Monday, August 31, 2009

'80s Monday: The Cult

The Cult was (or still is -- they've broken up and reformed several times) another English band. They started out as post-punk, maybe a little Goth, with a lot of their lyrics focusing on ideas of Native American and Australian Aboriginal spirituality. They had top-20 success in the UK and, after reworking their sound in more of a heavy metal direction (with guitar that sounds a lot like AC/DC), in the US too. They were one of the few metal-ish bands I listened to in the '80s. Here's two songs with their earlier sound, "She Sells Sanctuary" and Rain," and two with their later sound, "Love Removal Machine" (which reached no. 15 on the US rock charts) and "Firewoman."

"She Sells Sanctuary" (live, 1985)

"Rain" (1985, sorry, no embedding)

"Love Removal Machine" (1987)

"Fire Woman" (1989, live vocals)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things I learned from my urinary tract infection

Things I've learned from my urinary tract infection:

1. Nobody (well, hardly anybody) likes to bleed, but there are certain parts of your body that you really don't want to see blood coming out of.

2. One of the most frightening sentences in the English language is, "My penis sure hurts when I urinate."

3. It's fun to take medicine that turns your pee bright orange.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Star Trek made me cry

I finally got around to seeing Star Trek. Much as I'd wanted to, I was too busy to see it when it came out, and after a couple of weeks any sense of urgency faded away, so I decided I'd just wait until it was in the dollar theater. That took a little longer than I expected, but I finally went to see it today.

And it made me cry.

Not because it was so sad or so elevating or anything -- it wasn't, it was just a good, enjoyable movie -- but because it made me miss my mother so much. See, Mom was a Trekker. She never went to a con or anything, but she loved Star Trek from the time the original series first aired. We used to watch it together. I was just a little kid, but I loved it too.

My favorite episode when I was a kid was the one where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn -- the big lizard dude. I have to admit it looks pretty cheesy now, but when I was four years old, that was about the most exciting thing I'd ever seen. I don't actually remember her doing it, but Mom loved to tell how she'd imitated the Gorn's voice right after the show and I'd thought it was so cool.

Later, Mom bought most of the episodes on VHS. She had this big drawer full of 50 or 60 videos. She used to buy all the novels when they came out and then pass them along to me when she was done. She must have gotten at least 20 of them before we finally got tired of them. And we went to the first four movies together.

So the whole time I was watching the movie, I kept thinking how much Mom would've enjoyed it. She would have trashed the whole thing, but she would have loved it. It would have been like when The Next Generation was on. Every time, she'd say, "Oh, it's just not as good as the original," but then she'd watch every episode.

And I knew exactly what Mom would have said when she watched this one. She'd have said how old Nimoy is. Then she would have added "Just like me." She'd have said that Pine and Sylar are nowhere near as good as Shatner and Nimoy were, especially Sylar. She'd have said he's not as good an actor, nor as good-looking as the young Nimoy.

Mom would've preferred most of the rest of the old cast too. She'd have liked George Takei over Harold, old Chekov over new Chekov (much cuter and more vulnerable, she'd have said), and old Scottie over Shaun of the Dead. She might not have minded the new McCoy. She never much liked DeForest Kelley. She always said he looked like he drinks too much.

And Mom would have been very annoyed at Spock and Uhura making out all the time. (But I think we can all agree on that. Making out is Kirk's job, not Spock's.) But deep down inside, she would have loved the movie.

So the whole time I was watching it, I kept thinking things like that. Mom would've liked this part. Mom would've said this. Mom would've said that. I wish I could watch it with her. But I can't. She's gone. I can never watch Star Trek with her again. This is so much a part of who I am -- someone who loves things like Star Trek -- and she gave me that. It's a gift that she gave me. But I can't share it with her anymore.

And every time I'd think something like that, I'd start to lose it. I came close to breaking down so many times. But I didn't want to start sobbing in the middle of a theater. It would have been too weird, completely inappropriate -- it was Star Trek, not Schindler's List, for goshsakes. So I sucked it up and forced myself to concentrate on the movie, and I got through it.

