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[::..bluestarblog archive..::]

:: Monday, June 28, 2004 ::

Some more fun before my updates. The Singson's! from Andrew Sullivan, a couple of neat little mind tricks from Michael Totten, and a look at some terrible early 70's European art deco courtesy of Blackfive.

Ali G interviews the Posh Beckams in classic G mode, and on the topic of videos, don't miss Will Ferrell's cover of Afternoon Delight on Launch Yahoo videos.

:: Scot 1:22 AM [+] :: ::
:: Wednesday, June 23, 2004 ::
I've been in a music state of mind recently, obsessively catching up on some of the tunes I missed in the last few months. Some recent (The Apples in Stereo, Franz Ferdinand, N.E.R.D.), and others I simply overlooked over the years. Through all this I've noticed a very likeable online trend - the proliferation and accessibility of music videos. Launch on Yahoo, which seems to change affiliations rather often (it was paired up with Spin magazine last I knew), has an impressive if scattered collection of music videos that are easy to locate and play. The latest Billboard hits all seem to be available, but also present are quite a few gems including some of my favorites from the 90's:

Jawbox - Savory
Eel's - Novocaine For The Soul
Ween - Voodoo Lady
Eric's Trip - Stove
Avalanches - Frontier Psychiatrist (ok, so it's 2000)

As well as some 80's classics:

Metallica - One (the best video of all time)
A-Ha - Take on Me (the second best video of all time)
Prince - Raspberry Beret
The Cure - Catch
(actually, a pile of Cure and Prince videos are here)

Not a comprehensive databank by any standard, but enough pop, rock, country, rap, and indie to keep anyone glued for days. One drawback with the service is the heavy censorship - aural and visual)

Artists and record company websites have also been a goldmine for music videos. Here I found a few must sees:

Cat Power's Cross Bones Style (yes, Chan Marshall is a goddess)
Clinic's Walking With Thee
Tindersticks' Dying Slowly
Spek's Smell the Coffee

(Alas, nearly all the videos you'll find will be streaming, preventing you from download them. For this try fansites or file swapping software.)


:: Scot 5:42 AM [+] :: ::
:: Monday, June 14, 2004 ::
You knew I couldn't come back without some fun links and other bloggy treats.

While I was looking for a friend's site titled 'another useless website,' I came across another with the same name. Much unlike the one I was looking for, this one provides absolutely nothing, declares it, and watches the hits fly in. It looks like some kind of experiment to prove how popular nothing can be, and by its counts, somewhat so. Nearly 15000 hits so far - though well off it's self predicted goal of a million in one year. I eventually found the site I was looking for only to see it on a hiatus, but I did get lucky and grabbed a link to this crackpot showing me precisely the difference between gay and gaaayyyyyyy. My previous studies and applications of psychology? No help here.

From Diana Hsieh I found out what happens when cybersex goes horribly wrong. This had me ROTFLMAO.

If I can't score on this personals website...

I found a couple of lighter side of music sights - CheesyPop is a fine collection of pop music's most insipid lyrics (my vote goes out to Neil Sedaka's Laughter in the Rain) and Am I Right, an incredibly large site dedicated to misheard lyrics and song parodies.

Now for some good ol' fashioned war propaganda.

A whole volume of WWII comics from Dr. Suess. If you still don't appreciate the similarities between that war and the war on Islamism, you probably never will.

StickDeath has the latest from Gitmo. And Abu Ghraib? Abu groin. Given a choice I'd rather do time there than Attica.

Frank, the comedic wizard of IMAO, brings us these gems on suggestions for using less gas, Fun Facts About Terrorists t-shirt and a peace initiative: Nuking the Moon.

And warblogging just wouldn't be complete without a couple of quotes from Rummy (albeit several months old):

on post-Iraq:

But if you think of what was going on in Iraq a year ago, with people being tortured, rape rooms, mass graves, gross corruption, a country that had used chemical weapons on its own people, used them on their neighbors, defiant to the United Nations through 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions -- and look at the way it was treated in the press. I mean there were prominent people who represent countries in this room that opined that they didn't really think it made a hell of a lot a difference who won. Think of that. Equating the countries in the coalition with what was going on in that country, publicly. Shocking, absolutely shocking.

and Israel:

Ynet reports that Rumsfeld, speaking with reporters in Munich yesterday, was asked why the United States is silent when "Israel has more nuclear arms than any other nation in the world." Rumsfeld said, "You know the answer by yourself, and the whole world knows the answer. Israel is a small country with a small population. It is a democracy, but exists among neighbors who want to see her in the sea. Israel has made it clear that she does not want to be in the sea, and as a result, over several decades, has organized in such a manner so as not to be thrown into the sea.


:: Scot 3:56 AM [+] :: ::
:: Thursday, June 10, 2004 ::
The Underrated Beatle

The Beatles, like other popular culture icons, have attained such a level of fame and mystique that they have become excessively criticized far more than the rest. 'Were the Beatles really deserving of their success?' or 'Musically, they had little talent' are not unpopular sentiments among pop culture sophistos. From legitimate criticism to questionable deconstructionism to absurd postmodernism, for some, whatever it takes to prove the best can be the worst.

