Rummage through the dump

Friday, October 23, 2015

A long reply to a post comparing The Darkness show to 1981 Van Halen

It was reminiscent of an early 80’s rock show, for sure. I find it somewhat remarkable that The Darkness, despite their goofier tendencies never give their fans that knowing wink to indicate that they’re “in on the joke.” I think that’s because they know, as do you and I, that their music and performance is no joke, even if its written and played with a fair dose of humor. They’re playing it completely straight and in the style of heroes from a less cynical time. How rare is that these days?

In 1981, though, that was the norm. Shows from “Back in Black” era AC/DC, “Moving Pictures” era Rush, and “Fair Warning” era Van Halen featured bands who were, even at the time, iconic. As a fan at their concerts, the electricity in the arena made you feel like you were witnessing and participating in something that approached apotheosis–the bands felt superhuman; rock gods, indeed. That’s pretty much gone, now, though. In an era of fragmentation, it might be impossible for a modern band to connect with enough people to create the critical mass required for them to ascend to that level.
But The Darkness come pretty danged close to getting me back to that place. 

I LOVE watching Dan Hawkins play guitar, for example. His School of Rock Power Stance only bolsters his already fantastic guitar work (he is, as far as I’m concerned, the heir to the rhythm guitar throne established by Chuck Berry and later occupied by Keith Richards and Angus Young). The fact that he does it in front of a Marshall Stack only adds to the imagery. Frankie Poullain looks absolutely ridiculous and, as far as I can tell, that’s the point. So did every other pre-1990 rock star. During the show, that ridiculousness sets him apart from and, maybe, above the rest of us.

Compare that to the 1981 Fair Warning tour I referred to in my prior post. Consider Van Halen’s wardrobe choices, primarily dicated by David Lee Roth who insisted that the music should “look like it sounds.” Edward and Alex Van Halen each wore knickers with striped socks and matching striped shirts (Eddie in red, Alex in black). Michael Anthony danced around the stage in a flight jumpsuit (and occasionally a matching helmet). David Lee Roth had a couple of different styles of low-rise spandex football pants. The band, especially in retrospect, looked downright silly. A few biographies later, we know they *knew* they looked silly. But being “over the top” was part of the rock god persona. It wasn’t just about wardrobe, though. How they played, how they interacted with the audience, and how their shows were staged all supported the persona. Van Halen and the bands of the time embraced the persona without cynicism.

U2’s the last band, that I can think of, from that mold. I think they went out of their way to elevate and then cynically bury that persona with their ZooTV tours. Those tours, combined with the rise of 90’s Alternative music, which was more about the anti-rock-star, effectively ended the era of BIG rock music. It’s no wonder that so many initially viewed The Darkness as a novelty, perhaps ignoring the remarkable quality of the music they were producing (just like the equally retro Jellyfish 15 years earlier, I might add).

The Darkness are a band of irreverant characters that writes and performs excellent music in an over-the-top fashion. Comparisons to the big bands of the 70’s and 80’s are inescapable as that’s the last time any of us have regularly witnessed that type of musical production. I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it and I’m glad you got a chance to experience it a little.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sandi's Arm and other Thoughts

In actuality there are no other thoughts. I just wanted to show Sand how to use blogging software.  Of course, taking a picture of her arm seemed the most logical thing to do for a demonstration.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Russell Wilson IS Alex Rodriguez

Put simply, Russell Wilson IS Alex Rodriguez.  I'm not talking about talent or stats.  I refer to conversational demeanor and projected attitude.  A-Rod always had a very polished way of speaking and his words were rife with the standard sports/motivational/I'm-so-humble cliches.  It seemed clear to me that he was very well coached about how to act when being interviewed.  I see the very similar behavior from Russell Wilson, even down to his tone of voice.

I don't intend to come across as demeaning.  I'm a fan of both DangeRuss and A-Rod.  I'm glad these guys are able to communicate in a more-refined manner than the bulk of the population.

I think, though, that part of RW's disconnect with many of the Seattle fans might be some sort of subconscious reaction to the similarities.  A-Rod, after leaving the Mariners, was fairly reviled (in a friendly way) by Seattle fans.  Could it be that people, upon hearing the rookie QB speak, are unknowingly reacting (instinctively?) because on their distaste for Rodriguez and RW's similarity?

Seattle fans, for as long as observed them, have preferred those who rose to prominence through ingenuity or, alternatively, against the odds.  RW's story line looks to be a perfect match in a lot of ways.  Conversely, however, Seattle fans have frequently railed against those they perceive as something less than "genuine." A-Rod's quasi-scripted interactions with the media and public were the prime example of the art of faked interest in the things beyond one's personal bubble.  Does Russell Wilson come across the same way?  How long will Seattle sports fans tolerate "I think the main thing is just to play great football?"

Matt Flynn, not so much.  The Humble Lumberjack.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Van Halen - Tacoma Dome 5/5/12

I loved the show--though that was pretty much a given.


This was my second T-Dome show. The other was "Barney's Big Surprise."  The sound 30 rows back on Ed's side, at least, was pretty horrible.  The bass was reverberating loudly and any sound in the mid-to-upper registers was lost in the mix. This was most notable, to me, during Cathedral when the lower-notes made the higher notes impossible to hear.  On the bright side, I got a new version out of the deal.  Barney had much better sound (which is good because Baby-Bop totally OWNS the "Clean-up" song).

