk was always, always, about how to get the the price down.

NOW, oil prices have "jumped" to above $53 a barrel...with no shitstorm in sight. In fact, I keep reading the exact opposite emotion in news: relief! Last week it was "we need to find a way to prop up oil prices," and quotes from today's article indicate that "news that the U.S. government will take a $20 billion stake in Citigroup...gave the...oil market a boost" and that talk of an OPEC output cut "is providing some support for prices."

Why were we apoplectic when oil was climbing out of the stratosphere and everyone was complaining about gas prices, only to now be going apeshit when oil is headed the opposite direction? Isn't this what we wanted back in July, and June, and for the twelve or fifteen months before that?!?


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Titanic Waste of Time

I really, really ought to be grading sophomore ear-training final projects. But, it's almost 8:00 on a Sunday night (which translates to "almost movie time"), and I'm deep into my 2nd glass of wine, and so fuck the papers. It's a short week anyway, right? What with Thanksgiving and all. What am I thankful for? For not grading papers right now, a-thank yew verrah musch!

So, instead I'll wax philosophic about Titanic. Both the ship, and the movie. Feral Mom got me thinkin' about it when, in the depths of "What the fuck do I post about today for NaBloPoMo?!?" despair, she chose to list a bunch of culturally significant movies she'd never seen, with the percent likelihood that she'd watch the film in question. James Cameron's 1997 epic Titanic was on her list, and, well, I'll let you go there and read it. It's no big deal, really, but just seeing it on there got my wheels turnin' again.

See, I'm a longtime Titanic buff. I acquired an old, old book about the disaster way back when I was a kid, and since then I've read just about every book - both fiction and nonfiction - about the doomed steamer that I could get my hands on (which comes pretty close to being every book about Her that's been published). I don't know what first grabbed me about the story...I suppose that, like many a young boy, I was fascinated with the whole gut-wrenching size of the story. Even a kid can appreciate "world's biggest ship, billed as unsinkable, sinks on maiden voyage." It's almost too good to be true, right? As I grew older my fascination waned; after all, the further we get from the event itself, the fewer people are alive who were actually there on the night in question. As of now, that comes down to one single woman, and she was only a couple of months old at the time. So really, no one alive now can know for sure whether Lightoller had a pistol that night, or if he did was it loaded, and if it was did he actually fire the thing into a crowd? The facts are many, but eventually you've read all the known facts and you start to slide down a very slippery slope into conspiracy theory, and that kind of thing I reserve pretty much for the Kennedy Assassination.

Anyway, it didn't take me long to work through the movies associated with Titanic, once I had a reliable disposable income. There are pretty much five key films you can still find with relative ease:

Titanic (1953): A passable drama, with what you might imagine are rather limited special effects for the time. I see that the DVD box lists this as an Academy Award winner from 1953, but I'm not sure it's all that great. Like too many of the Titanic-related docu-pics, this one tries to set a drama-within-the-drama, perhaps to make the story more "human" and not just about a sinking ship.

A Night to Remember (1958): Walter Lord wrote what many view as the definitive history of April 12th-15th 1912, and this film version of his book is pretty much the high point of pre-digital Titanic stories. I've read that lots of people became Titanic buffs after having seen this film, and I believe it. I came to it later on, once it was available on VHS, but it's actually the story of the disaster itself, without a lot of muckety-muck to get in the way.

Raise the Titanic (1980): I was a little surprised to see that this is actually hard to come by on DVD for Region 1 countries, as I remember it as being a very watchable film. It's pure fiction, by the excellent thriller-writer Clive Cussler, whose hero Dirk Pitt is set to the task of bringing the doomed ship to the surface in order to secure some radioactive matériel for the good ole U.S. of A. Full of good spy vs. spy antics and late-Cold-War Russkies, it's a shame that the whole premise - that the ship itself is relatively intact on the ocean floor, and thus raisable in the first place - was shot down with Bob Ballard's discovery of Her just a few years later. I think anything with Jason Robards looks a little dated now (witness The Day After), but trust me: if you can find a copy, I defy you to not cry when you see the derelict vessel passing by the Statue of Liberty, finally completing Her voyage 68 years late.

