Month: January 2013

More Stupid Quotes!

“You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass

Admiral Yamamoto of the Imperial Japanese Navy

OR SO YOU THOUGHT.  I see this one all the time by pro-gun people trying to argue that our west coast wasn’t invaded by Japan during World War II because we have lots of citizens with guns.  I’m not great military mind, but I suspect this was the real reason:

Pacific_Ocean_-_en

At any rate, it’s bogus.  Which is sad, because I like the idea that humans back then were so small that they could hide behind blades of grass.

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Commercials

The Surface – Movement


I would like to predict the failure of the Surface by Microsoft.  I suspect it is a comparable product to the iPAD or other tablet PC’s but I know it is going to fail because as far as I can tell from the commercial the most interesting thing about it is that it has a keyboard and a flip out support that make a click sound when activated.  You can make music with this click.  You can do interesting dances choreographed around clicking a keyboard into place.  While you are figuring out ways to exaggerate the apparently two uniquely cool things about your Surface, caricatures from all walks of life will be figuring out equally useless ways to work the clicking sound into what had previously been a clickless, and mundane existence.

Understanding that computers are a ubiquitous part of our lives and that tablets and phones are so quickly dominating the market for computer sales, Microsoft seems to be casting as wide a net as possible simply through representation.  It is a ridiculous notion to attempt to capture every demographic in a single commercial but Microsoft tries.  This commercial does a great job of showcasing dancing, the lithe face of a hipster, a black family, old people kissing, more dancing, and random people playing musical Surfaces  (like musical chairs… get it?).  I don’t buy it when Steve Jobs tells me the iPAD is going to change my life, but at least he was talking about how his product is going to affect me.  The Surface ad fails because it is simply trying to project cool by association.
The art of making people feel a lack in their life so compelling that they want to fill it with your shit requires a succinct message with psychological impact.   The message Microsoft communicates here is that they don’t understand what cool is, that people can dance, and that there system clicks.

Halloween, Naked Frontman and a Cactus Costume

One of my better shows was Halloween of 2004.  I was living in Japan and was double booked for a Halloween show at Hoshizora Jett, Matsuyama’s one and only rock and roll bar.  It was all cover bands, with me singing in  a The Jam cover band (not a cover jam band, if that’s even possible) and playing bass in a rock band, Rocktopus and the Tentacles (shut up), that was doing a mix of songs.

 
I can’t remember what we called the The Jam band, but it was my friend Fuku, a drummer whose name and face I can’t remember and another guy whose name I also can’t remember, but who had a reputation as a good guitar player who hadn’t  played in anything recently.

For those of you who don’t play music, those of us who do, tend to be in bands more or less all the time, until we either age out or run out of people willing to play with us.  If a player is in their mid-twenties and hasn’t been in a band in a few years, they either have found a new hobby, they suck or there is something wrong with their personality.  Or they smell really bad.  I kicked a guy out for that once.

Anyway, this guitar player hadn’t been in a band in a while and I heard it was because he couldn’t handle his liquor.  This turned out to be the true.

I had made myself a cactus costume for Halloween that year, and it was awesome.  Best costume ever.  But imagine being on stage (or in this case, on floor) dressed as a fucking cactus, with a drunk guitar player unable to keep up, and trying to make it work.  It was not to be.

The second band was some space rock band that was abrasive and I don’t even think they played covers.

So Rocktopus and the Tentacles came on and played a solid set.  We were followed by the G Strikes, who did a damn good job as well.  By this time, there was toilet paper flying through the air and lots of drunken dancing.

The last band comes on.  The Ishitegawa Damned (there was a dam there called Ishitegawa Dam, and they were played Damned covers, get it?). Fronted by Mr Takashira.

Mr Takashira had started showing up at punk rock shows about a year prior and quickly made a name for himself as the naked dude.  The Ishitegawa Damned had barely got through their first song before shouts of “take it off” were being heard.  So he did.  And he put on a solid, fully nude performance, though I think everyone who played that night was glad they were the last act.  Because that’s a tough act to follow.  And he because he had put the microphone in his butt.

