Saturday, December 31, 2005

Lucky, Conclusion (?): The Ancient Wisdom of the Orient

(Listening to: Windows Media Player on random. My "4- and 5-star tracks" playlist is 77 hours long. Yeah.)

So when we last left off, I was pondering the existence of good and bad luck -- wondering whether they actually existed, or if perhaps it was merely a matter of perspective, a question of where and when you stopped looking at the pattern.

Check out today's events. You tell me what you see.

I woke up at around noon. I thought about getting up and doing, ya know, stuff, but I was feeling lazy. (Big surprise there, I'm sure.) Instead, I stayed in my room and read (Al Franken's The Truth (with jokes), which is absolutely fantastic). I tried to write a little. That went nowhere.

A friend of mine arrived at around 2:00. (I'd say his name, but he's actually asked me not to in the past. I have no idea why, and it's entirely possible he doesn't care anymore, but I will honor his wishes as I last remember them. But I have to call him something, so instead of writing his name, I'll call him...Trebor. Yeah, that's sufficiently vague.) Anyway, Trebor demanded -- in that way Trebor has -- that we go to lunch. Since Szechuan Garden is right next door (close enough for me to open the door to check my spelling), we opted to walk there for Chinese.

On my way over there, I noticed a folded sheet of yellow paper under my windshield wiper. I grabbed it, unfolded it, and suffered a very brief myocardial infarction. See, the note was from my aunt. She either knocked on my door and got no answer or simply didn't bother trying -- so she left a note where she knew I'd see it. But she didn't sign it. And my aunt's handwriting looks exactly like my mom's handwriting. (It's like they're related or something.) Since my mom hasn't written anything in over...holy fuck, three years?...every time I see one of these notes from my aunt, it scares the shit out of me for a second, until my rational brain catches up with the hyperactive eight-year-old that runs the irrational side.

The note instructed me to call the agent I'd dealt in the collections department at the credit union I mentioned in the last post. I had to do this by 5:00 p.m. -- this was stressed in the note with three underlines.

Okay, pop quiz: on a scale of 1 to 10, how much panic do you think this caused in me? If you guessed 10, congratulations -- score yourself five bonus points. If you guessed 9 or lower, e-mail me and introduce yourself -- I don't believe we've met.

Now, I can already see some of that "luck" going on -- I'm always late to work (as Trebor and I later discussed at length in the parking lot at around 5:05, as I was trying to leave), so the odds are very good that, had Trebor not arrived and ordered me to march with him to China, I wouldn't have seen the note until the triple-underlined deadline had passed.

So, I put my apocalyptic panic on hold while we had lunch. We each had the same dishes we always get -- creatures of habit, the two of us are.

And then came the fortune cookies.

I love fortune cookies. I especially love sickly ironic ones. So you can imagine the backflip my diseased brain did when I cracked the cookie open and removed a slip of paper that proudly declared The current year will bring you luck and happiness.

Yes. "The current year," said the cookie. On the thirtieth of December. HA HA HA HA. Ha ha ha. Ha. ...Eh.

Wanna know something even funnier? I've actually received that same fortune before. In the same situation -- close to the end of the year, bam, here's your philosophical middle finger, courtesy of the Ancient Wisdom of the Orient. Happy New Year, asshole!

So what are the odds? The same fortune, in the same darkly funny context, twice? The stodgy voice of probability agrees that the odds are, indeed, quite low. The younger, hipper voice of quantum mechanics, meanwhile, argues that the fortunes did not, in fact, even exist until I opened the cookies. The odds are incalcuable.

(A voice rises from the back: "Actually, jackass, considering how much Chinese food you eat, I'd say the odds of you getting the same fortune twice are pretty fucking good! Hahaha!" Thank you, sir. Thank you. Security!)


So, content in the knowledge that the current year -- all of the remaining 33 hours of it -- would bring me good luck, we left the restaurant to find my apartment beseiged by several men and women of Hispanic descent loading our television and stereo equipment into the back of their truck.

