Saturday, January 27, 2007

Size Matters

I have mixed feelings. As I sit here listening to old Yes music, I long for the days of album art, yet wish that we had today’s digital technology in the 1970s. I want my cake, and eat it, too. If you're under the age of 40, you may not know what I mean when I say "album art", but it was a beautiful thing that peaked in the 1970s and died with the Compact Disc.

Some of you may be too young to relate to my issue, so let me take you back to the days of vinyl, and some vivid memories that make me pine for the old days.

It’s the summer of 1972, I was 15 years old, and I’m in the garage of my cousin, who had a fancy stereo set up out there. Among his collection of LPs was Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick”, which is an epic work that ran from one side of the album through the other. Inside the album was a full-sized newspaper, with fictional stories made up from whole cloth, about nothing in particular over maybe 10 pages. Listen to the record and read.

Really don't mind if you sit this one out.
My words but a whisper - your deafness a shout.
I may make you feel, but I can't make you think.
Your sperm's in the gutter - your love's in the sink.

They don't write 'em like that anymore. The CD does not include the newspaper, and even if it did, it would be so small as to render it useless. We also listened to Emerson, Lake and Palmer's first album, and Thunderclap Newman's "Hollywood Dream". But I digress.

I was tuned in pretty well in those days, and I remember going to Franklin Music in the fall of 1972 to scoop up Yes’ newly-released “Close to the Edge”. The clerk, who wasn’t as tuned-in, had no clue. “Close to the what?”, he wondered. "There's a new Yes album?" I had to assure him that I knew whereof I spoke - Circus magazine wouldn't lie to me. He eventually found it, after rummaging through some boxes in a cabinet, fresh out of the truck.

Alice Cooper's 1972 classic "School's Out" album was wrapped in a pair of panties. That's right. The album cover was modeled after an old-time wooden school desk, and when you opened it, the tri-corner panties greeted you wrapped in plastic around the record.

Chicago albums were usually a treat, and 1972 was a big year for me music-wise. Their albums usually were giant packages full of stuff. Chicago 5 (the one with “Saturday in the Park”) came with a fold-out cover and included a poster of the whole band that was about 8 feet long when you folded it out. Try doing that with a CD case.

Led Zeppelin's "Physical Graffiti" played games with the sleeve. When you pulled it out, different images appeared in the windows. The Rolling Stones' "Sticky Fingers" LP had a zipper on the front. Grand Funk Railroad released "E Pluribus Funk" in 1971 in the shape and color of a huge coin. Stickers were attached that warned us to be careful opening the album, lest we cut the record. The stickers on CDs prevent you from opening it. That's progress. I could go on, but you get the picture - I hope. Suffice it to say that albums used to be artistic statements. Now, they are sometimes nothing more than a digital download that gets dumped on an mp3 player. Impersonal, I say.

OK, so I'm an old man living in the past (another Tull reference), but if you were around in those days, and remember breaking open the cellophane packaging, you'll know what I'm talking about. There were moments of great glee when we would realize that our next album purchase was a "double album" or contained a poster, lyric sheet or big photos of the band. Likewise, disappointment would follow when there was nothing but a white record sleeve and cardboard cover. A little artwork went a long way toward making that $5 purchase bring a huge return.

The downside to the old vinyl records was the apprehension that would follow breaking open the cellophane. Would it skip? Would the record be scratched? We had to handle them like Superman handles Kryptonite. Dust and dirt were the enemy, and imperfections would ruin the subtle nuances of King Crimson's "Lark's Tongues in Aspic".

The CD is so durable that you can leave them in your car in Phoenix in July, store them in plastic sleeves and generally abuse them and they still sound the same as they did when you brought them home. If my old Gentle Giant albums sounded that good in 1973, I probably would have avoided a childhood dust and dirt trauma that took years to recover from. How odd that the music of the day was so intricate as to lend itself to the digital technology that would not exist for another 15 years. The music industry made a fortune off of people like me who rushed out to replace our old Renaissance and Nektar albums on Compact Disc, so that we could re-live the joyous music of our youth without the fear of dust and grime.

But what is missing today is the great album art of the old days. Artists like Roger Dean, whose work adorned the LPs of Yes, Uriah Heep and others is lost in the 5" x 5" format of the Compact Disc. Albums, you see, were a foot square, and when they were folded out, they presented a wide-screen viewpoint of a concept that the artist and band had worked together to present to their audience. It was a symbiotic relationship that ceased to exist when music went digital.

