SHOCKING, REALLY

Posted in Quick Hits on September 21st, 2014 by Ed

There is nothing quite as entertaining as watching libertarian-objectivist types try to leave the wicked world behind to establish a utopian community based on their sophomoric ideology. No comedy writer could draw up a better premise than a group of self-worshiping sociopaths who reject the idea of community…forming a community. An isolated one at that, completely devoid of effective regulation. After the enterprise (invariably named after some stupid Atlas Shrugged reference) fails spectacularly, the internet gets to feast on pictures of empty lots and half-built homes in Libertarian Paradise.

The latest such tale, of "Galt's Gulch" in Chile, takes it to the next level. It was your basic real estate scam, with one Heroic Individualist / developer organizing the effort and soliciting investors. These "extremely savvy investors" – actual words – handed over their nest eggs despite the contractual arrangements involved being essentially unenforceable.

Despite their rugged self-reliance and loathing of all government, the investors certainly were quick to run back to the U.S. to start filing lawsuits in Federal court. It's funny on so many levels.

NPF: BAT PORN

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 18th, 2014 by Ed

So here's what is about to happen.

I am going to read (for the first time) and live-blog my reaction to a Batman-themed fan fiction / slash porn piece that one of my friends sent me for the expressed purpose of horrifying me. It is entitled "Go Your Own Way" and included in the "Jim Gordon/Bruce Wayne" section of a part of the internet that I can only assume includes every conceivable combination of fictional characters fucking and sucking one another in ways that normal people would not think about sitting down to write about using 43,000 words. I'm serious, it's 43,000 words long. I may not make it but I'm going to try.

Among the tags on this piece are "Daddy Issues," "Jim Gordon," and, helpfully, "porn".

The abstract, if that is the correct term, explains the author's motivation and concludes with the harrowing declaration / warning: "Again, not a lot of plot."

Fuck.

11:04 PM: Half way through chapter 1. The preface was accurate. The set-up here appears to be limited to "Gordon and Wayne are in the same place for a contrived reason of no real importance. They flirt in the manner that an author who has never spoken to another person in a social situation would imagine flirting sounds like. Wayne has a semi; Gordon is intrigued. Soon they will plow each other." Even by the lowered standards of what I was expecting this is not very good, and honestly I kinda just want them to ram it in already because this dialogue is painfully boring to read.

11:09 PM: "I didn't mean to pry," Wayne said. He had, but Gordon didn't bother disputing him. "You might as well come in, since you're here."

I hope I die soon.

11:10: "The bedroom, with its single bed, because that was all he needed, and the chest of drawers that was one half of what had been a set. "Cozy," Wayne said, looking at the bed."

Oh, I get it. Foreshadowing. Because they're gonna bone.

11:14: They've barely gotten into it and they're already calling one another "good boy" and "bad boy." This is gonna be rough. (Double entendre).

11:15: Yeah they're doing it now. Lots of cop allusions and talk about restraints and cuffs and everything else you might expect your average Batman / Fanfic / Chronic Masturbation enthusiast to include in a story like this. Just for reference there was about 8 seconds of foreplay. Maybe 10. It is basically "They kissed, and then grabbed each other's dicks."

11:18: The sex was over in like 11 seconds. This author may have a highly unsatisfying sex life. Also, when Bruce Wayne was blowing Gordon, Gordon was thinking about Batman. That's some deep shit right there.

11:20: 90 seconds of banal conversation, then Wayne blurts out "Ready for another fuck?" I…

11:21: "Wayne's jeans were still open. He'd never fastened them, and with one hand he was somehow able to open the lube, spread it on his hand, and finger himself, all while still kissing Gordon." Spoken like a man who has never had sex before, and possibly has never had hands.

11:23: Oh good, Gordon just called him "son." While banging him. Jackpot!

11:25: "Even the fact he'd thought of Batman when Wayne was sucking him off last night didn't bother Gordon. After all, it hadn't been Batman's pointy hat or swirly cape or man of mystery appeal, or even his bravery and all he stood for."