The Titanic (1996): Slated to be the first "modern-era" story of the luxury liner, this Hallmark made-for-TV miniseries was doomed in two ways. First, it came out way too close to the Cameron over-the-top epic, and second, it was poorly acted and kind of a bad film. It has its fans, including some fervent ones who swear up & down that it completely trashes the Cameron film. Whatever. I just found it to be too full of itself, and not full of enough talent...certainly considering the big names attached to it.

Titanic (1997): And finally, we get to the über-film of the whole story. Like its direct-namesake predecessor from 4 decades earlier, the biggest problem I have with this one is the story-within-the-story that fucks up the great drama that exists all on its own. Jack Dawson? Rose? Fuck THAT, man! There's a certain cowardice in making up people and plunking them alongside real ones, as if tackling the very real Molly Brown or J.J. Astor would risk pissing off heirs or something. So, schmaltzy musical score aside, the biggest failing of this film is its very bigness. Leo and Kate are fine, it's their story that sucks. But seriously: this is by far the best LOOK at the Titanic that most of us will ever get. Cameron didn't spend a gajillion dollars on nothing, folks. All of the basic plot points of the story are there, fleshed out by the post-Ballard discoveries (like how She came apart on the way down) and up-to-date views of the ship with giant rust-cicles hanging off every available horizontal surface. It's the recreations that really make this film for me. The way the glass beadwork on Rose's dress gently chimes against the railing as she goes for the poor-little-rich-girl suicide. The exacting detail of the Grand Staircase. Every little thing seems to be accounted for, and in that you really get the sense of Titanic as a real ship, who served real people. For me, that's why I'll come back to this film time and again; to be reminded that this ship did exist.

Like I said earlier, as I've gotten older I've moved beyond the fascination with disaster represented by the Titanic sinking. I've come to realize that, much more than the reality of the disaster itself, Titanic - and Her demise - was really about the death of a philosophy. It was a philosophy that grew out of Enlightenment thought, that Man was capable of understanding, and hence besting, Nature (Herself a vague stand-in for God). Nearly a century of Romantic thought couldn't change the fact that we thought we knew it all. We knew how to build a ship that, stood on end, was taller than any skyscraper in the world. To make Her "unsinkable" (a claim that really only came out in the press after Her sinking), She had watertight doors to prevent flooding into adjacent compartments. And so it goes. For me, this is the fascination now. Titanic represents the death of Man thinking that He could build something so good, it would render Nature/God helpless. That, and remembering that She's a gravesite. Over 1,500 people died on April 15th, 1912. Almost all of them were shitty 3rd-Class passengers, making a glorious and glaring statement about classism from the end of Edwardian England, at the dawn of the Great War.

Speaking of which: right around 2002, I had a student who showed a fondness for those goofy-ass t-shirts like you'd find in What on Earth? catalogs. This one read, surrounding a donut life-preserver: "Titanic Swim Team, 1912." I always hassled him about it, asking him once "So, do you also have a t-shirt that says 'World Trade Center Sky-Diving Team, 2001?'" He looked so shocked at the suggestion that I immediately regretted not thinking before I spoke, but at the same time, I hated to see Titanic represented as a joke to be printed on Made In Taiwan jersey cotton. She deserves more than that. Before we all forget that She existed once, as the hope of a new life for hundreds of immigrants, and as the last vestige of splendour for the world's super-rich.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stolen Memes

Because I'm only 5 minutes away from going to teach, and because I can't resist a reason to write about myself, and because I'm weary to political blogging (for now): herewith a meme, stolen from Steph, stolen from Feral.