The disappointment came when we replaced those old records, and the album art was reduced to the comparative postage stamp. The music sounded better, but the look was lost. If it were up to me, CDs would have been packaged in 12" x 12" sleeves with the artwork intact, leaving the disc as the only thing "compact".

Then, old folks like me could re-live the wonderment of seeing Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" as we did in 1965, when semi-naked women on album covers were an oddity, and even if we didn't like the music, we bought the album because we wanted to stare at it for a while.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Stupid Squirrels

It's gonna be hard to follow yesterday's nonsense, but anyway ... thanks for all your kind words. It's fun, really!
Meanwhile, Googling blogs has been made easier. I don't know who the guy is at the right of that screen, but I swear, we're not related. He has no hoodie. Loser.
It's so nice to see the progress we're making in Iraq...
For all of you who wish you lived in New Jersey (with me), be aware of the huge problem with the squirrels...

TRENTON, N.J. - New Jersey has warned squirrel hunters near a toxic waste dump about consuming the critters because they could be contaminated with lead. The state Department of Environmental Protection has sent out letters advising that adults eat squirrel no more than twice a week and even less for children and pregnant women.

Boy, those lucky kids! So, let's get this straight. Hunters are shooting squirrels (weird) near a waste dump (an odd choice for hunting, let alone squirrels) and then, eating them? The state Environmental Agency has sent out letters advising people not to eat squirrel more than twice a week? That's more than twice a week more than I would eat squirrel.

And now, animal porn...

Berlin zoo employee Thomas Doerflein plays with polar bear cub, Knut in this undated picture, released on January 24, 2007. Knut was born on December 5, 2006.

That's right, Knut. C'mon, admit it ... you had to look twice to make sure.

Hey, I don't name these animals.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Low Standards in High Definition

It's Day 4 of the 14 days of Super Bowl. Did you know there are two black head coaches in the game? It sounds like a song, but it's more like a tiny little torture device cooked up by people who know a lot about torture - Televsion executives. Two weeks gives them enough time to examine and re-examine every silly little detail of all the Super Bowl participants and their kids. It's ridiculous to the point that Campbell's soup spokesman Donovan McNabb will be holding a press conference, presumably to talk about soup.
One of the ancillary effects of America's greatest secular holiday is that it spurs sales of wide-screen high-definition televisions. Apparently, people want to see Prince in high definition. As for me, I'd prefer to see him with the sound off, being blind-sided by Tank Johnson - but I digress.
It seems that those high-definition TVs are pretty good for sports, but lousy for porn. That's right, I said porn. A story in our local paper today clued me into a major problem with the TVs:
Adult film producers have discovered that the technology is sometimes not so sexy. The high-definition format is accentuating imperfections in the actors — from a little extra cellulite on a leg to wrinkles around the eyes. Hollywood is dealing with similar problems, but they are more pronounced for pornographers, who rely on close-ups and who, because of their quick adoption of the new format, are facing the issue more immediately than mainstream-entertainment companies.
Producers are taking steps to hide the imperfections. Some shots are lit differently than they would have been before high-def, and some actors simply are not shot at certain angles, or are getting cosmetic surgery, or seeking expert grooming.
Expert grooming? Wow, another career path for people who are too stupid to be proctologists. I can't wait to see high-def pubic hair. And all I need to do is shell out three-grand? Sign me up, dick pump.
"The biggest problem is razor burn," said Stormy Daniels, an actress, writer and director.
That's right, Stormy Daniels. Probably left the Weather Channel for a lucrative career in porn. It's razor burn, just in case you were wondering. I'm sure it was the next question you were thinking of. You probably thought the biggest problem would be genital warts or some kind of vaginal fungus. That's what I would have thought. But, you know, we men (us) can't resist the latest technology, even if it means sacrificing the joys of porn.
"Men are all about outdoing each other, being up with the times, being cool, having the latest technology," she said. "They're willing to sacrifice our vanity and imperfections to beat each other" to high-definition.
Make up your own joke over that one. I'm still reeling from that State of the Union deal.
But, you know, porn isn't the only thing that might not look that great in high-def:
AMSTERDAM (Reuters Life!) - The Netherlands, the country that has pioneered reality shows like "Big Brother," is planning a new first - a dating program for the visibly disfigured. The broadcaster SBS 6 is seeking candidates for its "Love at Second Sight" show due to be launched on February 20.
"Do you have a visible serious handicap and are you looking for a partner?" says an appeal on its Web site.
Do I ever! Hoo-boy, when are the auditions? Suddenly, I'm looking pretty hot over there in Amsterdam. The show was originally set to be called "Monster Love", but that offended the Dutch. It's nice to know that they have their standards.
I might have wanted to call it "Fucked-Up and Horny" or "The Amazing Face"
Or ... "The Prize is Fright"
How about "Below-Average Joe"?
"Wheel of Misfortune"
"Dancing with the Scars"
"Fear Factor" oh ... that's taken.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Something to Lighten the Mood