I almost lost it in my car in the parking lot, but it was about 100 degrees out, so I figured if I let go now I'll probably die of heatstroke or something before I'm done crying. So I just wiped my eyes and drove.

And since I've been home, I've been busy. Going shopping, cooking dinner, reading, doing this and that. I've kept it together. Until now.

God, I miss her.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Five more annoying freeway drivers

A couple more 1800-mile round trips to and from Mom's house uncovered these other annoying freeway drivers (in the tradition of The Top 10 Most Annoying Freeway Drivers).

5. The Driver with Cruise Control Set 1 Mile per Hour Slower than You
Technically, these drivers aren't doing anything "wrong" per se, but when traffic is fairly heavy, they're extremely annoying. They're going slower than you want to, but because they're passing slower cars, they have a right to be in the fast lane. And they're going just a little too fast for you to comfortably pass. It's easy to get caught behind one of these drivers for miles. I got stuck behind one of them for half an hour on my last trip.

4. The Guy Who Leaves His Car by the Gas Pump and Goes Shopping
I guess technically this one isn't a "freeway driver" when this occurs, but it happens at freeway gas stations, so I'm counting it. At crowded gas stations, with cars lined up to get to the pumps, a normal person -- anyone who's ever thought of anyone but himself -- takes in the situation and thinks, "I'll get my gas and get out of the way before I go inside the store." But not this guy. (It's usually a guy.) He just leaves his car at the pump while he goes inside to use the facilities (20-to-1 he doesn't wash his hands afterward) and get his hot dog and a Big Gulp. Then he strolls out 10 minutes later and pumps his gas and leaves, never noticing that he's made the congestion about 10 times worse.

3. The Slower Down to Pass
This wanker driver moves along pretty fast. So fast, in fact, that I often change lanes to get out of their way. (I'm no Fast Lane Stayer -- except, that is, when the car that wants to pass me is a Beemer or a Benz. Then I stay where I am as my own little contribution to class warfare in America. But I digress.) But the weird thing is, these drivers slow way down whenever they pass someone. It's like they have to take a good long look at every driver they pass. So when you're behind one of them, you have to tap the brakes and disengage the cruise control every single time they pass somebody. And that gets annoying after the first FIVE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY TIMES!

2. The Slow Darter from in Front of a Truck
You may remember the Slow Darter around Trucks from last time. This one is a little different, and quite rare -- I've only seen one once, but she was both annoying and dangerous. She was driving along in the right lane at about 55 in a 70 zone, with a truck tailgating her. She neither sped up, nor stuck it out until the truck passed her. Instead, she "darted" into the fast lane (still going 55) and let the truck pass her on the right while I got to find out exactly how quickly the brakes on a Hyundai Sonata can slow it from 80 to 55.

1. The California Highway Patrol at the End of the Month when They're Trying to Meet Their Citation Quotas
They just won't leave a man be to drive in peace.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Songs about Jane

I was listening to some of my 11,261 MP3s (is that a lot?) the other day when I noticed something kind of odd: I have a lot of songs about women named Jane. There's "Jane" by Barenaked Ladies, "Jane Jones" by the Clash, "Jane Says" by Jane's Addiction (which is a band named after the heroin addiction of a woman named Jane), "Jessi Jane" by the Whipsaws, "Lady Jane" by the Rolling Stones, "Lazy Line Painter Jane" by Belle and Sebastian, "Mary Jane" by Alanis Morrisette, a different "Mary Jane" by the Vines, "Queen Jane Approximately" by Bob Dylan, an entire album called "Songs about Jane" by Maroon 5, and the pinnacle, "Sweet Jane" by Lou Reed (as well as covers by Mott the Hoople and, pinnacle of pinnacles, Cowboy Junkies).