11:26: Wayne and Gordon are having a conversation about Pasta Roni, which is a code word for fucking each other. See, Gordon wants to go out to a "cheap, quick, and dirty" Italian place, "just like (Bruce) likes". Wayne would rather go straight to Gordon's apartment for what I assume will be another thrilling 18 seconds of old man sex.

11:29: 'Gordon's hand tightened. "Ask it nice."'

11:30: Gordon has an emotionally charged moment and reminisces about his ex-wife whilst kneeling on his kitchen floor. The trigger for this was the smell of Batman's ballsack. Rich people have the most fragrant nuts.

I mean, you know how it goes. One minute you're inhaling balls-aura and the next you're like, man, remember that time I was married to a woman?

11:32: Bruce Wayne is rock hard again approximately 30 seconds after completion of a sex act with Mr. Gordon. Bruce Wayne has some special powers indeed.

11:34: Gordon and Wayne exchange several lines of dialogue marveling at the snugness of the former's asshole. This is approximately as erotic as reading the phone book, albeit less interesting.

11:41: OK the fifth chapter makes it apparent that this has settled into a very mundane formula. Gordon is working and Wayne appears. They have lunch. They fuck. Gordon pretends he is Bruce's dad. Lube is sparingly applied and occasionally forgotten by the author. Phrases like "But he did see Wayne the next night. They had sex. They didn't have Pasta Roni." are used.

I'm done. I don't have seven more chapters of this in me. I suspected that I might be gripped by a range of feelings and emotions while reading this but I did not expect that overwhelming boredom would be one of them. For christ's sake, he at least could have worn the Batman costume or they could have double-teamed Bane or something. Maybe picked up some drifter. Broken out the toys. Anything, really. Anything other than having lunch, talking about noodles, and then pushing each other around like a wheelbarrow.

If anything happens in chapters six through twelve, let me know.

PS. You'll be pleased to know that Commissioner Gordon is a stickler for condoms.

WATER LEVEL

Posted in Rants on September 17th, 2014 by Ed

The first time one teaches a college class comes with no meaningful preparation. In most graduate programs there is a one-semester lip service course on pedagogy that ostensibly exists to teach teaching; in reality it is the graduate version of a blow-off course and it mostly imparts crucial lessons like "Don't fuck the students" and "Make a syllabus." To say the least, teaching (as the instructor, not as a teaching assistant) for the first time is largely a "jump in an hopefully you'll figure out how to swim" affair. Accordingly the first year or two in the classroom ranges from awful to barely adequate depending on one's natural abilities. The learning curve is steep.

Among the most common mistakes we make at the beginning is creating a course that is far more difficult than the undergraduates expect. We start out naively assuming that undergrads are like we were as undergrads. They're not; we were nerds. We were the 1% of undergraduates who care about the material enough to consider graduate school and a life in academia. The other 99% are somewhere on the continuum between ambivalent and totally uninterested. We expect that the students read the assigned readings (They don't). We expect that they learned certain things in high school (They didn't). We expect that when we tell them something in a lecture, often multiple times, they will remember it (They won't). We expect that they will study for exams and spend more than a few hours on a research paper (Probably not). The preceding may not be true if you are lucky enough to teach at some elite institution. For the vast majority of us, though, the early teaching experiences shock us to accept the reality that many undergraduates had a woeful K-12 education and/or they have very little interest in excelling academically.

So we adjust. We reduce the amount of material we attempt to cover and vary what we do in the classroom until we find what appears to work for the students. We concoct ways to force the students to keep up with the reading. We account for the fact that some freshmen wander into an American government course without knowing that "legislative branch" refers to Congress and that Democrats are more liberal than Republicans. We analyze data on our own exams and assignments and make adjustments where the students haven't done well. We like to think that we improve as teachers and make the class better, and certainly most of us do continually improve. But let us not kid ourselves: compared to our initial teach experiences, we make the classes easier. This is both practical – We don't want to explain why our class of 40 had 33 F's – and necessary, as students deserve a class that is at the appropriate level, which varies greatly by type of school and student population.

