Friday, June 30, 2006
Friday Random Ten: The Shoe-Fly Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
  1. Thievery Corporation - Indra
  2. Marvin Gaye - Yesterday
  3. Los Straitjackets - Wrong Planet
  4. Dead Kennedys - California Über Alles
  5. Peter Gabriel - Washing of the Water
  6. The Jam - A Town Called Malice
  7. The Arcade Fire - In The Back Seat
  8. Dave Matthews Band - Satellite
  9. Tenacious D - Dio
  10. Ken Nordine - Yellow
Lesson of the day: any wine advertised on a bus stop poster is plonk.

I'd like to thank one anonymous shiny bottlefly from Pullman, Michigan, who was kind enough to sit still for a great macro shot. Talk about hairy legs! If you like shots of flies, flowers, and other oddments check out more of my photography (all available in up to 1280x960px wallpaper size) on my Flickr photostream.

Thursday, June 29, 2006
Shot By Both Sides 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
From CBS2 Chicago, a news story of a burglar who was shot and killed with his own weapon after a confrontation with the home's owner who'd just returned to the premises:
Police say there are no plans to file charges against a homeowner who killed a man during a home invasion. The incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. Police say the homeowner was walking back to his home in the 1600 block of West 38th Place when he saw a man with a shotgun breaking into his garage. The men struggled, and the homeowner said the gun went off, hitting the burglar in the head. The homeowner was not injured.
That homeowner was incredibly lucky - but, I must say, incredibly foolhardy for confronting an armed individual (while himself unarmed) breaking into his garage, instead of calling police or 911. At the very least, this case illustrates the unpredictable nature of arming oneself against crime. Here, the criminal was carrying a gun, while the burglary victim homeowner was not, but the burglar ended up dead from a blast from his own gun used against him. However, the reverse could just as easily happened, had the armed homeowner been confronted by an unarmed burglar bold enough to grab and struggle with the weapon.

Homeowners of course have the right to defend themselves against home intruders, but courts have been split on the legitimate use of lethal force by citizens. Chicago itself has some of the nation's strictest regulations on firearms possession - perhaps too strict - while others say the laws in the city still don't go far enough. The logic of the popular motto "if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns" is a bit garbled (at worst, it's circular reasoning), what proponents usually mean is to say is that if firearm possession itself is criminalized, only real criminals - the "bad guys" who don't give a damn about laws, anyway - will have guns. Which is on its face, true, but in practice there are always some otherwise law-abiding citizens who keep firearms for personal protection regardless of statutes.

Courts around the country have generally ruled that lethal force is justified only when the occupants of a residence reasonably feel their lives are in danger - as in a home intrusion, where robbers enter into presently occupied living quarters. Most courts (some states excepted, notably Florida's "Stand Your Ground" and Colorado's "Make My Day" laws, which have codified broad latitude in citizen use of lethal force if one "reasonably believes" believes a crime is about to be committed) would determine a homeowner was not justified in shooting someone attempting to intrude into their home, or outside the home, especially if the occupants were not in the building at the time.

While this particular incident doesn't genuinely qualify as an example of the "Castle Doctrine" in action (and I don't feel that any charges should be sought against the Chicago homeowner in this case) had the individual in this instance used his own personal weapon to shoot an burglar outside his home, charges would likely have been filed - here in Chicago.

Personally, I'm of mixed opinion on this issue. There's a big difference between unlawful entry on a 30-acre ranch in Colorado, where authorities are at least 20 minutes away, if you can raise one on the phone - and a burglary or home invasion in a highly populated urban area where firearm discharge has a higher probability of injuring or killing an innocent bystander. It's hard to achieve national, state, or even local consensus on the issue, where one person's home defense is another's vigilantism, but one thing is certain. Laws regarding guns - and the proper time and place to use them - will be an ongoing hot debate for the foreseeable future, often clashing in unforeseen ways, such as when the new police "No Knock" regulations meet the Castle Doctrine.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 153: The Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Thursday, June 22, 2006
farkleberries Links du Jour 152: The Snapping Pie Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Lawn Flamingo Violence 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I must say - there are some very strange, strange people in Illinois, and they don't like lawn ornaments. These miscreants also won't stop at kidnapping garden gnomes: they mean business. (via NBC 5 Chicago):
A week ago Monday, [Mary] Husa's husband, Jim, rose early and noticed something fluttering outside the front door of their home in the southern suburb, not far from a "Welcome Friends" sign. It was a ransom note, held in place by (a severed wooden) flamingo head. "To whom it may concern, if you ever want to see your precious flamingo again please clean the (expletive) out of your yard," the note began, according to Will County sheriff's police.

