Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, August 31, 2005 6:23 am

Crit lit

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 6:23 am

I saw the Beatles on “Ed Sullivan” when I was 4. I got my first radio when I was 8. I started playing guitar when I was 13, joined my first band when I was 16, spun my first record professionally when I was 18 and sold my first music article when I was 22. As a performer, technician, reviewer and just plain fan, I’ve probably seen upwards of 500 rock ‘n’ roll shows, in venues ranging from the Milestone Club in Charlotte, Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and Brewery in Raleigh to Madison Square Garden, the Dean Dome and Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. The best shows all had one thing in common: They brought the audience to a kind of ecstasy in the old-fashioned sense: the feeling that your soul has left your body — in a good way.

When you’re reviewing a show, especially for money, it’s not always easy to leave yourself open to that experience, which is one reason among several why I finally stopped reviewing pop music about 20 years ago. Another reason is that, even at the level of small clubs, performances were growing less spontaneous, more rehearsed — as if the acts had already fashioned arena-ready performance motifs and were just biding their time until they were actually performing in arenas. Yet another is that for whatever reason, I came to believe that it was pointless, if not absurd, to try to tell a bunch of strangers what kinds of music they should or should not enjoy. I still enjoy talking with friends (particularly Tony) about music I think they would like — we’ve shared enough musical transcendences in person to have a good feel for each other’s tastes, and we enjoy letting each other know about good stuff we come across — but I felt pedantic in the role of critic, and pedantry is death to good writing.

Few people ever get to be full-time pop-music critics. I never did, and to this day I don’t know whether doing so would have meant burning out on the gig even sooner, or whether I’d have found a way to adapt my aesthetics, mindset and writing skills for the long haul. And of those who do, even fewer do it for more than a few years. Something more urgent, if not more important, usually comes along to pull one away. So it was for David Segal, who reviewed concerts for The Washington Post for more than four years. He’d always wanted to live in New York, and the price of his opportunity to do so was giving up the music gig. He reflects on his experience in this article, and his description of the ups and downs of the gig is spot-on.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005 4:49 pm

Fame is fleeting

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 4:49 pm

Spreadin’ like a virus

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:15 am

One of the scarier memes now making the rounds of blogdom is to list the Top 100 songs from the year you graduated from high school. (Get the list by going to Music Outfitters and typing the year into the page’s search engine.)

Here’s mine — 1978 — with songs I actually liked at the time in bold. Observations continue under the list.

1. Shadow Dancing, Andy Gibb
2. Night Fever, Bee Gees
3. You Light Up My Life, Debby Boone
4. Stayin’ Alive, Bee Gees
5. Kiss You All Over, Exile
6. How Deep Is Your Love, Bee Gees
7. Baby Come Back, Player
8. (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, Andy Gibb
9. Boogie Oogie Oogie, A Taste Of Honey
10. Three Times A Lady, Commodores
11. Grease, Frankie Valli
12. I Go Crazy, Paul Davis
13. You’re The One That I Want, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
14. Emotion, Samantha Sang
15. Lay Down Sally, Eric Clapton
16. Miss You, Rolling Stones
17. Just The Way You Are, Billy Joel
18. With A Little Luck, Wings
19. If I Can’t Have You, Yvonne Elliman
20. Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah), Chic
21. Feels So Good, Chuck Mangione
22. Hot Child In The City, Nick Gilder
23. Love Is Like Oxygen, Sweet
24. It’s A Heartache, Bonnie Tyler
25. We Are The Champions / We Will Rock You, Queen
26. Baker Street, Gerry Rafferty
27. Can’t Smile Without You, Barry Manilow
28. Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams
29. Dance With Me, Peter Brown
30. Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Meat Loaf
31. Jack And Jill, Raydio
32. Take A Chance On Me, Abba
33. Sometimes When We Touch, Dan Hill
34. Last Dance, Donna Summer
35. Hopelessly Devoted To You, Olivia Newton-John
36. Hot Blooded, Foreigner
37. You’re In My Heart, Rod Stewart
38. The Closer I Get To You, Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
39. Dust In The Wind, Kansas
40. Magnet And Steel, Walter Egan
41. Short People, Randy Newman
42. Use Ta Be My Girl, O’Jays

