impractical cars

I’ve been feeling the need to own an impractical car recently. Whenever I drive down the highway, I find myself looking over at the Porsche Boxter, BMW Z4, or an Audi TT whenever one passes me. I look at the drivers with a certain amount of curiosity tinged with a small streak of envy.

I don’t necessarily understand why I have these feelings. I look at a car as an almost purely utilitarian device. The idea that a late model car somehow expresses individuality seems positively ludicrous, given the number of models and colors available. I look at the car I bought five years ago and see cars just like it all the time. How does that make me different from anyone else?

I think the thing drawing me to the sports car is precisely its non-utilitarian nature. True, I did once see a Porsche with a child seat in the passenger side not long ago (and what a sight it was), but that as an aberration. It would be nice to drive a car that is simply built because it has an interesting shape and is nice to drive.

Or perhaps it is the idea that I could have enough disposable income to be able to afford and impractical car. In all my anxiety over the price of local housing, I long for a time when I could have enough to be able to afford a practical car for the family and impractical cars for Mrs. Geek and myself. Of course, that would mean house with a large garage, which would imply a house to begin with… and the rest of my (upper) middle class dream falls into place nicely.

their like shall not be seen again

I happened to catch two installments of the VH1 series Classic Albums this week. One discussed the making of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon; the other covered the creation of Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf. Both are classic albums, in their way. Though I will never quite be able to get the memories of a number of nights when my 21 year old self had to put up with bars filled with people singing along to “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” at around midnight, they both deserve their due. Both are also phenominally successful, with Dark Side remaining on the Billboard album chart for over 14 years, and Bat has never exited the UK Top 200 chart.

Sadly, I don’t think that anything as adventurous, or perhaps as odd, would even be made today. I am dismayed that the entertainment cartels seem to have confused celebrity with musical talent once again. So who gets an album these days? Scarlett Johansen. Haylie Duff. Jamie-Lynn Spears. Whoever wins American Idol. Whoever doesn’t win American Idol. Dare I even mention Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline? I know that the lasting music of an era rarely, if ever, makes it to Number 1 on the charts, but please. I recall when Milli Vanilli lip synced live and became pariahs. Now “music” artists do it all the time…. so they can better fit choreography into the act. The Hollywood model of “make it in the first weekend” dominates the music industry. There is no attempt to develop careers. It all seems to be about the next big single, to sell a CD for a week.

Perhaps I make this point too often here. Perhaps it is just too easy to cherry pick all the great music of the 1970’s and say “the music scene right now seems so lame”. Then again, everything seems so manufactured. How do records get made these days? Committees. Earnings statements. Focus groups. The men-over-40 bare midriff segment. The women who want to dress like call girls segment. The young adolescents with tattoos and piercings segment. The rump shakin’ segment. The suburban white kids who want to talk like they’re all ghetto segment. Yeah right, in the words of that old MTV promo, “hey yo! bitch! I said NO sprinkles on my frozen yogurt!”

Maybe Roger Waters said it right on Dark Side all those years ago:

Money it’s a hit
But don’t give me that do goody good bullshit

The almighty dollar is really the name of the music business, and the rest of us are deluding ourselves. In a contest between art and commerce, the joke is really just on us and Britney Spears is laughing all the way to the bank.

I can’t resist a music meme either

Harri3t says she can’t resist a musical meme. Well, I can’t either. So here is my version of the “If Your Life Was A Movie, What Would Your Soundtrack Be?” meme.

For the unitiated, here are the rules:1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle.
3. Press play.
4. For every question, type the song that’s playing.
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button.
6. Don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool.

Since I had my iPod going at my desk at Company O. today, I gave it a whirl.

Opening Credits: Introduction by Col. Bruce Hampton & The Aquarium Rescue Unit. It’s not much of a track, just the introduction of the band at the beginning of a live disk to a bit of random grooving. The idea of an introduction during the opening credits has a certain documentaryquality though.

First Day At School: RV by Faith No More. This song speaks to the darkness of no hope that comes from knowing at an early age that you and your kids will be in the trailer park for decades… all to a simple child-like melody that could be a nursery rhyme. It seems both appropriate and highly ironic as a first day of school song.

Falling In Love: Now’s The Time by Art Blakey. I can’t say that I know the words to this song, or if it even has words, but the upbeat sentiment of the title speaks volumes about the nature of young love.

Breaking Up: Oh Bury Me Not by Johnny Cash. Equating breaking up with burial seems highly appropriate.

