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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Smart Shopping + Cookies = Happy Mandasaurus

Giving gifts is a challenge, especially if you're related to people. It's hard to find the right gift for people who buy the things they need and want. It's really hard if those people are related to me.
Seriously, this year my dad delcared that he needs no more dvds or t-shirts and just joined a book club. Thanks.

Allow me to offer some smart, responsible gift ideas for you.

  • The Dixie Chicks album "Taking the Long Way" - The Dixie Chicks are amazing, brave women who stood up for what they said (and against the president when he was actually popular). The Dixies are nominated for Record, Album an Song of the Year Grammys. If you don't like country your open mind can still enjoy this album because it's powerful, political and thoughtful. Heck, the banjo is pretty awesome and no one can argue with a fiddle.
  • Books! - If you are shopping for a child buy that child a book. Kids need books. Books are good for them. Books make kids think. Books, seriously, make all the difference. That's according to research. Book are good for grown people too, unless that person just joined a book club.
  • Renter's Insurance - Hmmmm.
  • Fruit of the Month Club - I totally want this. And, therotically, it's healthy! Don't do Jelly of the Month Club. People don't like that.
  • Wine, liquor, donations to good causes, gift cards, checks and genuine promises of good times.

Anyways, enjoy your holidays. Whatever you celebrate you're getting (hopefully) an extra day or so off work. And people are cheering for snow, being oddly nice to one another and making yummy cookies to share. That's reason enough to have a good time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Metal now, metal forever

Thanks to my landlord's backup TV, I watched a pretty good heavy metal documentary over the weekend, Metal: A Headbangers Journey. Leave it to a Canadian metalhead anthropologist to produce a compelling study of the genre.

Though I more than enjoy my Dixie Chicks, Roxette and Björk, I've been a flashing the devil horns since my mom bought me ...And Justice For All back in 1990. One of my favorite parts of the movie was an intricate chart tracing the evolution of heavy metal through the years and listing the most prominent groups in each sub-genre.

I realized that I tend towards the the "happier" side of the tree (shock, pop, glam, power, industrial and thrash metal, among others). I've never even heard of a lot of bands on the opposite side (black, death and goth metal, hardcore, metalcore, grindcore), which tend to be rather...gross. Sample band names: Carcass, Exhumed, Cradle of Filth, Entombed, Dismember, Immolation and the legendary Dying Fetus.

Norwegian black metal bands (which have their own flourishing sub-genre) are actually rather crazy, in a not-at-all-amusing, rather-disturbing kind of way. Disturbing because there have been intra-band murders, a suicide where the remaining band members made jewelry out of the deceased's skull, various church burnings and some indications of actual Satanism. (Rather than, you know, just posing. As Alice Cooper says in the documentary, when you get up on stage with pentagrams, fake blood and black eye-shadow, it's not Satanism. It's Halloween.)

It seems like a lot of this Norwegian black metal sub-culture is less about music and more about rebellion against the state Church of Norway. Norway was originally converted to Catholicism by way of the sword about a thousand years ago, and the Norwegian king got rid of the Catholic part and integrated the church into the state in 1527. Since 1660, clergy have actually been civil servants.

Rock out.
Dee Snider visiting Congress.
Apparently, there's a lot of pent-up aggression towards the state religion, with some people wanting to return to their pre-Christian past. Although something like 85 percent of the Norwegian population belongs to the state church, only 10 percent attend services more than once a month. Which means you get young guys dressing like Vikings, professing allegiance to Satan and burning down churches in between barking out crazy Norwegian lyrics and laying down vaguely disquieting metal riffs.

A couple other observations from my docu-watching:

Dee Snider is awesome. As some of you older sorts may remember, the Twisted Sister frontman (along with Frank Zappa and John Denver) was called to testify by the Senate in 1985 to defend his music. This was during the Parents Music Resource Center's successful campaign to have music companies label records with the infamous "Parental Guidance: Explicit Lyric" label.

(And let's remember that it was Al Gore's wife Tipper who lead the crusade. No single party has a monopoly on censorship,)

As he relates in the movie, Snider completely sandbagged the committee. He walked into the hearing dressed in a cut-off jean jacket, with crazy hair and a little makeup. He smiled dumbly, pulled his crumpled-up statement from his pocket, and then proceeded to deliver a full-on rhetorical beat-down to the Senators on the committee. You can read the transcript here; it was awesome. Here's a snippet:
Parents can thank the PMRC for reminding them that there is no substitute for parental guidance. But that is where the PMRC's job ends.

The beauty of literature, poetry, and music is that they leave room for the audience to put its own imagination, experiences, and dreams into the words. The examples I cited earlier showed clear evidence of Twisted Sister's music being completely misinterpreted and unfairly judged by supposedly well-informed adults.

We cannot allow this to continue. There is no authority who has the right or the necessary insight to make these judgments, not myself, not the Federal Government, not some recording industry committee, not the PTA, not the RIAA, and certainly not the PMRC.

