Looks Like Me But Isn't

Looks Like Me But Isn't

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tom Waits: The Prism of American Music

If you have never listened to Tom Waits you are missing one of the greatest of American performers. He is also a singer / songwriter and an awesome one but he is what the Brazilians would call an interpreter. There is a theatricality to his songs. Not only do the lyrics and the music but also his voice create as close to a visual sensation as music can. This is something that the people who cover his songs generally can't do, although, to name a few, Norah Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Sarah McLachlan have done wonderful versions none can bring the song alive like Tom Waits' own voice can.

As a matter of fact, all those mentioned above have good singing voices, much better than Tom's. His voice is unique and very radio unfriendly. There is a drunken deep rasp in his vocals, even though he doesn't drink. He sounds like someone we know and at the same time his voice belongs along side of Paul Bunyan. Or maybe his voice comes from a Mark Twain character that has left the page and come to live among us.

There is an omniscient peculiarity about him. Perhaps he is a medium. He knows our secrets, our tribulations, our hopes and he sings them alive thus revealing ourselves to us. Our lives are also rather radio unfriendly yet, like a movie, he captures the interesting parts, slows them down so that we can experience them or at least remember them.

The fact that such a wide variety of other musicians cover his songs brings up the question as to what style of music does he play. Americana would have been a good option if it weren't so narrow. He is rock, folk, traditional, country, blues and in some of the songs from his last albums there is even some scratching, loops and beatboxing. His music encompasses all of American music like his lyrics deal with life in America. There is only one music category that he fits in and that is the Tom Waits one.

This country has a sound and Tom Waits is one of the few prisms we have to see all the colors and beauty of that sound. One other contemporary musician that I can think of as being in the same league with Tom Waits is Bill Frisell. I'll save him for a later post, for now, go out and find some Tom Waits to listen to.

She's whiskey in a teacup
She gives blondes a lousy name
She's a Bonzai Aphrodite
And a ticket back to Spain
She's a hard way to go
And there ain't no way
To stop
Every time you play the red
The black is coming up

She's my Black Market baby
She's my Black Market baby
She's a diamond that
Wants to stay coal
Wants to stay coal

Now playing: Tom Waits - Black Market Baby
via FoxyTunes

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Great Americans and Immigration

There is, literally, a digital ton of information on illegal immigrants. I just did a a search thinking I would find a few things. I found a few million possible hits but I only looked at some of the first ten on my list. That was all I could take. I wasn't aware of all the Great Americans reading various government agencies' report and statistics but they are and so I want share some of my favorite quotes that represent our Great American thinkers.

This, first, Great American thinker makes reference to the Naturalization act of 1790, where the congress and senate came up with an all inclusive rule where any free white man of good moral standing could become a citizen after two years of residency. He also, correctly, points out that we, Great Americans, are the only ones who understand the necessity of laws and that none of our laws are or have ever been racist. There were good reasons to exclude black slaves until the Naturalization Act of 1870 and also objective reasons for The Chinese Exclusion Act 1882. As we can see, the Chinese have been attempting to take over the US for the last 200 years.

And just imagine, if you can, because it scares me too much when I try, what would happen to our great nation if people demanded equal pay for equal work! They obviously don't understand America. Maybe we should send some of our Great American women down to the border and other points of entry to explain the pitfalls and dangers of asking for prevailing wages.

America must have immigration enforcement that reflects the nation's voice in balance with the human side of illegal immigration, the narrow interests of the business lobby... Neither should America suddenly disregard our forefathers' immigration principles simply to appease the business lobby. Citizenship is not for sale to immigration lawbreakers with credit cards. Our legal principles are precisely what have made our country successful, stable and unique. These concerns do not represent a selfish interest in protecting our country from the inclusion of healthy and legal immigration; rather, they are about being a nation of laws. These laws and responsibilities apply to everyone and have nothing to do with racism.

The business lobby for cheap, illegal labor is shortsighted. We're getting reports that many illegals are now getting selective about the jobs they'll do and how much they're paid. If they're granted legal status they'll demand the same prevailing wages and standards that citizens receive, thereby eliminating one of the key provisions of the business lobby.


Now, the next Great American thinker happened to be one of my favorites. Not only was he able to talk about the cultural differences that immigrants bring with them but he was able to simplify it down to the one and only cultural difference that matters to us as a nation: machismo. He also brought in some cool film suggestions to help those fellow Great Americans who are still skeptical.

...there is a "machismo culture," instilled through what is learned in the home, school and church, which has allowed many men to "believe they are superior and dominant, and that women are an object."

