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Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Rock and Roll pt.2: a list of sorts

 I like the idea of a end-of-the-year list of pop music. As traditional to me as other parts of the holidays. This despite never being a list person. Lists are one step short of finished writing. They have their place, I suppose. Thinking about the year I realized I had done a lot of lazy listening over this last year. Part of this certainly was having my iPod stolen back in early May. I bought fewer songs and did not listen to the radio with quite the same acquisitional spirit as I might have otherwise.

 My method for this list is the same as last year. I keep a notepad by my desk at work. I have to hear it to like it I have to like it to write it down. What radio stations I listen to influence this process greatly. I listen mainly to non commercial stations. I listened to less college radio the past year than I used to (at least undergraduate CR) despite what the New York Times would have In a Digital World, College Radio Perseveres - Some things that I thought were new, were only new to me. So I expand my list to include the conception: newly experienced in '08.

 An example of this is the band Parts and Labor they did have a record out this year, but the song I recall first catching my ear was "Fractured Sky" off  '07's Mapmaker, then later "Nowhere Nigh". At any rate I already knew I like all those noisy poppy Brooklyn bands. More egregious is having never heard of Esrevnoc until this year. I love this band. Unfortunately their big year was 1999 and I don't think they've been together since 2001. All that's left is a handful of videos on that pop culture echo YouTube. This first is the song I heard on the radio (Bijn Bijn?), but I also warmed up quickly to Bee Charmer, Glasses better than mine, and Sweet Strawberry Toast. At times I hear a trace of this in Deerhoof material.

On bands that are still together (a popular category) my estimation of Times New Viking went up this year. I like the new material and it prompted me to favorable comparisons with Pink Reason, thee Oh Sees and the Sic Alps. There was also a new band  Meth Teeth I wrote down a couple of times for a song called "Failures selected by God". There's no fi like low-fi.

 One record I listened to consistently and completely this year was Thao Nguyen's (and the Get down stay down band's) lp we Brave bee stings and All. I heard something from that ("Beat...") on the radio just once. Brought some things down off of iTunes I was quite taken with. I later found my niece Nicole had the cd too. My friend Tran who shares a degree of winn-someness (bad word-play alert) with Thao, did not like the record. "She has a little girl's voice," she commented. I think she's just jealous.  Another understated band I liked this year was Black Forest of Opium. As well I continued to like everything off that last Dengue Fever record Venus on Earth. Not only "Tiger phone card", but "Women in the shoes", "Seeing hands" and "Monsoon of perfume".  I heard a song I thought was by a band the Wilderness that I like from Baltimore turned out to be a band called Lord Bird Dog, "Gift of Song in the Lions Den", instead. I think they played last summers WhartScape.

 Another band I heard toward the end of the year and liked was the Crystal Stilts. A bit of relevance to me here - their record is released on Slumberland records which was was originally a College Park Maryland label many years ago and run (still run) by a friend Mike Shulman. Mike was in Black Tambourine, and also a Dj at WMUC. I think I read that Crystal Stilts play out with the Vivian Girls another good new band (thank you mr. Darger).  I see I also wrote down the Raveonettes several times for the lovely song "Aly walk with me". This is off their Lust Lust Lust lp. They spell that out 3x so you know they mean it .

 Apart from this main list is Roky Erikson, For some reason I was hearing a lot of Roky Erikson this year and it all sounded good. He had a biopic You're Gonna Miss Me (2005) out a year or so ago, maybe people just got around to seeing it now. If I mention Roky, I ought to mention Fred Cole whose new band Pierced Arrows had a great old school psych record out this year.  I also want to call attention to a song that goes back ten years or so, but I only nailed down who did it this year. The Silos and their cover of the Modern Lovers "I'm Straight" from the lp Susan Across the Ocean.