43. Our Love, Natalie Cole
44. Love Will Find A Way, Pablo Cruise
45. An Everlasting Love, Andy Gibb
46. Love Is In The Air, John Paul Young
47. Goodbye Girl, David Gates
48. Slip Slidin’ Away, Paul Simon
49. The Groove Line, Heatwave
50. Thunder Island, Jay Ferguson
51. Imaginary Lover, Atlanta Rhythm Section
52. Still The Same, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band
53. My Angel Baby, Toby Beau
54. Disco Inferno, Trammps
55. On Broadway, George Benson
56. Come Sail Away, Styx
57. Back In Love Again, L.T.D.
58. This Time I’m In It For Love, Player
59. You Belong To Me, Carly Simon
60. Here You Come Again, Dolly Parton
61. Blue Bayou, Linda Ronstadt
62. Peg, Steely Dan
63. You Needed Me, Anne Murray
64. Shame, Evelyn “Champagne” King
65. Reminiscing, Little River Band
66. Count On Me, Jefferson Starship
67. Baby Hold On, Eddie Money
68. Hey Deanie, Shaun Cassidy
69. Summer Nights, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-john
70. What’s Your Name, Lynyrd Skynyrd
71. Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, Crystal Gayle
72. Because The Night, Patti Smith
73. Every Kinda People, Robert Palmer
74. Copacabana, Barry Manilow
75. Always And Forever, Heatwave
76. You And I, Rick James
77. Serpentine Fire, Earth, Wind and Fire
78. Sentimental Lady, Bob Welch

79. Falling, LeBlanc and Carr
80. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Santa Esmeralda
81. Bluer Than Blue, Michael Johnson
82. Running On Empty, Jackson Browne
83. Whenever I Call You “Friend”, Kenny Loggins
84. Fool (If You Think It’s Over), Chris Rea
85. Get Off, Foxy
86. Sweet Talking Woman, Electric Light Orchestra
87. Life’s Been Good, Joe Walsh
88. I Love The Night Life, Alicia Bridges
89. You Can’t Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turning Me On), High Inergy
90. It’s So Easy, Linda Ronstadt
91. Native New Yorker, Odyssey
92. Flashlight, Parliament
93. Don’t Look Back, Boston

94. Turn To Stone, Electric Light Orchestra
95. I Can’t Stand The Rain, Eruption
96. Ebony Eyes, Bob Welch
97. The Name Of The Game, Abba
98. We’re All Alone, Rita Coolidge
99. Hollywood Nights, Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band
100. Deacon Blues, Steely Dan

Not a lot of rock ‘n’ roll on the list; the most interesting things going on in rock ‘n’ roll at the time (Pistols, Ramones, Elvis Costello, etc.) were taking place well off the Top 40 charts. Many of us who were plugged into that scene really thought a musical revolution was imminent. But it’s worth noting that in the year to follow, the last year of the 1970s, some of the biggest-selling albums were by artists who had dominated the charts for most of the 1970s: Led Zep (“In Through the Out Door”), Fleetwood Mac (“Tusk”), Pink Floyd (“The Wall”), the Eagles (“The Long Run”), etc.

Anyway, anyone who wonders what the source might be of my bitter, disgruntled attitude need only look at this list.

Friday, August 26, 2005 9:42 pm

Monty Python-ish history lesson

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:42 pm

The Top Ten Things the Brits Done For Ireland What Have the Brits Done For Us?. NSFW.