Seats were uncomfortable, but seldom occupied, thankfully.  Me and the rest of the middle-aged set clogged up the concession and restroom lines nicely--to the point that a beer purchase prior to the show meant a 30-minute wait in line.


I was hoping that, since we're at a mid-point of the tour, that Dave and the band would be relaxed, but not yet showing the negative effects of so many shows prior.  To the first point, the band was clearly looser, it seemed to me, than they were earlier in the year.  The rigors of the tour, though, seem to be wearing on Dave, for sure.

I thought his vocal work was pretty inconsistent.  Having watched his other 2012 perfomances, I was expecting that.  But the degree to which he struggled, at times, surprised me a bit.  It often seemed that he couldn't choose how to sing a song and would alternate between high, mid, and low tones--like he'd try one, decide it wasn't working, and then switch to another, which often wasn't working either.  I get the impression that it's easier for him to hit the higher notes, now, than the lower, as he often defaulted to singing about an octave higher than he did on the original recordings. I found his struggles most notable on Chinatown. At other times, however, he was spot on, though those times were more rare, for sure. When he got it "right," it was awesome--1981 tour all over again.

I'll be the first to say that I don't enjoy DLR-flavored-VH because of the amazing lead vocals.  I enjoy DLR-flavored-VH because DLR infuses every performance, live and recorded, with a soul the band's seldom been able to replicate without him.  That spirit was present in the arena before the show started and continued until the last bits of confetti fell on the stage.


The band plays better, now, than they ever have, as far as I'm concerned.  "Hot For Teacher," and "Everybody Wants Some," especially, were performed beautifully.

I can't really comment much on Alex or Wolf because of the sound issues, except to say that Al was as brilliant as ever.  I learned long ago to play every VH song, note for note, on the drums (yeah, Al was my hero, for sure) and as far as I can tell, he didn't miss a beat.  I really appreciated how he controlled the tempo, too.  Songs performed during earlier tours were frequently played at a quicker tempo than the recorded versions.  Not last night.  Al was a hyper-accurate metronome, throughout.

I must admit that I didn't care for the drum solo this time, as it really wasn't a solo anymore. All I heard was salsa music with lots of added percussion.  I thought the pre-recorded video that accompanied the solo was kind of cheesy.  I would've MUCH preferred a live video-feed instead of random video of Al's sticks flying all over the place.

As he has been for the entirety of this tour, Edward was perfect.   His solo was considerably shortened and I was okay with that. I've always preferred his playing within the context of his songs, so if cutting the 15-minute solo in half meant a couple of extra songs, I'm all the happier.

Overall, the band seems to have achieved some odd sort of peace with their music and the massive impact it's had on those fortunate enough to appreciate it. It's hard to explain what I'm thinking as I type that, but it's almost like they play the songs, now, as if they were proud parents.  They own the songs now instead of simply performing them.  It seems to me that sense of ownership pervaded the entire show, last night, and, perhaps, contributed to the very positive and friendly vibe that was the hallmark. To be sure, I missed the band's early 80's swagger, but they've filled that hole with a quiet and mature confidence that more than made up for the less aggressive nature of the performance.  It was a wonderful night in Tacoma.

Oh--Tacoma:  After being on your feet for the duration, you chose to finally sit during my favorite VH song, "Women in Love."  I will always resent you for the implication.  :)

Also--Be sure to view the rest of the m5150's fabulous photostream from the show.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

So I Can Read it Later: "A Different Kind of Truth"

Here's what I notice when I listen to Van Halen's "A Different Kind of Truth": eighth and sixteenth notes.  Yeah, weird, I know, but that to me is the key that brings the band back to their roots.  When you go back and listen to Roth-era Van Halen, Eddie picks faster.  "Light Up The Sky", "Romeo Delight", "Mean Street"--are all good examples of what I'm talking about. Listen to just about any of the Hagar-era Van Halen, especially the later stuff, and it's a wash of "slower" playing, both from Ed and Al, even when the tempo of the song is faster. The new album is replete with examples of Ed embracing his inner rhythm guitarist (he's still one of the best ever at that) and Al frequently doing the same.  Like Michael Anthony, Wolfgang is frequently the exception to this, picking out quarter-notes against his double-timing kin.  I know it's simplistic, but, to me at least, this is the big change that brings ADKoT up to the ridiculously high standards the band set 35 years ago.

Song by song first impressions, just so I can go back and read 'em later to see how wrong I was:

Tattoo  Listen

A greatly underrated song, I think.  Though I think a faster tempo (say 10bps or so) would take this song to the next level.  Not much to say about this one.   I love Al's playing on this song.  The guitar solo is exceptional and I like the "You're No Good" ending.

She's the Woman  Listen

As others have said, this is very reminiscent of Fair Warning's "Mean Street," although I do not believe that this song is nearly as strong.  The chorus, in particular, suffers in comparison, although this is an excellent example of the band returning to their historic form. The highlight of the song is the breakdown immediately prior to the guitar solo--where the new rhythm section is featured for the first time.  The song's right in DLR's wheelhouse, for the most part and he's in fine form throughout.

You and Your Blues  Listen

As this is one of the more "poppy" songs of the bunch, I'm particularly fond of it.  Background harmonies are featured prominently throughout and the song is exceptionally well-constructed out of a handful of disparate "parts."  I liked that on the first listen it wasn't obvious where the song was going.  Roth is forced to stretch on this one and he pulls it off better than I would have ever expected.

