Digitally Remastered

A recent trend from the music companies is to re-release older albums or CDs in a digitally remastered format, usually with added bonus material that wasn't available in the original version. Case in point: I just got my digitally remastered version of Dwight Yoakam's Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. yesterday.

The original CD came out in 1986 and had ten tracks on it. It sounds pretty good; I bought it about three years ago at the beginning of my Americana music phase. I listened to it a few times and then it went on the shelf. Then, recently, I ripped it to the iPod and was really blown away by it all over again.

Then I heard about the digitally remastered version which came out last year and had to get it. It has two discs; the first disc is ten demo tracks from 1981, which includes much of the material that went onto Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. five years later, followed by the ten tracks from the original CD, digitally remastered. If the original was a diamond, then this version is the same diamond, polished to a high sheen. The second disc is a recording of Dwight Yoakam and his band performing live at the Roxy in Hollywood in March of 1986. It has much of the same material as the studio album, captured on a night when the boys were just smokin'. This version of the CD will cost a bit more than the plain vanilla original, but the additional material and the cleaner sound makes it well worth the extra cost. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates classic country music.

I also got HAG: The Best of Merle Haggard in the same order. 26 tracks, all of the classics. And to flesh out my Bakersfield Sound collection, I've also ordered Buck Owens' 21 Greatest Hits, and should have it soon. Looks like I've got a tiger by the tail!


Now We Know Why Lesbians Are So Grumpy

Courtesy of this story from Psychology Today:
The finding that women who do not use condoms during sex are less depressed and less likely to attempt suicide than are women who have sex with condoms and women who are not sexually active, leads one researcher to conclude that semen contains powerful—and potentially addictive—mood-altering chemicals.

Study author Gordon G. Gallup, Ph.D., a psychologist at the State University of New York in Albany, also found that women who routinely had intercourse without condoms became increasingly depressed as more time elapsed since their last sexual encounter. There was no such correlation for women whose partners regularly used condoms.

Gallup's survey of 293 college women also found that those who did not use condoms were most likely to initiate sex and to seek out new partners as soon as a relationship ended. "These women are more vulnerable to the rebound effect, which suggests that there is a chemical dependency," says Gallup.

Semen contains hormones including testosterone, estrogen, prolactin, luteinizing hormone and prostaglandins, and some of these are absorbed through the walls of the vagina and are known to elevate mood.
Quick thoughts: These days, unless her partner has tested negative for STDs including HIV, any woman who is having unprotected sex is at best ignorant of the risks she is taking and at worst not-quite-bright (even if she is a college student). We won't even throw the risk of pregnancy into the mix, since there are other alternative methods of birth control, but none of them protect against STDs. If ignorance is bliss, then it's no wonder that the no-condom girls are blissfully happy.

And for the guys, before you go out and start making girls "happy" without a love glove, remember that if the little wigglers catch, you're on the hook for child support until the kid is grown. Her mood will be elevated; yours won't.


The Bug

Two unrelated stories and a music video to tie it all together.

First, the video: It's "The Bug" by Dire Straits.

"Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug." Here in Florida these days, it's the Love bug, plecia nearctica, that's smacking into the windshields by the thousands. That linked Wikipedia article about them has a nice picture of a joined pair, showing how they get their moniker. They swarm for a few weeks twice a year, mostly during May and September, and they do it... in pairs. And they stay joined for a couple of days at a time, unless their tryst is interrupted by a fatal collision with a motor vehicle... Which happens very, very frequently.

Love bugs don't bite or sting, fortunately; the adults don't even eat. They just emerge from their larval form and get their freak on. Unfortunately, they are drawn to automobile exhaust, which they find to be an aphrodisiac, not like they need one. And then... Splat-splat! The bad news for drivers is that the bodies of the Love bugs are very difficult to get off the front of the car, and even worse, if left on for more than a couple of days, the acids in the insects' bodies will damage the car's paint. Nobody likes Love bugs except for car wash owners.

"Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger, sometimes you're the ball..." The New York Yankees lost again last night in Toronto, 7-2, dropping them to 21-28 and into a last-place tie with the perennially pathetic Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 13-1/2 games back of the first-place Boston Red Sox. It's the farthest out of first place that the Yankees have been since August 1995. You know that George Steinbrenner is like Mount Vesuvius getting ready to erupt.

Most years, the Yankees are the Louisville Slugger, the richest team in baseball that can buy any player they want. The result is that there are two kinds of baseball fans: Fans who love the Yankees, and fans who hate the Yankees. I'm guessing that between 10% and 20% of baseball fans fall into the first category, more than would be expected from just the people living in the New York metropolitan area, because a lot of people around the country also root for the Yankees, because they like to root for a winner. They're the same people who are Dallas Cowboys fans (when the Cowboys are winning), Chicago Bulls fans (during the Michael Jordan years), etc. They're front-runners, bandwagon jumpers, dedicated followers of fashion.

There are a lot of other people, however, who would never cheer for the Yankees just on general principles. I am one of them. I grew up in Kansas City in the 1970s when the Royals were good (oh, so many years ago) and in 1976, 1977 and 1978, the Royals lost heartbreaking playoff series to the Yankees each year. My greatest baseball memory is not the Royals' World Series win in 1985 over the St. Louis Cardinals but the playoff victory over the hated Yankees in 1980. It didn't matter that we lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies; all that mattered was beating the Yankees. And it was sweet.