 A second adjunct: a small segue group I sometimes play  on my now entirely imaginary iPod. First Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)  by Sly and the Family Stone, then Go Bang - not the absurdist play Go-Bang - but rather the  Dinosaur L (not Dinosaur Jr.) song "Go Bang", Following that  Basement Jaxx, with "Bingo Bango". Finally the  LCD Soundsystem  song,  All My Friends.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

 I want to write a post that lets me accomplish two things. The first is to put up a photograph from when I was in the Navy, that I scanned last year but never used. It is a picture of a second larger refugee boat that the USS Ranger (CV-61) encountered the year I was on the ship. I had posted a picture of another boat at the time of a previous post. That scan simply came out better. Another picture of that same craft was used in the Ranger's cruise book for that year (these are Navy versions of a high school yearbook)  - a brief check of WorldCat reveals no catalog record for that book, although three other USS Ranger Westpac cruise books have managed to get cataloged 19641982 1987).  This also allows me to continue telling stories belonging to other people.

A picture named 2ndRefugeeBoat.jpg
A boat of Vietnamese refugees encountered by the USS Ranger during  the 1979 westpac. Picture would have been taken from one of HS-4's helicopters

 In exception to liturgical order I have a prodigal son story. Normally these are stories  that get told the third Sunday after Ash Wednesday. The Parable (Luke 15:11-32) illustrates point of inclusiveness and acceptance against several varieties of pride: Parable of the Prodigal Son - Wikipedia .

  My friend Tran shared this following story with me last week: A few years ago one of her brothers, one of three brothers and also three sisters she has, is married and in medical school. At Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Money becomes tight and the family contributes some funds, and along with it perhaps some judgement. This situation continues and intensifies. Eventually the brother breaks off contact with the family, and leaves the area. They do not hear from him for several years.

 Now after five years he shows up the week before Christmas. In the uniform of an United States Navy Ensign, with oak leaf insignia. He had signed with the Navy to pay for and finish medical school, and was stopping by on his way to his first duty station, which she told me was in San Diego. Tran's father was very proud of his son, following in his footsteps. The Father's  career in Vietnam had been in a medical practitioner/pharmacist catagory. The moment probably was of most importance to him. But Tran was also affected in an singularly intense way. She knew the thread of the story that drew from her brother going into the US Navy would appeal to me, as it did. She also gradually wound the story around to greater length to explain the special appeal to her.

 I knew that there had been a point in her life when she and her whole family had been imprisoned. I had mistakenly placed this period immediately after the fall of Saigon when she was still very young. This period; though, her father imprisoned as an accomplice of the enemy (the U.S.), is when Tran, her mother and siblings were sent to the rice farm in her mother's home town in the Mekong Delta. The period of her imprisonment was actually when she was around ten. This was in response to family's attempt to escape by boat which ended when they were captured by the Vietnamese coastal patrol set up to prevent citizens from steering a course away from the paradise of the proletariat.  This inprisonment lasted some months to half a year.  After the family is released two older brothers leave on another attempt and successfully make it to Thailand by boat. Two other brothers, one only age twelve - just a year older than Tran, try to follow the same way a while later.  But they are never heard from again.

 The family is finally allowed to emigrate from Vietnam in 1995, when diplomatic relations with the United States are restored. They resettle in the US becoming naturalized citizens.

 Tran had the feeling that she had told me more of this story, from the period of stories and their sense of loss before, when she hadn't. There had been times when she seemed to have more to say, but never said it. Knowing only a little, I set this down to ingrained response to a life as an outsider, suspected and watched even in ones homeland.  Of keeping deep and sad memories at bay.  I think, also, that this was a Vietnamese story, existing to her in only the Vietnamese language. Never recast into the harsh unfeeling english language, never rendered down to uncomprehending American experience. With no easy shared referent, or partially disassociated marker to be pointed to. No handfull of simple words that could be spoken softly, to cover a larger reality. Much would have to be said, and even more explained. All to the dubious value of such effort.