“The Long Tail” vs. fantasy football

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:41 pm

I belong to a 10-team fantasy-football league. Under the NFL’s real-life scoring system, the Long Tail concept applies to players’ relative value as measured in points produced. The effect is, if anything, exaggerated in our league, whose even more byzantine scoring system provides bonuses for big plays.

Because I’m drafting 10th this year (luck of the draw), I’ve been trying to see if there’s some way I can overcome that handicap via Long Tail theory. And either I’m missing something or else the only way I can is to have, like, 43,000 players on my team. League bylaws, sadly, limit me to 10 active players in a given week and bar warehousing of players.

Photos of the ‘Burg

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 9:37 pm

The Williamsburgh Savings Bank building is the tallest in Brooklyn, which is where I lived when I lived in New York more than 20 years ago. I was delighted to learn recently that the building is being renovated and, in particular, that its lobby area, reputed when I lived there (I never got in to see it) to be possibly the coolest indoor building space in the entire city, will become a restaurant. I was even more delighted when Tony sent me this link to some cool photos of and from the building. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2005 9:26 pm

My next home-improvement project

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:26 pm

A personal flamethrower, from parts you can get at your local home-supply store.

Kids, definitely don’t try this at home.

“It was a different time.”

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 3:49 pm

The Old Negro Space Program.

Nothing says “dangerous” like flying chairs

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 3:40 pm

I mentioned this only in passing when I had my shoulder surgery last fall, but before they can do an MRI to determine the extent of the damage, they have to X-ray you to make sure you have no random bits of metal in your head — even little tiny ones like metal shavings. Otherwise, because the MRI is basically an enormously powerful magnet, the metal could be ripped from your head at great speed when the MRI gets turned on and you get shoved into it.

Despite the obvious danger, a number of MRI-related workplaces haven’t always had things as secure as they should have, which gives us this awesome collection of flying objects. I’d actually heard of people being seriously injured (one 6-year-old boy was killed) by an MRI-powered flying oxygen tank — the tanks weigh more than 150 pounds when full — but the stuffed tiger just mystifies me.

Child exploitation is everyone’s problem

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:24 am

Minivan Mom rips the shiny lid off “JoJo’s Circus” and reveals the ugliness underneath. (Via aldahlia.net)

The other morning at breakfast

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:19 am

Hooper (reading weather forecast in paper): There’s a chance of hots.

Victoria: Hoopie’s going to be a weather man when he grows up.

Hooper: No, I’m going to be a mummy.

Mommy: Buddy, only girls can be mommies. But you could be a daddy.

Hooper: No, not a mommy, a mummy!

Daddy: I dunno, buddy, you might have trouble finding anyone to pay you to be a mummy.

Hooper (confidently): They’ll pay me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005 4:34 pm

Destroying the Constitution in order to save it?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 4:34 pm

(This post originally appeared on my News & Record blog The Lex Files on this date. Comments are as they originally appeared but may be dated inaccurately. may show up if I can get them to, but I’m having a little trouble so far.)

The American Legion has declared an end to the “end the war” movement. Really:

NEW YORK — The American Legion, which has 2.7 million members, has declared war on antiwar protestors, and the media could be next. Speaking at its national convention in Honolulu, the group’s national commander called for an end to all “public protests” and “media events” against the war, constitutional protections be damned.”The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples,” Thomas Cadmus, national commander, told delegates at the group’s national convention in Honolulu.

The delegates vowed to use whatever means necessary to “ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism.”

Cadmus added: “It would be tragic if the freedoms our veterans fought so valiantly to protect would be used against their successors today as they battle terrorists bent on our destruction, so we’re just going to act as if those freedoms don’t exist and never did.”

OK, I made up the part in bold. But when fewer than 40 percent of Americans approve the president’s handling of Iraq and almost 60 percent say some or all American troops should be pulled out of the country, and at least one prominent, likely GOP candidate for president in 2008 thinks we’re losing the war, declaring “war” on antiwar protests strikes me as a bit presumptuous, whatever your politics.