China Town   Listen

The tempo gets turned up here in a song that is just like "the fast ones" that appear on most of VH's earlier albums.  The song is particularly reminiscent of "Hang 'em High."  The vocal on this one is particularly strong and is engineered differently (to these ears) than the other songs on the album.  This song has a few five-second moments that are just awesome and, as a whole, China Town is interesting and stands up well to repeated listens.

Blood and Fire  Listen

I don't think any song on this album better recaptures the Van Halen vibe than "Blood and Fire."  This song has just about every trademark VH element that I've missed over the last 30 years.  It starts with the melodic, undistorted guitar opening ("Woman In Love," "Hear About It Later," et al), continues with Alex washing out the music with his ride-cymbal (the way he used to play on EVERYTHING), the soaring harmonies ("Highhhhhhhhh...") and concludes the first verse with a vintage "ooooh yeah" from Dave before launching into a transition straight out of "In A Simple Rhyme."  Again, the chorus is something of a weak spot, but only relatively so, and then Dave sings "Look at all the people here tonight," and it's right back to 1982 all over again.

The bridge takes me back to "Jamie's Cryin'" before the wink-and-nod "say you missed me" interlude, follows it up with a "Dreams"-like guitar solo that resolves beautifully into a crush of power like little else in the VH catalog.

This song remains the highlight of the album for me, one of Van Halen's great summer songs (and there have been many, to be sure).  It's an amazing hybrid of so many of my favorites, but reminds me most of "In a Simple Rhyme."

Bullethead  Listen

"Light Up The Sky" but not quite as good.  Still, it's like "Light Up The Sky," so how bad can it be?  I'm not skipping it, that's for sure.  There's even an element of mid-70's Todd Rundgren art-rock buried in here that is probably apparent to me, only.  :)

As Is  Listen

At first listen, I chuckled at how much they were aping "Everybody Wants Some" at the beginning.  Upon further listens, the similarities to "AFU (Naturally Wired)" were what grabbed my attention.  The guitar solo got my daughter's attention.  In the end, though, this song is like a VH version of a Brian Wilson Teenage Symphony to God, a Frankenstein of bits and pieces jumbled into one big noisy cake.  The "la la la la" final minute is the highlight of the song for me and is as good as anything the band has ever produced."

Honeybabysweetiedoll  Listen

SO MANY COOL SOUNDS.  The heaviest track on the album, just like "Tora, Tora, Tora" was on Women and Children First." The riff is a variation of "Outta Love Again," but HUGER.

I don't dance.  The "Girl Gone Bad" rhythm of this song, crazy as it sounds, makes me want to gyrate in the stupidest way possible.

The Trouble With Never   Listen

This song's just kinda "meh," to me.  It's got a few moments that make me take particular notice, but I'm more interested in hearing one of the other songs again.

I have a big problem with this song that will persist, I think, for a long time.  Specifically, Dave's "Yeah!" at the intro to the breakdown reminds me, WAY TOO MUCH, of Kristen Wiig's "Target" lady from SNL.  The fact that the breakdown is so similar to the one in "She's The Woman" and 10 other Van Halen songs doesn't help to distract me from the mental image.

The guitar playing in this song is stellar and the heavy wah-wah will immediately put some in the mind of Jimi Hendrix.  I didn't really get into Hendrix that much, so, again, "meh," except during the whole spoken word, "selective amnesia" bit.

Outta Space   Listen

Yeah, I like "On Fire," so it's to be expected that I'd dig this song, aka "Son of On Fire."  Okay, maybe "Bastard Love Child of On Fire and Atomic Punk."  What could possible be wrong with the mating of those two classics???

Stay Frosty   Listen

Okay, an acoustic ditty about something cold that resolves into a crunching shuffle-rock tune with a slide guitar'ish solo?  Yeah, Ice Cream Man is a great song that's certainly stood the test of time.  You'd expect that "Stay Frosty," built out of precisely the same elements (plus a bit of "The Full Bug") would too, as it matches and, in some bits exceeds the 1977 original.  But come on--their not even trying, at this point, to come up with something new.  It's the same song (albeit with a lot more words) and I have no complaints.

Big River   Listen

Yeah, "Runnin' With The Devil" lite.  Except it has A SHAKER!  That's something new.   :)

Honestly, I think this song needed a bit more effort.   They have the guts of a great song but missed some opportunities to take it to the next level.  Even still, it's nice to listen to, but I fear it won't age well.  I can see myself getting tired of it quickly.  The highlight, for me is the riff immediately prior to the final chorus and the sustained notes soaring over the outtro.

Beats Workin'   Listen

This is another of my favorites and Van Halen finally have their PERFECT show-opener, though I'd be shocked if they ever opened with a song like this.  So everything on this CD is reminiscent of something else, right?   This time, it's "Feel Your Love Tonight," and "Day Tripper" (to the point of a lawsuit, perhaps? I mean the "Day Tripper" bit, not the "Feel Your Love Tonight" bit).

I like the lyrical acknowledgement of why the band's finally reunited ("beats workin'") to close the album.

The most Sammy'ish vocal on the album.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sharing my Personal Email

On Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 2:59 PM,  wrote:

Dear Joel:

Thank you for contacting me about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). I wanted to update you on my views on this important issue.

I am opposed to SOPA and PIPA in their current forms. I believe that these bills create unacceptable threats to free speech and free access to the internet. I have heard from many of you in Northwest Washington who are deeply concerned about the potential impacts of SOPA and PIPA. 