 I acknowledge my inability to follow the true weight of this. As a small point of connection I am aware that the South China Sea that US Navy placed me in for a while many years ago, is the same dangerous sea that her family set out in repeatedly to find freedom. My enduring memory of it for years was looking out over the eastern ocean from the the top of Victoria Peak in Hong Kong;  with only the sense of youthful aesthetic adventure within me. Now, through knowing her, it becomes a  signifier of a more complex reality which coexists with every perspective and every moment.

 In this play of sibling character, I see challenges and response occurring among the personalities of a single family. The struggle to avoid the trap of an incomplete break with the old. The importance of the returned brother who went away, but came back.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Newport Mall Santa

Each year, at least in recent years, I try on Christmas eve to put up a small (very small) pixel image in some Christmas eve - winter holiday theme.  Sometimes I have an idea on hand before I start working on it. Sometimes not. Always though about halfway through the same thought occurs to me: I don't know how to draw and have never been able to draw as much as a straight line. By then I have already plinked a large number of colored pixel dots into place with out much of an idea of where I am going with it, and it is too late to turn back.

A picture named BenLizNewportMall.gifThis year I have WFMU dj's Benjamen Walker and Liz Berg on the occasion of their live six hour remote broadcast from the Newport Centre Mall somewhere in Northern New Jersey a couple of Mondays back. For atmospheric purposes I have re-imagined the event taking place at night and the Newport Centre Mall as having a transparent Plexiglas roof. This is part of my program of recording "Ego Leonard" moments -- moments of perfect and ordinary beauty. A charge from the Lego ambassador from the virtual world.

 The sort of carefully-honed easy nonchalance, that it takes some broadcasters, NBC with their Olympic coverage for instance, a half year or more of day-long meetings to achieve WFMU is able to attain with hardly any effort at all. In the background I have depicted a Santa Claus coming down the Mall escalator. But is it the real Santa Claus or Nick-the-Bard? This is something which may never be known.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008
Birth of a junk food

 I am not a Foodie. The very word, if that's even a word, sends shivers down my spine.  Just like the old song. This is to say that ordinarily I don't mess around with food in any high-concept manner. At the same time I cook for myself and have neither starved nor grown corpuscular.  I keep things simple.  My greatest food fear is the thought of not being to cook well enough or creatively - open mindedly - enough to make another happy. "Fish, Vegetables," that sort of thing.

 About a month ago a couple of different lines of thought came together -  a notion of a food instantation which didn't yet seem to exist to my knowledge.  The particulars tumbled out of the idea and rattled around on my kitchen counter as potential ingredients. In this moment: the birth of a junk food.

 After working through a number of varying batches the concoction, which I'm leaning towards calling X-presso Spread has these final ingredients put together in the following order:

  1.   Coffee: double expresso shot or two to three tablespoons of Folgers crystals (a little easier to work with in practice).
  2.   Beef bouillon cubes (two or three) or a base such as 'Better than Bouillon'  These first two ingredients should have approx. 1/8 cup of water apiece to mix in.
  3.   Nutritional Yeast (two tablespoons).
  4.   Onion powder (roughly one teaspoon).
  5.   Two well-rounded tablespoons of peanut butter.
  6.   A teaspoon of Agar Agar.

  The coffee/bouillon portion is a hot thick liquid as prepared, the other ingredients are stirred into this. Then the whole is stirred until it develops a creamy consistency and cools. The Agar Agar should stiffen the mixture to a firm paste at this point. The peanut butter should remain in the background as a flavor. Its main work lies elsewhere. 

   I enjoy this immensely. It is a full frontal assault of beefy coffee goodness, and it definitely wakes you up. As far as serving suggestions go it strikes me that it is supposed to go on toast, or perhaps on certain types of crackers. I imagine I'm not the only one this appeals to, saving the choice between coffee and a snack, but I'm not positive.  I went over this with Trân; it seemed to me she actually wrinkled her nose at the mere thought. You hear about things like that, and so rarely see it.