Eventually we reach a point at which we can't make the class any easier. More accurately, we won't. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying, "The only way I could assign any less reading would be to assign none." Eventually you have to struggle with the question of what is the minimum necessary for something to be called a college course at an institution that attempts to maintain academic standards. You look at the topics covered and decide that nothing else can be pared away while still doing the intended scope of the course justice. You look at the exam questions and assignments and decide that you simply can't make them any easier, simpler, or less time consuming. You look at what you present in class and come to the conclusion that this is as basic as it's going to get.

It's an unpleasant moment when you reach that point and find that the students' performance is still not where you would like it to be. The remaining explanations are that the students simply cannot succeed in a true college-level course or that you are a very poor teacher. Personally, I never wanted to find myself rooting for either of those options. And the tendency of the system is to either make excuses for the students and blame everything on the teacher or vice-versa with little middle ground.

This post is not one where the story is resolved at the end. These are questions we never stop asking – what can I do to be better, and if I'm not the problem then what can I do to fix it?

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WE DEEPLY REGRET THAT YOU GOT ANGRY

Posted in Quick Hits on September 15th, 2014 by Ed

The internet was afire on Monday with the baffling Urban Outfitters Kent State sweatshirt featuring the university name and logo with a splatter of blood. Get it? Because the school is best known for the National Guard shooting in 1970? Hi-larious.

As a fan of the non-pology, what the company released later in the day after the item went viral was nothing short of spectacular. This may be the crappiest excuse for an apology in the history of human language.

Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. The one-of-a-kind item was purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. There is no blood on this shirt nor has this item been altered in any way. The red stains are discoloration from the original shade of the shirt and the holes are from natural wear and fray. Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.

This is the Sistene Chapel of the "We are sorry that you got mad" genre. It may be imitated but never will it be equaled.

It's just a faded vintage sweatshirt. It happens to have a Kent State logo and it happens to have some stains that look exactly like blood. Also some holes. Totes coincidence.

PUBLIC OPINION IN REAL AMERICA, FJM STYLE

Posted in Rants on September 15th, 2014 by Ed

Most of my friends live in cities. Real cities. Places where people read books and have hopes and dreams. Little bubbles that seal out most of the things urbanites know to be true about Real America, things from which they want to hide. I am intensely jealous of all of these people, because it has been my experience that most of the things people assume about the Bush Voter parts of America are true. I live among people who wear American flag hats and "These Colors Don't Run" t-shirts unironically. In 2014.

If you ever want to lose your will to live completely, go to the opinion section of the last remaining newspaper in some cow town that has been in decline since the Eisenhower years. The kind of place where the remaining population consists of anyone too old or too poor to leave. Then read the letters to the editor. You may want to have a few drinks first. You sure as hell will by the time you're done.

While FJM Treatment is usually reserved for professional writers – or at least people who have been paid to write things when "professional" seems like a stretch – but I found a fantastic specimen of what life is like out here in the provinces and I want those of you who live in not-horrible places to experience it with me. This is what it's like. This is why we're fucked.

The column is called "A thanks for subsidizing local government we don’t use?" which seems grammatically askew no matter how many times I read it. My first inclination was to file this under Too Stupid to Merit a Response, but I want you all to share my pain. This is what passes for thinking out here.

I recently paid my property tax for this year.

Nothing foreshadows a journey into Glenn Beck's fever dreams like an opening line about property taxes. And there's very little that benefits the public discourse more than white people pissing and moaning about them.

We knew when we moved from California to Illinois that politically, we would be just exchanging one bad state for another.

Leaving only the question of why you would move here, then. Why not move to some kind of low-tax paradise like Mississippi? Brownbackistan? Somalia? From what I hear Somalia has no property taxes at all. Largely on account of Somalis having no property. And the absence of functioning government.

We had been warned about the oppressive tax system in Illinois. It took my breath away as I wrote out that check, but it also got me to thinking about where our hard-earned money was going.

Well since you identified yourself as a "stay-home mom" in the tagline, technically you didn't earn any money. You know. If we're splitting hairs. Also, guys…I can't emphasize enough how pitiful the property taxes are in this burnt out husk of a city. It's the absolute middle of nowhere, every part of the local government is essentially broke, and the school districts are straight out of an NPR story about poverty.

This is what I found.

Under threat of losing our home and property, we were forced to give a ridiculous amount of money to the local government school system that we do not participate in.

