You Know I Loved You So When No One Knew Your Name and You Were Pompous

I saw Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker at the Highline Ballroom last night. It was a standing room show, and the concert lasted about three hours. I’ve never been that keen on standing up at concerts, but it’s gotten even harder in recent years. There actually were tables, but they were all either taken or reserved. That said, it was enjoyable enough that I really didn’t notice the standing too much except during the intermission. David Lowery is the usual lead singer for both bands, so that’s a lot of performing for him. At the end of the show, he admitted he wasn’t feeling that well, but that certainly hadn’t affected the quality. I’ve been a fan of both bands for some time now. Although Cracker is considerably better known, and I’d technically heard of them first, it was CVB that was my personal gateway. I was seeking out music that had kind of an avant-garde feel but were still fun to listen to, and Camper qualified. At that point, only three of their albums were still in print, and while they did eventually re-release the others, I pretty much figured they were no longer a going concern; I started listening to them in the late nineties, and they’d broken up in 1990. Not too long after that, however, they reunited to tour together, and even made a few new albums. Cracker is more traditional in their style, but still really good.

CVB’s show generally includes a lot of instrumentals, and I can’t always remember which one is which. One I did recognize was “S.P. 37957,” which they combined with “Hava Nagila” like in the recording on Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead, Long Live Camper Van Beethoven. They only did one instrumental and two songs with lyrics from the post-reunion era; most of it was earlier stuff.

For Cracker, Jonathan Segel, who plays violin and occasionally guitar and keyboard for Camper, played keyboards. I think this might have been the first show I’d seen with Bryan Howard on bass, and he was looking quite stylish in his bright red jacket. David Immergluck played keyboard and mandolin with CVB and guitar on a few Cracker songs.

Lowery explained that he had originally been in the Monks of Doom, a CVB side project, before becoming a guitarist for Counting Crows; but still plays quite often with Camper and Cracker. They introduced as “Gimme One More Chance” as co-written by Lowery, Immergluck, and Johnny Hickman. I think this might have been the first time I’ve seen Cracker live where they didn’t play “Eurotrash Girl.” For the encore, before Lowery came back out, the rest of the band played a song I didn’t know that’s apparently an Alabama State Troupers cover. Since they generally don’t include that many songs in the setlist where Johnny sings lead, I’m kind of disappointed one of the two this time was “Another Song About the Rain,” not one of my favorites of his. It’s not bad, but it kind of drags live. Oh, well. I’ve seen that some people really don’t like the songs where Johnny sings lead at all, but I usually like his somewhat more country-tinged sound.

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L’Engle as a Second Language

I’ve recently tried to catch up on Madeleine L’Engle’s books, and I’ve read the novels in her Chronos and Kairos series, but I realize I haven’t reviewed them individually. I do have some thoughts I’d like to share, though. As such, this entry is probably going to be a bit disjointed. The former series focuses on the Austin family, and the latter on the Murrys and O’Keefes. It’s worth mentioning that the first book with Calvin and Meg as adults, The Arm of the Starfish, was written before The Wind in the Door, where they’re still kids.

L’Engle also ties together the two series, with the same characters being referenced and sometimes even appearing in both.

The first two Chronos books, Meet the Austins and The Moon by Night are the fairly realistic experiences of the friendly and somewhat old-fashioned Austin family, particularly focusing on Vicky, the second of the four children, and her coming of age. The author admitted that Vicky was largely based on herself, and some elements of the stories were inspired by her own childhood. There’s more of a science fiction aspect to Starfish, in which Calvin is trying to find a way to transfer the regenerative properties of starfish to humans. This one is also a thriller, where the protagonist Adam Eddington is caught up in a mysterious conspiracy and not sure whom to trust. This is the book that introduces Canon Tallis, an Episcopalian priest and international adventurer, who reappears in The Young Unicorns. While this is an Austin family book, Vicky isn’t the main viewpoint character, and the realistic style of the first two books changes to a tale of a mad scientist disguised as a genie using a miniature laser to try to take over New York City with help from a gang of boys. A Ring of Endless Light has a fantastic element in that Vicky finds out she has an ability to communicate with dolphins, but it’s nowhere near as weird. International intrigue plots like the one in Starfish return in Dragons in the Waters (probably the one I remember the least) and Troubling a Star, the latter of which returns to the imaginary South American country of Vespugia from A Swiftly Tilting Planet. While Charles Wallace had altered the nation’s history so that it had a peaceful leader, it’s here revealed that another dictator had taken over.