Comics. Everybody loves the comics. Light, funny and something to take your mind off the stress of the everyday world ... or a cheap excuse for a post when my mind is a blank? You decide.

OK, so as I write this, the Shrub is in Washington working on his pronounciation for his big speech. "Nuc ... Neuc ... Nuck... Newcl ..." Atomic. Fucking vowels.

He's ready to inform us as to the State of the Union. As if we didn't already know. Another year of this nitwit, then we're done. The speech should be on the Cartoon Network.
So ... who's next?

That seems to be the "popular" opinion, although I'm not so sure she would be the wrong choice. She lived in the White House for 8 years, so you can't argue the "no experience" deal. She's bright, well-spoken and out of the rest of the field, she's clearly the standout. However, having said all that, I don't think the country is ready for (a) Bill's wife in the White House or (b) a woman president.
Although, something tells me that there are plenty of countries around the world who look at us and wonder why we have such odd ideas about who our president can and should be. It would be nice to be able to lay the job on the most qualified individual, but in the age of TV, Internet and form over substance, it will probably never happen.

More on that, later, but as for now, I'm kinda going with Hillary. As for these two...

Models display a creation by Colombia's fashion designer Renzo Gaviria during the Colombiatex show in Medellin, Colombia, Monday, Jan. 22, 2007.
Really - that's what the caption said. I'm at a loss. Anyone care to guess what the "creation" is?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Odds and Ends (mostly odds)

Switzerland's Martina Hingis in action during her fourth round win over China's Li Na at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Monday, Jan. 22, 2007. Hingis won in three sets 4-6 6-3 6-0.

I could enjoy women's tennis a lot more if it weren't for all the grunting and screaming. I thought Maria Sharapova was giving birth on the court until I looked and saw that all she was doing was hitting a tennis ball. Geez. I wish I could find it, but I remember reading a magazine article that said it was a bad idea to yell and scream while lifting weights. Something about the pressure it puts on some delicate body parts...I forget exactly. Tennis coaches must be teaching it at an early age, because it's pervasive and unbearable. If the golfers start with it, I won't have any peace.

OK, so it's a week and six days from America's greatest secular holiday (a.k.a. Super Bowl Sunday), and already I'm up to here (pointing at my throat) with the "two black head coaches" stories. As I said before, it shouldn't be a story if we really want to have racial equality, but I suppose we do not, hence the constant harping on racial differences and milestones - Super Bowl notwithstanding.

Because of failed batteries, poor lighting and other vagaries, all the clocks in my place are displaying a different time. As I move from room to room, I feel like I'm in an H.G. Wells novel. I have to keep my eye on at least one clock so I don't miss my favorite Monday night comedies. I need to laugh, you see. Dubya is going to recite his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, and I fear for my life, sanity and other fragile bodily functions. I'm ready for Old Broad's Blogger Drinking Game. Stop by and imbibe.

Paris Hilton is proving why it's better to be rich than (anything) smart. You may remember that she was pulled over for Driving Under the Influence some time ago. Well, it seems as though our girl has plea bargained down from D.U.I. to reckless driving, which requires a modest fine and some community service (the Poor Community she's designated to serve - God help them). There's a lie in her story as big as a Chi Chi's margarita when she said she only "
consumed only a single margarita at a charity event that evening." Her blood alcohol level was .08, which would make for one Hell of a margarita. Oh, to be rich and stupid. Maybe in the next life.