Besides, the ominous language of “any means necessary” notwithstanding, is the American Legion really prepared to have its members go to jail for assault, or worse? Is it going to be paying their lawyers? Paying damages to the victims when the inevitable lawsuits come rolling in against it?

I’m on record: “You break it, you bought it” pretty much summarizes what I think the U.S. position toward Iraq ought to be right now. We owe Iraqis more than chaos. But, unlike the American Legion, I also understand that serious, reasonable people can disagree on this issue — and, more importantly, must remain free to do so if this country is to find its best path forward.

If the Legion needs a reminder of what we’re fighting for, and it clearly does, it could do much worse than to read one veteran of Iraq’s take on that subject, here.

Monday, August 22, 2005 10:23 pm

Rough men

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:23 pm

“Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” — George Orwell

I detect a new meme arising: the notion that because the men and women who enlisted in the military did so voluntarily, as legal adults (by and large), then somehow neither we nor the government is responsible for whatever happens to them while they are in the military (examples here, here and here, to name just a few).

That’s utter bullshit for many reasons. But perhaps the most important is that a soldier/sailor/Marine/airman’s free choice to enlist does not absolve the government (that is, all of us) of its legal and moral obligation to send forces into combat only under conditions recognized as moral. Why? Because of what we know combat does to our countrymen and -women who participate in it even with the noblest of purposes and the free-est of wills.

I’m not just talking about the risk of being shot at. I’m not even talking about the risk of military service generally, which, even in peacetime, often involves your basic OSHA-nightmare scenario of moving lots of very heavy equipment very fast in less-than-ideal conditions.

I’m talking about the damage that taking part in combat does to human beings. Just more than a year ago, I blogged at work about this article in The New Yorker that talks about the damage we do to people whom we ask to kill, damage that may be far greater than that suffered by people who are themselves injured:

In 1947, in a slim volume entitled “Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War,” Marshall took the military by surprise. Throughout [World War II], he declared, only about fifteen per cent of American riflemen in combat had fired at the enemy. One lieutenant colonel complained to Marshall that four days after the desperate struggle on Omaha Beach he couldn’t get one man in twenty-five to voluntarily fire his rifle. “I walked up and down the line yelling, ‘God damn it! Start shooting!’ But it did little good.” These men weren’t cowards. They would hold their positions and willingly perform such tasks as delivering ammunition to machine guns. They simply couldn’t bring themselves to aim a rifle at another human being-even an armed foe-and pull the trigger. “Fear of killing, rather than fear of being killed, was the most common cause of battle failure in the individual,” Marshall wrote. “At the vital point, he becomes a conscientious objector.”

The Army took his findings at face value — and changed its training accordingly, author Dan Baum writes: In the Vietnam War, 90 percent of riflemen or more fired their weapons. But that was the last time American soldiers had to kill people up close in large numbers … until now:

In the current Iraq war, though, soldiers are killing with small arms on battlefields the length of a city block. Exactly how many Iraqis American forces have killed is not known — as General Tommy Franks said, “We don’t do body counts” — but everyone agrees that the numbers are substantial. Major Peter Kilner, a former West Point philosophy instructor who went to Iraq [in 2003] as part of a team writing the official history of the war, believes that most infantrymen there have “looked down the barrel and shot at people, and many have killed.” American firepower is overwhelming, Kilner said. He ran into a former student in Iraq who told him, “There’s just too much killing. They shoot, we return fire, and they’re all dead.” Even some of the most grievously wounded Iraq-war veterans seem more disturbed by the killing they did than they are by their own injuries. I spent a week in December ['03] among amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., and was struck by how easily they could tell the stories of the horrible things that had happened to them. They could talk about having their arms or legs blown off in vivid detail, and even joke about it, but, as soon as the subject changed to the killing they’d done, a pall would settle over them.