Bam! Gotcha there, didn't I?

Now, I'm sure you assumed they were stealing it, but that's just you succumbing to racial stereotypes -- they were actually very nice people, they spoke very good English, and had actual jobs and everything. In this case, they worked for our landlords. And they were taking our things as a landlord lein because -- wait for it -- Tommy (who has yet to ask me to stop mentioning him by name) didn't pay his share of the rent.


Not that Tommy blew his money on coke and whores -- he is, in fact, at this moment working offshore to make it all back. And before he left, he worked out a deal with the office whereby he'd pay whatever he could when he got paid, and pay the remainder when he returned. (That's what I was doing when I got pulled over by the Pig of Destiny, remember? Dropping off Tommy's rent payment.) But, as it happens -- as it happens every goddamn time -- the office decided their agreement with Tommy was worth about the same as the paper it was laser-printed on, and staged the Sixth (or Seventh) Siege of Apartment 7F to take some stuff.

Ready for the good luck? They only took Tommy's things, with the exception of my PlayStation2. Trebor's GameCube and Nintendo64 were right there, but they ignored them. We happened to catch them in time to make sure the geniuses also took the cases along with the musical instruments they were taking. I'd left my computer in my room, or they would have taken it, too. And -- this is the important part -- I didn't lock the door when I left, but they locked the door when they it's a great thing we caught them as they were leaving, because for some reason I'd forgotten my keys.

The wheels of probability spin, spin, spin.

After doing some cathartic screaming on my couch (which I'm sure Trebor found amusing), I called about my car. I expected some really apocalyptic bad news -- "We're coming to take your car from you right now, just as soon as we finish murdering your sister, setting fire to all of your friends' houses, cancelling House, and putting the finishing touches on The Passion of the Christ 0: The Extraordinarily Bloody Birth of Jesus!" Something around a 10 on the bad news scale.

Instead, it was something approaching a 3. Or a 2. Nothing severe. Trebor felt this made it qualify as "good news." I disagreed, but that's a whole other thing I'm not getting into. The point is, it probably would have really upset me and put me into panic mode...if I hadn't just come home to find the living room kidnapped and held for ransom. Something that doesn't really effect me personally at all. I took my own awful twist of fate by saying -- seriously -- "That's it?"

Events transpired in such a way that the blow was dulled.

So? Good luck? Bad luck? No luck? What?

Actually, I don't want to know the answer anymore. Fuck it. Fuck probability, and luck, and quantum mechanics.

This entire post -- and the one before it -- have been brought to you by the small animals trying to burrow their way out of my brain.

(Oh, and here's a random broadside: when I told this story to someone else, I structured it just the way I did here, only without the reference to the race of the people taking our stuff. Before I could explain who they were and that they weren't burglars, I was asked, "Were they Mexican?" Since apparently the audience wants to know, I thought I'd go ahead and tell you before you asked.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005


(Listening to: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King..., Fiona Apple)

I'm on a roll
I'm on a roll this time
And I feel my luck could change

I often refer to myself as unlucky. This is generally supported by the facts. Bad things out of my control frequently happen to me. Little good occurs in my life without some dark spot tarnishing everything, screwing it up, spoiling even the best things. I think you know what I'm talking about: I finally get to see Metallica live for the first time, and James Hetfield throws his back out and misses the show. That crap. My life is riddled with flat tires and power outages and cable cut-offs and illnesses and traffic jams and all sorts of shit that always pops up at the very worst time.

But I've reading a couple of books in the last few days that have sent my brain wandering into different waters than usual. Neither of them have anything to do with good or bad luck, really -- but they both encourage the reader to think about the world around them in vastly different ways.