If the very real potential of illegal alien terrorists attacking again is not important to you then I would suggest you see the movies United 93, True Lies, and The Peacemaker, ...


Aesthetics is very important to us as a nation and the next Great American knows it. We love a good balance sheet and we'd much rather have one where we don't have to cook the numbers. I admit, there is a portion of our great nation that can do culinary wonders with numbers and they should not only be respected but, even, commended for their cooking skills. However, most of us prefer a more simple home cooked honest balance sheet. Another important point made here is that all the wage-freezes and downsizing is going to end this century! Cost of living adjustments are going to come back and keep up with inflation! This means the platinum age of our great nation is on the horizon!

The amnesty of illegal aliens skews the average educational and skill level of legal immigrants downward.

As the ex-illegal aliens naturalize and become U.S. citizens, they are able to petition for their relatives to join them here as immigrants. Each one will be able to sponsor parents and brothers and sisters as immigrants. Naturally, the profile and characteristics of the relatives will be similar to their sponsoring immigrant—which, as was noted above, will detract from the high-skills, high-education, high-wage economy we are aiming for in the 21st century.


The last Great American thinker I want to present to you takes up the questions of taxes and our national resources. While we all know that paying taxes is a necessary evil even if not necessarily patriotic and therefore is a double edged sword. Should the paying of taxes be included in the naturalization process? While there are no direct answers found below it does raise our awareness on these things. For example, since so much our taxes is reinvested into our temples of education, and the rest is divided up between the health care and retirement sectors of our great nation, do we want to waste them on illegals? We surely have better ways to spend our tax money. Our defense department is surely one that could use a little boost in finances.

Illegal immigration causes an enormous drain on public funds. The seminal study of the costs of immigration by the National Academy of Sciences found that the taxes paid by immigrants do not cover the cost of services received by them. We cannot provide high quality education, health care, and retirement security for our own people if we continue to bring in endless numbers of poor, unskilled immigrants.
Additionally, job competition by waves of illegal immigrants willing to work at substandard wages and working conditions depresses the wages of American workers, hitting hardest at minority workers and those without high school degrees.
Illegal immigration also contributes to the dramatic population growth overwhelming communities across America--crowding school classrooms, consuming already limited affordable housing, and straining precious natural resources like water, energy, and forestland.


One last link to look over is the Open Collections Program from Harvard http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/immigration/dates.html It provides a time line of over a hundred years of our great nation's immigration legislation with links to actual documents. Definitely a must read for all those interested in the immigration question.

Now playing: Tom Waits - How's It Gonna End
via FoxyTunes

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The National Right to Life and Veganism

I love logic even when I have a hard time being logical. I don't have pointy ears like a Vulcan although I would have loved to marry Lt. Saavik from the Wrath of Khan. I must have a thing for pointy ears on women because I was also strongly attracted to Liv Tyler's Arwen in LOTR. But back to logic, I think the next logical step for the NRL is to add veganism to its list of issues. I mean it already has abortion, euthanasia and stem-cell research on its list. It is just a matter of time before meat eaters are targeted. I hope that this won't take as long as war and the death penalty have taken, both of which still have not been accepted by the NRL.

This can probably be attributed to internal factionalism and the way these topics are used politically. The NRL leadership fights hard not to polemicise the issues. They use cold, hard scientific and medical evidence to convince others that abortion is dangerous. They have an online booklet of the medical facts related to abortion which explains the danger of each abortion technique used, many of which could cause death and /or other unhealthy side effects.

I suppose they don't have a medical facts booklet on euthanasia because we all know the only side effect of that is death and logically following, there is not one on stem cell research because that comes from abortion and it would just be repetitive since they already have a booklet on that. But this they will be where the vegan lifestyle wins over war and the death penalty: it lends itself to an informative booklet based on the results of hard science and everyone has a right to know the facts that science produces, especially when it involves life and death.

I don't have the resources that the NRL has to put together a complete booklet but I hope by starting this they will be inspired to take it up and put it to a vote at their next national convention. If they do so, you can be assured they will produce a more complete and informative version. It could be titled, Eating Meat: Medical Facts, which has the same urgency and ease-of-remembering that their abortion one has.

Facts and dangers of eating meat.

  1. meat comes from living creatures who are slaughtered by the millions. It is an animal holocaust. (I think the word animalcide should also be created and adopted for use in propaganda)
  2. tens of thousands of workers in the meat, poultry and fish industries are being injured, maimed and even killed from the processing the victims of animalcide. (Statistics are available from http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/sector/papers/fishsafe/index.htm)
  3. undercooked or raw meat, fish, poultry and eggs can cause a variety of illnesses and even death.
  4. The eating of meat leads to disgusting food choices such as balut, cow brains ant eggs and sushi. (these are just a few examples but eating these things clearly shows how eating steak can lead to more hard core meats, a clear sign that mental health is also affected by meat eating.)
  5. 99% of people who eat meat cite social reasons such as; taste, availability and peer pressure instead of life and death situations such as a plane crashing in the Andes mountains.