Once again: Somalia! No threat of losing your home or property! No taxes! Paradise!

And this is the exciting part. Which way are we going to "do not participate in" – old person with no children or homeschool fanatic? Let this picture of the author guide you as you try to predict the next twist.

face

eyes

Yeah. I think you see where we're going here.

I would like a hearty thank you from those families that contribute little to the education of their own children. Your children are getting a sub-par education on the backs of the elderly and families who privately or home educate their children.

I love this shit. Love it. These doorknobs choose to brainwash their children at home rather than sending them to school and they expect the law to contort itself around their choice. Because that's what it is: a choice. You could send your kids to the schools your taxes pay for, or you can keep them home and teach them that the Earth is 4000 years old and a bunch of other made up crap. Wingnuts love to ask why they should have to pay for everyone else's choices. Well, why does the state have to change the law because of yours?

Oh, right. Because Jesus and freedom and you are an intensely stupid person.

I also found that I am paying a nice sum to the local junior college. Really? No one in our home is currently attending Illinois Central College.

I FOUND OUT THAT MY TAXES GO TO THE FIRE DEPARTMENT, AND NONE OF MY PROPERTY IS EVEN ON FIRE! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT! HIGHWAY ROBBERY!

*picks corn from own feces*

We home educate our children and do not expect nor want the government to pay for our children’s education. It is my responsibility, not the community’s. Again, a thank you would be appreciated. Or better yet, how about some personal responsibility? Give me back my money!

Thank you for choosing to make sure your kids turn out just as stupid as you. They can do things like write idiotic letters to the editor and think they're making good arguments when suggesting that taxes should essentially be voluntary. Let me tell you, that's genius.

For the taxes we pay to keep the library open, I would like smiles on the faces of the librarians. I now feel obligated to go to the library since I’m paying so much to keep it open.

Not to rub it in, but once again, the author's annual income is $0. "You're" not paying jack to keep it open. And this statement might be the most explicit and best example of the incredibly inflated sense of self-importance of the teabagging crowd. They're like adult-sized infants. Me, me, me. My wants are the most important. My contributions to society are so important that people should literally kiss my ass in gratitude when I pass.

Hope the library has picture books.

Pleasure Driveway PKD? I had to look it up. Not only do I have to pay taxes to this fund, but I still have to pay to get into the zoo or the RiverPlex. I appreciate a good park, but it’s absurd to pay this amount. Maybe a plaque should be hung at each park stating that this is funded by taxpayers who pay at least one paycheck per year to keep this open.

The RiverPlex is free and I'm pretty goddamn sure that most sentient human adults do not need a plaque to tell them that public facilities are paid for by tax dollars.

Can't help but love the "I'm not unreasonable, I object to the absurdity of the size of the tax burden" statements. First, there is no level of taxes above zero that this dingbat would not spend the vast majority of her life bitching about. Second, what is a reasonable amount to pay in taxes? We should probably just send everyone a blank form and have them write in an amount they have determined to be appropriate based on the voices in their head and how much they hate black people.

I should get bus passes for the amount we are paying to mass transit.

The bus costs a fucking dollar. One dollar, with free transfers. Also if this garbage bag of meat has ever been on public transit in her life I'll donate $1000 to her favorite charity, which is probably something that provides legal defense to abortion clinic bombers.

I am sure that many homeowners never see their property tax bill, but I think that it would behoove them to take a moment and see where that large chunk of money is actually going.

What? They mail it to you. You don't have to answer three riddles to get it. It's not balanced atop a greased flagpole. It's not written in a dead language. It comes in the mail and you open it and there's words and numbers.

Peoria residents may have voted in some of these taxes, but did they understand that if they didn’t pay them, they could lose the very house that they have worked years to buy?

No, they voted for these taxes assuming that they would never have to pay them or they could pay however much they want, and that there would be no consequences to deciding not to follow the law. The author apparently does not understand what a law is and projects that assumption onto everyone else. This is classic right wing vitriol – "Everything I say suggests that I haven't the slightest goddamn idea how government works or what it does, but I know it's terrible and everything it does is wrong."