Three Things You Want To Do Before You Die:
1.) play drums in a kick-ass band, in front of a crowd of really good friends
2.) win the Pulitzer in composition (hey, a guy can dream, right?)
3.) achieve inner piece by finally letting go

Three Names You Go By:
1.) Scott
2.) Dr. Harding
3.) Dad (*melts just a little*)

Three Physical Things You Like About Yourself:
1.) my silvery hair
2.) my steely blues
3.) the amount of dark-gold earwax I'm able to extract on a shockingly regular basis

Three Parts Of Your Heritage:
1.) Scottish (actually, Orkney Isles)
2.) Germanic/Dutch
3.) musician

Three Things That Scare You:
1.) heights
2.) death of a loved one
3.) Roslyn's last two poopy diapers (seriously: yeecchhhh!)

Three Of Your Everyday Essentials:
1.) ponytail tieback
2.) coffee
3.) Kiss

Three Things You Are Wearing Right Now:
1.) Peanuts tie
2.) a seriously old blue dress shirt with white poking through the collar points
3.) mojo

Three Of Your Favorite Bands/Musical Artists:
1.) Cheap Trick
2.) Twisted Sister
3.) I give up...I guess I only like Cheap Trick and Sister

Three Of Your Favorite Songs (at the moment anyway):
1.) Silver Bells (Andy Williams)
2.) Mah Na Mah Na (Piero Umiliani...currently Rozzle's favorite)
3.) 4'33" (John Cage)

Three Things You Want In A Relationship:
1.) honesty
2.) humor
3.) someone who can out-fart me (luckily, I already have all three!)

Two Truths And A Lie (in no particular order):
1.) I think the Bee Gees are frickin' awesome
2.) I love to cook really complicated, dish- and ingredient-heavy recipes
3.) I go commando at least 3 times a week

Three Things You Want To Do Really Badly Right Now:
1.) play cards with Eric
2.) smoke (re: #1 above)
3.) leave work early

Three Careers You're Considering/You've Considered:
1.) paleontologist
2.) rock star
3.) dashing adventurer

Three Places You Want To Go On Vacation:
1.) Old Europe (Italy, France...anywhere that drips with ancientness and good wine)
2.) someplace hot during winter break (Florida Keys, back to Mexico, etc.)
3.) my special place

Three Pet Names You Like:
1.) Fokker
2.) Asshole
3.) Douchebag (we're pretty sarcastic 'round these parts)

Three Ways That You Are Stereotypically A Girl:
1.) have long hair
2.) LOVE to shop! (esp. for clothes and kitchen doo-dads)
3.) gravitate toward movies starring Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, and/or Meg Ryan

Three Ways That You Are Stereotypically A Boy:
1.) argue according to logic, not emotion
2.) honestly believe am better driver than you
3.) love to fuck hot chicks

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Saving Conservatism

Don't misread me by that blog title; I actually have little interest in saving political conservatism in this country. Backward-thinkers and stay-the-course ideologues hamper forward progress, both socially and politically. But there has been lots in the news lately about the Republicans floundering around for a new direction in the wake of their electoral smack-down this cycle, so of course I've been thinking about conservatism in a sort of devil's-advocacy way. Pundits, disembodied voices and Max Headroom clones are everywhere, frantically braying about the future of the GOP and generally eating their young in a way we're more recently used to seeing Democrats doing. As a self-proclaimed liberal, who typically finds that the Democratic Party best represents my concept of a free and productive society, please allow me to nevertheless lay out an honest, workable 5-point plan for resuscitating American Conservatism.

1) Ditch the über-evangelicals. Face it: Reagan sold the soul of your party to people who advocate social restrictions and intolerance. If these Christists, who use their pulpits to sow hatred and divisiveness, couldn't get you elected this time, they ain't never gonna do it again. Take this time of regrouping to say "No thanks, and fuck you!" to the Pat Robertsons, Ted Haggards and James Dobsons of the world. They are power-hungry preachers whose whose attempt to remake the United States into a theocracy is a simultaneous dismantling of the very constitution they claim to uphold. Simple-minded fear-mongers are an anchor on your party: cut 'em loose and sail away.