Online piracy is a serious problem that costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars. Government agencies must be empowered to stop and prosecute intellectual property thieves. But in doing so we cannot undermine freedom of speech or jeopardize the free flow of information on the internet. I will work with my colleagues to see that any final anti-online piracy legislation protects the internet and does not encroach on free speech rights. 

Please be assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind should I have the opportunity to vote on any legislation that would impact online piracy and internet freedom on the House floor.

Again, thank you for contacting me.  I encourage you to contact me in the future about this or any other issue of importance to you.


Rick Larsen
United States Representative
Washington State, 2nd District

Thank you for your decision, Congressman Larson. 

I hope that you will reconsider the belief that piracy is "a serious problem that costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars," because research, including that from the CBO says otherwise.  As long as legislators continue to accept, at face value, what the ESA and Hollywood are shoveling (especially as it relates to estimates of financial loss), they'll inevitably support another measure as equally flawed as SOPA/PIPA.  

Furthermore, the notion that Government agencies must be empowered to stop and prosecute intellectual property thieves would imply that the government is not so empowered now, which it clearly is.  Do you know how many websites have been shutdown by Homeland Security/ICE?  If I recall correctly, it was 300 not too long ago--all without any hint of due process by the way, in a despicable corruption of power that nobody in Congress seems interested in (see  Just last week, our government arrested, on foreign soil no less, the administrators of, a website with 150 million subscribers.   This arrest has caused similar cloud-storage businesses to suspend their operations entirely or prohibit their use by Americans.  As long as the government can fundamentally disrupt (and eventually kill) a multi-billion dollar industry like they just did to this sector of IT (which, I might add, includes Microsoft and Amazon), we should not lament their lack of power. 

I hope you'll keep in mind that computers are little more than particularly advanced copy-and-transmit machines.  As long as they exist there will be unsanctioned copying.  Rick Falkvinge said it quite succinctly:

General-purpose networked computers, free and anonymous speech, and sustained civil liberties make it impossible to maintain this distribution monopoly of digitizable information. As technical progress can't be legislated against, basic civil liberties would have to go to maintain the crumbling monopoly. And these are the laws we're seeing on the table. 

Please do not fall on the side of the copyright/patent monopolists.  This is THE big fight of the next few decades as it's no longer solely about a paycheck for a record executive.  The stakes, now, are lives (in the case of pharmaceutical patents, for example), livelihoods, and civil liberties.  

Thank you for reading.

Best Regards,

Joel Enbom, Granite Falls

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jayme Biendl

I'm still not sure that I'm ready to write about this.

Jayme Biendl was a friend of mine.  Not the go-out-and-have-fun-with kind of friend.   Not even the tell-all-about-your-day sort of friend.  She and I passed each other three or four times each week at work in the Reformatory and exchanged pleasantries (frequently about Granite Falls--our mutual home). Professionally, I was an annoyance to her, I think.  I was involved with various events at the Reformatory Chapel and always felt like I was imposing on her, arranging to have big groups of inmates intrude on her territory.  She was always kind, though, and worked through the stress of it all with her customary precision and thoroughness.

We did our little dance last week during the MLK-day event in the Chapel.  The event planners were more prepared than usual, this time, and all seemed to go well.  Jayme even cracked a smile a couple of times.  I missed the part where she checked-in all of the inmates (as far as I can tell, the worst part for her, as there are always a few who want in but are not on the list), but judging from her attitude, it must've been okay.

And then she was killed.

In a horrible instant on Sunday morning right after I learned of her death via Facebook, Jayme Biendl went from being the officer that I stressed out and would be seeing again on Tuesday to the officer that was murdered and would no longer be holding the list of inmates and unlocking the bathroom door.

And then the reporting and opining came and I paid attention.  I read.   A LOT.  Hundreds of comments from anonymous posters, most expressing their grief and many offering up their version of the root problems that led to Jayme's murder.  It was budget cuts.  It was a poor staffing model.  It was inattentive management.  It was the lack of security cameras.  It was callousness from Olympia.  It was liberal "hug-a-thugs" and their misguided notions of reform.  It was conservatives and their inability to tax themselves for the services they demand.  It was Jayme's diminutive physique.  It was the other CO's who didn't find Jayme until after 10pm.

But every once in awhile, someone got it right:  It was Byron Scherf.  Jayme was murdered by Byron Scherf.  Jayme was not murdered by Eldon Vail or Christine Gregoire or Scott Frakes or Bryan Hardina or the liberals or the taxpayers of Washington state.  It was Byron Scherf.

Byron Scherf is a really bad guy.  That's why he's in prison and will never leave.  He, alone, made the decision to take another human life.  His decision wasn't influenced by DOC policy, but, instead, by opportunity.  He found the opportunity to satisfy some base and unfathomable need and took advantage of it.  The presence of cameras or a 6'4" guard in the chapel may not have curbed that need--we won't ever know.  Guys like Scherf either believe they're going to get away with it or they don't really care about the consequences.  That's why they're different from the rest of us and why every person living and working in a prison filled with this type of man is in a place of danger.

It was Byron Scherf.

The Department of Corrections is never going to be able to prevent its inmates from acting out violently.  Even in maximum security facilities, inmates lash out at their custodians and, I suspect, even kill them sometimes.  Much as we might like to, we can't store criminals in an underground cement box or execute all of them.  The US Constitution and the laws of the land mandate a minimum level of humane treatment for all prisoners--and thank heavens for that, by the way.

