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Archive for April, 2008

Music habits change in ways that are hard to track and harder to predict. Most people have only a handful of albums in heavy rotation at any given time. As weeks turn into months, some albums drop out and new albums come in. And while some albums are boon companions, most music lovers have a need for new music. It doesn’t have to be brilliant – sometimes, you just want a fresh album to get into.

The music rotation defies any attempts at logic or analysis. I used to consider Exile on Main Street to be a decent album, but I didn’t understand what the hype was about. Then one day, I noticed that it had been in heavy rotation for close to a year. What was it about that album that was durable? Why did I get tired of countless other albums, but not that one? To this day, I still can’t put my finger on the answer.

Of course, they can’t all be Exile on Main Street (although I did have a similar, “Hey, I’m still listening to this” experience with the Kelly Joe Phelps album Lead Me On). Most albums naturally fall out of rotation for a while. And with these albums – particularly with more recent releases – it can be unclear if the albums fell out of rotation because it was time for something new, or if it was because they were never that good to begin with. Will these albums hold up? Or was I listening to them only because I wanted something new to listen to?

Which leads to today’s piece, Is That Still Good?, which very well might possibly become a recurring feature. In Is That Still Good? we look releases from a few years back, which we may not have thought about recently, and see how they hold up. One point – this is not about nostalgia. I’m not talking about how much you liked the “You’ve Got the Touch!” song from the Transformers cartoon. This is about that album you used to listen to when you were hanging out with your friends that summer.

So, this brings us to Eels, and their 2003 album Shootenanny. I had just purchased an iPod, which was the first portable music player I had ever owned. Shootenanny was one of the first albums I listened to while walking, and it seemed perfect – it was springtime, I had an iPod, life was going great. It was full of bleak lyrics, but had toe-tapping beats and simple, catchy melodies. It was in heavy rotation for that spring, and stayed in light rotation for the summer after. Eventually, it was phased out as a new batch of new music came in – probably TV on the Radio, or whatever my dad happened to have sent me (look for an upcoming review on Dad Music).

The question is: Is it still good? Does this album have some depth to it? Or some staying power? Or did I listen to it because I didn’t want to listen Belle and Sebastian anymore? (And for the record – Belle and Sebastian does not hold up.)

Answer: It is still good. The sound on the album seems very 90s, despite having been released in 2003. It doesn’t sound dated, though – just pleasantly old fashioned. The songs are simple, verging on the simplistic, and the backing tracks often consist of nothing more than a few measures of music repeated over and over and over. However, this also means that there is little to get tired of. Gimmicks which sound new and exciting at first often quickly become annoying – luckily, E pretty much avoids them, writing simple songs with simple arrangements and clever lyrics. Plus, the album contains a few classics. Saturday Morning is told from the point of view of a kid who has woken up early. And Love of the Loveless is a perfect little pop rock song. And it turns out that Shootenanny is still a great album to walk to.

Eels – Shootenanny: Still good.

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That’s right: Pope Benedict XVI, nee Ratzinger, turns 81 today. Have a good one, dude. Someday when I rule the world you will have a show about your birthday, such as “My Super Sweet (Benedict the) Sixteenth.”

In other papal news, yesterday driving home from work I was listening to news radio, hoping they would explain what the traffic was all about, but they were talking about the pope’s visit instead. Bush is pulling out all the stops, it sounds like: inviting 9,000 people to the party, giving Benny a 21-gun salute, inviting a famous soprano to sing for him, and doing something else that Bush has never done for a foreign dignitary: meeting the Pope at the airport.

That made me really happy. First, in my mind the Pope flies in this:

Second, I love the idea of a cranky Pope getting off a long international flight and trying to find George in the madness that is Dulles International Airport, Swiss Guard in tow (and in full getup). To get from the gate to the main terminal at Dulles, one must ride one of these delightful vehicles:

I am convinced that Dulles got them for a real deal when they were auctioned off the set of Star Wars. Imagine the Pope, in his fancy vestments, big Pope hat, and diamonds-and-gold-encrusted laptop bag (what I imagine the Pope carries on flights), getting on one of these and staring out the window as it slowly crawls across the tarmac. Meanwhile, the Pope has taken out his cell phone–would the Pope have an iPhone?–and is trying to call George, but there’s no signal.

The Pope would probably have checked luggage. By that point he’s probably made contact with George, who’s waiting in the car on the downstairs level, looking at everyone coming out of the airport, thinking, Is that him? No, that’s big hair, not the Pope hat and wondering whether he should just park and get coffee inside. Meanwhile the Pope is standing at the baggage claim, directly in front of the chute from which the baggage comes, and all the people around him can’t decide whether to be annoyed that his big hat is blocking the view, or excited that the Pope is standing next to them. Someone takes a picture with a camera phone. The Swiss guard glares, but couldn’t take their fancy pikes because of airline regulations.