2) Embrace, don't fight, unstoppable social changes. Embracing change, even in a limited way, accomplishes an end-run around a need to admit failure. Bad: "We need to keep those blacks from using our drinking fountains and going to school with our children!" Good: "We are proud to support full equality for all members of our society." Bad: "Blacks & whites marrying will undermine the institution, and erode traditional family values!" Good: "We are ecstatic to see so many new families being recognized by both the state and by Our Saviour Jesus Christ." Racial bias and anti-miscegenation laws now look so archaic, we often forget that they weren't part of the 17th century, but the 20th. Sexual orientation has now become the cause of social erosion that the GOP fights tooth-and-nail. Here's a clue: stop fighting. The change is a-comin', and while at first you might seem to be "protectors" of social & moral values, eventually you become a wrench-in-the-works obstacle, insisting that the world, she's-a flat. Personal homophobia is one thing; a party platform that includes repression and legal restrictions on fully-functional members of society is another. Both are reprehensible, but in the first instance it's only one person's opinion. In the other, it's a guarantee that you'll just piss off the moderate voters you so desperately need in order to win elections.

3) Live up to your own moral standards. Oh, I've no doubt that power, as a corruptive force, doesn't really care which party you're from. It's just that, shee-IT! A whole lotta Republicans have really gone way, WAY outside the bounds of their own morality recently. It's as if the moral compass of your party has its poles reversed, so that up is now down and north is south. It's not just the creepy falls-from-grace that some of your evangelical supporters have suffered; it's the fucking indictments and convictions of your own elected officials! C'mon, foot-tapping for sodomy in an airport bathroom? Dirty text messages to 17 year-old pages who are "almost adults"? The general public has a simpler term for "almost adults": CHILDREN, you dipshit! It's that very kind of dissembling that looks like, sounds like, and acts like exactly what it is: sayin' one thing, doin' another. No one is going to put their faith in a moral compass that points by your own professed standards, and if you get something rotten in the party, quickly and efficiently do away with it yourself. You'll gain face, public favor, and the power to take the high road when it's time to claim to be the "Party of Values."

4) Reestablish a commitment to fiscal responsibility. Spending on two wars aside, the Bush administration has been laughably incompetent at money management, resulting in exploding budget deficits. Some savings can come from a true disavowal of "pork politics." Rather than say, "Hey, here's $200,000,000 just laying around...if I don't get it for MY district, someone ELSE will!", try instead to say "Hey, we don't need anything even remotely CLOSE to that amount of money!" and then upbraid another Congressman - from another party, perhaps? - for taking it. It's another version of taking the high road, but from a financial point of view. Remember: you always look worse for decrying something, then getting caught doing that very thing, than you do for never indulging in the temptation in the first place. I know a Republican who took some form of "state aid" (generally translated as "welfare") even though she was living just fine on her pension; turns out there was some sort of loophole she reached through to get the money, claiming "Well, it's out there, I might as well take it!" Right. And you might as well take that jacket just hanging on a hook at a restaurant, no? Well, obviously: NO! If you don't need it, and it ain't yours, don't take it. That's how you start to get spending under control.

5) Reposition the "look and feel" of the GOP. Face it: the public mental image of "Republican" is pretty much "rich, older white guy." Sarah Palin was a good step in that direction, but her kooky answers to pretty pat questions during the campaign raise some serious doubts about her political future. AND she really only appeals to those very tight-assed religious conservatives that you've already done away with re: item #1 above. So, younger people, yes, but BRILLIANT younger people. Don't cowtow to the lowest mental denominator of your voting bloc by chiding intelligence and education; celebrate it as an accomplishment of its own and let it be a new standard to reach for. Get more women involved in the party, really strong & independent women who aren't just baby-makers for their rich, older white husbands. And CERTAINLY recruit minorities to the party! If the GOP lost big this time, it was among both the youth vote and the minority vote. I know, it's tough to disregard the black vote going for Obama, but what about the Latinos, many of whom share a pretty common religious thread with the Conservatives? Strict, anti-immigration policies don't look very friendly to the fastest-growing segment of the American population...especially considering that, excepting American Indians, we ALL are immigrants! We all came from somewhere else to try to achieve that "American dream," and closing the gate AFTER you've gone through it just looks snotty and exclusionary.