There will always be vulnerabilities.  Good prison management, then, does what it can to limit those vulnerabilities as much as possible, using the tools available.  No amount of management, though, will ever eliminate the risk, especially when the toolbox is being so rapidly downsized.  The DOC tries to plan for every circumstance--there are checklists for nearly everything--and trains its employees to respond accordingly.  There was a plan for the Saturday service in the Chapel.  There was a plan for the safe exit of all Watch 3 officers.  There was even a plan for a surprise attack on an officer.  The plans didn't work.  Failure does not, though, equal incompetence.

On Saturday night Jayme Biendl was murdered by Byron Scherf.  We did what we thought was best to prevent it, but we failed.  I believe my coworkers at MCC and those in Tumwater have acted in good faith and in our common best interest.  But, in this case, the good work of 8,000 of us wasn't good enough to save our friend and peer.  I think that most of us will regret that for as long as we live.

We're going to spend a good amount of time in the next few months, I think, trying to figure out where we went wrong.  I suspect we'll find a few examples, at least.  But I believe that when the immediate horror has faded a little, we'll finally come back to the real answer in our search for the reason why:

It was Byron Scherf.

(Edit -  After this post was linked by The Herald, someone much smarter than me pointed out that Mr. Scherf is only a suspect, at this point.  In my rush to find someone/something to blame, I carelessly abandoned my belief that the accused are innocent until proven guilty.  As far as I know, Mr. Scherf hasn't been formally charged with Jayme's murder.  I must rely on the reader of this post to imagine the words "allegedly," "suspect," and "possibly" wherever they are appropriate.    --joel)

Saturday, January 29, 2011


So I've spent a fair number of hours participating in the beta for Rift: Planes of Telara, a new MMO set for release on March 1.  First off, let me say that the game is fantastic.  Trion, the developer, has built a new type of class system that really ups the current standard and the game is remarkably well-crafted (in the early levels at least).  I'll be wasting a lot of time in Telara before too long.

I was pleased to learn this morning, that my current home city is nicely represented in the new game.  This description of Granite Falls is from the Trion website:

Granite Falls

Granite Falls is just as dry and barren as its name suggests. Once, this was a prosperous mining town, its skilled miners tapping some of the richest sourcestone veins on Telara. The miners respected the earth, and never dug too deep for fear of waking the ancient prisoners. This sensible approach did nothing to protect the townspeople from calamity after calamity since the coming of the rifts.

Displaced from the Deepstrike Mine by the Endless Court, the people of Granite Falls have lost their livelihood. Now the unemployed sit, surly and despondent, in the overcrowded tavern. Adding injury to insult, a mysterious illness has swept through the hill folk, poisoning even the miners’ leathery lungs.
Those who succumb to disease, hunger, or despair find no rest, for the dead rise in the cemetery outside Granite Falls, eager to swell their numbers with the fresh-killed corpses of mourners and passersby. Death Rifts are now nearly as common in the hills as Earth Rifts, and nothing in Stonefield stays buried long.

Well go figure.  
Oddly accurate too--well, in places.  Yes, GF Washington was a mining town.  Maybe not so prosperous and the miners CERTAINLY didn't much respect the Earth.  And the bit about the unemployed at the tavern can't be right since the Spar Tree shut down, again.  
Hill folk/leathery lungs.  LOL.
I live a couple of blocks from the cemetery.  I'll be watching my step a little more closely in the coming days.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Coming Out

I don’t like reading.  I find it unbearably slow.  I wouldn’t ever characterize it as torturous, but, for me at least, it’s not that far off.  Still, most days, you’ll find me spending my free time reading.  I’m not a fiction sort of guy.  I’ve been through my science-y phase and have sufficiently stuck my toes into all of the different sciences that I’ve been interested in.  Consequently, nine words of the ten that I choose to read are news-related.  I’m even picky about that.  Local news doesn’t particularly interest me unless I have some connection to the story or it’s unusually lurid.  National news—politics in particular—is ultra-predictable and often poorly reported (not to mention incredibly frustrating). 

Ultimately, I come back to the same sorts of stories; typically involving something tech-related.  I’ve been troubled, lately, by what I’ve been reading, and by “lately” I mean over the course of the last five years or so.   My Facebook friends, in particular, have been subjected to an endless barrage of posts and links regarding my perception that the nature of our relationship with technology and information is at a fundamental crossroads and we’re steering, at our own peril, in the wrong direction.

What exactly am I talking about?  Mostly, I’m referring to the Internet. 

I was around for the beginning of the consumerization of the Internet. I was a teenager when I got my first computer, a shiny Atari 1200XL, from the Lynnwood Jafco back in 1981 (or was it ’82).  Shortly thereafter I acquired my first modem and immediately connected my new virtual self to every bulletin board I could locate and, eventually, a variety of national online services including CompuServe, Genie, and Delphi.  I ignored the hourly charges and, much to the disappointment of my parents, racked up a hefty $300 bill playing a Match Game-like “You Guessed It” and spending hours using the “CB.”  That’s what we called chat back in the day, btw. 

The burgeoning Internet became a great hobby of mine when I could afford it.  By then, the tools were better, the experience was broader, and the world-changing potential of Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web was beginning to come into focus.  I’ll never forget my first night playing with Yahoo on Lynx, searching for everything that I could think of at the time, and reading and reading and reading.  It was truly invigorating.  It was perfectly clear to me that this new technology was going to change a lot of lives.  Mine was already starting to change.