Their luggage finally comes, probably made out of a 13th century painting of St. Christopher, and the Pope goes outside to look for George. George has gotten impatient waiting and decides to circle around the airport once, so the Pope calls.

Finally George comes back, gets out, greets the Pope, they do a fist pound, the Swiss guard loads the luggage and they all get in the car (Pope calls shotgun. “He always calls shotgun,” one of the Swiss guard mutters).

“How was your flight?” George says.

“The usual. Heathrow was awful,” the Pope says.

“Heathrow’s always awful,” George says. “Are you hungry? There’s an IHOP on the way home.”

Picking the Pope up from the airport: five stars.
★★★★★

I know the Pope actually flew the Official Vatican Jet into an Air Force base, but I think my version is way better.

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An Advertisement

I didn’t want to have advertising on this site – unless, of course, it’s for a product I can truly and fully endorse. Luckly, I have no reservations about advertising Marshall Dillo here, up for auction at eBay. With a “Buy Now” set at $149.99, it would be a bargain at twice the price.

In case the auction ends or otherwise goes away, here’s the picture:

Marshall Dillo

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There’s a certain kind of person who, when they find out about my borderline insane interest in other peoples’ religion, always wants to know what my personal beliefs are. And that question actually stumps me, because the question of whether whatever Sky Fairy actually exists just doesn’t cross my mind. To me, the answer is an obvious “no,” and then I go back to thinking about glossolalia.

One of Twisty’s latest posts has been knocking around in my brain for the last few days. In sum, she thinks it would make more sense if the nothingness of atheism were the default state of the world, and religion were considered an anomaly. Maybe it would, but we’re never going to know, because religion is the default state of human society. Sorry everybody.

The cause of religion is a moderately warm topic these days, and to anyone looking for answers I recommend Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy. Actually, I don’t recommend you read it so much as you read the Clif Notes or get someone to tell you about it, because while he may be an excellent sociological theorist, Berger’s a terrible writer. It’s one of the more obtuse books I’ve read in my life. What he says, though, is that people are social creatures, and religion is essentially human social structures imposed upon the unknown. It’s not at all outlandish to assume that, the way that a social grouping has control over certain things, another social grouping has control over you. Religion is making sense out of the cosmos–the things we don’t understand otherwise–in a way we can relate to. This New York Times Magazine article about evolution, neurology and religion is also pretty rad.

There aren’t any religion-less cultures that we know of. The official state religion of Russia was atheism for a while, but Russian Orthodoxy was still heavily practiced in secret. There are atheists today, for sure, but they’re isolated in a heavily religious society (and tend to be among the more privileged elements of society, but that’s another post). In the US, we take the separation of church and state for granted, as something that’s obviously how the government is supposed to be, but if you look at the whole of human history it’s a fucking radical idea. In fact, talking about “religion” in history (especially ancient history, which is my strong point) is almost impossible because it was so intertwined with everyday life; before you can start thinking about Greek or Roman religion, you have to define what’s religion and what’s something else, which is hard because the ancient people themselves didn’t do that. It’s anachronistic.

I’m straying from my point, which is that religion is the default of human society. My other favorite piece of evidence is this: a 70,000 year old carving of a python that seems to have been used in religious rituals. That’s pretty old, given that we learned about agriculture and domesticating animals about 10,000 years ago, and now I’m using a laptop and the magic of wireless internet to tell you about it. People have been organizing the world according to their social structures* since before they figured out how to cut the balls off of sheep.

That story got covered in a whole lot of religious contexts, most of which were something like, “See! Religion is THE WAY IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE,” but apparently they didn’t read page two of the article. Behind the giant snake was a chamber, with an exit to the outside, from which someone could presumably speak as the snake god. That’s right: we have been both believing in crazy shit and faking that selfsame crazy shit, so that someone else will believe in it, for 70,000 years. How anyone could be anything but fascinated by it all is what I don’t understand.

The snake god, by the way, gets five stars.
★★★★★

*You may be thinking, “A big snake is not reflective of human order in the cosmos.” To which I say, what the hell does an actual snake want with arrowheads?**

**I also have a vague theory about the supernatural becoming more human as we get better at exerting control over our surroundings. Perhaps I will tell you about it sometime.