L’Engle’s religious faith plays a significant role in her works. Hers is mostly a tolerant kind of Christianity that allows for doubt and is generally pro-science. The Austins are Episcopalians, but have no problem with discussing issues with people of other religions. There still are some moments that rubbed me the wrong way a bit, though. I believe it’s in Ring that a character insists you should never be totally sure of anything, then not long after seems absolutely certain that there’s an afterlife, something that pretty much can’t be proven with existing means. It also might be worth mentioning that the primary atheist character is the perpetually annoying and self-centered Zachary Gray. He shows up to hit on Vicky in two different books, then on Calvin and Meg’s oldest daughter Polyhymnia (who prefers to go by Polly) in A House Like a Lotus. He’s pretty creepy about it, yet both girls can’t help being attracted to him because of how exciting and mysterious he seems. I think readers are supposed to have some sympathy for the guy, who is suffering from severe heart problems and grew up rich but not particularly attached to his parents, and he does make a valid point sometimes. In Moon, he sings a satirical doom-and-gloom song that Vicky finds disturbing, which makes her a little difficult to identify with for a fan of Tom Lehrer and Robyn Hitchcock. The song in question has apparently been misattributed to Lehrer, but is actually by Sheldon Harnick, the lyricist for Fiddler on the Roof. Anyway, since we have a good-looking, unstable, reckless rich guy named Gray who is drawn to innocent, bookish girls, I wonder if E.L. James has read any of these. I’m pretty sure she also mentions Thomas Tallis. I’d also like to note that Lotus portrays a gay couple in a positive light, even if finding this out leads Polly to think her mentor was making a sexual advance toward her when she probably wasn’t, at least from what I recall. Another theme that shows up a lot is characters being self-conscious about their looks, which comes up with all three female protagonists. Makes sense, but I did find it weird that Vicky was jealous of her sister’s good looks when said sister was nine. But then, I’ve obviously never had a comparable experience. The young Meg is jealous of her mom’s good looks, too.

Speaking of L’Engle, I would also recommend Amy’s post on tesseracts.

Posted in Animals, Authors, Book Reviews, Christianity, Families, madeleine l'engle, Music, Relationships, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Come On, Let’s Make Trouble Together Somehow

Karla Kane, King’s Daughters Home for Incurables – That title sounds like that of the Emilie Autumn book I’ve been reading. Anyway, Karla has been a friend on the online social media for some time now, and she’s also the lead vocalist and ukulele player for the Corner Laughers. Her solo album is very pastoral and English-folksy kind of sound, complete with nature sounds on some tracks. There’s a dreamlike feel to “The Weight of Acorns,” and “All Aboard” has a somewhat jazzy keyboard-driven train rhythm. There are some great lyrical moments as well; the title song includes, “I don’t know that this machine can kill fascists, but maybe annoying them’s all right for now.” “Don’t Hush, Darling” is an anti-lullaby of sorts encouraging girls, advising, “Don’t choose princess when you should be the queen.” Two of the songs, “Midsommar” and “Grasshopper Clock,” are stripped-down remakes of Corner Laughers numbers.

Agony Aunts, Big Cinnamon – I got this 2013 release with King’s Daughters; the Aunts are billed as “a Bay Area psych-pop supergroup.” There’s an obvious similarity to XTC’s stint as the Dukes of Stratosphear, complete with aliases for all the band members. It doesn’t really have as much of the trippy sound the Dukes were going for so much as power-pop, obviously influenced by the Beatles but by some more recent bands with similar sounds as well. While I was listening to “We Got the Jekyll,” Beth mentioned from the other room that it sounded like Fountains of Wayne, which I can certainly hear. There’s a clarinet part on “Undecember” and a bit of an R&B sound to “You’re So Vague,” while the closer “Trouble Was Born” is a spiritual.