If these suggestions seem to make the GOP look too much like the Democrats, well, maybe that's because the Dems have done a pretty good job of reinventing themselves after years wandering the political wilderness. It's not just the economy that won the election for their party this year; claiming that would be disingenuous as best, and simply ignorant at worst. You gotta give people what they want, inasmuch as you desire to represent them in government; if that means it's finally time for the Republicans to come a little bit more back toward the center and reaffirm their commitment to a truly smaller government, well, that seems a pretty fair price to pay.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Queer Thinking

• If homosexuality is genetic, then where to gay babies come from? Answer: straight couples. I of the chief (biblical) arguments against homosexuality is that it "violates" nature's (god's) will; you can't procreate in a union of two women or two men. So the only genetic possibility for gay adults is for a straight couple to give birth to a gay baby. The only possible way out of that conundrum that I can see would be to have a gay man donate sperm to a gay woman for artificial insemination. But, c'mon...that can't happen with enough regularity to account for the millions of gay people in the United States. So, laws against same-sex marriage can't ultimately "prevent" further gayness, because only STRAIGHTS are having gay children.

• If, on the other hand, homosexuality is a choice (despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary), then I have to ask: who would choose it? Why would anyone chose a more difficult path to walk? Who would choose social stigmatization, restrictive civil laws, a potentially hostile work environment, the expense of separate tax returns, and on & on & on? If you can come up with some solid reasons - hell, ONE solid reason! - why anyone would actively choose that life...I'd love to hear it.

• If homosexuality is genetic, then why are we worried about gay people adopting? If being gay is as much a part of a person's genetic makeup as, say, eye color, then even the most "agenda-driven" couple I could imagine wouldn't be able to "turn" a child gay. No more than they could turn a brown-eyes child's eyes blue by simply advocating it. "Your eyes will be blue, dammit! BLUE!! Blue is better, can't you see that?! MAKE THEM BLUE!!" Uh-uh. Don't work that way.

• If, on the other hand, a child can be "turned gay," then restricting adoption access to gay couples can't possibly restrict all access "agenda-driven" gays might have to children in general. A teacher, a neighbor, a cousin, or aunt, or daycare worker...someone you know is gay. Can you really restrict access to your child so well? Think about this: a "gay-by-choice" man who has a definite desire to "turn" people gay? He's going to really work to have access to children he wants to turn. He'd go out of his way to get that access. By becoming a priest, maybe? A teacher? Someone with enough determination blew up the Murrah Federal Building...I'm guessing it wouldn't take nearly that level of commitment to become a high school boys track coach for the express purpose of trying to turn some of them gay. Does that line of "logic" even begin to make sense?! Man, I hope no one out there is that paranoid! So, it doesn't make sense to try to restrict gayness by restricting adoption access to homosexuals.

Ballot initiatives like the recently-passed Proposal 8 in California are always called something falsely benign, like the "Family Values Protection Act," or the "Defense of Marriage Act." That's because calling your bill the "Jim Crow Separate-But-Equal Act" or the "Let's Show the Fags Who's Boss Act" would never pass. They wouldn't pass because most Americans believe in equal rights for each other. Not special...just equal. But smooth, professional politicians and activists, who really do have an agenda to push, come along and literally put the fear of God into parishoners who otherwise accept that Jesus taught tolerance & love. These professionals talk to decent folk about simpler times with a misty-eyed reverence that belies the fact that every age had its time was ever "simple." They scare people into believing that their bond of love will somehow mean less if the same terminology is applied to "different" people. Smooth politicians who ply on fears of "otherness" in order to promote hatred, not love. Intolerance, not acceptance. Inequality, rather than a protection and promotion of equality. When Michelle Obama claimed to be proud of America for the first time...the passage of these kinds of acts is what leads to shame of country in the first place.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Vanity Google

I've blogged before about "narcissearching": that thing we probably all do in our own secret little moments, plugging our name in as a search term in Google to see what kind of hits we get. I'm used to getting things related to a far-more-famous producer who goes by "Scotty Hard," (like Dirk Diggler: a great name!), but it's still a worthwhile thing for me to do. Basically, I'm looking for performances of my music to list in my Curriculum Vita. Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, to come across a quartet performing my percussion ensemble Taiko in Grenada last January! The piece is ostensibly written for 6-8 musicians, but this is a great re-imagining of it for the smaller group. Not only is it a more compact piece like this, but this may be the best performance of it I've yet heard. Congrats MintaKa, and thanks for the great job!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

An Open Letter to Republicans...