The first is Freakonomics, a wonderful little tome by a reporter and a world-renowed economist that seeks to reveal the "hidden side of everything." Essentially, they seek to answer a few questions that, on the surface, seem trivial -- like, "Is sumo wrestling corrupt?" and "If dealing crack is so profitable, why do most drug dealers still live with their moms?" The answers are interesting, but it's their methodology that's so mind-opening: they just look at the numbers. That's it. By examining the data carefully, and asking the right questions of it, they prove that yes, sumo wrestling is riddled with corruption, and most crack dealers would earn more money working at McDonald's. Using little more than a computer algorithm and mountains of data, they determined that scores of teachers in the Chicago Public School system were cheating to get better test scores for their students. They claim the book has no "unifying theme," but I think it does -- that anything and everything can be properly understood by divorcing oneself from emotion and simply looking at the facts, calmly and logically, and asking the proper questions.

The other book is The Religion War by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. It's a sequel to God's Debris, which was really a unique book -- described by the author as a "thought experiment," it was basically just a conversation between the two characters. Their discussion was about Everything -- the nature of the universe, the nature of God, our purpose, the nature of probability. The point wasn't to change the mind of the reader -- the answers the old man gives to those big questions are riddled with illogic, fallacies, and completely made-up science, as Adams admits. The reader's task is to attempt to figure out the problems with the old man's theories. It was an entertaining, even energizing read (and if you'd like to read it yourself, Adams is giving it away for free). The Religion War is an actual novel -- an extremely short one, yes, but it has a plot and everything. But the goal is the same -- to present a viewpoint radically different than one you would normally encounter, to challenge your own beliefs. To try to make you think differently.

So what does this have to do with my bad luck?

I was pulled over tonight by a police officer -- oddly enough, I attracted the cop's attention for driving too slowly, or as he put it, "impeding traffic." (Considering how oddly proud I am of the fact that I've never been pulled over for speeding, this may or may not be ironic.) Intrigued by my driving, he ran my plates and discovered my registration is expired. On went the flashers. He pulled me over, ran my license, and wrote me a citation for the expired registration.

I was on my way to pay the electric bill and drop off the rent -- I could have done those things earlier in the day, but didn't; I overslept. I could have done them immediately after work, but didn't; I ate dinner first. I could have messed with the envelope for the electric bill and stuff when I got to the drop box, but didn't; I decided to do that before I left my apartment. I could have gone inside to change clothes, I could have gone inside to use the bathroom, I could have stayed at the restaurant reading a few minutes more, I could have spent a few minutes deciding on what CD to listen to, anything -- when I pulled out of my parking lot, I pulled out right in front of the police officer. Which is how he saw me. If I had left even twenty seconds later, or a minute earlier, I would have avoided the citation.

All those variables, all those tiny things, like butterfly wings, all of them effecting the laws of probability, those little choices and random happenings that led to the traffic citation. Just my luck. Right?

On the way home, I was cursing my luck, as usual. But those books were still heavily on my mind. So I started thinking about things in a slightly different way.

As you may remember, a few months ago, my wallet was stolen. Though I got my license back, I still haven't replaced my wallet...which means I generally just carry my license around in my pocket. Which means that it's increasingly common for me to forget to grab it before I leave the house. Tonight, I had it with me. Good luck?

Last month, I was brought to my knees by the credit union I lease my car from -- I'd missed a few payments, and they were pissed. I worked out a deal that cost me a great big chunk of money...but it also forced me to renew my car insurance, which had, to my embarrassment, run out. (Long story.) I thought that was all bad luck at the time...but if that hadn't happened, I would have had no proof of insurance to hand to the very polite police officer who pulled me over. Good luck?

Last week, I brought those insurance papers upstairs during a phone call with that credit union. Usually, a single piece of paper like that would easily get set down and then lost in the wasteland of my apartment...but I managed, at some point, to remember to take it back to my car. Plus, my car is pretty wasteland-ish, too, but I was able to find it in the dark with a police officer standing over me. Good luck?

And if that wasn't enough, consider this.

You may or may not know this, but my rear turn signals don't work. After I pulled out, I quickly changed lanes. The cop was behind me, so from his angle, I didn't signal. He either didn't notice this or didn't care when writing me a ticket. Two of my brake lights don't work. This, as well, he either didn't notice or didn't care when filling out his forms.