Kilner and a number of observers inside and outside the Army worry that the high rate of closeup killing in Iraq has the potential to traumatize a new generation of veterans. Worse, they say, the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs avoid thinking or talking about it.

But rest assured, those we send to fight are thinking about it:

An eight-year-old girl holding a four-month-old baby came to my position begging for food and water. The little baby was so hungry, she was trying to nurse off of the girl. What really happened is she pulled a gun on me and I had to shoot her and the little child. When I saw my nephew for the first time, he was sleeping and my sister said, ‘Hold him, I need to go to the restroom.’ With him just laying there motionless, I started crying and gave him to my aunt. She said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I walked outside. I didn’t hold my nephew for another two hours. It took so many people to try to calm me down. I thought I killed him. That’s what happens in my nightmares.

Former war correspondent Chris Hedges noted in his best-selling book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning”:

… within the universe of total war, equipped with weapons that can kill hundreds or thousands of people in seconds, soldiers only have time to reflect later. By then, these soldiers often have been discarded, left as broken men in a civilian society that does not understand them and does not want to understand them. …

The task of carrying out violence, of killing, leads to perversion. The seductiveness of violence, the fascination with the grotesque — the Bible calls it “the lust of the eye” — the godlike empowerment over other human lives and the drug of war combine, like the ecstasy of erotic love, to let our senses command our bodies. Killing unleashes within us dark undercurrents that see us desecrate and whip ourselves into greater orgies of destruction.

And it’s not just nightmares about killing to which we subject those who serve. In wartime, many soldiers with little or no training inevitably become responsible for the care, feeding and security of prisoners of war or, as in Iraq, civilian detainees of uncertain provenance. It has been common knowledge for at least three decades that absent rigorous training and close supervision, human beings almost invariably become sadistic and abusive when given the power of life and death over others. Joseph A. Dennison, a psychiatric social worker for more than 30 years at Veterans Admininistration hospitals (full disclosure: He’s also my next-door neighbor), writes in this essay about Abu Ghraib about the damage that that urge does in a military context:

I, as a psychotherapist/counselor, have come to appreciate that war has a way of twisting, disturbing and distorting a person’s soul, mind, heart and conscience. I can begin to understand how the integrity of a soldier’s nervous system, mental capacities and soul can be significantly depleted over time, especially when one is on foreign soil in war conditions where one’s next breath is not guaranteed.

When a soldier’s psyche is spent, when he or she doesn’t want to continue to be overseas in a foreign land where lives are in constant jeopardy, where there are frequent incoming and outgoing missiles, where soldiers are killed, maimed or dismembered, A SOLDIER’S MORAL, ETHICAL, SOCIAL AND PERSONAL CONSCIENCE AND JUDGMENT CAN BE SERIOUSLY COMPROMISED. (emphasis in original)

Guarding POWs or detainees, then, can be a potential set-up, not consciously designed but nonetheless disastrous because all the pieces for aberrant behavior are contained in the same place.

Put another way, almost anyone put in this position runs a significant risk of being morally compromised. This is particularly likely, Dennison writes, because the military’s command structure meshes with a deeply felt human need to obey:

Perhaps one of the most illustrative and well-known example of an experiment in obedience was conducted by Stanley Milgram in a university setting. The primary participants in his study were ordinary people who were instructed by an authority figure to administer increasing levels of electric shocks according to the program’s experimental design. Although the primary participants thought that they had the power to actually administer increasing amounts of voltage to their subjects for inaccurate responses, in reality, the test was constructed (unknown to the participants) so that no one was injured. The amazing result was that over 60 percent of the participants, as instructed, continued to administer shocks because of inaccurate subjects’ responses to the maximum 450 volts, considered to be a highly painful level. Participants were more likely to give the shocks when closely observed and encouraged by an authority figure. (More on Milgram’s experiment here — Lex)

I don’t know the context of George Orwell’s quote above. Myself, I am comfortable with the situation it describes, on this condition: When we ask “rough men” to kill on our behalf, we must do so only in full understanding of the almost inevitable damage our request will do to them as well as our enemies and any innocent bystanders. Accordingly, it seems only right, fair and moral that we ask people to kill only for the best and most urgent of reasons, particularly because, despite what many “they made their bed” types say, many, if not most, of our service people had no idea how likely they were to suffer significant psychological and moral damage even if they were discharged without a mark on their bodies, to say nothing of how inadequate our government’s response to this problem would be.