Heather Olsson is a stay-at-home mother of seven.

Congratulations, you can have unprotected sex. You might find that money is a little less tight if you don't reproduce like a cockroach. Then again we've already established that the rest of society is supposed to accommodate your choices, right?

If this is the real America then America is an embarrassment. As someone who teaches college undergraduates I thought I was immune to being shocked by how wildly full of themselves some people can be despite having no skills, motivation, or accomplishments whatsoever. I was wrong.

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NPF: DILEMMA

Posted in Quick Hits on September 12th, 2014 by Ed

Audience participation post.

Which is superior: horribly offending some people in the process of strongly pleasing others or being neutral enough to avoid offending anyone but not making a lasting positive impression on anyone either?

Asking for a friend.

REDEEMING VALUE

Posted in Rants on September 10th, 2014 by Ed

Of the literal dozens of interviews with NFL players regarding Ray Rice that I have seen in the past 36 hours, all of which expressed condemnation, the best comment was made by his teammate Justin Forsett:

"I'm not going to abandon him now. I'm going to be a friend and help him in his growth and development. But I'm definitely ashamed watching that."

I want to be explicit about two things up front, and please re-read these before you post your angry comments. One, absolutely nobody should feel sorry for Ray Rice. Two, Ray Rice should go to prison. I believe that anyone who commits a crime with this level of violence deserves a prison sentence. Counseling? Therapy? Suspensions? Yes, he should have those things too. But he should spend a not-insignificant amount of time in prison for his crime. He won't, but he should.

I believe violent criminals should go to jail, but I also believe in an outmoded theory of incarceration that tries to rehabilitate offenders. It is one of my core beliefs that with very few exceptions, people who commit crimes can be rehabilitated. Not all of them will choose to do so, obviously, but I believe that every individual has the potential to reflect on his crime and commit to changing the part of himself that caused it to happen. And my purpose in writing this post is to emphasize that this applies even to people who commit the kind of crimes we find the most shocking and heinous.

This is not to say "Leave Ray alone!" or "The poor guy has suffered enough!" because he hasn't. People who do shameful things should not be shocked when they are made to feel ashamed of their actions and to the extent that he is suffering right now he has only himself to blame – not to mention that his suffering pales in comparison to that of his victim. He is not the victim; he is the perpetrator of all the misery resulting from his behavior including his own.

Forsett's comment reminds us all that while sympathy and concern should be directed primarily to the victim, the offender needs support as well. Rice does not need everyone on Earth to abandon him and treat him like a pariah even though he has committed a disgusting crime. He needs people to say, "I'm appalled at what you did, and if you decide that you want to change I will be here to help you." Not to make excuses for you. Not to protect you from the scorn and criticism you earned. To help. I think everyone deserves that, including murderers, rapists, and Ray Rice.

As I wrote years ago regarding Michael Vick, there is a tendency for people to adopt reactionary, right-wing frames when someone commits a particularly heinous crime. Suddenly we stop talking about the myriad problems with the justice and correctional systems in this country and we join the "Lock 'em up and throw away the key" chorus. We start demanding to see people punished in perpetuity, branded for life by their crime. Ray Rice will never escape what he did, nor should he. He will always be that guy who knocked his wife out and dragged her around by the hair. He made that bed for himself. But the appropriate response should not be to cast him out like a leper. If – the big if – he is willing to destroy the part of himself that enabled him to commit that crime and replace it with something better, people who know him should help him through that process. If he emerges from that having learned from his brutal crime (I hate it when people say "mistake" here), then more power to him. That is exactly what we want from people who commit crimes – to rehabilitate, not simply to be punching bags for our scorn and punishment forever.

I believe people can change, even people who do terrible things. To believe otherwise would be to agree with the Palins and the Limbaughs of the world, whose simplistic, idiotic worldview dictates that people are Good or Evil, period. Even though it is unpopular to say anything less than ruthlessly critical of a person who commits this kind of crime I'd sooner eat my hat than throw it into the ring with people who espouse such backward beliefs.