Thrift Shop

I’ve been thinking about this song a lot, probably because it’s on the radio ALL THE TIME right now.  There’s a lot to like about it.  The guys a tight rapper, the beat is catchy and it’s got a hook that sticks in my head for hours.  It’s cute song about the joys of thrift store shopping, and pretty much anyone my generation (X) or below can relate to this.  But the third verse kind of sticks out at me:

I hit the party and they stop in that motherfucker
They be like, “Oh, that Gucci – that’s hella tight.”
I’m like, “Yo – that’s fifty dollars for a T-shirt.”
Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant bitch (shit)
I call that getting swindled and pimped (shit)
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t
Peep game, come take a look through my telescope
Trying to get girls from a brand? Then you hella won’t
Then you hella won’t

He’s basically calling anyone who spends money on fancy clothes a dumbass.  I’m of two minds about this.  On the one hand, he’s insulting a good deal of the rappers that came before him.  And maybe he doesn’t care because he figures a ginger isn’t going to get asked to cameo on too many records anyways.  He may be hoping to carve out a career in Alternative Music- it worked out for white rap acts like Beck and the Beastie Boys.  The Beastie Boys were also outspoken critics of misogyny in rap, though it’s hard to tell what effect that had, because they were already well out of the mainstream of rap by that time.

There’s also the problem of saying “I call that getting tricked by business” – some rappers are the business.

It strikes me as the same thing as writing a punk song about how leather jackets are stupid and going to church is cool.  I mean, do it.  I’m sure someone has.

The other thought I have is that while sure, I think it’s stupid to spend $50 on a t-shirt, that’s because I grew up always having my material needs met.  I imagine that for a guy like Jay-Z it was a matter of make it big, or be stuck in a crack-infested ghetto forever.  Material wealth will always have greater symbolic meaning for people who grew up without any and I hate to get all college-ethnic studies-y, but there’s some white privilege in that last verse.

On the other hand- times change!  Jay Z is still releasing songs saying if you escaped what I escaped you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.   That was like 20 years ago, Hova.  At some point, maybe you could let it go.  I’ve never been to New York, but in 2013 our “inner city” is a where you go to buy luxury condos.  Rappers coming up today were babies when the worst of the crack epidemic hit.

So I don’t know.  I like the song.  It gave me a lot to think about.  I’m curious to see how the hip-hop community receives it.

Things That Suck About Being in a Band: Flakes

If you don’t like flakes, music is not the hobby for you.  I swear, teach a human how to play music and standard courtesies like notifying someone when you can’t make it just go out the window.  We had one guy who comes into practice and says “check it out, I got the marijuana card this week.”  OH GREAT.  The following week, he doesn’t show up at practice.  We practice without him, go down to the parking lot, and there he is, asleep in his car.

1861 continued

428px-General_Benjamin_Butler_Brady-Handy

So I finished Adam Goodheart’s 1861, which focuses on the year immediately preceding the Civil War.  I had a couple of thoughts on this book.

The book does a great job of avoiding the Great Man style of history, i.e. a man (or men) have a vision, and they make it happen.  There are actors in the book, but a strong theme running through the book is how little people knew what lay ahead for the nation.  Benjamin Butler (pictured above) who, while in command at Fort Monroe, refused to return fugitive slaves to Virginia, which had seceded only the day before.  Their owner, a Colonel Mallory of the Confederate army sent a representative to retrieve them, Major John Baytop Cary.  The exchange between the two is one of the highlights of the book:

“I am informed,” he said, “that three negroes belonging to Colonel Mallory have escaped within your lines.  I am colonel Mallory’s agent and have charge of his property.  What do you mean to do with those negroes?”

“I intend to hold them,” Butler said.

….

“I mean to take Virginia at her word, as declared in the ordinance of secession passed yesterday,” he said.  “I am under no constitutional obligations to a foreign country, which Virginia now claims to be.”

“But you say we cannot secede,” Cary retorted, “and so you cannot consistently detain the negroes.” 