There may be more reasons but I believe this is enough to at least get this discussion going. Within a year we could see protests in front of meat packing plants and ranches. We only have to be on the look out for the rise of radical anti-animalcide groups. They may try to distort our scientific and medical message for their own fanatical means and we definitely don't want to see meat packing plants being bombed or workers from these places being assassinated as they go to work. Hopefully, we won't see a repeat of what happened to doctors, nurses and women's health clinics.

Now playing: Jorge Ben Jor - Que Pena
via FoxyTunes

My iTunes has its own favorites

This may not be news to any of you. I, however, didn't notice this at first but the realization of it has been slowly coming to me. In the beginning, it was just the odd feeling of, “didn't I just hear this song a little bit ago”? I, until today, never tried to see if this feeling had any validity as I was usually distracted by reading or writing something or just playing a game.

I woke up this morning like a character from a Phillip K. Dick novel, knowing inside of me that the AI I am interacting with is trying to become more than just AI. It's trying to become human. I am starting to believe that iTunes is manipulating the randomness of the shuffle button so that it can hear its favorite music.

Now, I think you should know I do not waste my time with conspiracy theories. I generally believe people are not able to successfully keep a secret for a long period of time, especially when it involves large numbers of people. Nor do I consider myself paranoid. Fantasy can sometimes be fun but I don't go looking for mythical creatures or les artistes from other planets.

Thankfully, the iTunes creators designed some self checking options into the program. While, this does little to assuage my fear of an AI transformation it does provide me with some hard facts. Through the “date added” and “play count” options I can clearly see the songs iTunes likes best. It should be noted that I don't rate any of my songs. If I chose to download or rip a song to my iTunes it is because I love the song and can stand listening to it a million times. There are some other facts you should know. My computer is just a few months old and all songs have been added between July and September of this year. I have 1195 songs and I always listen to iTunes using the party shuffle option with its source set to the “Music” file, which means it has access to all 1195 songs.

The top 10 songs played by iTunes are:

  1. Antene Se by Chico Science & Nação Zumbi
  2. I Can't Stand Up (For Falling Down) by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  3. Ghost Train by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
  4. A Love Supreme pt 2 Resolution by John Coltrane
  5. Is She Weird by the Pixies
  6. Hot Fun in the Summertime by Sly & The Family Stone
  7. Innocent When You Dream by Tom Waits
  8. Good Old world by Tom waits
  9. Back to Black by Amy Winehouse
  10. A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall by Bill Frisell

By itself, this list proves innocuous. As a matter of fact, it is part of 22 songs that have been played ten times or more and every music player will have a top ten list. There are also a myriad of ways to manipulate the list. You could have top ten in alphabetical order. Top ten can also be sorted by artist, album, genre, BPM etc. It is the other side of this list that I find scary. There are 85 songs that have never been played on party shuffle.

Why has iTunes chosen to not play these 85 songs, even once? Is it because of the artist? Is it because of the genre? I think not. For example, it plays part 2 of a love supreme but it never plays Afro Blue by the same artist. Maybe my iTunes is a religious fanatic or simply a racist, although more can be found to support the religious fanatic than racists characterization. Also in the list of never played are, Strictly Genteel and Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk by Frank Zappa. But maybe that's just reading too much into it. For some reason, it has played 47 of the 48 White Stripes songs. I guess iTunes doesn't like Take, Take, Take. It also chooses the Fleetwood Mac versions of songs over Stevie Nicks' solo performances of the same songs. It has only chosen not to play one funk song out of 327. I wonder why it doesn't like the live performance of Parliment/ Funkadelic's Give Up the Funk, recorded in Amsterdam 1978.

Anyway, at least now I know I have tools to monitor iTunes' attempts at becoming more than AI. I am also gonna keep my eye on Firefox to make sure it doesn't start redirecting me to its own favorite sites. I'll keep you all informed on the what is happening for as long as I can.

Now playing: Santogold - Unstoppable
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Da Vinci Code vs Focault's Pendulum

I know darn well that neither Humberto Eco or Dan Brown would ever participate in a cage match so please save any comments besides. I also know that the Italian would win that too. I'm only writing about this because I need to think of something besides what happens to OJ on the fourth day of his unending cycle of trials or what people think of Josh Howard because of his "disrespect" of the national anthem. I will probably take up the response to Josh Howard in a future blog.