   I still believe I could be onto something here.  If I needed to come up with a catch phrase for it I would call it I think I would call it a Plumpy'nut for Generation  X.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Pride of Vindication

   I feel vindicated. This is a follow on to my previous post FireFaux earlier, dealing with Firefox 3 on OS X crashing repeated and constantly. I offer up the OS X security update from Tuesday of this week About the security content of Security Update 2008-008 / Mac OS X v10.5.6. In particular I note:  "Seven of the updates included in this patch bundle fix flaws for the Mac version of Adobe's Flash player, flaws that Adobe patched last month in two separate releases" Apple Patches 21 Security Flaws - Security Fix. As well Firefox had security update 3.0.5 pushed out yesterday  Mozilla Firefox 3.0.5 Release Notes. I had the opinion that since the Mozilla people seemed to have turned their attention to FF 3.1 that we wouldn't see a 3.0.5 even though I needed it. 

   Looking at the details of what was under the hood of 3.0.5  I find myself asking at what price vindication comes:

"Firefox 3.0.5 fixes a total of 11 flaws, six rated "critical,"...Among the most serious were a trio of vulnerabilities in the browser[base ']s layout and JavaScript engines, while others included XML binding and session restore bugs that could let hackers conduct cross-site scripting attacks, which are often used in sophisticated identity theft schemes." Mozilla plugs 13 holes in Firefox, retires older 2.0 browser | Macworld.

This is the sort of thing my parser / javascript error reports were showing while it was misbehaving. Yikes maybe not crashing so much as crashed.

   Beyond this I contend also with the sure sin of pride here. The pride of vindication. Is there even such a thing? Yes, Yes  there is, Gertrude Stein had it apparently, Google says so  "pride of vindication" - Google Search. Therefore it must be true.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Marian Days

  Another noteworthy first from the recent elections. Anh "Joseph" Cao on Saturday 06 Dec 08 in a special delayed election (because of this year's hurricanes) became the first Vietnamese-American ever to win election to a congressional office  AFP: Louisiana elects first Vietnamese-American in US Congress . In an example of morphing press coverage the story percolated slowly to full brew. On Sunday the headlines of the stories read "Jefferson Loses"  Bill Jefferson Loses - The Fix. 90,000 in cash, in hundreds, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil jammed in a freezer would only be about the size of a pot roast  an easy mistake - could happen to anyone.  Monday they were branching out to "Some guy wins" motifs.  By Tuesday they seem to have figured out who mr. Anh Cao is, interviewed him , put up a brief bio, and added pictures to the stories  Cao's Upset of Rep. Jefferson in Louisiana Gives Republicans a New Hero - The coverage has gone beyond regional to national also by this point. The Sunday following the WP does a depth coverage piece on the election as a phenomenon, including (only in print) the biggest picture yet of the new congressman and his photogenic family  After the Storm, Mr. Cao Goes to Washington -

 There is a difference between getting a seat in Congress, and keeping it. LA-2 is an overwhelmingly African American district with a small but stable Vietnamese-American component. If he wants to keep the office he will need to demonstrate the worth of the New GOP in New Orleans. It's not that being fiscally and socially conservative will necessarily count against him, far from it really. If he can also show a community activist spirit; one concerned with poverty, and a sense environmental stewardship. Which seems to have been his life's bent so far, he could do quite well.

 My current congressman Chris Van Hollen [D MD-8] (parts of Montgomery and Prince Georges county MD) is relatively new and flipped the district's party when he took office. He offers a useful example.   Basically: go to every school, every church, every bake sale. Meet the owners of every business hiring more than a couple of people. Show up for 5k's and K-P day's: the latter Kennsington-Parkwood elementary's annual fundraising carnival day (my sister Susan is currently PTA head there). The former a reference to a foot race through Kensington Village. Of course it helps that Kensington village is only about seven miles from the capital building. If Mr. Cao has to fly coach back to New Orleans every week to accomplish these things so be it, It is what has to be done.