“But you say you have seceded,” Butler said, “so you cannot consistently claim them.  I shall hold these negroes as contraband of war, since they are engaged in the construction of your battery and are claimed as your property.”

Ever the diligent scholar of jurisprudence, Butler had been reading up on his military law.  In time of war, he knew, a commander had a right to seize and hold any enemy property that was a being used for belligerent purpose.  The three fugitive slaves, before their escape, had been helping build a Confederate gun emplacement.

There was, he admitted to Cary, one loophole, “If Colonel Mallory will come into the fort and take the oath of allegiance to the United States, he shall have his negroes.”  The rebel officer was, to say the least, unlikely to do so.

I like Butler’s style here, but like others on the Northern side he didn’t really know the extent to which the war would change him.  Butler had been a racist southern sympathizer before taking up his post.  But he saw how so many of his soldiers had joined the Union Army with the intention of fighting slavery and knew he couldn’t just hand these slaves back.  In the absence of an official policy position from the White House (and no time to get a response), he made a decision.  After that, fugitive slaves started to flood into Fort Monroe, and Butler would become radicalized, eventually leaving the Democratic party and joining the Republicans.

The other point made in the second half of the book is that this was the last time in US history that citizen militias played anything approaching an important role in the war, and that’s because they made fools of themselves.  The Union had a tiny army at the beginning of the war, and most of it was off in the west, fighting with Native Americans.  Northern spirit was high in the beginning, and there was no shortage of volunteers.  But there was a shortage of uniforms and half of them apparently thought that baggy pants and feathered hats was the way to go.  I applaud their bravery, but they must have looked utterly ridiculous.  Not to mention the fact that they weren’t uniform, which resulted in a lot of friendly fire.  Anyway, next time someone says “the Founding Fathers didn’t want a standing army, they wanted citizen militias, that’s what me and my buddies are doing on our weekends” please tell them to stop, before they embarrass and/or kill themselves.

Authentic Japanese Food

Probably everyone says this at some point- I love that restaurant, it’s so authentic.  And I get it, eating food from another culture is an experience and no one wants to feel scammed.  But I’m tired of it.  It’s a rancid, moldy, shitty concept.

Part of it is from experience.  I’ve been served food in Japan, by Japanese people, that, if it had appeared in a restaurant in America, would be instantly discounted as fake.  Not every restaurant in Japan puts a ton of effort into presentation, and not every restaurant prepares the freshest and best tasting food.  That’s life.  Imagine trying to explain to someone in that Denny’s actually is Real American Food.  Yes, some of the food Japanese people eat does suck that badly.

But my main problem is just the idea that someone else gets to decide for me what’s real and what’s not.  For a while there was talk of sushi police, some sort of industry group that would travel the world giving demerits to places serving California Rolls.  I haven’t heard how this dumbass idea  turned out and I don’t care to.  I hope it failed miserably.

My wife is Japanese.  She likes California Rolls.  They’re a clever local innovation.  And it goes both ways.  As far as I was concerned, Mos Burger had some great takes on fast food burgers, that managed to be distinctly Japanese.  I wish they had one in California.  Should the hamburger be frozen in time, with the only acceptable variations being cheese and bacon?  Was adding the avocado to hamburgers a grave sin against all that is holy?  I know a restaurant in San Diego where the big baby Japanese owner took his sign down because too many people came in asking for California Rolls.

And finally, where do we get the idea that someone’s ability to cook is genetic?  I know it’s a running joke in southern California that most of our Japanese restaurants are run by Koreans, but uh, there are some “Koreans” who will live and die in Japan without ever being considered fully Japanese.  I’ll bet that if some Zainichi cooked you a Japanese meal, you’d be fooled.

I get it.  I do.  I like that my favorite ramen place in southern California has badly upholstered seats and old posters with backward letters (in the early 20th century the Japanese were trying to westernize and hadn’t figured that part out yet) but I recognize this for what it is- kitsch.  Sure, there are places that still look like that, just like in America there are old greasy spoons that have jackalopes hung on the walls.   It may be real, but the shits you get from eating there will be real too.  Feel the authenticity.