So yes, there is an element of schadenfreude when I look at how poorly the Yankees are performing with baseball's highest payroll (by a country mile). Soon, they'll be adding Roger Clemens, who is being paid some horrendously high amount of money to pitch for four months. But for a team that far out of contention, it's a bit like putting chrome rims on a Yugo. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. The Yankees have 113 games left. In order to make the playoffs even as a wild card, they'll probably need to win 90 games. That means they'd have to go 69-44 the rest of the way, a .611 percentage. This Yankees team doesn't look like a .611 team the rest of the way, even with the superannuated 45-year-old Clemens joining them soon.


Maybe She Would Have Been Happier Staying A Lesbian

Today's mini-social commentary follows:
Heche Says Estranged Husband Is a Liar

LOS ANGELES - Anne Heche wants sole custody of her 5-year-old son, saying her estranged husband is a liar who is trying paint her as a bad mother. In a Superior Court declaration filed Monday, Heche, 37, said Coleman Laffoon made "heinous false statements" and was not a proper stay-at-home parent.

When their son, Homer, stays with Laffoon in Los Angeles, he sends the boy to preschool or leaves him with nannies and baby sitters while he "plays pingpong, backgammon and poker and views pornography online," Heche stated.

"He holds a poker game at his home every Thursday night and allows Homer to participate," Heche contended.


Laffoon and Heche were married Sept. 1, 2001. He filed for divorce Feb. 2, citing irreconcilable differences, and is seeking joint custody and more than $30,000 a month in spousal support.

Heche wants no spousal support awarded.
Ah, where to start? I don't have a problem with the guy letting the five-year-old play poker. Card games help kids learn numbers and about such things as the laws of probability, i.e., that it's much easier to get a pair than it is to get a straight flush. As long as the kid isn't partaking in the whiskey and cigars, and as long as Dad isn't scamming the kid out of child support money, what's the harm?

But I do have a problem with gold-diggers of either sex. This lazy schlub wants $30,000 a month?!?! No man with a shred of self-respect would be demanding that. He needs to go out and GET A JOB! And I'd say the same thing if the genders were reversed. Laffoon is a buffoon.

Maybe Anne would have been better off staying a lesbian. After all, Ellen Degeneres didn't try to scam her out of her money when their relationship broke up. Then again, Ellen's financial worth was probably much higher then hers, unlike the leech/estranged husband.


It Happens Every Time

Every time that there's a postal rate increase, we inevitably see the very old, very unusual stamps come crawling out of the woodwork. Today, I saw a letter that took the prize. I jotted down quick descriptions of the 13 different stamps that were on the letter and covered about half of the front side:
  • 1/2 cent George Washington (brown)
  • 3 cent Farragut (USS Hartford) and Porter (USS Powhatan)
  • 3 cent US Army Postage - Arc de Triomphe victory celebration from World War II (olive drab)
  • 6 cent US Airmail (red with eagle)
  • 3 cent 1939 300th Anniversary of Printing in Colonial America (light purple)
  • 4 cent Abraham Lincoln (purple)
  • 10 cent US Airmail (red)
  • 4 cent Winslow Homer (painting of two fishermen in boat)
  • 2 cent 1929 George Rogers Clark - Battle of Vincennes commemorative
  • 1 cent John Paul Jones (Bonhomme Richard) and Barry (some other ship; didn't write it down)
  • 3 cent Golden Gate Exposition (purple)
  • 1-1/2 cent Mount Vernon (brown)
  • 2 cent Red Cross 50th Anniversary 1881-1931
I figure that someone inherited Grandpa's stamp collection, but it seems just short of criminal stupidity for him to be using historical stamps like that for postage at face value. I hope the recipient at least has the presence of mind to save them.


I Got Nothin'

So today, I'll just put up a music video of a song that really kicks ass: Social Distortion's cover of the Johnny Cash classic, "Ring of Fire." (Warning: Explicit lyrics - and to be honest, it sounded a lot better on the CD than in this live version.)



Computers and Stuff

I watched a show yesterday on one of the science/history channels about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and the Apple vs. Microsoft computer wars of the 1980s. The show was made about ten years ago, and it was kind of amusing to look back at the now-obsolete computers that were state-of-the-art at the time, with a price tag to match. At the time, though, they seemed really cool, and they were better than anything that had come before them.

I've been interested in computers since the mid-1970s, when my junior high school had a room with computer terminals that linked to the district's mainframe. I was able to play some very simple computer games after school, involving trying to pilot a lunar lander safely to the ground, and to keep a small kingdom from starving to death in a game called "Sumer." There were no video monitors in 1975; all the output was via dot-matrix printers. And the input? Computer punch cards were used for writing and compiling the programs.

I got my first computer in 1985 in Berlin. It was a Commodore 64C, with 64K of RAM. By comparison, the computer I'm using now has a gigabyte of RAM. The Commodore hooked up to the television and had an optional floppy disc drive, which I had. My favorite games on the Commodore were The Bard's Tale and Earl Weaver Baseball.

My next computer was a Tandy 1000 TX with 640K of RAM and its own monitor. I've gone through two or three other desktop computers and a laptop on the way to my current computer, which I've had for about a year. While the speed and power of computers has gone up geometrically, the prices have actually gone down when you figure inflation into the equation. The first Macintosh was about $2000 in 1980s dollars, which would be about twice that much today, and for much less functionality. Compared to what we have today, they were slow and ugly.

One scene in the show brought on an unexpected feeling of sadness. A colleague of Steve Jobs was on a boat, talking about him, and the Manhattan skyline was in the background. And there they were, the towers of the World Trade Center, dwarfing all of the surrounding buildings. Even almost six years later, when I see them in archival film footage, I just have a sad feeling. We know in hindsight, and the people standing there with those buildings in the background have no idea, how tragically fragile they actually were and how terribly soon they would be gone.


