Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I'm not what you'd call a Taylor Swift fan. Not a hater, either. I've found a handful of her songs entertaining, but on the whole, I'm simply not her target demographic. That said, "Blank Space" has been locked in my head for the better part of the week. The narrative structure of the lyrics is fascinating. There's an elevated self-awareness that both embraces and defies the various public personae the media has crafted around her. And the video--holy geeze, the video turns all that up to 11. Swift has done a moderate amount of acting, but the range she shows here--all the while lip synching her lyrics--damn, but she sells it. Actually delivering lines plausibly differs significantly from performing in, essentially, a silent movie (with soundtrack) but I wouldn't be surprised if her acting career moves front and center in the next few years. Apart from that, I want to reiterate that this song's been stuck in my head for far too long, and now it can be stuck in yours, too. You're welcome.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... "Weird Al" Yankovic.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

On the spaying and neutering of puppies, sad, rabid and otherwise

The 2015 Hugo Awards have come and gone, resulting in a record five (5) categories where "No Award" was given in response to the Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy attempts to game the system and ensure the treasured rocket ship trophy went to those deemed appropriate by their particular clique. Log rolling's happened with the Hugo Awards before, as well as the Nebula Awards, but this is the first instance I am aware of where said efforts were fueled primarily by ideology as opposed to friendship and/or personal desire.

To put this in context, there have only been five total "No Awards" in the entire history of the Hugos up to this point. Here are the results (detailed breakdowns may be found here):

BEST NOVEL The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
BEST NOVELLA No award
BEST NOVELETTE “The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
BEST SHORT STORY No award
BEST RELATED WORK No award
BEST GRAPHIC STORY Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried,” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
BEST EDITOR SHORT FORM No award
BEST EDITOR LONG FORM No award
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST Julie Dillon
BEST SEMIPROZINE Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
BEST FANZINE Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
BEST FANCAST Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
BEST FAN WRITER Laura J. Mixon
BEST FAN ARTIST Elizabeth Leggett
By any measure, the Puppies' efforts have been a spectacular failure on their part, but they've been crowing loudly online that blocking otherwise worthy works from making the ballot, hijacking the awards and forcing no award in several categories if victory in their eyes. Essentially, they're gloating at others' misfortune. The whole mess is a blemish on the genre and just makes me sad more than anything else. There have been both Hugo and Nebula winners in the past that I did not agree with--heck, there have been some that incensed me (generally cases where a brilliant central concept or wish-fulfillment element pandered to the SF reader, masking excruciatingly clunky writing)--but never did it occur to me to organize a group to 1) ensure my genius prose was nominated and 2) ensure those other, lesser works rewere not nominated. Awards voting is driven in large part by tastes, and tastes change. Don't believe me? Check out the past winners of the Hugo Awards. Changes in readership tastes are reflected in the winners throughout the decades. If the Sad Puppies are upset by recent Hugo winners, I can only shudder at the thought of their outrage when the New Wave overtook SF in the 60s and started winning awards, or when Cyberpunk went nova in the 80s. Truly, I thought the Puppies' premise fatally flawed and their response misguided at best. I was acquainted with a few involved, but when I tried to broach the subject, it quickly became apparent there were very different worldviews at work. I'm not talking apples and oranges, I'm talking apples and polyester leisure suits. So rather than tilting at this particular windmill, I relegated myself to the sidelines, as I had little hope of changing any minds, not to mention the fact I had no works nominated nor was I voting on the awards this year. My biggest involvement came via reposting some of George R.R. Martin's clear-eyed analyses of the so-called "Puppygate" via my Facebook page. File770 also has an extensive round-up on Puppygate-related links, if that's a particular rabbit hole you choose to fall down.