Future Bible Heroes, Partygoing – One of Stephin Merritt’s several projects, there’s obviously some overlap with the Magnetic Fields; but it’s less eclectic, largely sticking to a disco sound. Merritt and fellow Magnetic Fields member Claudia Gonson share lead vocals, and there’s quite a bit of Merritt’s typical dark humor. One song laments how difficult it can be to follow Satan, while another suggests keeping children away from the dangers of the world by keeping them in a coma until they grow up. “Drink Nothing But Champagne” includes an account of Jesus being cloned and weird impressions of David Bowie and Aleister Crowley, and is also very catchy.

Posted in Albums, Beatles, Feminism, Humor, Magnetic Fields, Music, Stephin Merritt, XTC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Money Makes the World Go Askew

I’m constantly seeing stuff about Bitcoin, although admittedly a significant amount of it is jokes about how no one can understand it. I’m not sure why play money invented by smug tech geeks really deserves national attention; we might as well discuss the value of Koopabits or Hyrulian Rupees. Bitcoin almost seems like a parody of money: its value shifts constantly with little indication as to why, and people obtain it through a complicated process of moving data around without doing anything useful to anyone else. I guess that, in a way, all money works kind of like that, just not to such extremes. But people actually gain and lose significant amounts of capital by investing in it, which makes it much less of a joke. According to the Wikipedia article, “Bitcoins are created as a reward for a process known as mining,” which is “a record-keeping service done through the use of computer processing power. Miners keep the blockchain consistent, complete, and unalterable by repeatedly verifying and collecting newly broadcast transactions into a new group of transactions called a block.” Why anyone would be rewarded for doing this seemingly utterly useless thing isn’t something I can fully grasp. That’s probably part of why I couldn’t hack it as a computer science major. Also, apparently Bitcoin mining involves wasting a lot of real electricity. And it’s caught on as a means of payment for illegal goods on the Dark Web, which probably isn’t the reputation its techie supporters were hoping for.

The system of money in general originated ages ago basically as a convenient means of keeping track of assets, more organized than barter or simply recording debts.

As such, it seems like money would have a consistent value, but it doesn’t. The value of one kind of currency is constantly rising or falling relative to others, if not quite as much as the value of actual goods and services are. The earliest form of money was commodity money, which was made of a substance with actual value. This largely shifted to representative money, and finally to fiat money, where the notes don’t have any intrinsic value at all. There’s a significant trend of people hoarding gold, but in truth it doesn’t have a lot of intrinsic value either. Sure, it has SOME, as it’s very ductile and malleable (thanks, eighth grade chemistry!), but it seems to be consistently popular more because it’s shiny and pretty, and I’m not sure economics can be based on aesthetics like that.

The gold supporters do have a point in that there’s a finite amount of gold (or any other commodity), while there’s theoretically nothing stopping governments from printing as much paper money as they want.

Obviously there are regulations to control this, but I’m not completely sure how they work. And there needs to be constant circulation of currency in order to keep the system feasible, which means making new stuff occasionally.

The stock market is a fairly sound idea, based around investors helping to finance a company, then that company sharing its profits with the investors. To my mind, the problem comes in more because the value of stock ISN’T totally based on a corporation’s output, but rather on internal politics and people buying and selling.

Karl Marx‘s idea was that the value of goods and services should lie entirely on the amount of labor put into producing it. This isn’t entirely true, but I still think it’s weird when money is gained or lost when no goods or services are involved at all.

It sort of makes a mockery of the very idea of a money economy if people are getting rich without doing anything to benefit society. Isn’t the whole idea that, if you contribute something, you get something back? Even that isn’t totally working these days, since there are more people who need jobs than there are jobs that need doing, but I’d say that making money simply by maneuvering it is a problem in and of itself. And money can easily be used to gain power, another issue where I don’t think our society has come up with an adequate solution. It’s especially bad nowadays when politicians flat-out admit they’re working for their donors rather than the voters.