It's All About Me Meme

My friend Mary at BookBlog has tagged me with the "8 Things About Me" meme. I'm supposed to write eight random (or not-so-random) facts about myself and then tag eight other people. However, most of the blogs that I read are the "big boys," and if I was to tag them with something like this, their response would no doubt be "And you are...?" I don't really know that many other people who blog, so I'm going to skip that part.

Enough about you; let's talk about me for a minute:

1. I've lived in more places than I can count. My dad had itchy feet once he escaped the cotton fields, and so we moved continually. I ended up attending three elementary schools, three middle schools/junior high schools and two high schools. This may account for the fact that I'm not particularly sociable. After moving so many times, it didn't really make sense to go to a whole lot of effort to make new friends when I was just going to end up moving away again.

2. That said, I've lived in the same town for the past eighteen years, since I got out of the Army and came to Florida. I had never lived anywhere for even as long as five years before that. I haven't seen snow since 1989, and that suits me just fine.

3. I have become nocturnal by nature because I have worked nights for the Post Office for the past sixteen years. Even on weekends and vacations, I have a hard time staying awake in the afternoons and evening when I usually sleep.

4. As my profile on this page notes, I spray-painted graffiti on the Berlin Wall and also pissed on it as a political statement in January 1989. I was stationed in West Berlin for more than three years, and when the Wall came down in November of '89, I was as surprised as anyone else. It had seemed like it would be there forever. Of course, so did the Soviet Union. After the Wall came down, a local radio station got some pieces of it and gave them away to people who called in and reminisced about their Berlin memories, including me. I have a chunk of concrete about the size of a piece of fudge, and interestingly enough, it came from the district where I lived, Lichterfelde.

5. Having served two tours of duty in Germany (the other was in Augsburg, Bavaria, from 1982-84), I have a taste for imported German beer. After drinking the local brews, I was spoiled forever for most American beers. If I have to drink American beer, it will usually be Sam Adams or a microbrew.

6. Although I grew up as a football fan, my favorite sport is baseball. I had never been exposed to it until we moved to Kansas City in 1973, when I was 13. I started listening to Royals games on the radio and learning about the game, and I was hooked. It was like Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. I finally talked my dad into taking me to a Royals game in 1975 against the White Sox. It was the first of many trips to Royals Stadium for me. I've also seen games in Seattle, Detroit, Baltimore, Boston and St. Petersburg, as well as spring training games here in Fort Myers.

7. I won my middle school's spelling bee in seventh grade (which included the eighth graders), and ended up 11th in the city competition in St. Joseph, Missouri. The word that got me: "bullion." Somebody didn't ask for a definition and spelled "bouillon." Alas, we didn't have ESPN back in the early 1970s to broadcast the spelling bee, so I didn't know how I was supposed to play it.

8. I like live music and have seen some pretty good concerts over the years. I saw the Rolling Stones in Tampa in 1994, because, who knows, "this could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don't know." (It wasn't.) I saw Bruce Springsteen twice, once in Tacoma in 1984 for the "Born In The U.S.A." tour, and in Berlin in 1988 for the "Tunnel of Love" tour. I saw E.L.O.'s "Out of the Blue" tour in Kansas City in 1977, and I saw both the first and the last stops of their "Time" tour in 1981 (Boston) and 1982 (Munich). I attended a lot of concerts while in Berlin, including the Bangles, ZZ Top, Huey Lewis & The News (with Melissa Etheridge opening for them) and the big 17th of June (German holiday) annual concerts on the lawn in front of the Reichstag that included David Bowie, Eurythmics, Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Genesis... Well, you get the idea. The concert I most regret missing? The Cars in Seattle during the summer of 1984, because I was on a field training exercise in Yakima.


Hillary's Song

Via Jim Geraghty at The Hillary Spot, I learned that Senator Clinton is looking for a campaign song and is asking her blog readers to choose from one of several songs.

Hillary's list of potential campaign songs includes:

* City of Blinding Lights - U2
* Suddenly I See - KT Tunstall
* I'm a Believer - Smash Mouth
* Get Ready - The Temptations
* Ready to Run - Dixie Chicks
* Rock This Country! - Shania Twain
* Beautiful Day - U2
* Right Here, Right Now - Jesus Jones
* I'll Take You There - The Staple Singers

She's also considering write-ins.

The gutsy choice would be Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats." Grab ol' Bill's 'nads and give 'em a good hard squeeze.

Ultimately, though, this would be my choice for her perfect song:

Yeah, Meredith Brooks.

Interesting Juxtaposition of Stories

I saw the links to these two stories on the Drudge Report site yesterday, and found the combination rather humorous:

First, from The Hill.com: Dems are bringing sexy back
As one Democratic campaign strategist remarked, “Taking back the majority certainly has its perks. With the shift in power has come a shift in social standing for once-shunned Democratic operatives. It seems everyone from lowly interns to nerdy policy wonks have a full dance card so long as they have a ‘D’ behind their name.”
Mmmkay. But then your read this story from JustHillary.com, and it all falls into place:
Jenna Jameson, who's been called the world's most famous porn star and is the author of the New York Times bestseller "How To Make Love Like a Porn Star," talked about Hillary Clinton in an interview with PR.com....May 17, 2007...

PR.com: "Who's your favorite Democratic front runner for 2008? Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John Edwards?"