Apparently, that was enough to earn membership in PC Parasites of the SFWA, an elite group of 20 writers defined as "Humanity replaced by PCness. Immoral, vicious, insane monsters feeding on society." I've never considered myself to be "Politically Correct," but then I don't go around intentionally being an asshole women and minorities or people with different ideas than my own to prove I'm not PC, so your mileage may vary. Maybe common courtesy and civility are passe now--I can never keep up with these things. In any event, fellow Parasites include George R.R. Martin, Jim C. Hines, Laura Resnick, Steven Brust, John Scalzi and Stephen Gould, among others. So the company I'm keeping is pretty damn impressive. Naturally, I'm going to add this to my official biography and resume. I'm just afraid someone will eventually realized I've allowed my SFWA membership to lapse and kick me out.

Alas, even though the Puppies lost in spectacular fashion, I doubt this means the end of Puppygate. The fact that they pooped in the punch bowl and gave unending amounts headache and heartache to many, many people is a badge of honor for them. They consider this heroic. Most rational observers consider it psychopathic. Even the authors only associated with the group on the fringes have shown a remarkable tone-deafness to the entire scope of the problem, refusing to see the forest for the trees (if I may badly mix metaphors). The bad blood and ill will engendered by this controversy will not dissipate any time soon, and I have to wonder about long-term consequences to careers and friendships.

I would hope that lessons have been learned, and that cooler heads will prevail in the future, but I fear the only lessons learned are bad ones and there's a big future in kerosene and matches.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

What's Jayme drinking?

Brother Thelonius Belgian style abbey ale
In observance of the most angrily contentious Hugo Awards in recent memory, if not history, I'm purposefully not watching the live stream so as to not completely lose my faith in humanity. Instead, I'm drinking a beer and sharing the experience with you. I've long had my eye on Brother Thelonius Belgian Style Abbey Ale from North Coast Brewing Company, and yesterday I pulled the trigger, picking up a bottle. There's something about uncorking a big, complex Belgian that builds the anticipation. The process of drinking one is more wine-like than polling open a brewski, and that ambiance tends to make Belgians more of a luxurious, indulgent experience. For me at any rate.

First off, the beer pours a rich, clear mahogany color. Very pretty. The head is creamy, sand-colored, and while it doesn't grow very high, it persists for quite a while (30 minutes as I type this). The scent is strong on malts, as expected, but also toffee, vanilla and a hint of chocolate. Mouthfeel is rich and well-rounded, with excellent body for this beer's 9.4 percent alcohol content. The flavor is upfront with molasses and coffee overtones. There's a mild bitterness toward the back (hops?) and dark, sour cherries. The aftertaste is almost citrusy. This is a very dense flavor profile, not broad or expansive. It's complex, but very compact, concentrated. My favorite Belgians have a flavor profile that's expansive, bigger than the bottle that contained them, as it were. This one's the opposite of that, concentrated. This doesn't make Brother Thelonius a bad brew, but it's not amongst my favorites. As with all big Belgians, the flavors are richer and more rewarding as it approaches room temperature.

Overall, it's a solid effort. Not bad, but not great. Definitely a middle of the pack example of the basic Belgian abbey ale. Would drink again without a problem, but probably wouldn't seek it out.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Beaches, Boats, Bars and Ballads
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Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Night Videos

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

In observance of "Weird Al" Yankovic's most excellent Mandatory Tour (which I review here) today I feature one of the best songs off his latest album, Mandatory Fun. Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" had a catchy R&B vibe going that I loved (which makes sense, since he lifted it from the great Marvin Gaye), but the misogynistic lyrics--not to mention video--made my skin crawl. To say that Weird Al became my savior with "Word Crimes" is a little overboard, but it's not coincidence he hit the top 40 with the parody. It's an incredibly clever grammar lesson, touching on many of my personal peeves. I rank it right up there with "Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me" as message music for our modern times.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Whitehorse.

Now Playing: Earth, Wind and Fire The Best of Earth, Wind and Fire vol. 1
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mandatory Fun

I became a "Weird Al" Yankovic fan in junior high--pretty much the same as every other Weird Al fan. "Eat It" had just come out, and the very concept of a song parody was novel to us--much less his scene-by-scene remake of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video. Classmates--and I'm talking the cool kids, not just the geeky types like me--were transcribing the lyrics from the radio and passing them around in class. Follow that up with "I Lost on Jeopardy" and I was hooked. I tracked down his debut album and did a killer record mime to "Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung" that even won me a trophy in speech and drama competition. Then came Dare to be Stupid and Polka Party and Even Worse. When I got to college I hit that stage where I thought I'd outgrown him, but then Yankovic unleashed "Smells Like Nirvana" I just about injured myself laughing so hard.