And ladies ... I implore you...
PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. - Nine months pregnant and married to a fervent Bears fan with tickets to Sunday's NFC Championship game, Colleen Pavelka didn't want to risk going into labor during the game against the New Orleans Saints. Due to give birth on Monday, Pavelka's doctor told her Friday she could induce labor early. She opted for the Friday delivery. "I thought, how could (Mark) miss this one opportunity that he might never have again in his life?" said Pavelka, 28, from the southwestern Chicago suburb of Homer Glen.

Yeah, geez ... a once-in-a-lifetime football game vs. what....the birth of your child? The nerve of that kid getting in the way of your football game, Mark. I hope, for the kid's sake, that it's a once in a lifetime event for his parents. And how about that doctor? Hey, what's a little induced labor when there's a football game to watch?

Smoking or Non-Smoking?

I don’t smoke, and I don’t hang around with people who do, but I have to imagine that it’s difficult to be a smoker. Not just the breathing part, which has to be difficult, too, but the social part as well. There is a stigma attached to smoking, and it gets worse every day.
It’s a strange thing, the smoking. No nutritional value, no physical benefits of any kind to themselves or the people around them and no societal use – yet it continues.
Last summer, our legislators in New Jersey finally got around to passing anti-smoking laws, which ban smoking in public, except on casino floors, where, as we know, smoke isn’t harmful. Slowly, other places are joining us. Last week, a milestone was reached when more than half the states had passed similar laws. In parts of Ohio, you can't even smoke outdoors. Come out smokers, we’ve got you surrounded!
It’s cold here in the Garden State. Cold enough that the smokers have to put on their winter gear. Most of them are bitter about having to go outdoors to do something that, up until six months ago, they could do indoors, but for those of us who like going home without the stench of Marlboro, we say “thanks”. At the bar, they miss big chunks of games and their drinks get warm and their food gets cold, but they don’t stop puffing. If it were me, I’d have to think that anything that is so reviled by society that they would chase me outside to do it must be a horrible thing. It might even be enough to get me to quit, but if I was addicted (as the smokers are) then I suppose it’s easier said than done. But the smokers don’t seem to be affected enough by being social outcasts that they consider stopping. Huddling them up outside only serves to give them a united voice, as they shiver and smoke. Maybe the menthol keeps them warm?
Now, New Jersey lawmakers want to ban smoking in cars that are occupied by children. Their little lungs are more susceptible to the smoke than their parents’. How they would go about enforcing that is anyone’s guess, but it would be yet another place where smokers are chastised. Pretty soon, I suppose they’ll have to rope-off a section of their home as a “Smoking Area” and start watching out for the black helicopters.
I feel sympathy for them, in a “Let Freedom Ring” kind of way. I don’t really want to inhale the smoke or have my clothes infested, but they are addicted, and to banish them to the back alley and separate them from the public won’t accomplish what most of us want, which is to get them to quit.
They can’t quit, because the government allows an addictive substance to be sold to people. They are addicted to the cigarettes, and their addiction is easily satisfied because the product is available. They justify it by making laws banning its use in certain areas and not allowing its sale to minors, but it is easy to get. If they had to sit in a Denny’s parking lot waiting for their friend to score them a carton while they craned their neck looking for cops, they might give it up. But something tells me that they still might do it, even though they faced being a horribly addicted loser with yellow teeth and jittery hands from nicotine withdrawal. We have already forced them out of our restaurants, bars and offices; so what’s one more public humiliation to people who are already pariahs? They’d be out there with the pot smokers and glue sniffers, looking to score.
So where are we? We have a product that is so hideous that we make laws restricting its use, because it kills everything in its path. We tax it to the point where the tax is as big a part of the price as the product. For another couple of bucks they could be smoking dope. For a variety of reasons, we can’t make it illegal, so we do what we always do – we make new laws, and turn otherwise regular people into criminals. In the last 25 years, smoking has gone from being “kinda cool” to social anathema.
We’re going about this the wrong way, folks. Don’t turn people into criminals. We have enough laws. Corporate America and our federal government collaborated to make cigarettes what they are today. You convinced them it was cool (and even named a product after it); sold them the product and now you spend most of your time chasing them around. It doesn’t make sense. The government gets into bed with tobacco and then makes laws against it.
Make up your mind.