Jenna Jameson: "I love Hillary. I think that in some ways she's pretty conservative for a Democrat, but I would love to have a woman in office. I think that it would be a step in the right direction for our country, and there would be less focus on war and more focus on bettering society."

PR.com: "Do you find that the climate of the adult industry changes when there is a Republican administration versus Democratic?"

Jenna Jameson: "Absolutely. The Clinton administration was the best years for the adult industry and I wish that Clinton would run again. I would love to have him back in office. I would love to have Al Gore in office. When Republicans are in office, the problem is, a lot of times they try to put their crosshairs on the adult industry, to make a point. It's sad, when there are so many different things that are going on in the world: war, and people are dying of genocide...I look forward to another Democrat being in office. It just makes the climate so much better for us, and I know that once all our troops come home, things are going to be better and I think that getting Bush out of office is the most important thing right now."
Yeah, that's bringing sexy back to Washington! And somewhere, Bill Clinton is pumping his fist in the air and yelling, "Yes! Club Jenna girls, who wants to play 'President and Intern'?!"

The other day at work, I was joking with my partner on the machine about John Edwards' $400 haircuts. I told my partner that the line that Gov. Huckabee used in the Republican debate about "Congress spending money like John Edwards at a beauty shop" was spot 0n -- regular guys don't spend $400 on a haircut, and they certainly wouldn't at a barber shop. It would have to be for a stylist, probably some guy with a French name. And I added that if I was spending that much on a haircut, "there darned sure had better be a woman named Monica there as well... Blue dress strictly optional." I thought my partner was going to hurt himself laughing.


iTunes Album Counts

Yesterday's post about the Top 25 most played songs on my iPod is really only half the story. Those are single songs; but which albums am I most likely to listen to all the way through? To find the answer to this question, I looked at the play counts for each album, with the lowest one on the album as the number for that album's count. And there always is a lowest number; there may be a song you'd rather skip past, or perhaps your attention span doesn't last for a whole album and you want to move on to something else.

There won't be a lot of surprises here if you read yesterday's post. You'll see the expected artists in the highest spots. My cutoff for inclusion on this list is at least 3 full plays of that album.

1. Susanna Hoffs - When You're A Boy (1991) - 20 - This one has a very balanced play profile: All of the songs have been played between 20 and 24 times. Currently, it takes 26 plays to crack the Top 25 most played songs. So, ironically, none of the songs on the most-played album are in the Top 25 most-played songs. This was Susanna Hoffs' first solo album after the Bangles broke up.

2. Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers, Vol. 1 (2006) - 14 - I wrote all about this one yesterday. It was my favorite CD from last year.

3. The Bangles - Everything (1988) - 10 - Do you sense a pattern here?

4. The Bangles - Different Light (1986) - 9 - Well, do you?

5. LeAnn Rimes - Blue (1996) - 8 - Again, I wrote about this CD yesterday. I got it for less than $10, including shipping. Such a deal!

6. (tie) The Bangles - All Over The Place (1984), The Bangles - Doll Revolution (2003) - 7 - Well, that's the rest of the Susanna Hoffs-related material. I also have her self-titled CD from 1996, but I didn't really like it, so it's not on the iPod these days.

8. (tie) Cracker - Countrysides (2003), Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I (1991), Simon & Garfunkel - Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966) - 5 - Well, that's an eclectic grouping, isn't it?

11. (tie) Nancy Sinatra - Greatest Hits, Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings The Flood (2006), Warren Zevon - Transverse City (1989) - 4 - The Nancy Sinatra songs are all from the late '60s and are mostly duets with Lee Hazlewood, although she also sings with Dean Martin and with her father, Ol' Blue Eyes himself. I like most of the late Warren Zevon's music, but this is my favorite CD of his.

The Rest (All 3) - The Cars - Candy-O (1979), Cracker - Cracker (1992), Devo - Total Devo (1988), Electric Light Orchestra - Time (1981), Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion II (1991), Guns N' Roses - The Spaghetti Incident (1993), Hooters - Nervous Night (1985), Kansas - Monolith (1979), Oingo Boingo - Dead Man's Party (1985), Warren Zevon - Sentimental Hygiene (1987).


The Long-Promised iPod Top 25 Update

I wrote up my original Top 25 list for my iPod about a month after I got it. I've now had the iPod for several months, and like a rutted road that's seen heavy traffic, so my Top 25 list has become clearly defined. Certain things will become obvious: My favorite singer is Susanna Hoffs, and my favorite groups are The Bangles and Cracker. I also have a taste for cover songs, with artists doing someone else's song and sometimes actually doing it better. (Heresy!) Without further ado, here's my list, as well as a little video bonus thrown in (October rankings in red):

1. (#1) "She May Call You Up Tonight" - Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers, Vol. 1 (2006)
2. (#3) "And Your Bird Can Sing" - Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers, Vol. 1 (2006)
3. (#4) "Monday, Monday" - Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers, Vol. 1 (2006)

You may get the idea that I really liked that CD. And you'd be right. It's a collection of '60s cover songs, some well-known, others obscure to anyone who wasn't into the '60s music scene. The top song on my list falls into the latter category: It was originally done by The Left Banke (most famous for "Walk Away Renee," and like that song, this one was also written about her), and I really like the baroque arrangement. The twist is that in the original, the male vocalist was trying to keep another guy away from the girl, while in this version, the female vocalist is trying to keep the girl away from the guy. "And Your Bird Can Sing" was originally done by the Beatles on Rubber Soul. This version is pretty faithful to the original, but I like it better. "Monday, Monday" was a big hit for the Mamas and the Papas, of course. This version is in a different key, but it works well. And it gets played a lot on Mondays, just because.