Today, in my household, my family’s online presence is completely integrated with our offline lives.  We’d be lost without a network cable, or, at the very least, bored. 

Since those early days, I’ve watched, with great interest, all of the events that have created the Internet we know today.  I understand, I think, its history well enough to know why things are the way they are and to make an educated guess about where they’re going. 

So here’s what I see:

  • ·         The US government, China-like, shutting down and censoring websites and news outlets at the behest of media conglomerates, in service of “national security.”
  • ·         A troubling decrease in ownership rights. 
  • ·         A despicable suite of copyright laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that is being used to prosecute and bankrupt American families.
  • ·         The legal threat of permanent suspension of Internet access without due process.
  • ·         Sacrifice of privacy in exchange for access to necessary information
  • ·         Patent laws that are responsible for countless deaths and suffering
  • ·         An utter lack of institutional transparency, both in government and the corporate world

I can’t help but think that we’ve not managed to successfully adapt our ways of life to our new connected reality. 

What frustrates the hell out of me, though, is that there don’t seem to be a whole lot of people concerned about these sorts of issues.   And, really, how can I expect anything different?  Until my neighbor discovers that he can’t legally sell his foreign car (as a result of the recent Costco v. Omega ruling) what difference does any of this make to him?  I suppose that when he’s hit with a $2 million dollar fine for downloading that old Badfinger CD—the one that he can no longer buy (as it’s out of print)—he might become a little more troubled.

I, though, already understand what’s going on and what it will mean to all of us. I don’t have an excuse for my fiddling.  I see these issues as fundamental to our quality of life, continued technological advancement, and the survival of an orderly civilization.  I believe that the solution to every other human dilemma is predicated on the solutions to those enumerated above.  So, I feel compelled to act, however impotently.

I’ve been aware of the Pirate Party for a number of years, now.  The Piratpartiet was originally created in Sweden in 2006.  Since then, it has grown to be Sweden’s third largest political party.  There are two representatives of the party in the European Union Parliament.  The Swedish success led to similar movements throughout Europe and, eventually, the US.  From Wikipedia:

The party strives to reform laws regarding copyright and patents. The agenda also includes support for a strengthening of the right to privacy, both on the Internet and in everyday life, and the transparency of state administration.[2] The Party has intentionally chosen to be block independent on the traditional left-right scale[3] to pursue their political agenda with all mainstream parties.

For the last twenty years, I’ve identified myself as a Democrat—a liberal one at that.  However, over the course of the last two months, it’s become clear to me that I need to spend my civic energy on a series of causes that is more in line with what’s truly important to me.  The Democratic Party doesn’t care about these issues and is, frequently, in opposition to the wiser position.  The Republicans are, as usual, completely misinformed and in the back-pocket of their corporate masters.  Most don’t have the slightest clue about these issues and those that do are completely at odds with the poor unfortunate saps they represent.

Today, I am no longer a Democrat.  I am a Pirate.  I’ve come out.  Within the constraints placed upon me by the circumstances of my wonderful life, I will do all I can to bolster the Washington Pirate Party.  

As such, I attended my first meeting today.  The Washington Pirate Party is in its infancy, so all eleven of us fit nicely into a cozy corner of the Olive Way Starbucks.  We discussed a bunch of things but I think the underlying theme was growing the Party into local relevance.  We have our work cut out for us.  It’s seldom easy to coordinate any group of people—let alone a group of independent thinkers with views more radical than those of their respective peers.  The underlying principles of The Party are so strong, however, that I think our success, measured in one way or another, is assured.

So here it is, my official call to anyone reading this:  join us.  The Washington Pirate Party needs you.  We need smart people with an activist nature and the expectation of an informed future.  And, even if you’re not ready for that, you can read up on the issues.  Learn what Net Neutrality is.  Find out the real reason why your laptop is being searched at the airport.  Understand why you can rip your CD but not your DVD.  There’s a lot of stink right under our noses and we can no longer afford to turn our heads away.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It Works! Shhhh! Don't Tell Anyone!

During our recent snow, my boss asked me to submit an essay in lieu of my attendance at school.  For those who dont recall, Ive been teaching basic computer stuff to a bunch of prison malcontents (the incarcerated type) for the last few months and I was asked to define correctional education.  Unable to follow even the most basic instructions, I soon drifted onto a long-winded tangent about the public perception of correctional education.  I was happy to work the word kneecapped into the text.

Not wanting all of that writing to go to waste, Im reposting the essay here:

      I am afraid that I do not have any particularly insightful thoughts to lend toward a definition or description of correctional education.  Sadly for me (but thankfully for the rest of society), the reasons for undertaking the task of correctional education have been clearly described and defended, at length, by those with much more insight than me.  I do, however, have a few thoughts about the subject. 

      When I have discussions about prison education with friends and family, the conversation almost always turns to politics.  I think that it is pretty much a given (among the informed) that there is a significant benefit to educating our inmate population, although we haggle over the reasons for attempting it.  Some suggest we do it to make up for the societal failure to educate prior to incarceration.  Others cite the lower risk of recidivism and still others claim that the primary benefit of education is to prepare an inmate for a more productive life upon release.  Of course, all of these factors (and others) contribute to the overall justification for pursuit of an educated populace of convicted felons.