 My friend Trân was aware of and pleased with these events when I mentioned it to her Monday after. Some of the coverage on Mr. Cao's election indicate that hurricane Katrina shook the New Orleans Vietnamese community out of a politically reticent complacency. As well the Vietnamese-American youth demographic may be going democratic according to some polling. I saw an article before the election to this effect. These trends do not include Trân who is quite and demonstrably republican. This is someone who has a map of Vietnam in her office cubicle with a picture of the Pope taped over Hanoi. I'm sure Mr. Cao's firm and Jesuit influenced Catholicism sits quite well with her.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008
PP !=Dd

 Watching events unfold in Thailand over the past few weeks I have gradually edged over to the conclusion that People Power does not necessarily equal democracy. It is undeniably a necessary condition of democracy, but not alone sufficient. The month-long demonstrations in Thailand were able to force the elected Prime Minister out, and temporarily de-list the political parties of his governing caucus:  BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | How did Thai protesters manage it?  The demonstrations show that civil disobedience is certainly a key to power, but it left me feeling that, although I regarded that the good guys had won, these methods were not always a key to democracy. This People Power, toward its end was relentlessly organized, efficient, studiously non-violent. This observation is offered in passing contrast to the current demonstrations in Athens.


 The protests and sit-ins around Bangkok were the work of a group calling itself The Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The BBC has spent some effort putting together a series of pieces on this. The article linked earlier was the one that drew me in,  I worked through other stories in the right-hand navigation column from there  BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Q&A: Bangkok protests. Largely the membership and support base of the PAD seem to come from one of more familiar strains of modernism: A globalized middle class. Some time before these demonstrations started there was a  commenter in a Metafilter thread trying to explain their grievance against the government. What was notable in this was the free use of shared precepts, outlooks and attitudes the writer assumed with the Metafilter audience. Looking a little deeper around the PAD you see a coalition of elites. These are composed of traditional elites such as Army, Monarchists, bureaucratic clerical class, and students who will in time become all the former. The PAD seems to regard these current events as the opening moves in a greater struggle for a new  politics Few gains in Thai protesters' 'final war' | .

     Against this is former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire populist, and all the political aspirants arrayed in that corner. Thaksin represents a segment of Thailand's elites as well: the business class, new money. His fortune is tied  to a major telecommunication concern a prime element of the new economy.  At the moment he is in exile in the UK, currently under charges of corruption, and abuses of power which could place him in jail if he returned to Thailand.  His exile began in 2006 when the Thai Army staged a coup while he was in session at the United Nations. His stay in England is most noted for his owning Manchester City FC for a period. Running for public office in Thailand he formed a political base of disenfranchised. Additionally, and also significant he is originally a northerner from a part of the country away from the power center coastal cities.

     Believing the proposition that all politics are local. Local physically and temporally. I accept there is much to this which cannot be adequately understood from outside and abroad. Thailand is a mature society, and a nominal democracy. It is well into the process of structural change into an advanced economy which will leave it with multiple and balanced industrial sectors as a significant portion of the population moves out of subsistence agriculture into centers of manufacture and trade. What we see in Thailand is somewhat of a manufactured class antagonism. With an internal minority and/or sub-population identified and bound by national geography used to form a packaged electorate. Some would characterize it as a manipulated electorate, and therefore a contested majority. In as much as it resembles nothing more than the aged-from-antiquity farm people, city people divide this is unlikely.


 Talk of democracy often turns to the distinction between Big D and little d democracy.  Principles against institutions, ideal against form.  Big D Democracy, in full panoply is all of one man-one vote, secret ballots, candidates standing for office. Of the separation of powers into legislatures and judiciary. All the evolved institutions of western governance. Little d is just the simple idea of autonomy of the people and their rule over the social compact they formed. Implicit in any notion of democracy is rule by the majority of the people. In accordance with other rules of legitimacy. Promulgation of laws in a open non arbitrary proceedings. That the will of the people is not inferred assigned or otherwise guessed at, but made manifest. It's hard to see that shutting down a major international airport and holding a central economic sector (tourism) hostage to political demands in imitation of a protection racket improves upon formal elections.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008
A Series of Laundry Rooms

It's odd what you remember about things, I remember laundry rooms.