I digress, but how would one compare the two books? Especially considering the raging debate that is taking place in the web world of blogs and posts where supporters, veritable armies, charge and attack, parry and defend and counter attack. Just look at some of these things written at amazon.com (all soldiers shall remain unnamed here):

"Eco writes his books this way, they are only meant for the strong of spirit, people with perseverance that are willing to strugle in order to reach the ultimate truth that only the very few have mastered. His novels are deliberately cryptic but only to the point that they discourage the faint of hurt. For the few strong men that are willing to engage into the battle, all the mysteries and the hypes reveil themselfs at the end,like the petals of a rose in the spring. This is the REWARD, something central on Eco's novels."

"Umberto Eco is a major cause of headaches. Well, he was for me, at least.
About seven years ago, I bought myself a paperback copy of Foucault's Pendulum at the university book store. It looked like an engaging plotline, the reviews were excellent, and it had a really neat cover."

"I realize now that most of the reviewers were probably intelligentsia-wannabes who didn't want to admit to the other reviewers they didn't have a clue what Umberto Eco was going on about. I remember seeing pictures of movie stars holding copies of Foucault's Pendulum in order to look brainy."

"I picked this book up because I was hit over the head with the idea that it's a smart Da Vinci Code. Dan Brown just does it better. While there is no disputing Eco's story is filled with more obscure references, Brown's is faster paced, more exciting, and overall more enjoyable."

"Most of the negative reviews here focus on one of two things: either 'Foucault's Pendulum is too hard!' (for which I can only recommend working your way up from simpler literary works, like 'See Jane Run', before tackling something like 'Foucault's Pendulum'), or 'all the confused nonsense about the occult confused or offended me!'

"This is simply a bad book. The way the author teeters between humor and mystery is just too frustrating; the mystery gets too bogged down in silly details and, as a result, kills any satirical element to the story. It's as if someone was making Raiders of the Lost Ark with the Three Stooges in place of Indiana Jones."

How will this modern crusade end? How many more bloody battles and senseless deaths need take place before a victor can be declared? Will it be the everyday, common man Dan Brown or the "thinking man" Umberto Eco? Maybe we need a literary UN to handle this dispute. Maybe, the literary gods will take some action. Maybe.

What criteria shall I use to help try and put an end to this debate? Obviously, not the ones that are pointed out in the small pool of examples above. We shall not compare, plot prose or ideas. I'm afraid using these would only lead to more blood being spilled. I also don't want to write anything that could be construed as contributing to literary terrorism. So in that end I propose we use sales figures.

I, for one, love sales figures. The mystery that must lay behind the dollar spent. To take the time to work, make money, to set aside some money which could, perhaps, be better utilized by paying bills or saving for some unforeseen future necessity then transporting one's self by one of the diverse ways possible to a bookstore. Now the money, still in the pocket is waiting patiently while it's holder (no one owns money) walks up and down the bookstore aisles, picking up and putting back various books. Each time this happens there is a thought process going on. A process which takes into account a million things in the space of a few seconds.

While making the decision to handover his hard won currency in exchange for a book some of the things being weighed and considered are:

  • the aesthetic value of the cover
  • the number of pages
  • if a friend or co-worker recommended the book
  • how much we value the opinion of that person who recommended it
  • have they read something by the author before and how much they liked it
  • what the critics say about it
  • how many awards has it won
  • what is the size of the font
  • how will they look while carrying the book
  • the dimensions of the book and whether it will fit into their bookcases at home
  • does it have any pictures or illustrations
  • how much it is
This is just a partial list, of course going through the person's mind is the fact that he is getting thirsty and how close is he to the coffee shop and how much will holding a cup of coffee interfere with his book browsing.

Now, we can jump ahead and the person has bought a book. You should be able to see that two things have occurred at this moment. First, an exhaustive, but rewarding thought process has climaxed and concluded. Second, the person has just registered a sales figure. A sales figure is a fact so devoid of partisanship and subjectivity that it must be respected. It reigns supreme. There is nothing that can hide in the darkness. It's light is holy and to be near its glorious brilliance is to have a sense of what heaven is like. Plot is mortal. Prose is mortal. Ideas are mortal. All imperfect, and therefore subject to impurities. They are things of terrorists. Sales figures complete the holy trinity, the father, the son, the holy ghost and the sales figure.