Along with the headless flamingo, the Husas lost a pineboard Dalmatian dog that was near their lamp post and Mary's beloved cast-iron cat, which for years had looked ready to pounce from the corner of a front-yard flower box.
The note, in red and black ink on lined notebook paper, also told the couple to leave $25,000 in fake money and some Boone's Farm wine "at the White Hen behind the Twist-N-Shake (ice cream parlor)." If the instructions weren't followed (and they weren't), the lawn ornaments would meet an untimely end, the note said. [read full story]
Of course, if I had to stare at a yard full of whirligigs and plywood cutouts, I might snap too, but at least I might have the presence of mind to ask for a modestly priced California cabernet.

Monday, June 19, 2006
Coffee! The Happy Happy Morning Drink 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
How exactly do you market a product ubiquitous as coffee, especially when it's the pre-ground cigarette-butt-flavoured grocery store canned sort - without all the prissy caramel syrup, latte foam, whip and what-not? How do you sell the Official Drug of the Rat Race, the soul girding anti-opiate of the bleary proletarian mass?

Like this. [Quicktime req.]

But damn, that new Folgers ad is seriously f.u.'ed bracing - half Bollywood via Busby Berkeley, half Night of the Living Dead.

That is, if you relish the thought of being accosted in the shower by an legion of floating radioactive glee-club wraiths with Dumb and Dumber coifs. And no, that's not your imagination - the jingle did warble "you can sleep when you are DEAD!"

[By Saatchi and Saatchi, now playing at 'boards screening room >> BoingBoing]

Thursday, June 15, 2006
Hearty Congratulations To... 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
...my better half, on your successful dissertation defense this morning...you've finally passed this hurdle, after years of work and sacrifice - with "exceptional standing"!

I love you, and I'm immensely proud of you for achieving this.

There's a Doctor in the house. ;)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006
They Paved Paradise and Put Up a Warehouse 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
UPDATE: The LA Times' Steve Lopez opines on the "hypocrisy of the limousine liberals":
Sure, it's sad when a disputed patch of salad greens in central city gets crushed under the boots of City Hall bunglers and a developer who's about to turn fertilizer into gold. But who knows, maybe Joan Baez will get a new folk song out of the drama. And it did give a few Hollywood heroes a bit more time in the lights.
As sad as the closing of this 'urban farm' is (I heard a wonderful story about these farmers on NPR a few weeks ago), I had to laugh out loud when I read the details of the tree-in protest. Seriously, you couldn't write a better SNL spoof:
(CBS) LOS ANGELES Sheriff's deputies evicted people from an urban community garden to make room for a warehouse Tuesday, touching off a furious protest in which actress Daryl Hannah and others climbed into a walnut tree or chained themselves to concrete-filled barrels. At least 39 people were arrested.

Authorities cut away branches in an effort to remove the "Splash" actress and another tree-sitter. "I'm very confident this is the morally right thing to do, to take a principled stand in solidarity with the farmers," Hannah said by cell phone before a fire truck raised officers into the tree.

Inside the garden, firefighters had to cut free protesters who had chained themselves to the walnut tree, barrels filled with concrete and a picnic table. Deputies slowly pulled people out from among the avocados, sunflowers and other produce.

The effort to save the farm attracted the support of numerous activists and celebrities, including Hannah, environmental activist John Quigley, country singer Willie Nelson, actor Danny Glover, folk singer Joan Baez and tree sitter Julia Butterfly Hill.
I can't quite place the other "tree sitter" in the upper photo (courtesy CBS news) but it looks a bit like René Auberjonois? "Touch the avocados...and you die..."

The Aymara's Future Reversed? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
BoingBoing reports a story on the indigenous Andean Aymara people's "reversed concept of time," in which they symbolically and semantically refer to the past as "before" them, and the future as "behind":
According to the study, this is the first documented culture that seems not to have mapped time with the properties of space "as if (the future) were in front of ego and the past in back." From UCSD:
The linguistic evidence seems, on the surface, clear: The Aymara language recruits "nayra," the basic word for "eye," "front" or "sight," to mean "past" and recruits "qhipa," the basic word for "back" or "behind," to mean "future." So, for example, the expression "nayra mara" – which translates in meaning to "last year" – can be literally glossed as "front year..."
However, when you really consider the meaning of this unusual symbolism there is at least one perfectly logical explanation: the "past," being known by having already occurred, is something you can look out upon as it retreats into the distance - think of looking out the rear window of a moving vehicle. The future, on the other hand, having not yet occurred, and can be construed as "un-seen," or "behind one's eyes."

Inga Kiderra's article in the UCSD News also brings up that possibility and its ramifications:
In a culture that privileges a distinction between seen/unseen – and known/unknown – to such an extent as to weave "evidential" requirements inextricably into its language, it makes sense to metaphorically place the known past in front of you, in your field of view, and the unknown and unknowable future behind your back.