4. (#2) "It's All Been Done" - Barenaked Ladies - Stunt (1998) - A great song with a storyline crammed into 3:26. Have we met before... and before... and before? (And haven't you read this before... Back in October? Yeah. I plagiarized myself!)

5. (NR) "Pride" - Susanna Hoffs - unreleased demo (1996) (downloadable here for free!) - Sometimes you find cool music in the oddest places. In this case, I found the song via Susanna Hoffs' Wikipedia entry, as an external link on Bill Bonk's site. If you're a Bangles or Susanna Hoffs fan at all, this song is a must-have! The download link is in MP3 format.

6. (NR) "Ring of Fire" - Social Distortion - Social Distortion (1990) - A full-on punked-out rave-up of the Johnny Cash classic. This version of the song kicks some serious ass.

7. (#7) "Family Tradition" - Cracker - Countrysides (2003) - This comes off an album where Cracker went out and played honkytonks under the name of Ironic Mullet. This is their cover version of one of Hank Williams, Jr.'s signature songs. Sobriety strictly optional.

8. (#6) "I Touch Myself" - Divinyls - Divinyls (1992) - Speaking of vocals, there's only one Christina Amphlett. You'll probably recognize the song if you saw the Austin Powers movies. Remember the scene when he made the Fembots heads' explode? Yeah, it's that song.

9. (NR) "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution) - The Bangles - Doll Revolution (2003) - The Bangles got back together after more than a decade of hiatus and came up with Doll Revolution. It has some good songs on it, including this song that was written and originally recorded by Elvis Costello. Susanna Hoffs does the lead vocal on this song.

10. (NR) "Jolene" - Mindy Smith, Featuring Dolly Parton - One Moment More (2004) - A wonderful remake of Dolly Parton's classic, with Mindy Smith's ethereal lead vocal and Dolly coming in at the end on the harmony.

11. (NR) "I Do" - Lisa Loeb - Firecracker (1997) - I'm pretty much indifferent to the rest of the album, but I loved this song. The arrangement and her voice were perfect for each other.

12. (NR) "Turning Japanese" - The Vapors - New Clear Days (1980) - You just had to be there. Great material for an air guitar solo.

13. (NR) "Dancing Queen" - Sixpence None the Richer - Best of... (1999) - I grew up in the 1970s, back before the gays had appropriated ABBA. I got this CD primarily for the songs "Kiss Me" and "There She Goes," but this one reached out and grabbed me. Leigh Nash's voice is perfect for the song, and the arrangement is excellent. There's also a good cover of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" on the CD.

14. (#11) "Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)" - Cracker - Cracker (1992) - "What the world needs now is another folk singer, like I need a hole in my head."

15. (NR) "Monster" - Fred Schneider - Fred Schneider and the Shake Society (1984/1991) - This is an oddity, in more ways than one. The CD originally came out under that title in 1984, and was re-released in 1991 as just Fred Schneider. The video below came out in 1985. Fellow B-52 Kate Pierson appears in the background vocals, but wasn't in the video.

16. (NR) "Blue" - LeAnn Rimes - Blue (1996) - I was late to the party on this one. Last fall, after having lunch with my dad, I was driving home and heard this song on the contemporary country station and I was just blown away by her voice. "Who is that?!" I asked. The radio was no help, but fortunately, all you need to do is type some song lyrics into Google and you'll find out. I was even more amazed when I found out that she was only 13 when this CD was recorded! I ordered Blue at a bargain-basement price from Amazon.com, and it was worth every penny I paid for it. This song is just the tip of the iceberg.

17. (NR) "Blue Collar Man" - Styx - Pieces of Eight (1978) - Actually, I got this off the Greatest Hits CD, but the original is considerably older. A great anthem for any man who works long nights with impossible odds, keeping his back to the wall...

18. (#8) "Mr. Wrong" - Cracker - Cracker (1992) - Another amusing song from Cracker's debut CD.

19. (NR) "Cold December (In Your Heart)" - Glen Campbell - By The Time I Get To Phoenix (1968) - This was one of the albums I grew up with as a kid. This song was never a hit, but maybe it should have been. The song is dated, with its lush strings, but I like it.

20. (#17) "Pictures of Matchstick Men" - Cracker - Hello, Cleveland! (Forever bonus disc) (2002) - "Hey, waitaminute! That's a Camper Van Beethoven song!" you say. And you're right. But David Lowery was in Camper Van Beethoven, which is why he's doing the song on this live disc. Love the wailing guitar chords that open this song.

21. (NR) "Whole Lotta Lovin'" - Huey Lewis & The News - Fore! (1986) - I saw Huey Lewis & The News with the Tower of Power horns in Berlin in 1987. The opening act was a woman I'd never heard of who did an acoustic set that was so good that I bought her CD at the concert hall. Her name? Melissa Etheridge. Huey and the boys did a great show, too.

22. (NR) "On A Bad Day" - Kasey Chambers - Barricades and Brickwalls (2002)
23. (NR) "A Little Bit Lonesome" - Kasey Chambers - Barricades and Brickwalls (2002)

A couple of great songs by an Australian singer doing Americana. She really sells you on the songs.

24. (#15) "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" - Cracker - Countrysides (2003) - This time, they do Merle Haggard. Again, sobriety strictly optional.

25. (NR) "Star, Star" - Joan Jett - Album (1983) - A cover of the Rolling Stones' X-rated classic. It was controversial when it first came out as an uncredited song that only appeared on the cassette tape, not the vinyl album. It's on the CD of Album, as well as on certain greatest hits collections. The song is sizzlingly raunchy.