And really, what’s to stop them? Yes, we can vote them out, and sometimes we do; but there are still way too many blatantly uncaring leaders who get into power. There’s always the possibility of public protest, but it often seems like the masses are too complacent for that, and it doesn’t help when the government actively tries to make such things dangerous for the participants. Sure, sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but self-preservation is still important. And when hardly anyone pays attention anyway, it makes sacrifice seem pointless. I’m getting off the topic of money here, though. One thing that’s related but kind of puzzles me is how much lobbyists will pay to influence politicians to make policies that will benefit them later; it sounds like a bad investment, as there’s no guarantee things WILL work out their way in the future. Sadly, though, it’s been quite effective, or they wouldn’t keep doing it.

I guess you could say that a summary of my thoughts here is that money sucks in general, but money that can’t be traced to any real goods or services is even worse, and that’s how cryptocurrency comes across to me. Perhaps the real problem with Bitcoin is that you can’t dive around in it like a porpoise, burrow through it like a gopher, or toss it up and let it hit you on the head.

Posted in Capitalism, Communism, Corporations, Current Events, Economics, History, Politics, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It Don’t Feel Much Like a Home Without a Dog (or Cat)

The Sims 4: Cats and Dogs – I’ve gotten the expansion pack that lets you have pets in all four Sims games. While I don’t necessarily get pets for every active household, I do for many, as it just seems natural for a home to have them (even though I didn’t have any myself until I was ten). It was really exciting when they actually managed to get pets into the first Sims game, but the control was kind of awkward. The rules for pets have changed over the course of the series. This time, while pets are part of the household and you can zoom in on them, you can’t see their moods or intended actions like you could in previous installments. Instead, you have to rely on cues and thought bubbles to know what they want.

Feeding and attention are easy to figure out by this point, and there are still bad behaviors you have to correct with your human Sims.

Pets now sometimes have reactions to household objects, like being afraid of the shower. As per the expansion title, only cats and dogs are available here, no horses like in Sims 3. Technically, there are raccoons and foxes, but they act exactly like cats and dogs, respectively. The voices are a little different, though.

I’m not sure when the option to teach tricks to a pet shows up; it already did for one of my Sims, but not any others that I can recall. The two in-game ways I’ve seen to get a pet are to adopt one from the agency or to find a stray and adopt it.

In the one case I’ve done the latter, it didn’t take a whole lot of interaction to befriend the cat. I recall other Sims games making it awfully difficult to become friends with strays, which would only come around every once in a while. I haven’t yet seen any animals age up or reproduce. A lot of the ones at the shelter are already neutered, which I wholeheartedly support in real life, but it seems pointless in the game. One thing I liked in Sims 3 was that a neighbor would occasionally have kittens or puppies and let the active household adopt one. I don’t know whether anything like that happens in Sims 4. I’m also not sure about pet lifespans, or if there’s any way to prolong their life like with the Potion of Youth for human Sims. But the pets are definitely cute; I can tell you that much.

Speaking of lifespans, I pretty much had to switch my game from having all households age to just the active household, like in Sims 2. I’d already had it set to the longest span, but that’s still much shorter than it was in Sims 3, and it seemed like the residents of households I wasn’t playing aged way too quickly. I get attached to these characters, you know? I don’t necessarily want them to live forever, just for them to accomplish their goals before they die. That’s kind of how I feel about real life, too. Too many people go way before they’ve contributed all they can. Anyway, I usually switch between the families I’ve created pretty often, whereas in Sims 3 that was difficult to do. In the first game, Sims could never die of old age, yet it still seemed like you had less control overall. It seems like the series has progressed so that there isn’t as much challenge, but there’s a much greater amount of things you can do and see. Or maybe I’ve just gotten accustomed to the control system after all the time I’ve played the various games. There were times in the first game that Sims would do something surprising or just plain dumb, while later ones make them largely self-sufficient, although they generally won’t do anything to advance in their careers or skills unless you nudge them.

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Luke, Be a Jedi Tonight

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Yeah, I finally saw this last night. It was a 3D showing, something I usually avoid due to the extra cost with little return, but I would have had to wait another hour otherwise. It was effective, I suppose; it DID look like spaceships were flying right towards me. Anyway, I have to say I liked this movie better than Episode VII, and there’s a lot that happens in it. I’m definitely going to be including SPOILERS here, by the way.