      Despite this, though, the notion of educating prisoners is distasteful to many.  In the US, higher education, like health care, is more frequently seen as a privilege and not a right (or expectation).  The prevailing attitude is that prisoners do not deserve the educational opportunities that we endeavor to provide—despite the benefits, long established by research and experience.  The cries of unfairness (“Why should a murderer get to go to college when my daughter can’t afford it?”) grow louder, especially in an economy that forces more prioritization on individuals and the governments that act on their behalf.  Oddly, perhaps, we are not hesitant to lament the availability of educational opportunities for offenders but we seem unable to, instead, demand greater access for the public at large. 

      Consequently, the current public education model dictates that offender education is acceptable and worthy of public support only as long as it is been sufficiently kneecapped, providing a level of service sufficiently short of what’s available for the unincarcerated—even if the societal effect of this model is a net negative. 

      Words color perceptions and perceptions, today, are given far too much weight.  Those advocating for access to correctional education are arguing the issue academically; accurately, objectively, and rationally describing the need and our ability to meet it.  Unfortunately, however, accuracy, objectivity, and rationale do not secure funding in today’s political climate.  Legislation, these days, is funded by emotion, fear, and, too frequently, ignorance.  Prison-related legislation is especially popular if it features some ill-defined revenge/repayment element.  The words used to describe the need for correctional education are only effective, now, if they prompt and then tap into those lesser responses.  To put it bluntly, educators will be most able to secure public support and funding when they are finally able to untether themselves from the research and successfully argue that “education is a great way to screw offenders.” 

      The disconnect between what is effective and what gains public support is hardly a new phenomenon.  Since the early 1980’s, at least, the attitudes described above have prevailed and objective debate about the subject (among non-experts) has been largely silenced.  Certainly, there are some who are willing to stand up and proclaim the benefits of offender education, but they are usually shouted down by their noisier opponents.  It might be time to acknowledge that the debate, as currently framed, has been lost. 

      That acknowledgment, however, does not mean that apologists must retreat from their principles, nor does it mean that they must ignore all of the good associated with an educated offender population.  What it does mean, though, is that supporters of correctional education should consider holding their noses and reframing the descriptions of their goals to pass the sniff tests of the opposed populace. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Carl's Jr. Followup

So today I ventured out on the town to run  a few errands and managed to find the lone Carl's Jr. in Snohomish County.  Positive California culinary experience fresh in my mind, I thought I owed it to the reader of this blog (me) to verify the authenticity of the local version of the Carl's cuisine.

I'm very pleased to report that my Famous Star was easily the equal of its SoCal brothers.  The Diet Coke was pretty horrible, but really, I didn't go there for the drink, so who cares.  Burger King owns the Diet Coke game in these parts.

Carl's Jr. is worth the thirty minute drive every once in a while, I think.  Next time?  Chili-cheese fries.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Miss Phil Donahue

My experience this afternoon moderating the panel discussion at the prison between MCC staff and offenders made me realize how much I miss Phil Donahue.  His show, back in the day, was fantastic.  I remember much from his shows, particularly his series of dialogs with Vladimir Posner.  The Russians were real scary at the time and Phil managed to ameliorate my fear just a bit with those shows.  His shows alternated between controversial, funny, poignant, and topical and were usually more hit than miss.  It's kind of sad to see how the whole genre has devolved over the years.  Sadly, I don't think there's anything remotely like the old Donahue show anymore.  Our loss, really.  I can only imagine how much more informed we'd all be if he were still broadcasting in his old format.

Monday, September 13, 2010

California Vacation Burger Reviews

In & Out

In & Out was one of the to-do's on the trip.  I've never been there and I've read quite a lot about the place.  I prepared by locating the "secret" menu and read some tips on what to try.  I was a little confused, though, as Sandi told me that, according to the menu, I/O served their burgers with "hand leaf" lettuce.  Through five years in the produce business I never encountered hand leaf lettuce.  "Ohhhhh--hand leafED lettuce."  I think we were just outside Sacramento when we stopped.  

The first cool thing was the nice girl near the order intercom in the drive-thru.  She took our order.  There was no yelling involved.  +1 for I/O.  We ordered a few cheeseburgers; two regular, one Animal Style.  The picture windows into the kitchen were a nice touch, also.  Clean, busy, and well-staffed it was.  I love it when restaurant management understands that having a lot of available labor almost ALWAYS means better service, a better environment, better food, and a better bottom line.  Boston Market got that. Staffing your Burger King with one sweaty guy in the kitchen, one harried girl in the drive-thru window, and one disinterested teen in the lobby makes dining hit-and-miss at best.  I/O gets it, too, +1.

Our wait was longer than I'd have expected at a fast food restaurant, but was totally understandable considering the queue of cars.  Peeps were served as quickly as possible.  +1 for I/O.

"Are you going to be dining in the car?"  I was a little taken aback by that question.  But a positive answer got me some placemats and a tray containing our food instead of the paper bag I've come to expect. The burgers weren't completely wrapped, either, half-exposed.  This place was totally upsetting the fast-food paradigm and I kind of liked it.  +1 for I/O.  

The fries were horrible.  We've been spoiled by Dick's Drive-In and these, despite their similar fresh-cut origin, were not in the same league.  Milkshakes reminded me of McDonald's old shakes.  You ever have a shake that's so smooth and airy that it tastes "warm?"  That's what came to mind at I/O.  