My inspection sticker? Expired. In June.

Of 2004.

Either he didn't notice. Or didn't care.

Here's the thing -- I'm going to renew my registration tomorrow. Have to, to get the citation dismissed. And in my honest moments, I'll admit to myself that, without that citation, I never would have renewed the damn thing. I don't know, it's just the way my brain works. I don't start working on something until long after the due date. Never been able to figure out why. Until a gun (or a traffic citation) is pointed at me, forcing me into action, I'm a slave to inertia. It's probably my worst characteristic. (That, and my crippling lack of self-esteem. Yeah.)

My point is this: I would have been pulled over eventually. Some cop, somewhere, sometime, would have spotted the sticker and hauled me to the side of the road. This was a certainty.

Was it bad luck I was pulled over tonight? Or was it good luck? That I was pulled over at night, instead of the day, by a police officer who was either extremely forgiving or plainly incompetent? Maybe he really didn't notice my inspection sticker -- it was dark. (Another possible good thing -- I pulled over into a parking lot that had no lights. More difficult to see.) And he had already run my registration through his computer before he pulled me over, so there was no need to look at the sticker. I guess he just didn't notice. And changing lanes without signalling? Maybe he doesn't care. (Or maybe that's not actually against the law. Somehow I doubt it.) The brake lights? Maybe as long as one of them works, it doesn't matter. Maybe he didn't notice. Maybe he didn't care. Who knows.

Since it was guaranteed I would be ticketed for this eventually, is it perhaps a stroke of good luck it happened in this place, at this time, by this officer?

Your call.

Man. Thinking about things in a different way could be hell on my pessimism.

(Oh, and another thing. Last month, Tommy forgot to pay the cable bill on time, so they cut it off for about half day. It wasn't long...but it was just long enough for us to miss an episode of Lost -- an actual quality episode, the first one in a long while.

They reran the episode tonight. I got to see it after all.

So was that even really bad luck to begin with?


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

(Listening to: "Faint," Linkin Park)

My Christmas:
  • Slept until 3:30.
  • Got some Jack-in-the-Box.
  • Installed Myst V on my new computer. It works beautifully.
  • Installed Bloodlines on my new computer. It doesn't work at all.
  • Wrote some of the next Revolver episode.
  • Watched House.
  • Wrote this blog entry.
And that's about it.

In other words: just like every single other day. Absolutely nothing happened. Though, I suppose I should be grateful -- I had the day off. No waking up at 10:00 to slog my way through ten hours of Pizza Inn. Which is good. But I also won't get paid for it, either. Which is bad. So yeah.

Christmas is boring.

I hope yours was better.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Year in Music: 2005

(Listening to: Late Registration, Kanye West)

We'll get to the movies of this year in a while -- I was looking over my list of films seen last night, and it's pretty slim (gaze ye upon it, and despair). So in the meantime, let's talk about music.

I did this last year, as you may recall, but it was really just kind of a time-filler deal. The five albums I listed as albums of the year, while good, weren't really indicative of a true perspective -- I think I'd only bought eight CDs the whole year, so you can guess how valid my top five was. This year, though, I bought a lot of CDs. I listened to a lot of music. The album of the year list has been expanded to ten. And this year's battle for Album of the Year is indeed tight -- unlike 2004, when it was Green Day's monumental American Idiot and everyone else, 2005 found itself without a definitive leader leaping to the top of the pile.

So let's do this.


10. Songs for Silverman, Ben Folds
If you wrote me off, I'd understand it
Sure, his solo albums haven't quite lived up to his stuff with the Five (their self-titled debut is still one of the greatest underappreciated records of the nineties), but Ben Folds remains one of our best pop songwriters. "Landed" easily ranks among the best songs of his career, and its failure to become a world-smashing hit speaks to a considerable lack of taste on the part of the listening audience. It's a shame.