Though that may be an initial explanation – and in line with the observation, the researchers write, that "often elderly Aymara speakers simply refused to talk about the future on the grounds that little or nothing sensible could be said about it" – it is not sufficient, because other cultures also make use of similar evidential systems and yet still have a future ahead.

The consequences, on the other hand, may have been profound. This cultural, cognitive-linguistic difference could have contributed, Nunez said, to the conquistadors' disdain of the Aymara as shiftless – uninterested in progress or going "forward."

Monday, June 12, 2006
Watch It Now: YouTube 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
If you have a reasonably speedy Internet connection (if you don't, this qualifies as an excellent reason to upgrade) and some time to spare - run, don't walk - and check out YouTube, where thousands of rare video clips from around the globe reside.

Like me, you'll be ecstatic to discover fans and collectors from all over have rescued old television shows, news footage, music videos and concert clips from oxide-crumbling obscurity for your free, streaming enjoyment. Not to mention, YouTube's tag and search functions and personalized "favorites" folders make finding and bookmarking clips a snap. An example is the above archived clip of The Runaways performing "School Days" live on the Old Grey Whistle Test show in 1977 (click to view) - where else are you going to find stuff like this?

A caveat: there's scads of uploaded copyrighted material and unrated home video footage as well, so use your own good judgment, kids. I'm sure the copyright issues are too convoluted to imagine right now, but because the videos are streaming-viewer resolution only (and you can't record or save them without resorting to some video capture-app hackery, which I won't get into here) I think they're generally safe for now - but I wouldn't wait too long. Some DRM-lovin', industry-brown-nosin' spoilsport pol who'd rather have rarities moldering in a million attics than enjoyed royalty-free is liable to make it illegal.

While you're out Web surfing, check out the (hopefully) satirical Boneless Chicken Awareness blog.

Saturday, June 10, 2006
Hello Out There... 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
No, I haven't fallen off the face of the Earth...but Blogger (the service) has been seriously malfing last week, hence no updates. At left, a picture of Blogger's discarded printed circuit boards from the latest "maintenance." No, actually it's a photo of an enormous pile of discarded electronic waste from somewhere in Asia; click the image for more details (on an Ecuadorian website), and other very dystopian images of poor folk scavenging through technological debris. Talk about "Heavy Metal Poisoning"!

In the meanwhile, may I introduce you to a fine new blogger (the person), my brother-in-law Matthew, who is currently on internship assignment in Istanbul (Not Constantinople), Turkey! Travels To Turkey is his fascinating blog detailing life, work - and occasionally, leisure (smile) - in this beautiful ancient land. Be sure to say "hello"!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006
3D Acoustics 3D8 - The Best 3 Bucks I Ever Spent On Stereo Equipment 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
On my continuing quest to build the Awesome Dolby Surround Home Theater on a Miniscule Budget, I lucked upon a mysterious set of main front speakers at the *B.E. this Sunday; with only half an hour before closing time, my spider sense told me to race to the store to intercept a potential bargain. Nothing caught my eye the first few minutes after walking through the door, but after a careful nosing through the used electronics section I noticed two nondescript, monlithic looking black columns atop a peeling vintage dresser. Speakers. Big-ass speakers.

The cabinets are finished in plain gloss black on woodgrain, with unadorned black fabric grilles (except for one small aluminum label on the lower right corner of one grille, bearing the 3D Acoustics logo); each is roughly 1 square foot in cross-section and about 2 feet high. The cabinets are very dense (using the "knock test") and nearly an inch thick judging from the depth of the wiring panel routing, with each tower weighing close to 30 pounds. The boxes are a bit worse for wear, but the sheer mass of the speakers (two-way; a single 8" woofer and dual 2" cone tweeters in a vertical "horn" arrangement) and apparent care in construction tipped me off that these might be something special. I wasn't dissuaded by the $3.00 price tag (for the pair!).

After a mad scramble to get the pair into my car's trunk (the car was parked 2 blocks away, and the B.E. was closing in 10 minutes) out of sight of thieves while I shopped for vegetables across the street, I zoomed home to examine my purchase more closely. Even if they didn't work - or sounded like utter shite - they'd make dandy end tables. I wired them up as a test, and they sound amazing: clean highs and midrange, with a tight-but-distinct low end. I can hear details on some of my favorite CD's I never was able to distinguish before.

As you can see from the yellowed, brittle label that cracked off at the slightest attempt to dislodge it from the wiring plate, this is a pretty old pair of speakers. The surrounds on the woofers are fortunately still in good condition - many loudspeakers bite the dust when the rubber or synthetic ring around the speaker cone degrades and tears, ruining the speaker's acoustic seal. But, where did these things come from?