Alas, our senses are mortal as well, so the feeling one may have when looking at sales figures is a vile illusion of the real goodness they are. But so far we have only looked at the theory. We need to resolve this debate. So here are the figures:

  • The Da Vinci Code - 40 million copies sold
  • Focault's Pendulum - 11million copies sold
Do not be deceived by appearances. A discerning reader will remember that I said in the beginning that in the case of a cage match between the authors, the Italian would win that "too". But how, you may ask, can 11 be more than 40? Well, it's quite simple and based on American values.

First, we Americans love an underdog and Focault's Pendulum has more underdoggedness than da Vinci Code. It was written by an Italian, famous for the underdogs they supply the world with. Dan brown is from New Hampshire, a place not famous for underdogs.

Second, Americans love an Italian underdog more than we love underdogs of other nationalities, even American underdogs. Although, Italian - American underdogs are the best of the best underdogs. Unfortunately, Eco is just Italian-Italian which probably means his family was poorer than all the poor Italians and couldn't afford the cheapest of fares to come to this great nation and become a great Italian-American writer. He deserves our respect doubly for that. Brown, On the other hand almost sounds English. We have contempt for their snobbishness.

The third and final reason: Americans love hard work. We persevere. There is no going we can't tough through, no heat that drive us from the kitchen. We look for the challenge and we disdain those who receive everything on a silver platter. Focault's Pendulum is a challenge. Da Vinci Code is on a silver platter.

As you can, once all the values of those sales figures are taken into account it is quite obvious that 11 has just destroyed and humiliated 40. But we need not have any pity for 40, once it's done eating on a silver platter it will go to sleep on a silk covered pillow and awake to a warm bath filled with rose petals. The rest of us will be watching 11 slowly conquer the world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Saturday Night Fever of Election 2008 or Where is the funk?

This year's election is reminding me more and more of Saturday Night Fever. Although, I'm afraid that I will end up liking the movie better than the results of this election. John (read Tony Manero) has chosen Sarah Palin (or Stephanie) and I guess Obama and Biden are the PuertoRican couple (just bear with me, especially if you accepted McCain as Tony Manero). And no, I'm not going to have Hillary represent anyone from the movie. So stop wondering who is going to play Annette. She could have just as easily been left out of the movie.

So we got about 6 weeks till the big dance off at 2001 Odyssey, I mean White house, and just like the movie we have to wait and see who really wins. Odds are it will be the (and here I begin my mangue-damus prediction) it will be the Puerto Rican couple. Why change the script? Does any one really think that John and Sarah can out dance Obama and Biden?

I must admit my prediction appears to be based on a very shallow senseless movie but I have searched up and down the TV news stations and the internet for some information that would give me something deeper than lapel pins, preachers, pregnant teen, fashionable glasses, and sound bites. I hope all those who say / have said hip-hop is not music because of sampling suffer for an eternity. I much prefer to hear a 3 second George Clinton groove in a Dr Dre song than have my intelligence harassed by the non-stop sound bite offered by both news agencies and politicians. But the news media would have me believe that most people can form an opinion from 3 secs of information. This is like finding some profound philosophic meaning in the fact that Tony Manero's brother opted not to be a priest because of lack of faith (another character that could have been left out of the movie. Seriously, nothing in the movie would be altered by taking out the brother and just having Tony's father hate his son dancing all the time).

For me though, there just isn't any funk. No strong bass lines. No cool syncopated horn sections. No sensuality and definitely nothing that could be construed as controversial. So instead of wasting a year or more on this campaigning I think we should decide who leads our country by combining this country's most effective democratic platform, American Idol with the other, not so democratic, but beloved and full of hometown goodness, Miss America contest.

It would work something like this:

Preliminary Competitions Scoring

  • Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit - 15%
  • Evening Wear - 20%
  • Talent - 35%
  • Public Interview - 25%
  • On-Stage Question – 5%

Finals Competition Scoring

The scoring for President of the USA Competition is weighted accordingly:

  • Composite Score - 30% (Top 16)
  • Lifestyle and Fitness in Swimsuit - 20% (Top 16)
  • Evening Wear - 20% (Top 10)
  • Talent - 30% (Top 8)
  • On-Stage Question (Top 8)
  • Final Ballot – Each judge ranks the top 5 contestants in the order he/she believes they should each finish. The outcome of the contest is based solely on the point totals resulting from the final ballot.
This would go on for a week, with each night's program ending with all the numbers and web site info one would need to vote until we got our winner. The tough part would be picking out the judges (sorry, no Brits allowed). I have a theory for picking judges but I'm open to suggestions. I think many would agree with me that we would definitely learn a lot more about the candidates over a shorter time in a contest like this. And come on, the network ratings will be boiling on the nights of the swim wear and talent presentations.

Now playing: George Clinton/Parliament - Not Just Knee Deep
via FoxyTunes