9. Guero, Beck
Fax machine anthems, get your damn hands up
Sea Change was a beautiful album, but I'll trade that lugubrious disc for this energized fun one any day. The groovy "Hell Yes" and "Que Onda Guero?" alone are worth the price of admission, but the whole thing is a great romp. Beck hasn't been this much fun in years.

8. Stand Up, Dave Matthews Band
Remember the words of a misguided fool
Ignore the histrionics of iron-footed Daveheads -- this album represents a huge step forward for the group after the apologetic release of Busted Stuff and the disaster of Everyday. Mark Batson's slick production may shock the DMB faithful (and just about every one of these songs sounds much better live), but the undeniable talent of the band shines through. Listen to the combo of "Hello Again" and "Louisiana Bayou," and then tell me this group has lost anything over the years.

7. Mezmerize, System of a Down
Welcome to the soldier side...
This group literally gets better with each release. Toxicity was wildly uneven. Steal This Album! was an improvement, but still had a tendency to get bogged down in its own goofiness. But Mezmerize finally reaches a landmark as their first truly great album. Sure, I have no idea what the hell they're babbling about most of the time ("Old school Hollywood baseball/Jack Gilardi's ten feet tall"?), and the Use Your Illusion tactic of releasing the double album Mezmerize/Hypnotize as two seperate records was a little annoying, but who cares? "B.Y.O.B." might just be the single best track of their career to date, and the balladry of "Lost in Hollywood" shows a depth to their songwriting that had previously lacked. The only question left was how Hypnotize could possibly follow it.

6. Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple
Here it comes: a better version of me
She's back! Yes, Mike Elizondo deleted the strings and gutted "Not About Love," my favorite track from the bootlegs. Aside from that, his reconstruction of the lost Fiona record is top-notch (though, apparently, not even he could get anything useful out of the dull "Red Red Red"). Fiona's voice has never sounded better, especially on the Jon Brion-produced title track, and her lyrics have rarely been sharper. It's good to have you back, Fiona.

5. Late Registration, Kanye West
Can I talk my shit again?
There hasn't been a hip-hop album that surprised me this much, that captivated me this much, since The Marshall Mathers LP. Chalk it up to the classic lyrics, a thunderous yet finely detailed sound (largely the work of co-producer Jon Brion, a musical genius if I've ever heard one), and the most fantastic sampling I've ever heard -- most perfect, the use of Otis Redding's mournful "It's Too Late," one of the great soul ballads, as the backbone for the rich and booming "Gone." The only thing lame on this record are the skits.

4. Frances the Mute, The Mars Volta
L' Via, te quieren matar, dientes de machete, cabezas de gallo
Hoo-boy, are these a weird bunch of guys. Six members, two languages, instrumental breaks that stretch out into infinity, ambient noise played like an orchestra, and a bunch of squeaking frogs acting as an intermission -- yeah, this disc is a tad on the strange side. But if you have the patience to sit through it, Frances the Mute is one of the most rewarding musical experiences of the year. Just the final suite alone, "Cassandra Geminni" (which clocks in at over half an hour and was split into eight tracks at the record company's insistence), is brilliant enough to make it to this list. Oh, and there's supposedly a story lurking somewhere in all of those Byzantine lyrics (both the ones in English and Spanish), but I wouldn't go looking for it, if I were you -- only darkness will you find there.

3. X&Y, Coldplay
Everything you ever wanted, in a permanent state
Coldplay is every music enthusiast's favorite popular group to hate these days (challenged only by Nickelback, I suppose), but screw them. Now, finally, all of those comparisons to U2 and early Radiohead pay off -- Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head were perfectly good records, but X&Y is Coldplay's first classic album. Combined with Chris Martin's increasing skill as a vocalist (see the perfect falsetto breaks on, well, pretty much every song, but especially on the searing "Speed of Sound" and "The Hardest Part"), and the band's newly discovered talent for writing actual honest-to-goodness choruses most of the time, the album is a gigantic step forward. I'm eager to hear what they do next. Screw the music enthusiasts.