A good long Google™-ing yielded only a scattering of references to 3D Acoustics (there was no address on the speakers, no country of manufacture, wattage ratings - nothing!). I even scoured the archives of vintage speaker forums, where I discovered a lead that 3D Acoustics was a company based out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire that reportedly produced a critically lauded early 3-piece satellite/subwoofer system circa 1980-1982, but went out of business shortly afterward. According to a number of audiophile magazine reviews of the time, the model 3D6-10B (which retailed for about $500 then) sounded almost as good as the most expensive reviewed $5000 satellite/subwoofer. High praise!

However, nowhere have I been able to find reference to the model of speaker I bought, the 3D8. The serial number is shown above; perhaps the code refers to a 1982 year of manufacture? Were these a limited run or prototype?

If anyone out in Blogland knows the story behind these, I'd be grateful for any sleuthing hints. I love these speakers, but they are indeed a mystery. But at $3.00 for the pair, I'm certainly not complaining.

farkleberries Links du Jour 151: The Oh Hell, Second City Again Edition 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Thursday, June 01, 2006
farkleberries Music Briefs: New Editors, Joan Jett 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
UPDATE: The New York Times on Joan's new album, "Embracing a Proud Past, Joan Jett Keeps It Simple" by Sia Michel:
"...At times it sounded as if Ms. Jett had been kidnapped by a bland Midwestern bar band. But as she and her all-male backup obliged the crowd with nearly all of her hits (including her excellent "Crimson and Clover" cover), it didn't really matter. Even her voice is remarkably young, untainted by bitterness or ennui.

Ms. Jett ended the show with Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People," thrusting her pelvis against her low-slung guitar. There is nothing everyday about her: she is the hard-rock Dorian Gray."
The multiplexes may still be oozing out mediocre summer flicks, but I'm happy to say I've recently discovered some music worth getting excited about. This past weekend, while testing out a used 60-watt Denon A/V surround-sound receiver I picked up at the Brown Elephant (for a paltry $6 - no, I didn't forget a zero) I tuned in a song on WXRT that grabbed my attention and made me run, not walk, to the computer so I could Google the lyrics and find out what I was listening to - Editors' "Munich." [Watch the video on C-the-Music] Filled with swaths of icy guitar, booming drums and Tom Smith's barely-controlled baritone croon, Editors are a shiny extension of the New Wave scene's darker side (a la Joy Division, for example, or even Arias & Symphonies era Spoons) into the New Millennium. "People are fragile things/you should know by now/be careful what you put them through/...you'll speak when you're spoken to..." or "Blood"'s "...blood runs through our veins/that's where our similarity ends..." The Back Room is the recombinant-DNA progeny of dozens of outstanding bands - even if not entirely "original," it's still a fresh, memorable take on a rock genre that's clearly not dead yet.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' first new US album release in over a decade, Sinner, hits the stores June 6th (06-06-06, get it? Ha, ha.). With a few alterations and the omission of some tracks, the album is almost identical to the 2004 import-only CD Naked that received critical praise for Joan's expansion of her musical ambit - and fan complaints, for its high import-only ($30+) retail price. The change of name was probably a good move. The Talking Heads released a none-too-stellar late career album in 1988 also called Naked, that featured a painting of a chimpanzee in a similar cover pose as Joan's on her album called Naked. Not that people would generally confuse Joan with a chimpanzee, but "Joan Jett - Sinner!" is a better culture war ralling cry than "Joan Jett - Naked!" No? Well, at least I thought so.

Sinner is less about adolescent bird-flipping The Man than a thoughtful, centered effort by a artist who has grown from rebellious teen into a solid legend who needs no excuses; by contrast, in the 1982 Bad Reputation video, Joan getting collar-tossed from a bar by a burly bearded bouncer (followed by a silent-film slide that reads, "We don't want your kind in here!") comes across today as something like playing the victim. The early 80's Teenaged Joan the Misfit Rebel and 90's Liza-Minnelli-as-Glam-Biker Joan have given way to a Joan comfortable in her own skin as androgynously sexy maiden-mother-crone, simultaneously young and old, with all its implications of masculine/feminine energy intertwined. Sinner's lyrics are a sea change, a glasnost of sorts addressing politics and vulnerability in a way Jett's earlier music only hinted at. In that sense, Sinner is nothing if not refreshingly humanist.

Tracks to focus on are the the openly political "Riddles," a raunchy cruncher (which appeared on an earlier eponymous limited-edition EP) called "Fetish," "Five," a confessional indie-raga rocker, and the unexpectedly lush ballad "Watersign" - but the breakout single is Joan's playfully lecherous take on The Sweet's "AC-DC," that's generating a crackling internet buzz about her video starring Carmen Electra, that - how shall I put this - "kicks open the closet door" for Joan. Maybe she is playing with us after all, but teasing the fans by getting down with the former Baywatch Babe is cleanly calculated to make this one Big in Japan...and maybe elsewhere. Tongues will wag. Stay tuned. :) [PureVolume music page with streaming audio here]

(P.S.) Is it just me, or is Shane McCutcheon doing Joan's hair these days?