As Seen On TV

DirecTV has a music channel called "The 101," which mostly shows concerts by various musical acts. Most of them are groups that I've never heard of, so I don't watch it much. However, over the weekend, they had Heart performing their Dreamboat Annie album from 1976, live in its entirety, plus a few bonus cover songs at the end, including Led Zeppelin. The show opened with an interview of the Wilson sisters (Ann and Nancy) about the early part of their careers, their influences, etc. I enjoyed the show.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day watching stuff in the history and science channels. There's a group of several of them. Among the highlights was Meerkat Manor on the Animal Planet channel, which follows the adventures of a group of meerkats in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. Some of the little critters have radio tags, so that the scientific researchers can keep track of them. The show is amusing at times, although it is "real life," and sometimes bad things happen to the band of meerkats that are the protagonists.

The other interesting show I watched was on one of the History Channels, and was about the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, one of the most disastrous series of battles for Britain and its ANZAC allies. The campaign was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, who decided to try to attack Germany and its allies through Turkey's Dardanelles, in order to come at them from behind and break the deadlock of trench warfare in France. It was hurriedly arranged and poorly planned, and ended up costing many thousands of lives, and it cost Churchill his political career at the time.

To be honest, I've never really understood World War I. Unlike later wars of the 20th Century, there were no ideological underpinnings. Fighting fascism and Japanese imperialism in World War II, fighting communism during the Cold War, fighting Islamic jihadism today, those all make sense to anyone who grew up in the second half of the 20th Century. All of those opposing ideologies sought to enslave and subjugate mankind, and it was our duty as liberty-loving Americans to oppose them. But World War I? Like so many earlier European wars, it all seemed to be about imperialism and plundering the resources of other nations. From that viewpoint, there was little to choose from between the nations on either side; some were more authoritarian than others, but none really were "our" kind of people. No wonder that Americans had no desire to get involved in the war.

Both sets of alliances seemed to think that they would win quickly and easily over their enemies, and that they would get rich plunder from their victory. They miscalculated horribly; they didn't understand just how deadly modern machine guns were, and how other deadly new technology (tanks, aircraft, poison gas) would increase the casualties exponentially from earlier wars. Instead of a quick victory, they had a long, bloody stalemate, a meatgrinder trench war into which they fed the flower of a generation, with tragic results. The end result was that the war that European states fought for imperial gain led to the downfall of those empires in the ensuing decades, and the eclipse of European power by the rise of America and the Soviet Union.

"The Black Knight Always Triumphs!"

I'll go out on a limb and say that this guy is in serious trouble:
Armless, One-Legged Driver Leads Chase

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. - Authorities were led on a high speed vehicle chase by an armless, one-legged man, and they said this wasn't the first time the 40-year-old eluded police.

Michael Francis Wiley taught himself to driver after losing both arms and a leg in an electrical accident when he was 13. He spent time in prison for kicking a Florida Highway Patrol trooper after an accident in 1996. He led police on a 120 mph chase in 1998.
A one-legged guy kicking an FHP trooper? Sounds like a punchline to a bad joke. I wonder if he fell down after doing it? It kind of reminds me of the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Arthur chops off the Black Knight's arms and legs and the Black Knight yells at him as he leaves, "Oh. Oh, I see. Running away, eh? You yellow bastards! Come back here and take what's coming to you. I'll bite your legs off!"


More About Next

I finished the book over the weekend. As a novel, it was okay. The bad guys got their comeuppance in the end; well, at least some of them did. But the world continues to spin, and the underlying problems that drove the novel's plot aren't really solved, and indeed appear to likely be insoluble.

In the author's notes at the end, Michael Crichton lists his five conclusions:

1. Stop patenting genes. He says that there is plenty of evidence that this is "unnecessary, unwise, and harmful." He mentions that it is bad public policy that hurts patient care and suppresses research.

2. Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues. There is insufficient legislation regarding the ownership of tissues donated for research purposes, which may harm the rights of patients.

3. Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public. Currently, the FDA cannot publish adverse results from gene therapy trials, allowing researchers to suppress information about patient deaths, claiming that such deaths are a trade secret.

4. Avoid bans on research. Banning research doesn't work; it just drives it underground and prevents proper oversight.

5. Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act. "In 1980, Congress decided that the discoveries made within universities were not being made widely available, to benefit the public. To move things along, it passed a law permitting university researchers to sell their discoveries for their own profit, even when that research had been funded by taxpayer money."

This has resulted in most science professors having corporate ties, which has paradoxically resulted in universities becoming more commercially focused. Crichton argues that this may benefit the universities and the corporations, but it doesn't benefit the public which underwrites much of the costs of the university system.

I won't write any spoilers about the plot, since you might want to read the book yourself. I will say that the ideas behind the novel are thought-provoking and disturbing. And that the scariest sentence in the book is the one-sentence preface:

"This novel is fiction, except for the parts that aren't."

Ten Pounds of Stupid in a Five-Pound Bag

Really. Really. Stupid.

Teachers stage fake gunman attack on sixth graders
MURFREESBORO, Tennessee (AP) -- Staff members of an elementary school staged a fictitious gun attack on students during a class trip, telling them it was not a drill as the children cried and hid under tables.
Somewhere in Tennessee, a school of lawyers is sharpening their teeth and starting to circle. The parents are justifiably outraged at the teachers scaring the crap out of their kids. A "what would you do?" thought exercise in class is appropriate. This clearly was not.