Which is a long way of saying it's inexplicable that I hadn't actually seen him in concert until last night in San Antonio's Majestic Theatre. We gave Bug tickets for his birthday back in the spring, as my son--an aspiring class clown--professes that Weird Al is his hero. He's 9 years old, which is pretty much a great age to get hooked on parody. Having been a fan for decades, I thought I knew what to expect. Boy, was I wrong. Weird Al is wildly entertaining in person. His videos and television and movie appearances are amusing, but don't convey his showmanship and sense of timing. The Wife, who likes some of his parodies but is hardly a fan, laughed nearly continuously from start to finish in spite of herself. A friend visiting from Australia (who had only passing familiarity with him) went along as we had an extra ticket, and afterward admitted she hadn't expected to enjoy herself but was, in the end, blown away.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

I'm not going into a exhaustive set list here, but there are some highlights I have to share. Yankovic started the concert over in the adjacent Empire Theatre, singing "Tacky" to an empty house. As we watched on the big screen, Weird Al proceeded to dance his way outside and romp down the street in an approximation of his "Tacky" video, getting hilarious double-takes and shouts of excitement from unsuspecting folks he passed on the street. Then he entered the Majestic and romped down the center aisle, and the packed house went nuts. He went into one of his patented polka medleys, "NOW That's What I Call Polka!" and while these are a silly staple on his albums, it reached an unexpected level of hilarity with the original artists' videos playing on the screen behind him.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

The point where it really and truly dawned on me how special this show was came during his performance of "Wanna B Ur Lovr." This isn't one of my favorites. Yes, I can see the amusing nature of the tone-deaf would-be Cassanova lines, but otherwise it does nothing for me. I normally skip over it when I'm listening to his Poodle Hat album. But live... holy cow! He wears a suit decked out in flames with a fedora, and proceeds to grind and slink his way into the audience with such narcissistic machismo that I actually started crying I was laughing so hard. Seriously, it was one of the higher points in a show filled with many high points.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

I want to point out here something that is normally overlooked by people--including myself--discussing Weird Al, and that is his attention to musicianship. His band has been together for decades, and they're tight. I mean, really tight. They were a well-oiled machine, and the ease with which they slipped between musical genres doesn't come through on studio albums, but was obvious live. It's not just a funny band, it's a good band, period. Nowhere is this more evident than during the acoustic set in the middle of the show, itself a parody of the old VH1 "Unplugged" series. They even open with Eric Clapton's infamous slow, bluesy version of "Layla," only Weird Al substitutes the lyrics to "Eat It." It shouldn't have worked, but it does. They continue with unpluggified versions of "I Lost on Jeopardy" and "Like a Surgeon" and it's kind of amazing how they make all these parody songs work even though they no longer sound musically at all like the songs they originally parodied. And then there's the legendary "Yoda" chant, a tiny, simplified fraction of which can be experienced here. Again, that doesn't do it justice. Even though the chant is composed in large part by fragments and snippets of other songs, choruses and onomatopoeia, the complexity and harmony and dissonance and unison delivery was a thing to behold--even if it was baffling and incomprehensible. I'm sure there are Weird Al superfans out there who've memorized it all, but the original composition and arrangement of such a Frankenstein's monster of an a capella piece takes a certain kind of insane genius I don't think the world has seen before outside of Frank Zappa. And I don't think Zappa himself ever pulled off something quite like this.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

The new songs stood up well to the classics. The video clips he ran between costume changes were funny and kept the show moving at a nice clip. Afterwards I realized there was almost none of the normal on-stage chit-chat you usually get with live concerts, but then again Weird Al's been doing this a long time. His show was tightly choreographed and had very little flab. He was there to entertain, and in that he succeeded.