Dear sirs and madames,

On this, the day after a historic presidential election, I have three words of sage advice:

Do not fear.

Yes, the thing you least wanted to have happen, happened. John McCain (graciously) lost the election, in what can only be deemed an overwhelming manner. Yes, the ideologies that have long held political sway in this country have been soundly rebuked. I know the disappointment that you feel right now, because it's the same disappointment I felt after the election in 2000, and again in 2004. But now, like then, the sun has risen on a new day, and life is going to go on. Now is not the time for petty recriminations or schoolyard-like chants of "Neeners-neeners-neeners!" Now is the time to begin setting behind us policies that have proven themselves to be wrong: wrong for the country, wrong for the majority of the people in the country, and more widely, wrong for the world. We beging the process of looking forward, of looking for a path we might travel that leads neither in a circle nor to a dead-end, but instead toward a greater fulfillment of that which we all claim to want: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As this new journey begins under the leadership of the man you didn't want, I say again:

Do not fear.

Under the Obama administration, all of the freedoms and liberties you currently enjoy will remain intact. Those of you who do not want an abortion will not be forced to have one. Those of you who disagree with the marriage eligibility of two people in love will not be forced to marry someone of the same gender. Those of you who believe that owning a firearm makes you better able to defend your person and your home will still have that right of ownership. And so it goes...for every divisive lie that you've been told about the Democratic agenda, you will now get to see with your own eyes the truth: that the Democrats want to secure rights and freedoms for all U.S. citizens, not just those select few who agree with a limited political ideology. YOUR RIGHTS ARE INTACT. And if your chief complaint about the Democrats is that your taxes might go up: why not instead celebrate your status as a wealthy individual? Along with that well-earned celebration, you can likely indulge in the feel-good karma of knowing that you are doing Jesus' work on Earth by helping to ease the suffering of those less fortunate than yourself.

I know some of you are worried about both the Executive and Legislative branches being under the same roof, party-wise. While it is my intent to avoid snide, *gotcha!* comments, let me observe that I heard very few complaints when that same roof was yours. President Bush enjoyed six years of same-party governmental the eventual detriment of almost ALL of us. Now it's time to try another way. For too long the President (and his administration) has unconsciously - or outright willfully! - ignored the plain facts that his ideas...didn't work! Rather than continue this nasty spiral of self-destructive behavior, common sense has finally dictated that we have to try SOMETHING ELSE. And in this case, for many of you, "something else" is to be feared. Do not fear. It's not scary or evil...only different. Please: put some of the faith many of you are brimming with to work believing that things can be better, that they ought to be better...and since the old ways weren't working for most of us, then we might as well try something different.

And finally, to those of you who booed at the mention of President-Elect Obama's name during John McCain's concession speech: Fuck. You. If there is a refutation of ideology present in the results of Election 2008, it is most represented by that profoundly unhelpful attitude. That is the same sour-grapes attitude which led cornered-badger Democrats in 2000 to display "Not My President!" bumper stickers. I was never one of those people...because, at the end of the day, when all the counting was done (or stopped), when all the cries of "Stolen election!" finally hushed into awe-striken disbelief, George Bush was my president. I never once embraced or celebrated him as such, but with gritted teeth I grudgingly acknowledged him. Now, Barack Obama is your president. While I doubt that he will fuck up as astonishingly as President Bush has over the past eight years, I hope that you will forgive him the inevitable human mistakes he will make, and that in four years' time you can honestly say that your life is better, not worse, for his leadership.

Do not fear.