What I find odd about this is, Jane is not a common name. In fact, I can only recall knowing three Janes in my entire life. One is a good friend I knew in San Diego, who I lost touch with and then not too long ago got reacquainted with through the magic of Facebook after about 20 years. Another was a girl I knew in college (although she spelled it "Jayne"). She was a very pretty Japanese-American girl. I never dated her or anything, we didn't even hang out, but we were in some classes together and talked sometimes. She was very nice, not stuck-up at all, even though she certainly had a right to be, considering how good-looking she was.

The third Jane was my old babysitter. By "old," I mean "former." She was actually only about five years older than me. Young enough, in fact, that she and my big sister used to gang up and pick on me. I didn't like her very much. I don't remember exactly when she stopped babysitting us, but when I was 11, we moved across the county, so we didn't see her again for years. I didn't miss her.

When I was 18 or 19, though, Jane and her mom came for a visit. (Her mom was friends with my mom, which was how she'd ended up babysitting us.) And something weird happened: my ex-babysitter thought I was hot. Seriously. I mean, I miss a lot of social signals, and I missed even more back then, but it was obvious even to me: my ex-babysitter was very attracted to me.

Jane was obviously kind of weirded out about it, because it was so unexpected. Nobody who saw me when I was 10 (or even 16, for that matter) would have predicted how good I would look when I was 19 (any more than somebody seeing me today would expect me to have looked so good back then). Suddenly this little kid she used to babysit (and pick on) wasn't just grown up, he was grown up and hawt. Her little mind was boggled.

Well, I was a little weirded out too. Jane was my ex-babysitter, after all. But we weren't that far apart anymore. We weren't "little kid and teenager," we were almost peers now. And she wasn't bad looking. Her face wasn't beautiful, but she certainly wasn't ugly. And she was height-weight proportional, as the shallow people say in their personal ads. So I didn't just look at her and think, "No way." I thought, "Hmm..."

Mostly, though, I was amused. Intensely amused. I thought the situation was hilarious. I was also determined to milk it to its full comic potential. So the question for me became, which outcome would be more amusing: nail my ex-babysitter or let my ex-babysitter want me but not give her any?

Did I want to sleep with Jane? Well, Like I said, she was good-enough looking. Then again, I really hadn't liked her at all when she babysat me. She'd been kind of mean to me. Some guys, I know, would have nailed her just out of revenge. But sex has never been about domination for me. For me it's about give and take, so I've never much wanted to sleep with someone I didn't like at least a little bit. On the other hand, she seemed a lot nicer now. She was no longer a mean teenager, anymore than I was a bratty 10-year-old. So I actually did like her OK this time.

But sleeping with my ex-babysitter, it seemed to me, would be kind of commonplace. It was like something you'd see in a movie -- just a little too cliché. I thought "Take a good look, 'cause you're not getting any" would be a lot more original. And I was all about originality. So I didn't give her any, even though we both knew she wanted it. And that kept me laughing for weeks afterward. (Of course, if she'd been a little better looking, or if she'd been more aggressive, I'd have given her what she wanted, and originality be damned. I'm only willing to sacrifice so much for the sake of my art.)

Oh, and talk about being weirded out, while they were visiting us, I caught Jane's mom checking me out a couple of times too. That seriously weirded me out. But I actually found the idea kind of interesting. I've always been attracted to the exotic, and when you're 19, what could be more exotic than your ex-babysitter's 42-year-old mom? But her being a friend of my mom's made the whole thing just a little too freaky for me, so it was a non-starter.

So that's my Jane story. Here's four songs about Jane.

"Lady Jane" the Rolling Stones

"Sweet Jane" Lou Reed

"Jane Says" Jane's Addiction

"Sweet Jane" Cowboy Junkies

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Left moderate social libertarian non-interventionist cultural liberal

That's me, according to this quiz. On a scale of 1 to 10, I scored:

Economic issues: +7.06 left
Social issues: +3.06 libertarian
Foreign policy: +5.48 non-interventionalist
Cultural identification: +6.59 liberal

And that's probably about right -- at least, I'm definitely more left than right economically, socially more libertarian than authoritarian, internationally more non-interventionist than interventionist, and culturally more liberal than conservative. It's quite good compared to most internet quizzes.