So in short, if you think anyone who enlisted in the military “knew what they were getting into,” you’re wrong.

So don’t you dare claim to be “supporting our troops.”

UPDATE: Greetings to everyone who surfed over here from Stinging Nettle, Just a Bump in the Beltway and the Daou Report. Y’all make yourselves comfortable. There’s beer in the cooler and snacks in the fridge. We like a good discussion here and all political philosophies are welcome, but please, no trolling and no feeding the trolls. If you get bored with the current discussion, there’s about 3 1/2 years’ worth of archives to keep you entertained. And y’all come back now, y’hear?

How should we feel about Cindy Sheehan?

Filed under: There but for the grace of God ... — Lex @ 3:16 pm

Jesse Kornbluth at Belief.net, who has spent a great deal of time with parents who have lost children, has an opinion (scroll down to “On Losing a Child: How Should We Feel About Cindy Sheehan?”):

If you have a shred of imagination and compassion, you realize that Mrs. Sheehan is in the middle of a trauma that will last all the days of her life, and you will be glad that you are going to sleep in the comfort of your own bed tonight instead of a motel room in Texas. Which is to say: You will cut her some slack. How much? All you have to give. Because she’s in the grip of emotions that are off the charts. She hurts more than — please God — you will ever know.Cindy Sheehan is a Compassion Test. Your willingness to support her in her grief — whatever your opinion of her politics — says volumes about your tolerance for people in pain who don’t remind you of yourself. Me, I think she can be strident. And, sometimes, wrong.

But, dammit, I admire her guts. …

When Jesus was crucified, Mary had a unique reason to grieve. So does Cindy Sheehan. So do all the mothers — on every side — who have lost children in this war. Give them respect. Stand aside. Lower your eyes. And if you have a tear left, for God’s sake and yours, shed it for these poor people who gave all and will get nothing back.

For better or worse, I see Cindy Sheehan as one citizen trying to ask the guy who ostensibly works for her the most important question anyone in America can ask anyone who works in government these days. It’s not only constitutional and legal, it is, in form at least, admirable. You don’t have to like her politics. (If you don’t, simply recall that Paula Jones took on Bill Clinton in much the same way.) Anything else that happens — the media feeding frenzy, the involvement of Michael Moore/MoveOn.org/invaders from Mars — is irrelevant to the merits of what she is trying to do.

And remember this: Even in a slow-news August, if anyone had had a good answer to her question, this story would have gone away quietly a long time ago.

Child exploitation is everyone’s problem

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:24 am

Minivan Mom rips the shiny lid off “JoJo’s Circus” and reveals the ugliness underneath. (Via aldahlia.net)

Friday fun (Monday edition): The real Vagina Monologues, or, It’s talking vagina vs. talking vagina in a cage match to the death!

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:09 am

Yes! A cage match (if, by “cage,” I mean “HTML table”) to the death! Go for the post, stay for the comments! The post is safe for work, I guess, as long as neither you nor your employer is concerned about the word “vagina” being repeated many times. Some of the comments, not so much, though.

Side issue: In case you’re wondering, the joy I will feel at the great increase in the number of visits to the blog that repetition of the word “vagina” will bring is more than offset by the dismay, and worse, that I will feel at the phrasing of some of the Google searches that bring them here. But I am a professional, ever defending Your Right To Know.

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real Vagina Monologues, or, It’s talking vagina vs. talking vagina in a cage match to the death!”
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