2. Hypnotize, System of a Down
...where there's no one here but me
That's how Hypnotize can follow Mezmerize: by being flat-out better in virtually every way. Better melodies, more confident time changes, better lyrics -- even the trademark SOAD "goofy" tracks (I'm looking at you, "Vicinity of Obscenity") are superior. Mezmerize and Hypnotize may be two halves of the same coin, but this side is fantastic all by itself -- if you only buy one System of a Down album, make it this one.

And finally...

The Best Album of 2005: Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes
You got a reaction, didn't you?
Some of the great musicians play so smoothly their instruments seem like extensions of their own bodies. Jack and Meg White, on the other hand, are locked into an epic wrestling contest with theirs. Take "Instinct Blues" -- it builds on a typical blues riff, but Jack's biblical struggle with his guitar sends the track kicking and screaming from the speakers, accompanied by (as always) Meg's overloud drums and cymbal crashes. There's really no way the Stripes' music should work at all, let alone to the fantastic degree Get Behind Me Satan does, but it's undeniable -- this record is flat-out fantastic, from the full-throttle breathtaking rock of "Blue Orchid" to the old-fashioned blues dirge "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)." Even though these two have made a career of making awe-inspiring music, Satan stands out as their best work yet: even with the added emphasis on the piano and reduced explosive guitars, these songs represent the best in rock today. And it all shines with a degree of playfulness that makes everything even better -- who else could have created the bouncy, childlike "My Doorbell," or had the nerve to use the silly panning effects found on "Take, Take, Take," or written a bluegrass-style love song to a ghost ("Little Ghost")? Only the White Stripes. And that's why Get Behind Me Satan is the album of 2005.


10. "Passive," A Perfect Circle
Allegedly, Tool is releasing a new album sometime in 2006. I'll believe it when I see it, but thanks to Maynard for this placeholder with his other band.

9. "Perfect Situation," Weezer
The album was a letdown. This track sure wasn't, though. Bonus points for the witty video, too.

8. "Do You Want To," Franz Ferdinand
A song constructed from the ground up to embed itself in your brain and stay there for weeks. I dare you to listen to it and not hum it to yourself for fours afterward. Luckily ("lucky, lucky, you're so lucky!"), the song is great.

7. "B.Y.O.B.," System of a Down
Schizophrenic, manic, and completely crazy in all the right ways, this represents the best of what modern "nu-metal" can accomplish.

6. "When I'm Gone," Eminem
It lacks the massive punch of last year's "Mosh," but I love Em's lyrics here, the nightmarish quality as both his voice and his rhymes as he opens his soul again. And I especially love the way he examines the irony of ignoring his daughter to go record a song about how much he loves her. Fantastic.

5. "Blue Orchid," The White Stripes
One of the flat-out coolest songs ever recorded: Jack's wailing falsetto, the throbbing drums, the scorching guitar riff. Perfect.

4. "Gold Digger," Kanye West f. Jamie Foxx
Hands down, the funniest track of the year. It's a great hip-hop song, too -- I can't help but crack up every time I hear the line "You will see him on TV, any given Sunday/Win the Super Bowl, drive off in a Hyundai." The Jamie-Foxx-as-Ray-Charles intro is classic, too.

3. "Speed of Sound," Coldplay
So good it single-handedly made me a Coldplay fan. Chris Martin's voice is absolutely perfect here.

2. "All These Things That I've Done," The Killers
Last year, my biggest error was forgetting to mention the Killers, whose "Mr. Brightside" was one of the best singles of 2004. But just as well, because "All These Things That I've Done" is immensely better. It's brilliant enough even before it gets to its centerpiece, the magnificent "I've got soul, but I'm not a soldier" bridge, which lifts it to the stratosphere and makes it a masterpiece.