WE WEREN'T SURE WHAT PUNCHING LOOKS LIKE

Posted in Rants on September 9th, 2014 by Ed

When the coach of the Baltimore Ravens mentions four times in three minutes that Monday was the first time anyone had seen the video (via TMZ) of Ray Rice punching his wife – and then the announcing and studio crews on two Monday Night Football games repeat the talking point a few dozen times for emphasis – it sounds defensive and strongly implies that they're trying to establish a narrative of new information to conceal the fact that they likely saw the video months ago.

Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported months ago that the elevator camera footage was in the league's possession before backpedaling on that Monday in what appears to be a bizarre attempt to throw himself on a grenade and assist the league with damage control. This whole situation smacks of exactly what it is: a group of people attempting to create the impression of swift, decisive action when in reality they were aware of this months ago but were content to hush it up. Until they couldn't. When the police reports reveal that the hotel turned over all surveillance footage including this "new" video months ago, the flimsy story will collapse.

The more I thought about this on Monday, the less sense it makes that the video would somehow have changed the way the league and team viewed the situation. It was already common knowledge that Rice punched the woman, basically knocked her out, and dragged her out of the elevator by her hair. Were they somehow shocked to learn what "punching" is? Had they never seen punching before they allegedly discovered this clip on Monday? I realize that there is a difference in the way we process a video and a written description of an event, but in this instance a supposedly thorough investigation was done to establish what happened. Both parties and the investigators agreed on certain aspects of the story, including that Rice knocked her out with a punch. Irrespective of the video, this is not new information.

Maybe, if we try to assume the best intentions on the part of the decision-makers, the full weight of what he did only registered upon seeing the video. That's not a particularly good explanation for inaction, but it is an explanation. Instead the powers that be (the police will end up taking heat on this as well when the NFL throws them under the bus) are playing dumb about what has been standard operating procedure: do nothing or close to it until the negative attention reaches a critical mass, then play Knight in Shining Armor by creating the appearance of a swift, stern response that easily could have – and should have – been handed down months ago.

That's weak, guys. Weak.

HOLISTIC HEALING WELLNESS

Posted in Rants on September 8th, 2014 by Ed

Sometimes false equivalencies come from the most unexpected sources.

In 2008, the always vitriolic and reliable Matt Taibbi released his book The Great Derangement in which he looked at the growing disconnect between the American electorate and reality/facts. For reasons never explained and certainly not justified by reality, he presented End Times Christianity (and all the beliefs like creationism that accompany it) and 9/11 Trutherism as opposite ends of the political spectrum. That is, what creationism and fundamentalism are to The Right, Trutherism is to The Left. This is so far beyond stupid that I still can't believe he, of all people, wrote it. Trutherism is and always has been a movement of the Alex Jones crowd, the ultra-survivalist paranoid types who, if anything from the normal realm of politics can be applied to them, are closer to Libertarians than Liberals. They are a loose collection of conspiracy theorists, anti-government types, and good old fashioned charlatans and rubes. So to call Truthers the Christian fundamentalists of The Left is beyond a stretch – it is just false.

Had he waited a couple years or done a bit more research, he would have realized that the actual left-wing version of right-wingers who think the planet is 6,000 years old are the anti-vaxxers. This is not to say that all anti-vaxxers are liberals, as a good portion of them harbor some level of "Ain't no gubmint gonna tell ME what to do!" motivation. But if you want to point to something absolutely, categorically false and stupid that has a decent amount of popularity on the left (primarily among the Mother Earth Hippie liberals), crackpot vaccine theories are a much better fit for Taibbi's analogy. As a recent editorial puts it, the anti-vax movement is driven almost entirely by "Rich, educated, and stupid" parents. In other words, it is driven by people who should know better but don't; who have so bought into the idea of all things Natural being inherently superior that they have knee-jerk reactions against anything pharmaceutical or chemical entering the body. An author astutely called Whole Foods the "temple of pseudoscience" earlier this year, and although it pained many of my friends and colleagues to admit it, that is not inaccurate. Objectively, nothing separates the touted "holistic" and "natural" cures for various health issues from snake oil salesmen on infomercials. Or from the kind of awful science practiced by the religious right.