The burgers were good.  Not great, but good.  The mustard-fried patty was an interesting touch that I'll be trying at home one of these days, but the combination of that with the other added stuff didn't make the burger that much better than the regular.  It was better, though.   

I think I wanted more goo.  I'm not exactly sure what kind of goo; maybe cheese goo or mayo goo, or even bun goo.  The burger needed more goo, though, to counter the vegetables.  The caramelized onions and sauce just weren't cutting it.  Still, it was better than most fast food restaurants' burgers. 

Overall, I was a bit disappointed.  I'd half expected to lift the bun and stare into the eyes of god.  Okay, maybe my expectations were a touch on the high side.   I made a second stop at the I/O in Redding on the way back.  Give 'em points for consistency between locations.  Nothing was different at the second location.  I'm glad I visited.

Carl's Jr.

I've also never been to Carl's Jr.  I'm not going to ramble on about my experience there, as it was pretty much identical to my experience at every other fast food restaurant.   I will say, however, that my bacon cheeseburger there was much better than what I had at I/O.  Crazy, I know.  So was the second one I had on the way back home.  

Their cheese was a bit "off," though.  It was a very rich American that I don't think I've had in a very long time.  It reminded me of what American Cheese tasted like when I was a kid.  Still, given a choice to visit I/O or Carl's Jr. in the future, I'll be driving my car up to Carl's window.


Sandi wanted to stop at Wendy's in Eugene, Oregon, on the way home.  We don't go there very often. I think I can recall one prior trip to Wendy's in the last seven years.  I tried one of their new "Baconators." 

Yuck.  Good bacon, awesome bun, horrible meat, lukewarm, the same odd cheese as Carl's Jr., and no veggies to speak of.   I'm not anxious to return.  

Anyway, after it all, I'm more impressed with Dick's Drive-In.  

I can't say, anymore, that I don't know how they do it (because I DO know how they do it), but I do know that, while I will drive 40 miles just for a Dick's Deluxe, I wouldn't do the same for a Cheeseburger Animal Style.  It just wasn't compelling enough.  Judging from the number of Carl's Jr. restaurants in CA, I don't think I'd ever have to drive that far to get one of their more superior burgers. 

Never Forgetting is Bullshit

Driving 3,000 miles up and down the west coast in early September, I saw no small number of handy reminders about the events of 9/11/01.  The most common refrain (especially in the rural areas) was a plea to "never forget."  Really?  Is that the extent of our obligation as a citizenry?  To simply apply a few brain cells to the act of remembering?  Actually, now that I think about it, "never forgetting" requires even less effort than actually remembering, a real life verb.

It sort of reminded me of our instructions shortly after the attacks nine years ago to go shopping.  That was how we were to protect our republic and the ideals it was based upon.  Because nothing pisses off Osama more than a trip to Best Buy.

Aren't we setting the bar a little low, here?  Shouldn't we spend more time learning, preparing, and fixing?  I know that's harder, but isn't that a course of action that better honors those who were murdered?  I know we Americans like it to be real easy.  I also know that we prefer the obvious to the correct.  But, even taking the more selfish route, isn't 9/11 (and the threat of future 9/11's) important enough to our own personal well-being to actually burden ourselves with proper reflection?

I spent September 11th traveling through California on the most lengthy vacation I've had in many years, so there were enough distractions to keep me away from the business of memorializing the relevant events.  However, it's impossible, for me at least, to let the anniversary of the attacks pass without considering how and why they've changed my world.  I'm certain that those that hate us will visit our shores again and, eventually, hurt us worse than they did in September 2001.  I'm also pretty certain that attack will come from within--perpetrated by angry Americans.  Regardless, I think we are very poorly served by the mandate to "never forget."  We'd be much better off we spent a little more time considering all of the signs we ignored on the way to 9/11 instead of the grotesque that was 9/11.  At least then we'd be better armed to spot the same signs, many of which are currently on display, again, right in front of our eyes.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I’ve briefly spoken about this to some friends and coworkers, but it’s time to put it out there for the whole world—or at least the three people who’ll actually read through this. Here’s the deal: I want walls back. As a gender, men have, essentially, given up walls to women and tradition. And, ladies, while I love YOU, I don’t like how you’ve chosen to make use of our wonderful gift of vertical shelter. I want them back. Under your care, they’ve become little more than a repository for knick-knacks and photo-frames and dried grass arrangements. I’ve had it. I want my walls back.

Isn’t there SOME way to make a wall useful? I mean, I understand the whole shelving thing, but, ultimately, that just turns into a more convenient way of storing the aforementioned bric-a-brac. I want NEW ideas; NEW efficiencies; a NEW WALL PARADIGM!

This is where I call upon those with an opinion and even those taking the baby-steps toward developing one: what is the answer? How can I make USE of my walls?

Here’s what I have so far:

· One wall in my home is for viewing moving images from an overhead HD projector. Let’s call this the “Home Theater” wall.

· There are various bits of Velcro scattered on other walls throughout the house, each with a mate, generally attached to a remote control, charger plug, or something else small, electronic, valuable, and best kept out of the reach of children

· One wall has a couple of guitars hanging from it.

EVERYTHING else is photos, elementary paintings/drawings (adorable, yes), calendars (like I ever use those), shelves, decorations, paint, and unidentified bits of kid-flung crud. Windows don’t count. If I could live in a glass house without an overwhelming sense of guilt, I would—trust me.