1. "Landed," Ben Folds
In a just universe, Ben Folds is a multi-platinum Grammy winner, and Ashlee Simpson is working at a Wal-Mart somewhere. Unfortuntely, in this one, Ben can't give copies of his records away. Which is too bad, considering how wonderful this song is. Easily the best song he's recorded without the Five (and better than a lot of those songs, too), "Landed" is exactly the kind of track that should be a huge hit. Like I said: it's a shame.

And now for a few more pithy awards, just to round things out...

Best Cover Song: "Bitches Ain't Shit," Ben Folds
Speaking of Ben. Now, this Dr. Dre cover is kinda hard to find -- it was only released on the vinyl version of Songs for Silverman. But if you can, you should totally hear this. Not only for the initally comic idea of the very white Ben Folds singing Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg rhymes ("Yo, Dre, pass the glock"), but because it's actually really, really good. No, really: this piano-led arrangment highlights actual heartbreak and pain buried beneath the boasting lyrics. A true wonder.

Best Album Cover: Late Registration, Kanye West
That giant teddy bear is the best artist mascot since...ever.

Best Attempt at a Comeback: Depeche Mode
Hey, you tried. At least that's something.

Band That Really, Really Should Have Released an Album This Year: Evanescence
Did they break up and someone forgot to tell me? 'Cause otherwise, they really should be releasing a followup any day now, unless they're waiting to not be famous anymore.

The 2005 Pants Around Your Feet Award for the Hit Song with the Most Insipid Lyrics: "Doesn't Remind Me," Audioslave
As previously discussed.

Most Disappointing Album of the Year: With Teeth, Nine Inch Nails
Man oh man, did that one suck. You wouldn't think it could fail -- Trent had five years to work on it, after all, and Dave Grohl guesting on drums -- and you would be wrong. With the exception of a track or two, the whole thing is a sloppy, underwhelming piece of crap. And I didn't think I'd ever say that about a NIN album. (David Fincher's video for "Only" is pretty good, though.)

Which just about does it for 2005. Thoughts?

Friday, December 16, 2005

RIP: John Spencer

(Listening to: Songs for Silverman, Ben Folds)

John Spencer, who portrayed Leo McGarry on The West Wing, died this morning of a heart attack. He was 58.


This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, "Hey, Pal, it's me! Can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out."

--Leo to Josh, in "Noel"

"We aren't what you would call...human."

(Listening to: Achtung Baby, U2)

Anyone else remember the end of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty? During one of the several feature-length cutscenes near the conclusion, the evil Patriots (or a computer virus) (or a crazy AI) (or aliens) (or whatever) are explaining to you why they're doing what they're doing -- unleashing a program called GW onto the internet. It will allow them to censor information all across the world. Not to prevent information harmful to them from getting to the public, no -- to prevent useless information from enduring in the public mind.

See, back in the old days, when humans depended on actual tangible things for record-keeping, like paper or tapes or even (gasp) their memories, the useless information -- like in-depth dissertations on the fan-written backgrounds of Shakespeare characters -- would naturally be lost over time, while the important stuff -- the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, Shakespeare's actual plays -- would naturally perservere. Sort of an informational survival of the fittest.

But now, as GW (robots? talking plants?) explains to you, with the proliferation of the internet, information just stays there. There's no natural process, no sorting of the needed from the pointless. Everything is given equal weight, and with no one there to tell us what's important and what's not, humanity will become bogged down by the sheer bulk of our culture's useless knowledge.

Does it sound to anyone else that GW is talking about...Wikipedia?

Now, I've been thinking about this for awhile, so it's much to my dismay that today's Penny Arcade concerns this very topic and now it looks like I'm copying them. But whatever.

Wikipedia, to me, represents simultaneously the best and worst of the potential of the internet. The best, because it's a communal gathering of information, which is what the internet is supposed to be. But the worst, because it seems all people have to share is Star Wars.

But is that the fault of Wikipedia? If I set up a place where people can have serious discussions about whatever they like, and they all decide they want to play Heads Up, Seven-Up, that's not my fault. And it wouldn't be right of me to force them to do something else.