A favorite target among the anti-Beatles clique is without a doubt Ringo. Replacing pop music's favorite footnote, Pete Best, Ringo was the last one brought into the band. He was the oldest and shortest Beatle, and for quite some time, the most popular one. His clown persona and sheer likability however didn't translate into musical appreciation. He is the Beatle given the least credit for the band's success. His value as a drummer, and whether he was worthy of playing in popular music's best band, is a frequent contention.

The arguments against Ringo boil down to one of two things: he wasn't as good as other drummers of his time and he wasn't nearly as good as the other Beatles. While Ringo's contribution to the Beatles was certainly less than John, George, or Paul's, the perception that he was in over his head or was somewhat expendable are false. In the rush to discredit pop music's best band, Ringo's particular talent and role in the band is frequently overlooked.

Ringo is often compared to other drummers of the sixties as a way of showing that there were better drummers available when the Beatles were looking for their fourth. Most often mentioned are the decade's pioneers of rock drumming such as the Who's Keith Moon (I Can See For Miles), the Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts (Get Off Of My Cloud), Cream's Ginger Baker (NSU), and the Yardbirds' Jim McCarty (Shapes of Things). With the need to satisfy the faster and harder pace of what would be FM rock, drummers like these were arguably the most responsible for splitting the genre from rock-n-roll during the mid sixties.

The pure pop leanings of the Beatles however didn't require the virtuosity or power of rock drumming. Though songs like I Want You (She's so Heavy) and Helter Skelter made them rock-cool, the In My Life and Let it Be side of them made more than half their sales. The Beatles were foremost a pop band and musically didn't require a madman with baseball bats behind the kit anymore than they needed a personal basketcase to disrupt the band's already unique chemistry. Baker and Moon may have been better rock drummers than Ringo, but they were not better pop drummers.

A look at pop drumming during the mid sixties shows Ringo not only to be capable drummer but clearly among the finest. While comparable bands such as Tommy James and the Shondelles (Hanky Panky), the Hollies (Pay You Back With Interest), the Byrds (Mr. Tambourine Man), and the Beach Boys (Good Vibrations) all created memorable pop drumming, Ringo was crafting his unique sounds with the likes of Taxman, Rain, Paperback Writer, Good Morning Good Morning, and the double snare drive of Tomorrow Never Knows. It's hard to imagine a different drummer playing on those tracks.

One overlooked contribution from Ringo is the number of Beatle songs he sang on. A look at other drummers, pop and rock, shows Ringo sang much more than his peers. Though hardly among their best, it's still interesting to note that songs like With a Little Help from My Friends, Octopus' Garden, and Yellow Submarine are usually the first introduction children get to the Beatles. Ringo's wholesome and playful image paid off for the Beatles here. For a terrific Ringo moment, listen to Ringo play - and sing - on the Beatles' early hit Boys.

Ringo's musicianship is not only compared to other drummers, but also to his bandmates. Technically, none of the Beatles were among the virtuosos of the day as far as pushing the boundaries of playing. Paul's bass and piano is flawless and sweet, but not difficult to play. John's rhythm guitar and piano, an edgier and grittier contrast, is just as learnable. The only standout, instrumentally, was George's guitar (Something, Revolution). As good as he was however, he was no Eric Clapton (Hideaway) or Jeff Beck (Jeff's Boogie). Ringo's influence on pop drummers is no less than the other Beatles with their instruments.

A popular argument used to dispute this is the fact that Ringo was replaced on many of the later tracks, especially 'the White Album' and Abbey Road. True, he was replaced by Paul quite a lot, but this had less to do with Ringo's competency and more to do with band politics. This was a power grab by Paul as John was dominating the popularity and songwriting of the band. Paul became overly fickle with his songs and that often meant nudging out Ringo (and sometimes the whole band - Birthday and Back in the USSR for example). The drum parts for those songs weren't so complicated that Ringo couldn't play them, he was just the hapless innocent caught in Paul and John's crossfire.

Certainly a legitimate knock against Ringo is without question his contribution to the songwriting. Ringo wrote zero songs and cowrote one - the fittingly titled With a Little Help from My Friends. In a band with an excellent songwriter and two legends, what's a guy to do? Though most drummers are rarely part of the songwriting process, Ringo's solo career also reflected his lesser songwriting abilities.

Ringo couldn't claim nearly the post-Beatles catalogue of the others in neither sales nor overall chart success. Like his role in the band however, Ringo carved out a more than average place for himself. He was the first ex-Beatle with a number one song, two of them actually - You're Sixteen and Photograph, and through the early seventies was just as successful as the others in output, popularity, and critical acclaim.

By the late seventies he slowed down with several ho-hum releases and was lagging far behind his ex-bandmates in overall presence. By the mid eighties he was completely out of the music scene and battling addictions. By the early nineties he recouped and that decade enjoyed his most productive output. He is still releasing CDs at a one per year pace. And for what its worth, Ringo did better than the rest in the rockstar hot-wife department marrying Bond-girl Barbara Bach. Their 1981 movie Caveman is a cult classic.