 Here is picture of A RA5C Vigilante I don't believe I've put up before.

A picture named VigiTakeoff.jpg RA5C Vigilante from RVAH-7 (no. 612) airborne

I'd say it was a picture of a Vigi taking off, but someone else might come along and say "No, look how the flaps are set, that's a bolter." I don't know, so I won't say. I can say that the picture was taken from the catwalk on the forward starboard side. And I know it wasn't me who took it. You needed to dress up in helmets and vests that would allow you be on deck during flight ops to get a picture like that. It is a RVAH-7 plane, so I suspect this was taken by my supervisor Mark Ramsey or one of RVAH-7s Photo mates. Two other people who might have taken it, Mark Schwartz and Chris Healy had probably left the squadron by the time we were doing USS Ranger work-ups. Somewhere on a Kodachrome 64 slide I have a picture of a Vigi preparing to catapult that I took from the USS Ranger's signal bridge.  One thing I learned early on is to not get caught out on the exterior ladder of the bridge superstructure when a Vigi lit afterburner. You would certainly feel that. The RA5cs were heavy enough that they often dipped below flight deck level before they gained altitude.

 Along with the general topics I write about here I have given myself a side project trying to write up stories, reminisces really, of the years I was in the Navy. This has proved a lot harder to accomplish then I thought. The more I try to write, the less I realize I understand about what I'm trying to do. That is not the only thing or even the particular thing slowing this project down. There is the pointed problem of old events and memory. The problem of memory is that it is destructive testing. The act of recalling a memory, sounding down deep into a past event, changes its nature. It becomes like an echo, rather than the call. A memory of a memory. One caught up in current thoughts, needs and experience. A new, a different engram is formed to thereafter carry that moment forward. The only question is does it form over the original, or utterly replace it. I am wary of starting to recall events from so long ago, with an expectation of only having one shot at returning to that moment completely and uncolored. I've written enough half-baked things to this web log to realize the worth of slowing down and giving an idea it's proper due.

   There are approaches that can be brought to bear on this. The mechanics of mnemonics. Mostly it involves a gathering of detail, objects, pictures, guides handouts and bus schedules, anything relevant. Google Earth gives you the ability to return to, and float over places you've been to before. In the Terra Firma category at least. I may get a bigger bang out of Google Earth/Maps than most. I was an aerial photo interpreter in the Navy, so I see it as more than a bad map or awkward way of looking at landscape, I see the place contained. The next step for Google ought to build a wayback machine into that product that would allow access to previous sets of mosaics. With these thing assembled there is an application of technique. Immersion several hours, all afternoon with this material in the character of a revery. I follow all tangents indulgently; songs books movies, world happenings. I recall impressions sounds smells, follow feelings. The mode is indulgent, but non judgmental, non directed. I take notes. It is a later step that I try to set it into a narrative.

 One thing that puzzles me is why are some memories are accessible, to a degree, with no especial effort. You wonder how reliable they are, what purpose they are filling. I suspect these single clear recollections stand in for whole classes of memories. Or that they are exemplars of experience. A moment of awakening to a broader view of the world. Some of the memories I recall easily still are a series of laundry rooms. In Subic and other places, just sitting around talking to friends, usually Mark Edmunds. Possibly laundry rooms reminded me of the informal basements of my (and friends) suburban homes. Alternatively they may have seemed new and exotic, If only because of where they were, and certainly the ship's laundry could do unspeakable thing to your clothes - best to do it yourself. For this period of my youth and given that there were people around to talk to I am prepared to briefly mount a defense of the proposition that Laundry Rooms were the Voltairic Salons of my generation. Years of dormitory and apartment living took the bloom off that rose.

11:33:34 PM    comment [];trackback [];

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