For the kind of person who believes that a bunch of herbal supplements* can cure your ailments "Nature's way," the intellectual leap to anti-vax arguments is not very far. That movement ties together several strains of American political paranoia – the distrust of Big Corporations, the insistence that things were so much better in the good ol' days, and the insistence that thanks to the internet, we all know better than any "expert" excepting of course the self-identified ones who tell us that what we believe is correct. It is popular among liberals, myself included, to take great joy in mocking the various stupidities of modern conservative ideology. We are less eager, logically, to point out that different flavors of that same poisonous logic pop up on the left as well. There are knuckleheads among us, and they sure as hell aren't talking about 9/11.

*This is not a blanket statement implying that there is no value in non-pharmaceutical medicine or that no conditions can be treated "naturally". It is instead an argument that the vast majority of what are offered as natural or herbal remedies have no scientific evidence to support their claims whatsoever – a problem endemic to the unregulated "dietary supplement" industry.

NPF: MELODIC WANKING

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 5th, 2014 by Ed

Despite being a huge and nearly exclusive fan of guitar-based music, I've always hated guitar solos. They strike me as cliched theatricality at best and pointless filler at worst. There is nothing that interests me less than how many notes some Steve Vai worshiping d-bag can play in 30 seconds. A guitar solo is what you shoehorn into a song when you can't write a decent bridge.

When one of my friends challenged me recently to resist writing off all guitar soloing, I spent a long car ride with my mp3 player trying to find out if I like some without realizing it. Apparently I do. If a guitar part actually sounds like it's a part of the song rather than some noodling crap layered on top of it because the band couldn't think of anything else to do or because (as in a lot of kinds of metal) every goddamn song needs three solos in it just because, a guitar solo can be not-the-most irritating part of an otherwise good song. In no particular order (and obviously limited by my less than all-encompassing taste in music, tending toward the noisy and loud) here are four pretty excellent guitar performances. Feel free to add yours in the comments and let's just go ahead and not waste time trying to prove who has the better taste in music. OK? OK.

1. Bob Stinson, "Customer" (off The Replacements, Sorry Ma Forgot To Take Out the Trash). The magic happens from 0:45 to about 1:10. The liner notes say "Bob's lead is hotter than a urinary tract infection" and who are we to argue. He was the Drunken Master of the music world in the 80s. It's slop, but the best kind of slop.

Stinson drank himself to death, which is a pretty predictable ending when you get kicked out of The Replacements for drinking too much. Think about that for a second.

2. Tom Morello, "Know Your Enemy" (off RATM self-titled debut). Solo from 3:15 to about 3:45. This old RATM stuff sounds really dated and more than a little juvenile (although if teenagers are going to listen to juvenile music, they might as well get something other than right-wing talking points out of it). There are about 50 Tom Morello solos you could put in a pile and throw darts at. The guy just makes more sounds out of a guitar and cheap stompboxes than anyone, period. This was one of the first ones he got a lot of attention for, and it has all of the things we came to associate with his sound over the next 20 years.

3. Tim Sköld, "Putting Holes in Happiness" (off Marilyn Manson, Eat Me Drink Me). Solo from 2:30 to about 3:30. OK you're just going to have to trust me on this one. It's a really good solo. The off-key parts jump out of the speakers.

Not a great album, but I think a lot of "music people" would be shocked to give it a listen and hear how good of a guitarist Sköld is. I don't even play guitar and it was a real "Damn this guy can play" moment. Not a lot of people can be interesting soloing for a full minute in a musical environment as restrictive as this kind of sluggish blob of goth.

4. Kurt Cobain, "Sappy" (not "Verse Chorus Verse", which it's usually and inaccurately called – the "hidden track" on that 99 cent bin legend, the No Alternative compilation). Solo from 1:40 to 2:10. Here is a guy who had more technical skill than anyone gave him credit for, yet he rarely showed it off.

This is a perfect example of a solo that actually fits perfectly into the song. It makes the song better. Nobody cares that the average Guitar Center employee or bar band member could play this with ease. Side note: it's funny how a throwaway Nirvana song sounds about a thousand times better than the best the bands on the radio today can pull off. Turns out that it's more interesting to listen to people playing instruments than sounds manipulated to death by a producer armed with every post-effect known to man.