The film starts with the remnants of Leia’s Resistance trying to escape from the First Order. Poe Dameron is able to take out a Dreadnought, but since he disobeys orders in doing so, Leia demotes him. An attack from Kylo Ren’s forces kills many of the Resistance fighters, but Leia herself manages to survive with serious injuries, resulting in Vice Admiral Holdo (I’m not quite sure how these ranks work; an admiral succeeds a general?) being promoted to command. This character is played by Laura Dern with purple hair, and her plan is to evacuate the main ship, which Poe considers cowardly, leading him to launch a mutiny.

He wants to take out the First Order’s hyperspace tracker, and Finn volunteers for the mission due to his knowledge of the Order’s ships due to his time as a maintenance worker. First, however, he, BB-8, and Rose Tico, a mechanic whose sister had died in Poe’s ill-advised attack, have to find a codebreaker recommended by Maz Kanata in order to infiltrate the ship, and he’s at a casino. I really like this setting, a gaudy location full of lowlifes, the typical mix of humans and aliens for this series.

There’s one guy who keeps trying to put chips into BB-8 and a bunch of racing donkey-creatures that the lovable urchin grooms release in order to facilitate an escape. I’m also surprised that I was able to identify Lily Cole in a brief non-speaking cameo.

Finn and Rose are arrested before they can get to the codebreaker, or at least I assume it’s supposed to be him, although I kind of think they left this plot point dangling. Maz just said he could be identified with a pin, and those are transferable. Anyway, they instead end up with Benicio del Toro, playing a self-centered, apathetic character who just goes by DJ. He’s competent, and helps Finn and company break into the ship, but then betrays them to the First Order after being caught. I have to wonder if they’re going to do more with this character, and whether he’s going to follow the general arc of the selfish neutral guy eventually coming around to the side of good as with Han and Lando.

Meanwhile, Rey has found Luke Skywalker in his island hideout, but he’s grouchy and unwilling to help her, still blaming himself for his nephew turning evil, and thinking the Jedi need to end for good. He has kind of a point in that the Force shouldn’t be only for a few elite individuals, but that’s less an argument for no Jedi at all as it is for Jedi as instructors to the masses as well as lightsaber-swinging warriors. He does start to train Rey, after some nudging from R2-D2, but is frustrated by how she doesn’t do enough to resist the Dark Side. Dude, it’s, like, her first day. I found Luke to be disturbingly like Obi-Wan with his incomplete answers and explanations, but maybe that was on purpose. Rey also doesn’t tell him that she keeps having psychic conversations with Ren. Hasn’t anyone learned the value of telling the truth to potential allies? I’ve never totally understood the appeal of turning to the Dark in this universe. When Rey calls out Ren for murdering his father, he tries to do some “yeah, but” thing. Look, maybe Han wasn’t the best parent, but that’s no reason to kill him. That’s hardly some moral gray area; it’s pretty straightforward. Also, it’s interesting that Luke’s island has its own dark cave of evil just like Yoda had on Dagobah; I guess they kind of form around powerful Jedi? Speaking of Yoda, he’s there in Force ghost form to inform Luke that he can learn from his failures and that artifacts are less significant than people. Rey, meanwhile, goes to confront Ren and Snoke.

During the confrontation, Ren kills his boss and takes over the new Supreme Leader. Finally, there’s a showdown on the salty mining planet Crait, where Luke shows up and survives a crapload of laser blasts before finally revealing he’s just a Force projection, although the energy involved in this causes the real Luke to die. So with him and Han dying in the films and Carrie Fisher dying in real life, I guess we’re not going to have any of the original trio in Episode IX, except maybe as ghosts or flashbacks. That’s kind of disappointing, since everything they fought for had been lost.