That huge fire in Georgia and north Florida has put off huge amounts of smoke that have blown southward across the state of Florida. Our air quality has been lousy the last couple of days, and won't get better until a cold front comes through on Monday. I went out to lunch with my dad today at Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant in Fort Myers, and noticed that the whole area is covered with a smoky haze. It wasn't really heavy, but it was noticeable. Our air quality is usually pretty good, which makes it easy to tell when it isn't.

Lunch was pretty good. I had pulled pork with the house barbecue sauce, french fries and a Sam Adams seasonal beer, which I think was Summer Wheat, and it was pretty good. Dad had a burger with bleu cheese, which he wasn't impressed with; it was okay but not great.

Lee Roy Selmon's is a chain restaurant out of Tampa, and this location just opened last month, which was why I suggested we try it out. It's within a stone's throw of Smoky Bones, another barbecue/sports bar. The server was friendly and attentive and did a good job. The restaurant itself seemed kind of cramped, with only very narrow walkways between the tables. It was also kind of dimly lit, and it took my eyes a few moments to adjust to the low light to read the menu. I think I got more pulled pork than I would have at Smoky Bones, but it only came with one side dish at Lee Roy Selmon's, where at Smoky Bones it comes with two sides and a slice of Texas toast. Lee Roy Selmon's does have other things besides barbecue, though.


New Tunes

The latest iteration of tunes on my iPod now includes a couple of new double-CD greatest hits collections which came in the mail yesterday from Amazon.com. First, I added Jimmy Buffett's Meet Me In Margaritaville, which has 38 songs covering most of his career, although it doesn't have his latest hit, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." Second, I added my favorite pop guilty pleasure: ABBA's The Definitive Collection, which has 37 tracks and is, indeed, definitive; all of their hits from 1972-1982 are there. Say what you will, the Swedish quartet knew how to deftly craft a pop song. And I always thought that Agnetha Faltskog (the blonde) was hot. I actually had one of her solo albums on cassette (Wrap Your Arms Around Me from 1983; my favorite song off the album was "Once Burned, Twice Shy," and it's the only one I really remember now). It may still be around here someplace, but I don't have a cassette player any more, and after twenty-some years, it probably wouldn't play anyway. Embrace the entropy.



I'm currently reading Michael Crichton's novel Next, which came out last November. I found it among the new books at the library when I returned some books on Saturday. If you click on the link, you can read the Amazon.com reviews of the book, as well as the publisher's blurb. So far, it's an interesting and thought-provoking book about the ways that genetic engineering is changing our lives and our society, ways that most of us are aware of only dimly if at all. I may write an update on this post when I finish the book.


Signs of the Apocalypse

Things I saw in the last twelve hours:

While sitting at a stop light last night on the way to work behind an SUV, I noted the fact that the word "Sequoia" uses each of the vowels in the English language exactly once. How many other words can you say that about?

Spotted in the mail: A real estate advertisement for a condo in Washington, D.C.: 1350 square feet, asking $609,000. It had pictures and a description, along with the six-word disclaimer "Information deemed reliable, but not guaranteed." Yup, that's Washington alright!

Spotted at the store while grocery shopping this morning: Singing toothbrushes. Yes, the toothbrushes have a song built into them, so you can brush along to your favorite singer. Among the choices: The Village People singing "Y.M.C.A." No, I'm not kidding.


A Former Kansan Looks At Greensburg

When I saw the devastation wreaked by the EF-5 tornado on what was the small town of Greensburg, Kansas, I was struck by the power of nature. The twister was more than a mile wide and left a 22-mile long path of destruction. The damage looked a lot like a town that had suffered a direct hit from a hurricane. It looked a lot like coastal Mississippi after Katrina, with everything reduced to huge piles of rubble. The 200-mile-per-hour winds demolished more than 90% of the town's structures, including brick buildings. Businesses, churches, schools, all gone. One of the few surviving structures was the town's only bar. Tell me God doesn't have a weird sense of humor.

Tornadoes are the biggest natural disaster risk for most people living on the Great Plains. Of course, no matter where you live, there is some kind of risk: Hurricanes if you live near the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts, earthquakes along the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast, and volcanic eruptions on the latter as well. Floods along any river or lake. Forest fires, landslides, sinkholes, blizzards... It's always something. And if you live somewhere long enough, you'll see your local hazards pop up. If you're lucky, you'll just get minor damage. If you're really unlucky, like those poor people in Greensburg, you'll be starting over from scratch, hopefully with a big insurance payout. If I lived there, with my home and livelihood gone, I'd be thinking seriously about relocating once I got my insurance check. Just as with New Orleans, sometimes the struggle to rebuild isn't worth the effort it will take for most people.

We'll Always Have Paris

Two stories, one weekend: Paris Hilton's going to the slammer for 45 days, and Nicolas Sarkozy wins the French presidential election.

As far as Ms. Hilton's travails go, I'm ambivalent. On the one hand, she seems like an affable, if air-headed, person. On the other, she broke the law, and nobody should be above the law, including wealthy celebutantes. Her mother's goofy antics in the courtroom didn't help; the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and Mama Hilton apparently is no Rhodes scholar either. I suspect that Paris' confinement, which will be in isolation from the rest of the prisoners for her own safety, will be a learning experience. Then again, maybe not, if The Simple Life was any indication of her learning ability.

I read a very interesting article by Michel Gurfinkiel about France's problems, which seem intractable. Mr. Sarkozy seems to have his work cut out for him, and he will still have the old government bureacracy (which like all bureaucracies is resistant to change), which may make implementing reforms difficult. It will be nice having a French president whose default position isn't knee-jerk anti-Americanism. I may even have to reconsider my boycott of French products.