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

weird al, yankovic, mandatory tour, mandatory fun, majestic theatre, san antonio, concert, lisa on location photography

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Amnesty International screws the pooch

I meant to write about this last week, but life got in the way. If you haven't already see it, the New York Times has a pretty good writeup that will bring you up to speed: "Amnesty International Votes for Policy Calling for Decriminalization of Prostitution":

The proposal split human rights activists. Amnesty chapters in Sweden and France pressed the group to support a so-called Swedish or Nordic model, now followed in several Scandinavian countries, that spares prostitutes from penalties but sanctions the buyers with heavy fines and prison terms. Lawmakers in France are pushing new legislation to punish buyers that most likely will be voted on in the fall.

After the vote, the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, a French organization, vowed that it would no longer work with Amnesty International. “Amnesty chooses impunity for pimps and johns and not protection from sexual abuse for all women,” the coalition’s executive director, Grégoire Théry, said.
I have to say that Amnesty International, despite the good it's done in the world and the noble causes it supports, has screwed the pooch on this call. I don't claim to be the world's foremost authority on prostitution but I have studied its history over the past couple of centuries more than the average person. The one thing that is clear across that great span of time is that men will exploit women given any opportunity to do so. By calling for the elimination of all anti-prostitution laws, Amnesty proposes giving a free pass to pimps the world over on the off chance that some women "may actually want to work with a pimp."

Look, pimps are scum of the Earth, using emotional manipulation and physical abuse to coerce women into the sex trade. No little girl grows up aspiring to be a prostitute. Most that willingly choose to enter into prostitution have few other options. I don't deny that. Hell, there are some women who actually enjoy the job, but these are in the minority.

Prostitution laws do need reform. All too often, hypocrisy in the system results in the woman bearing the brunt of the law. Don't believe me? Check out this and this. In all the great, high-profile prostitution scandals that have hit the U.S. media over the past 50 years--"Mayflower Madam" Deborah Palfrey, "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss and "Soccer Mom Madam" Anna Gristina--the women were the only people sent to jail, even though the prosecutors had ample evidence to prosecute and convict dozens, if not hundreds of their male customers. The contention is that the women "led men astray" or that "we need to protect their good reputation in the community." Newsflash: If a man is soliciting prostitution illegally, then he doesn't deserve that good reputation in the first place. The woman goes to jail, and the affluent males move on to the next Craigslist ad for illicit nookie. How is this making society safer?

I don't have all the answers. Regulation back at the dawn of the 20th century didn't work. Prohibition from the 1920s on hasn't worked. There are mixed verdicts on current legalization in Nevada, Australia and Europe. It is insane to jail women for accepting money for something that is perfectly legal for them to give away for free. In light of our species' perpetual dysfunction where sex is concerned, the so-called Swedish model--prostitution is not illegal, but soliciting prostitution or pimping is--seems the most reasonable compromise. Given enough time, women are going to migrate out of prostitution of their own accord for better opportunities. In lieu of that, decriminalization would be the next-best option, that is, reducing prostitution to a ticketable offense. Sending women to jail repeatedly with the full knowledge they'll be out on the street again as soon as they're released simply doesn't make sense.

There's a reason why prostitution is referred to as the "oldest profession." It's been with us as long as humans have had social interactions, and all the morality crusades mounted over the centuries have done little to eliminate it. It's never going to go away. The best we can do is enact policy that minimizes the negative impact it has on individuals. The Swedish model, at this point, seems the most promising course of action to accomplish this goal. Amnesty International's new position of eliminating all laws, while laudable in the abstract, is neither practical nor pragmatic considering the fact that human sex trafficking is still a major issues around the world. Likewise, that law of unintended consequences opens the door to all manner of ugly child prostitution issues.

Prostitution laws in the U.S. and the world over are in dire need of reform. But this proposal from Amnesty International does far, far more harm than any amount of good it could ever hope to accomplish.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, Bars, Beaches and Ballads
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Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Okay, I've kinda become obsessed of late with the Canadian husband-wife duo Whitehorse, and the song "Baby What's Wrong" off their latest album, Leave No Bridge Unburned, is a big reason why.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... David Gilmour.

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