Two people who were extremely influential to my upbringing – Soundwave from the Transformers cartoon and Steve Albini from Big Black – achieve their distinctive vocal sounds using a 1930s-era signal processor called a vocoder. Originally invented to scramble human speech for intelligence transmission, it found a musical niche in the 1970s. Aside from Big Black it achieved fame with Kraftwerk and Robert Moog. If you are lucky enough to find a functioning, vintage analog vocoder these days you can expect to take out a (prime) mortgage to make it your own.

Of course today digital processors can imitate (but let's be honest, never completely replicate) most analog effects. Hell, you can now download plugins and applications which bring the magic of vocoding to your PC.

So feel free to take advantage of this opportunity to waste several hours record your voice saying "Autobot invaders! Autobot invaders!" like Soundwave or singing "The Power of Independent Trucking" off Songs About Fucking. Or, better yet, do Soundwave singing "The Power of Independent Trucking."


(NPF coming later, I promise)

So Mike and I were chatting today about some unfounded speculation on McCain's motives in attempting to postpone this week's debate. Lacking evidence to support this, here is my guess.

The McCain campaign is desperate – absolutely desperate – to buy time for next week's Vice-Presidential debate. McCain isn't afraid to debate tonight, but he and his team are in full crisis mode over Palin. You may have seen her recently getting destroyed by Katie Couric. Let me clarify: getting intellectually dismantled by Katie Couric is not a good sign. Treat yourself to exchanges like:

COURIC: You've cited Alaska's proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and on our other side, the land boundary that we have with Canada. It- it's funny that a comment like that was- kind of made to cari- I don't know, you know? Reporters-

I bet it was the editing that made her look bad! Maybe the lighting.

They chose Palin with very little forethought because she fit the bill (female, young, pro-life) and they assumed that whatever skills she lacked as a candidate could be fixed. All employers do this – hire 'em and train 'em as you go. But now it is hitting them: she is far, far worse than they expected. Everything they're doing screams "buyer's remorse." The refusal to allow her near the media (except cameras! cameramen are ok!), the heavy scripting, the "attack the media" tactics….they realize what they have and they're panicking. As I stated when she was nominated, she's managed to excite some people who were already voting for McCain anyway; with any other voters she is a serious liability. She's no longer new, exciting, or a novelty. And like any other rush job, it only looks good from a distance. Up close things get ugly in a hurry.

I do not know a nicer way to say this, and the campaign is in full freak-out mode as it sinks in: the woman is almost comically stupid. She's probably a nice person and all that, good at hick politics in the boonies, but every time she opens her mouth she humiliates the campaign. They realize this. And they are desperately trying to buy time. If she can't handle a five-minute interview with Katie Couric, what are the odds of her debating Joe Biden for an hour and not saying something monumentally dumb?

Again we return to the Quayle precedent. Michael Dukakis did one thing right in his campaign. Yes, only one. The sole success he had, the sole instance of gaining momentum in a race he never led, was this commercial:

DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMN. It was one of a trio of memorable ads from 1988, including Willie Horton and the devastatingly effective "Dukakis in Tank" ad. Dan Quayle very nearly cost George Bush an election he should have won overwhelmingly. In the end, though, the overall shittiness of Dukakis made the election about him and not his opponent. And now, 20 years later, the McCain camp is waking up with a morning-after hangover and asking "What have we done?"

I'll tell you what you've done: you nominated Dan Quayle with tits. Like the elder Bush, McCain is going to pay the price. Unlike the elder Bush, he doesn't have a big lead to work with.