Prom: Now We’re Even by Michael Penn. As a mid-tempo rocker, I don’t know what it has to do with a prom… though the song has a certain air of finality and ends this particular CD. Memories of my senior prom represent part of a closing of a chapter of my life that started on a brighter note, but ended in a certain amount of misunderstanding and ambivalence.

Life’s OK: Sex Is Not The Enemy by Garbage. Ok, maybe I could bang my head and thrash about to this, just to remember that life really is OK. It’s not a shiny, happy song. Or maybe it’s just a reminder of all those dreadfully single years in my 20’s when I did need to be reminded that sex was not an enemy to be feared or conquered.

Mental Breakdown: Us and Them by Pink Floyd. The next track on the CD (Brain Damage/Eclipse) would be a much better breakdown song I think, but this will do. Sometimes what the world puts pressures on you… and you crack. That is the next song. This is the prelude, the reason, for that meltdown to happen.

Driving: Drown In My Own Tears by Ray Charles. As Bleeding Gums Murphy said on the Simpsons: “The Blues ain’t about feeling bad. It’s about making other people feel worse!” Blues is a good music for driving. Play on, Brother Ray!

Flashback: Sleepyhouse by Blind Melon. With the sitar-like guitars and dreamy vocals, this has some kind of flashback written all over it.

Getting Back Together: Lord Have Mercy by Raging Slab. This seems ominous somehow for a getting back together song. It speaks not ofpeace or rediscovered joy, but rather anxiety and rough seas ahead. I’mnot sure I’d want to get back together much to this song.

Wedding: Casino Boogie by The Rolling Stones. The wedding reception rocks out with classic Stones!!!

Birth of Child: All Blues by Miles Davis. Progression, growth, change. The simmering pot. Late nights and diaper changes. The power of unconditional love.

Final Battle: Departure Bay by Diana Krall. “I just get home and then I leave again It’s long ago and far away Now we’re skimming stones andExchanging rings And scattering and sailing from departure bay”

Death Scene: I Got You (At The End Of The Century) by Wilco. The song is about looking back through life before a once in a life time relationship. A fitting end.

Funeral: Country Girl by B.B. King. The wake rocks out with some joyous blues by B.B. King.

End Credits: Walking Higher by Heather Nova. This is an unsettling ending. Again, the verse seems anxious, only to resolve itself with a soaring, harmonious chorus. This is not Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison.This suggests ambiguity, no clear answers. Perhaps Walking Higher is anoblique reference to some kind of move toward a higher plain of being.

a relatively nice compliment, I think

A co-worker paid me what I thought was a pretty nice compliment yesterday.

Our group here at Company O. just got a new disk storage array. I am assigned the responsibility of migrating data from our current array to this new piece of hardware. When a co-worker asked me if it would be possible to configure the new array in a certain way, I said “I don’t know. Given enough time, I’ll figure it out.” My co-worker responded “Dr. Geek, given enough time, you always figure everything out.”

I liked that.

we really must be married now…

Mrs. Geek and I recently bought a new media cabinet to house our many CDs and DVDs. I was able to get it assembled last week, and broke down a large, white bookcase last Thursday that was located in the space the media cabinet now occupies. Finally, Mrs. Geek started the process of integrating our two CD collections — a process she likes to joke about by saying “well, we must really be married now…”

Putting the two collections together is largely a task of inserting Mrs. Geek’s collection into mine; I brought more than eighty percent of the collection into our relationship. The CDs are ordered alphabetically by artist (or in the case of some movie sound tracks, movie title.) As the integration progressed, it was interesting to see what artists from the two collections ended up next to each other.

The most interesting and evocative pair so far is Metallica next Bette Midler. An interesting and kind of ironic pairing is Southern Culture On The Kids (who play a kind of odd, funny, white trash rockabilly music) right next to Britney Spears (from her pre-K-Fed days.)

Mostly though, Mrs. Geek brings a lot of pop consciousness to the collection. She’s the one with the Faith Hill, N’Sync, and Shania Twain CDs. I’m the one with the John Coltrane, Willie Nelson, Led Zepplin, and Genesis CDs. We did have about four CDs worth of overlap; two by Harry Connick Jr., one by Peter Gabriel, and one by the Chieftains.

getting back to basics

I’m sorry that I’ve been incommunicado lately. The will to write has just been lacking. Maybe it’s because I’m not sleeping well. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending some evenings writing code to get the middleware software I helped create and maintain as a grad student up and running again (a favor to my dissertation advisor… don’t ask.) Maybe it’s because I’ve also been using my evenings to construct and demolish furniture.I don’t know. The words just haven’t been coming.