The interesting thing to me is how much I've changed over the past eight years. In 2001, I probably would have been in the same quadrant, but I would have been tucked way up in the corner, close to the center point.

My libertarianism score probably changed the least. I've long believed in encouraging socially beneficial behavior, but otherwise leaving people alone. I suppose my cultural identification shifted to the left because I stopped believing in my religion and started thinking for myself a little more. (That's not a statement on other believers, just on me.)

I used to believe more in markets and deregulation, but under the Bush Administration, that turned out to be a colossal FAIL in the financial sector. Not to mention Enron, and the individual health insurance market, and on and on. (Of course, the Clinton Administration also helped many of these cases along, and they merely came to a head under Bush.) I used to be open to interventionism (in fact, I might even have gotten a slightly positive "interventionist" score eight years ago) but since then we've had two wars that also turned out to be colossal FAILS.

So I've changed over the past eight years. Yet I know many who haven't, and even some who've become more conservative. It's a curiosity to me that people could see the same things happen over the last eight years in America, namely, the utter failure of conservative policy after conservative policy, and yet remain completely unmoved in their conservatism. Of course, 15 or 20 years ago, I saw the same thing happen among hard-core Marxists after the Soviet Union collapsed. They'd say things like, "That wasn't real Marxism. Real Marxism hasn't failed." Sure. OK. You go right on telling yourself that.

What I try to do is to remember that everything I believe should be conditional. If I believe something, I want to believe it only pending better information. If I get better information that contradicts a belief, I want to stop believing that belief, even if believing is easier. Of course, that's easier said than done, but for me it is at least an ideal.

But I find a lot of people dislike that idea. They believe that clinging hard to an ideology, say, or a religion, despite the evidence, is a virtue. They describe this in terms such as "loyalty" or "faithfulness" to their ideals or beliefs. Those who change their beliefs in the face of evidence they consider "easily shaken" or political "flip-floppers." (And, of course, politicians in particular are indeed probably more prone to engage in rank pandering to whatever groups they think will get them enough votes rather than to actual rethinking of positions.)

I just can't see the virtue in that. Loyalty to people, despite their faults, you bet. I believe in that. (Although I also notice that many people seem rather blind to their friends' and families' faults.) But loyalty to ideas and organizations in the face of contrary evidence? What is the point of that? I don't understand it.

What's (been) goin' on

If you're one of my tiny number of regular readers (whom I deeply, deeply appreciate), you've surely noticed that I've hardly posted for the past couple of months. There are several reasons for this.

Work has been really busy lately. This is wholly a good thing. With the economy the way it's been, things were brutal during the first six months of the year. As an independent contractor, I have no safety net. When the economy's bad, I don't get "laid off," I just don't get work. My income was down about 40 percent from what it was last year (and it wasn't high to begin with). So this sudden busyness (I billed over $7,000 in July -- w00t!) was a blessing. But it left little time or energy for blogging.

And of course, my Mom died in June. As far as blogging goes, this was both depressing and time-consuming. The depressing part is obvious -- I didn't feel much like writing for a while -- but it also meant taking a week off during this busy work period, and having to catch up with several 16 - 20 hour workdays. And afterward, I was just too tired to blog for a while.

Oh, and then I had the swine flu. Yeah, the actual "novel H1N1" virus itself. (I guess I'll post some more about this separately, 'cause I'm guessing people will be curious about it.) It wasn't actually that terrible -- I was only real sick for about three days -- but it also came in the middle of a full work schedule, so I couldn't rest properly and I even had to pull an all-nighter to meet one deadline.

And now my family is spending the rest of the summer in Japan, and I'm here at home alone. So I have lots more time, but it's frakking depressing. Some days, it's all I can do to drag my self out of bed and sit in front of the computer. Just reading is a chore sometimes, much less writing,

But I love to blog. I need to blog. I need your comments. Even just seeing your ISPs when I check my hit counter makes me feel a little better. So I'm going to try to blog a little more, I hope.

Well, this has been a self-in-frakking-dulgent post. Sorry. I just needed to let this out a little.