Ringo's solo career, like his place in the Beatles, has always been viewed as earnest and hard working. Aside from some personal baggage (and who can blame him?), he has built a better than average career and reputation. Looking at the public eccentricities and indulgences of John and George, only Paul seems to have led a more dignified solo existence than Ringo. Sure, Ringo is currently playing casinos with a band of rock and roll retreads, but he gets to make the music he wants while immune from the criticisms of the spotlight. If his wife were to sport a wooden leg, you probably wouldn't hear much about it.

Overshadowed by the monstrous influence of the other three, Ringo's membership in pop music's most famous outfit is often judged as unworthy. Ringo had a reputation in the early 60's pop market as one of the best backbeats around, and for the Beatles, that turned out to be the perfect fit. Like his playing, his contribution to the chemistry of the Beatles is also far underrated. The band needed someone whose personality was compliant and wouldn't draw attention away from John or Paul. Who else could have fit this role more perfectly?

It's not uncommon in looking for band weaknesses to target the drummer. Ringo was the clown, the quiet guy, the steady - and he perennially gets dumped on for it. After enjoying what has to be considered one of the greatest jobs of all time, Ringo forged ahead with an admirable solo career. Like his role in the Beatles, he has absolutely nothing to answer for.

:: Scot 4:46 PM [+] :: ::
:: Wednesday, June 09, 2004 ::
Too Much Time With the Animals?

I read an unusual piece in USA Weekend (a horrible supplement I found in the Sunday edition of the Niagara Gazette) some time back that I just couldn't let go. There was a fluffy piece titled The Smartest Animals on Earth that I probably wouldn't have paid much attention to had it not been for the contributions of noted zoologist Jane Goodall (best known for her work with chimpanzees). At the end of the piece she lists her five smartest animals (not including humans) and a brief explanation for each choice. Her rankings are a little curious but some of her comments are even stranger.

1. Great Apes

No brainer here. Chimpanzees share 98% of our genetic material and are widely considered to be our sister species. Also included in this group are bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. Strange comment alert -

Great apes can use computers. There's a chimpanzee in Japan who's hooked on her computer like kids are hooked on video games. She's learned to solve complex problems. For example, she can replicate a set of numbers on the computer after the screen goes dead. To watch her is amazing. Her mind is clearly working the same way as ours, but actually much, much faster.

How much faster?

Maybe chimps are a little too much like us; look at them, and we look into a mirror. The reflection isn't always flattering. They live in a society where power is rewarding for its own sake. They also have wars over territory.

Uh, like every other species on the planet? All animals, including humans, engage in war with its own species as well as with others. Failure to engage in war means submission of territory, which means shorter lifespans, which threatens extinction. Every animal seems to get this. Goodall is seems guilty of hyper-anthropomorphism: a desire to see animals attain what humans should have attained already. Like it or not, we're probably closer to an anti-war moral utopia than the apes are.

2. Whales and Dolphins


3. Elephants

Really? What about monkeys? It was right to exclude monkeys from the great apes in both classification and intelligence, but they are not this far down the brain chain. Barring their size, are elephants smart enough to be trained to do this? Or this? I always thought that elephants were ranked with the pigs near the bottom of the top 10.

4. Parrots

Parrots certainly sound smart, but are they number one among the birds? Other birds speak, and other birds have incredible tasks of memory and rudimentary deduction. Did the parrot beat them all? I hold Goodall to task for making a specific choice here but not with the great apes.

5. Dogs and Cats

No way.

They're as different as chimps and gorillas, and the age-old question about which are smarter I won't tackle.

Why not? You're a zoologist and that's your job. Don't get sucked in by the politics of it - only cat owners profess that cats are smarter. They're not even close in intelligence, despite their similar roles as 'housepet.' Although human influence on each animal is about equal, dogs, unlike cats, are bred for their brains more than their looks. Humans value smarts in a dog - in cats not so much.

Dogs and cats are so perceptive -- much more than people are. They know what their people are thinking; they're always a step ahead of us.

I understand what Goodall and other zoologists are referring to here when they speak or write like this. Its no secret that many animals have unique and surprising perceptions and behaviors, but Goodall's Kreskin-like claim is a little egregious. Animals, especially our pets, are remarkably 'smart' when it comes to household routines, their feedings, our moods, etc., but the kind of conscious recursion she implies is exclusively a human game.

No matter, enough fisking. Here are some of those cool terms used to refer to groups of animals:

army of ants
flange of baboons
culture of bacteria
sleuth of bears
wake of buzzards
band of coyotes
murder of crows
convocation of eagles
crash of hippopotami (or rhinoceri)
charm of hummingbirds
smack of jellyfish
ascension of larks
lounge of lizards
watch of nightingales
parliament of owls
coterie of prairie dogs
storytelling of rooks
dray of squirrels
murmuration of starlings
sounder of swine
ambush of tigers
zeal of zebras

:: Scot 10:38 PM [+] :: ::

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