Did you know that the Cyndi Lauper song "She Bop" (also target by the PMRC) is about masturbation? I totally didn't. Here's the lyrics:
We-hell-I see them every night in tight blue jeans -
In the pages of a blue boy magazine
Hey I've been thinking of a new sensation
I'm picking up - good vibration -
Oop - she bop

Do I wanna go out with a lion's roar
Huh, yea, I wanna go south n get me some more
Hey, they say that a stitch in time saves nine
They say I better stop - or I'll go blind
Oop - she bop - she bop

She bop--he bop--a--we bop
I bop--you bop--a--they bop
Be bop--be bop--a--lu--she bop,
I hope He will understand
She bop--he bop--a--we bop
I bop--you bop--a--they bop
Be bop--be bop--a--lu--she bop,
Oo--oo--she--do--she bop--she bop

(whistle along here)...

Hey, hey - they say I better get a chaperone
Because I can't stop messin' with the danger zone
No, I won't worry, and I won't fret
Ain't no law against it yet
Oop - she bop - she bop

She bop - he bop - we bop...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The wages of city living

(updated below)

My apartment got robbed last Thursday about 90 minutes after I left for work. I hadn't been in to the office yet that week (hey, it's a good life), and the thieves wanted to make sure I was really gone before entering.

HIgh definition no more.
Alas, we knew ye well.  
The three of them jumped the alley gate into the backyard, then pushed a garbage can over to the first-floor windows facing onto the yard. They were lucky enough to find a window unlocked and soon all three were inside.

They'd been looking at the big TV in the front room since it was delivered, so they headed straight to the second floor and towards the front. A couple of them grabbed the surprisingly light TV while the third took stock. His eyes bugged out at the bookcase full of DVDs, and he started looking around for something to put them in. He grabbed bags from both bedrooms and dumped their contents on the floor, filling them with DVDs and Playstation 2 games. And the Playstation 2.

His buddies came back from leaving the television downstairs. They went into the bedrooms, dumping out drawers and taking the two digital cameras they found, as well as a watch, school ring and a half-full "I heart Las Vegas" piggy bank. Binoculars and ice skates were briefly considered before being left on the bed.

Downstairs, the landlord's 80-year-old mother heard the crash of drawers hitting the floor. She thought it was probably the boys who lived upstairs, but curled up in her bed. It didn't sound right.

One of the thieves grabbed a battered Powerbook off the living room table, making sure to get the power cord, and tossed it in a duffle bag alongside a bottle of Bacardi. On their way out the trio paused by the bikes but decided against it — no time. Among other things, they also left behind an old iMac, three Playstation 2 games, a 120GB external hard drive, several boxes of comic books and a baseball signed by Mark Buehrle.

Rather than going back over the fence, they jimmied the side door on the garage and opened it to the alley, where their car waited. As long as they were out there, they grabbed a computer monitor and a toy truck (destined for Toys for Tots, believe it or not).

I hope it eats your discs.
You too.  
At least that's what my roommate and I have pieced together since he came home Thursday night around 7, Subway in hand, to find the place trashed. He'd had the 42" high-definition plasma TV less than a month. No renters insurance, of course.

The cops came, and made cop jokes, and didn't bother giving us any false hopes about getting our stuff back. They suggested to my roommate that we'd been robbed because he's Asian and further suggested we move out of Bridgeport. The fingerprint guy came later, which was pretty cool, but didn't find anything worthwhile. He did tell us that our neighbor, a semi-paranoid limo driver, had been robbed only two days earlier in a similar manner.

It took me most of Friday to get the place back to normal. I'm not happy about the camera, but thank God I got a new computer last month and transferred all my irreplaceable files over. Here are the DVDs they left behind: the first season of Buffy, Office Space, Twin Peaks (the entire series), the first season of Lost, Heathers, Gladiator, and two seasons of Sex and the City. We're not sure whether this was a statement about our taste in movies.

It's a weird feeling. Someone took my laptop and dumped my stuff all over the floor. They watched our television through the window and waited for me to leave so they could steal it. It makes me mad, of course. Nothing worse than impotent rage.

But I think I'm more sad. Just sad this happened. I'm a very trusting person. I don't lock my car doors if I'll only be gone a few minutes. I leave the laundromat while my clothes are in the dryer. When I lived in Urbana after college, I used to leave my back door open while I was at work.

We didn't have any security at the back of the house, and I never gave it a second thought. Neither did my landlord, who has owned the place for years without problem.

He installed a heavy-duty security door Saturday, and we also put up blinds to shield the view from the street. I don't think I'll be any less trusting. But I've learned that being trusting doesn't excuse you from taking reasonable precautions. And getting some fucking renters insurance.

This morning as I got out of my car and went into the store, I stopped after a few steps and went back to lock my door. Because while I'm still trusting, I know now that you can get robbed, it does happen. I can't pretend it doesn't. So I lock my door. It's not a big deal. Won't slow me down at all getting back in.

But, yeah. It makes me sad.


Here are some pictures my roommate took of the carnage. He used his phone because, ha ha, no more cameras.

My room, his room and the forlorn DVD shelves, respectively:

Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.