This past weekend I took some friends up on an invitation to get back to basics by going camping. It was “car” camping; we drove to a campsite in a park and pitched tents about 20 feet from our cars. The cooking was over a campfire though, making heavy use of a trusty Lodge cast iron Dutch oven. There was some hiking. There also was a short trip outside the park to do a little wine tasting. We slept in tents, but had air mattresses. In all, it was definitely “roughing it with benefits” instead of just “roughing it”.

I hadn’t been camping in about 10 years, and I was reminded how camping helps cut down on the white noise imposed by modern life (even the relatively luxurious camping I experienced.) There is no TV to watch. There is only what is in front of you and what you need to do take care of the necessities, like eating. You begin to get in touch with the basis for ideas like hospitality and civilization when you try sleeping at night in a tent. There’s not much you can do to defend yourself or your property when you lay prone and just have a few walls of fabric to outline your personal domain.

That said, the trip was very well planned. I was loaned a tent, an air mattress, and given a grocery list. Beyond that, I just showed up for two enjoyable days of camping. I made or helped tend a few fires. I cleaned a few dishes. I hiked. I drank wine. I slept as best I could.

So now I am back… and I hopefully will update a bit more over the next few days.

to foie gras or not to foie gras

Foie gras was brought to the attention of my frontal lobes this morning when I read an interview with Anthony Bourdain on Salon.com about a New Jersey law that will outlaw the production of foie gras. This will drive D’Artagnan, the artisan pioneer of foie gras in the United States out of business. Given that the other major producers of foie gras are located in the Hudson Valley of New York and in California, the latter state has already banned the practice (unless it can be proven humane) by 2012, and the former is contemplating similar laws, the burgeoning foie gras industry in the United States is threatened with regulatory extinction.

So what? So what if a bunch of Euro-foodie enthusiasts can no longer get fattened goose liver? What does it matter? The United States went 200 years without foie gras. Why care it all if there is no more domestic foie gras? It’s not like I’ve ever had the stuff, or ever intend to. Those are the sort of questions that are rattling around in my head today.

(And yes, Eve, I am aware that you care deeply for the plight of the geese.)

Mostly, I think of the hypocrisy of it all. Foie gras is such an easy target. There are less than half a dozen real producers of foie gras in this country, pretty much all of them artisanal, family-owned businesses. It’s not like we’re talking “new from Hormel, the makers of SPAM, it’s foie gras… coming to a fast food restaurant near YOU!”. No, most of the same legislators who talk like the production of foie gras is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust would gladly sit down to a big Kansas feedlot-raised steak.

Have you ever been near a cattle feed lot? I got to drive past one last summer. You can smell it for nearly a mile before you see it, and the cows get to get fat on a diet of feed corn while standing in their own excrement for 6-8 months, just so you can have marbled beef under plastic wrap in your local megamart. How does that compare to a group of geese kept on an artisan farm who are fattened up for the last two weeks of their lives? I won’t even get into modern farm-raised hogs, living with their tails cut off, or the cultivation of milk-fed veal.

I think I see the answer: geese are so cute. I know. I see them on a regular basis. It’s easy to get behind a goose, and still feel good about going and having a good veal piccata.

I think Anthony Bourdain also has a point that appeals to my libertarian sensibilities. People have been eating fattened goose and duck liver in Europe for thousands of years. Does it not seem a bit of reach that the government gets to decide what people get to eat and not to eat in the face of an old cultural tradition? Should government really be doing this? This of course is the same government establishment that passed a law preventing McDonald’s from being sued for selling food that contributes to the obesity of the United States. Goose liver is easy, McDonald’s is hard… and well-able to make campaign contributions.

I sometimes think that these problems occur because we are no longer an agrarian nation. A majority of the population lived on family farms just over a century ago. In those days, if you got milk, eggs, bacon, or even foie gras, it was because your family raised the livestock and then took it round back to slaughter it. There was an immediacy to the cycle of life and death in the consumption of animal products. Now, most of us live in a sanitized world, as far as the products in the butcher case at the market are concerned. Do we care that we are no longer gathering fully adult populations of fish off the Great Banks of the Maritime Provinces (meaning that they are overfished)? Do we care that the term “organic” in food and produce is gradually being co-opted by corporate agri-business to compromise the notion of local, in seasonal meat and produce? No, but foie gras is evil!

And the geese? I sympathize with the geese. I guess I see what you are saying, anti-foie gras people… but I’m conflicted because there are so many, many more important problems with respect to diet, the preservation of arable land, the availability of fresh water, and the proper cultivation of healthly livestock that foie gras seems like a tempest in the teacup. I’m also a little wary of letting government have the power to legislate foie gras out of business in this country.

But don’t worry, I won’t be forcefeeding any geese any time soon either.