One thing I complained about with The Force Awakens was all the repetition, and there wasn’t quite as much here. There was some, certainly, particularly in Rey’s confrontation with the villains, but the whole series was based on mythic archetypes anyway, and that’s part of the Hero’s Journey. Destroying a third giant battle station, not so much. There’s still very little to distinguish the First Order from the Empire. While watching this and thinking how much Snoke came off as just a second-rate Palpatine, I kind of think that if they had to go this way, they should have called more attention to how unoriginal he was, right down to making the same mistakes. There were a few comments by the Resistance about the Order not noticing small ships, because it’s not like tiny ships ever took out anything big in previous wars, right? They’re also still using the same armor that doesn’t protect against diddly-squat, the same AT-AT Walkers that were cool-looking but impractical, the same snooty, petulant British officers, and another battle station with a small weakness to exploit. Rey called out Ren in Episode VII for just trying to be another Darth Vader, and I guess he somewhat surpasses Vader by killing his master in the second part of the trilogy instead of the third. So maybe do more to make the status of the First Order as copycats part of the plot? I also noted how Captain Phasma, who seems to be a fan favorite, was given only a small role in both films.

I guess she’s kind of the new Boba Fett in that respect, popular without actually doing much of anything.

BB-8 proves himself a truly versatile badass, detaching and reattaching his head with no effort, taking control of a larger droid, and attacking with casino chips.

I also appreciated the variety of creatures seen here, although seeing Luke milk that whatever-it-was (a Thala-siren, according to the Internet) was bizarre.

Posted in Star Wars, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Everything’s a Perfect Treat Down on Jollity Farm

Songs the Bonzo Dog Band Taught Us – This is a collection of old songs that the Bonzos either covered or were generally inspired by. They showed a lot of English music hall influence, and that’s mostly what’s here. Unfortunately, the CD I got, the one sold on Amazon, doesn’t include the liner notes; I’m not sure why. There are also some typos in the song list, and the artists aren’t identified. Oh, well. At least I can find most of the information online or one the liners to other Bonzo albums. Since songs from the era were often performed somewhat differently by different artists, some of these include lyrics that weren’t in the Bonzos’ versions, or vice versa. I find that the laid-back vocals on many of the Bonzos’ recordings help to accentuate the ridiculousness of the songs themselves, but to be fair, that style wasn’t really possible with the recording techniques of the twenties and thirties. “Jollity Farm” was associated so closely with the band that it was the title of a book about them, but it was a cover, and sort of a parody, or at least a humorous follow-up, in the first place. Leslie Sarony performed a song called “Misery Farm” in 1929, then wrote and sang “Jollity” as sort of a counter to it. Both of the original songs are featured here. I haven’t been able to find much information on “Mickey’s Son and Daughter,” originally performed by the BBC Dance Orchestra. The lyrics are really kind of odd, since I don’t think Mickey and Minnie Mouse ever canonically had any children, and while it does mention Donald Duck and Pluto, I don’t think the other animals referenced were actual Disney characters. For that matter, why would the non-anthropomorphic dog be the one to throw the party? It’s certainly a fun song regardless, and the liner notes for Gorilla suggest that one of the reasons the Bonzos covered it was that it was a silly, jolly song recorded so soon before the advent of World War II. The version of “Button Up Your Overcoat” here is by famous British jazz bandleader Jack Hylton and his orchestra (as are several other tracks), but the best-known take on the song was by Helen Kane, the inspiration for Betty Boop.

“By a Waterfall” isn’t really a novelty like the others, but it was used in a lot of Looney Tunes cartoons. It was originally from the movie Footlight Parade with elaborate water-based choreography by Busby Berkeley. “We’ll All Go Riding on a Rainbow,” written by Harry Woods and performed by Jay Wilbur, is one of the ones the Bonzos didn’t cover, but it’s an excellent representation of the peppy music of the early thirties. And two other songs are about articles of clothing, somewhat of an obsession for the Bonzos themselves with such numbers as “Shirt” and “Trouser Press.” I was also interested to find out that the songwriter for “Ali Baba’s Camel,” Noel Gay, also wrote “Leaning on a Lamp-post.” I do find the repeated raspberry sound on “Everything Is Fresh Today,” by Raspberry King Jack Hodges, to be kind of irritating, but you can’t win ’em all. When I looked for that song on Google, it came up with this video of Spike Milligan lip-syncing…um, lip-raspberrying to it.

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