Jamestown and the Queen

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is visiting the United States, with her visit timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent British colony in North America. Like most Americans, I hold no brief for the monarchy, but I do have a fondness for my cousins across the Atlantic. Queen Elizabeth visited Jamestown fifty years ago; I wonder if at that time she could have imagined returning as an 81-year-old. One thing's for sure: She's unlikely to still be around for the 450th anniversary, although it surely would frost Prince Charles if she was, since he's been sitting around waiting longer than the Maytag repairman. His mum will be one of the longest-serving monarchs in British history; Charles' reign will almost certainly be much shorter.

This month's issue of National Geographic magazine has an article about the founding of Jamestown and the hardships those first colonists went through. Unlike the Massachusetts Bay colonists who arrived in family groups thirteen years later on the Mayflower, the men who founded Jamestown were mostly adventurers looking to get rich quickly by prospecting for gold and silver. For most, it was a vain hope, with mortality rates around 75% between 1607 and 1624. Diseases caused by bad water and a lack of knowledge about sanitation probably were the main culprits; hunger and warfare with the natives also were contributing factors. And of course, Virginia didn't have rich supplies of precious metals. It was, however, a good place to grow tobacco, which was brought in from the West Indies.

Today the Queen will be attending the Kentucky Derby. And of course, it's also Cinco de Mayo. So, what are you drinking? Mint julep or Jose Cuervo? You'd probably be wise to stick to one or the other; mixing drinks can make you sick.


O Mullah, Where Art Thou?

The mad mullahs in Iran don't just want to nuke Jews and Americans. They don't like porn, either:

Tehran, 30 April (AKI) - The culture committee of the Iranian parliament approved on Monday a bill sentencing to death producers of 'pornography', videos and films deemed vulgar by the country's censorship. The draft law will now go to parliament where it is expected to be approved by an ample majority. Amateur porn films have a properous market in Iran and can fetch up to 30 euros each.

The market, tolerated for a long time, became a nationwide issue earlier this year after a porn film of popular television actress, Zohre Mir Ebrahimi, having sex with her partner, was released.
Dang! And I was so looking forward to seeing movies like Hairy Persian Kitties, Burqa Bukkake Babes and Zohre Does Qom. I suppose the only good thing about this story is that it shows that even after almost thirty years of being ruled by religious zealots, the Iranians still like porn. They're human after all.


"Far" and "Old"

There are certain concepts that the human mind has a hard time comprehending, due to limitations in our perspective. I'll write about a couple of them today.

First, we don't like to dwell on distances on an interstellar (or even worse, intergalactic) scale, because they make us seem small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Last week, there was a news story about how the European space agency had discovered a new planet that was the most "earth-like" of any found to date. This planet orbits a relatively nearby red star that is about 120 trillion miles away from us. Read that number again: 120 trillion miles. That's about 20.5 light years away. A light year is the distance that it takes light to travel in one year at 186, 282 miles per second. The light from that star now reaching our telescopes started in 1986. Indeed, when you look at the night sky, all of the light from the stars that you see originated years ago; even the closest nearby stars are more than 4 light years away. Many of the stars you see are much farther away; you may be looking at starlight that originated hundreds or even thousands of years ago. And of course, you may be looking at stars that are no longer there at all; when we see the light from a star "going nova", we are seeing light from a star that died many years ago.

Another concept that we can only feel around the edges is time. Not just the current hour and minute, but deep time, distant time, time far beyond that of a human lifespan. My grandmother turned 90 years old a couple of days ago. That seems like a very long time, and on the human scale, it is. Most people don't live that long, so anything that happened 90 years ago is very long ago indeed.

I grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, and the Kansas City metropolitan area. Those cities were settled in the mid-1800s, so anything that was from that time seemed "old" to me. Then, when I went in the Army, I went to Massachusetts for a training school. I spent some time playing tourist in Boston, a city that was 350 years old or so, and that seemed very old. I prowled the historic sites, looked at the worn tombstones in the old cemeteries, visited Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church and Bunker Hill, and I thought I had a grasp of what "old" really was. Then, for my first duty assignment, I went to Augsburg, Germany -- A city that was founded by the Romans in 15 B.C. All of a sudden, my point of reference for "old" was again recalibrated. When I visited Rome a few years later, walked through the ruins of the Forum and the Colosseum, and then went and saw the ruins of Pompeii, I once again had to reassess what "old" really was. And visits to the Egyptian Museum in Berlin and last year's trip to Fort Lauderdale to see the Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibition just pushed "old" back a little farther.

But even those ancient things were only a few thousand years old. Every day, however, we walk around on a planet that has been here for over four billion years. The land where you are sitting hasn't been here that long, of course. It's almost certain that at some point in the past several million years, it was under the ocean, and at some point in the next several million years, it will almost certainly be again. The continental plates drift and shift and bump into each other. Mountain ranges are pushed up and then worn away by the forces of erosion. Ice sheets form and melt away as the climate cools and warms. This has happened for eons and will continue to do so. We have the illusion that we exist in stasis, that things are as they always have been and as they always should remain. This is, of course, only an illusion. But we can only really comprehend the kind of changes that take place within a human lifespan. Years, even decades, we understand. Centuries, millenia... We don't. Our existence is too brief for that to happen. And it's uncomfortable to think about how ephemeral and inconsequential that existence really is. A hundred years from now, will anyone remember anything that you or I have accomplished? Or will it be like the Shelley poem: "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."