And after all -- GW (the reincarnated souls of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Cylons?) is the villain of MGS2. You have to stop him (them?) (it?) before the program can be activated. The conclusion is that humans are smart enough to separate information for themselves. We don't need GW or anyone else to do it for us. And then you chop Solidus Snake in half with a sword.

I agree with the game's conclusion.

In theory.

But considering how much time I spend on Wikipedia...

...maybe GW is right.

Damn those aliens.

Or computer programs.

Or whatever.

It's a confusing game.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

We missed House for this?

(Listening to: Hypnotize, System of a Down)

So the Billboard Music Awards were tonight, like anyone gives a shit. How many music award shows do we need, anyway? Hey, I'm all for award shows -- I love the Oscars, you know this. But this idiotic garbage was just an excuse to trot crappy pop stars across the stage and get some cheap heat for Fox shows. (Including, of course, House, which was preempted so they could air the damn show. But I digress.)

I won't blame them for the fact that I haven't heard of most of these people -- I will blame them, however, for the fact that I couldn't understand a damn word that any of them said. You have a damn microphone, shouting isn't necessary. This goes double for the host, LL Cool J (LL Cool J? What, was Kool Moe Dee busy?), who looked like he'd prepared about five minutes for this gig. But hey, it's the Billboard Music Awards, can you blame him?

Billie Joe Armstrong presented a lifetime achievement award to a zombie-looking Tom Petty, and read his speech from a scrap of paper -- apparently, teleprompters aren't where it's at or whatever the kidz are saying these days. They read the nominees for some country music award, the winner of which was Toby Keith...who just happened to be the next performer. How convenient. Especially considering how completely fucking drunk he looked -- but, again, it's the Billboard Music Awards, can you blame him? R. Kelly performed a song "live" from a different location entirely, in a pool surrounded by attractive women in bikinis who looked extremely well medicated -- LL announced the segment by saying, "Up next, R. Kelly finds himself in hot water with some young ladies," and the jokes just write themselves, don't they?

For some reason, everyone who won one of these awards was handed at least two trophies. The closest I can come to an answer is when Green Day won for...uh...something -- the announcer said they'd won six awards, and, sure enough, they were handed six trophies. Now, if the announcer meant six awards tonight, then it seems that the BMAs decide to just hand everyone whatever winnings they receive whenever they wander onstage, which is certainly an interesting idea -- it would sure make the Oscars a lot shorter, if anti-climactic. Though it does make me wonder what the point of the whole show is to begin with, if it's the awards-handing-out that they're cutting short. If you want two hours of prime time to allow Gwen Stefani to sing with some random rapper guy who lumbers about like a mescaline addict, fine, but don't insult my intelligence by calling it an awards show.

All this bitching and moaning about the BMAs is really bitching and moaning about the lack of a new episode of House, which has overtaken Lost to become my new favorite show. We all know my feelings on the second season of that island show (and, of course, I missed last week's episode, where things happened and everything), but House has been razor-sharp all year. Hugh Laurie's performance is one of the most interesting on television, and his crass indifference for basic decency is absolutely hilarious. Yes, the show is rather formulaic (and the brilliant writers even have House mention this in a wonderful meta moment), but who cares? So is Law and Order, and it's a great show, too.

If I had the money, I'd buy the first season of House. I so want that. Man.

Damn you, Tommy. I was free of this television addiction. Free, I tell you! For three years, I watched little to no television at all. And now...well, you see me now. House. Lost. The West Wing again (though it's certainly quite a different show nowadays). Family Guy. The Daily Show. The Colbert Report. Arrested Development, while it's still on the air. 24, when it comes back. Monk. And HBO is even rerunning the fifth season of The Sopranos, just to rub it in my face, I guess. Plus the daily reruns of Next Gen, Deep Space Nine, and The X-Files, plus Firefly on Fridays.

And most of it in beautiful high-definition.


(By the way, I'm working on a review of the first season of DS9, which I recently acquired on eBay. Look for it in the next few days.)