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St. Genesius of Rome lived in the late third century, mostly under the reign of the emperor Diocletian. He was an actor by trade, which probably means that he was lowborn and not a Roman citizen–the Romans thought about actors differently than we do. Since acting was essentially lying, the Roman logic goes, actors were people who lied for a living, making them among the dregs of Roman society. Therefore, most actors were of foreign extraction, and acting tended to be a hereditary job. There’s also some evidence that acting and prostitution happened in close quarters with each other. Two careers!

When the emperor Diocletian visited the city of Rome in 303 CE, Genesius’ company decided to put on a farce mocking Christians, knowing that Diocletian had been forcing them to convert or die since about 299 CE. According to some sources (by which I mean “webpages”), Genesius wrote and directed as well as acted in the play. I’m a little skeptical about this claim, since I wonder how many actors were literate. On the other hand, by this point most plays were mimes or farces which basically involved a whole lot of bawdy humor and not a lot of craft.

In the play, Genesius was supposed to be mock baptised on stage, and according to his Acts (written in the 7th century), he supposedly infiltrated the Christian community to do “research,” becoming particularly interested in the act of baptism. This is probably not true because it doesn’t make any sense–why would someone risk death and go to all the hard work of becoming part of a very secretive, wary community just to know how to pour water correctly for a play that probably featured farts prominently?

However, when the other actor poured water over his head in the mock baptism, it took for real. Genesius dropped the script and started proclaiming the Heavenly Father and the Light, Truth and the Way and all the other stuff you read about in pamphlets on the street. It didn’t take the emperor long to arrest the whole company and torture Genesius in an attempt to make him recant and sacrifice to the Roman gods.

Genesius’ martyrdom happened in 303, a mere ten years before the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal. Though he was never formally baptized, as the intent of the actor pouring water on him on stage was not to baptize (Catholics do love their intent), since he was martyred he’s considered to be “baptized by blood,” something I don’t recommend you try at home.

Genesius’ special day is August 25, and he’s the patron saint of actors, comedians, the cinema, epileptics and lawyers.

Life of St. Genesius

St. Genesius on Catholic Online

Genesius of Rome on Wikipedia

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Let me say this first: I love Planned Parenthood. I think they do great stuff. They provide people, especially women, with health care on a sliding-scale basis. In the midst of an abstinence-only education fueled sea of misinformation, they actually provide factual sexual health info. Many of their clinics provide abortions, which is practically heroic given the current political climate.

About a week ago, they introduced new condoms onto the market in the hopes that women would buy them, carry them, and use them, since evidently men are the ones expected to bring the condoms, and people are having unprotected sex when they don’t. That’s all well and good: even though women already take care of the bulk of birth control, remembering to swallow pills every day, or stick patches or their asses, or get bits of metal stuck in their uteri, or get cozy with their cervices while inserting a rubber thingie and a gallon of spermicidal foam. But encouraging women to continue taking control of their sexuality is still a good thing.

The thing is, though, that PP did it by trying to make condoms fashionable and trendy, calling them “Proper Attire,” and though the tag line “Proper Attire: Required For Entry” makes me giggle because I’m twelve, it’s still stupid. Now they’re the “must-have” accessory for the season. They’re for chic, stylish women. Frankly, more chic, stylish, trendy shit is the very last thing I need. I already have every women’s magazine, advertisement and storefront in the world telling me that THESE jeans are no longer acceptable for wear outside my apartment (oh and also they make my ass look fat), that my handbag has the wrong logo on it (the right one will cost me 4k), or that these shoes may as well be from the 1980s for how out of fashion they are. Condoms do not need to do any of that. Condoms need to keep me from getting knocked up or getting a disease, and I will be happy.

Besides, PP has totally missed the point here. The point is not that condoms aren’t pretty enough or stylish enough, the point is that they’re condoms. They get used for sex, and women are still really squeamish about random Target cashiers knowing they have sex. It doesn’t matter how pretty the condom box is, it still looks like a condom box. And until people stop shaming women who not only have sex, but have sex for fun and not babies, buying condoms is going to be off-limits for some women.

Unfortunately, that problem can’t be solved by marketing and clever little turns of phrase. Three stars for the PP fancy condoms.
★★★☆☆

NB: If the condoms themselves were patterned or polka dotted, not just the boxes, I would totally buy them. In fact, why haven’t condoms gone the way of band aids, with all sorts of exciting colors and patterns and character endorsements? Someone needs to get on that.

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Like an orange.
Image from the Karl Pilkington Poster Project, who are trying to spread this image to further the campaign.

Karl Pilkington (pictured above) is apparently refusing to do another podcast with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (creators of The Office and Extras). Ricky Gervais has created a blog to annoy Karl into doing the podcast. I’m not sure how he thinks that will work, but I’m glad he does.

Here’s a segment from a previous podcast, animated by youtube user CatfoodStinksABit:

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