Things Political

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... and just in time for the elections, of course.

I'll probably have a few posts about political thoughts, but this seems as good a place to start as any (other than the "Campaignin'" spoof a few days back.

One of my wife's artist friend's has a blog that showed the "tool" below. I always cringe to some degree at these things, because I generally believe in the circular effect of money. Trace the funding source of polls, research, etc., and you'll ultimately find a "result" that agrees with the bias of the party supplying the cash. I'm just that way. And in the event there is no cash involved, truly objective measures remain very difficult to find.

Many of the statements that are rated are worded strongly enough that even conservatives will run from being framed within the Stalin-esque trappings of the wording. No questions are worded where one must run from being a tree-hugger, however.

It's not as far gone as "Please answer 'yes' or 'no.' Have you stopped beating your wife?" But the choice in topics and the wording I think tend to compile results forced more to the Left than the Right. In short, I don't mind being a centrist; it sounds sort of "above all that Republican and Democratic nonsense." But I know I'm far more conservative than Democrats in most things.

Anyway, the results:

Your true political self:

You are a

Social Moderate
(43% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(65% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Centrist


You exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness.



I'm not sure what believing in "economic fairness" means. I believe that there will always be rich, and there will always be poor. But I do believe in right and wrong, and there are plenty of governmental wrongs in our system of economic fairness and seemingly everything else they touch.

People are flawed. Government is made of people. So are corporations, churches, professional associations, knitting circles, and (insert group of choice). As long as there are flawed people, there will always be flawed assemblies of people. That for later, maybe.

If you would like to give it a try, click HERE

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Clemson Football

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It was a beautiful Saturday to see a Clemson game, overcast with a slight breeze. With the game on TV and gas shortages in many areas, I thought the stadium might be rather empty, but people in the South take their football seriously, and Clemson is no different.

I went to the game with my father-in-law, and, as we didn't have a need to tail-gate (pecan waffles at Waffle House in Seneca did the job for us) and with a noon start, we decided to go inside the stadium early. And early we were.

(the orange bits are pre-placed seat cushions)


Not too much longer, however, the stands filled.



And the team made it's way down "The Hill," rubbing Howard's Rock at the top with the former coach's words "Give me 110 percent or keep your filthy hands off my rock!" providing an adrenaline rush for the players as they enter the stadium.

(wearing purple jerseys)

I won't bore with game minutiae. Despite an impressive first half, even with some errors, the Tigers once again failed.

Tommy Bowden, who has done an exemplary job of recruiting, graduating players, and keeping (most) players out of the newspapers for improper conduct, believes in an offensive philosophy that marginalizes team talents and strengths and, therefore, consistently underachieves.

The underpinning is that he believes that an offense should take what a defense gives. If the other team stacks the box against the run, it gives better passing opportunities with 1 on 1 coverage. If the other team plays an enhanced pass defense, then a couple good blocks can spring a big running play. Kind of makes sense!

On the other hand, when it is known how a team will respond to a defensive set, Clemson coaches in effect let the other team dictate what type of plays they want Clemson to run. It pretty much takes the guesswork out of the defense, and it then becomes an execution issue for both teams. Execution is a coaching issue as well, as it's proven that Clemson loses to teams with good defensive coordinators, or, as in the case of Maryland, a team that is capable of making a single half-time adjustment.

This philosophy is different from capitalizing on changes made at the line-of-scrimmage where an opportunity is recognized by the quarterback. If a team is clearly out-manned, dedication to finding a mis-match is necessary in the hope of hitting a big play and finding a way to upset a highly favored opponent. But, for a team that should be competitive (or better), one does not have to scratch the surface deeply to find a mentality of "we're not good enough to execute a play if the defense appears to be in position." At its root, it indicates either:

1) an over-confidence by the coaches that they're smarter than the other guys (better suited for video football games). Or,
2) a pervasive lack of confidence that a unit can achieve in a difficult situation (lack of toughness).

And it starts at the top.

There has been a lot said about Nick Saban at Alabama and the "toughness" he brings to a team. In his second year at the helm, his team demolished Clemson in the season opener 34-10. Clemson once had a coach who believed in toughness and was very successful, Danny Ford. People who love Clemson for non-football reasons cringe at that name. He, like George W. Bush, was not able to articulate to a level that makes constituents proud, particularly problematic for an institution of higher learning.

That said, he also knew that to dominate in football, a team has to be able to impose it's will on the other team. That requires toughness, and that attitude, when shared jointly by team and coaches, carries a team through whatever formations another team presents. If toughness in attitude and physicality is lacking, the team may still win some games, but they'll never be winners.

The only occasion where Clemson attempts to be "tough" is when the coaching staff has no other choice. 4th and short. Otherwise, their preference consistently lies in "take what the other team gives you." One has to wonder about the level of frustration that exists for players under this system as well, who know they can achieve more. At its core, dominant football requires that a team know they can line up and and knock the other team over, and the opponent has to know it, too.

So, in the Bowden era, Clemson fans (and, sadly, very talented teams) take the lumps. The game-day experience at Clemson, SC remains very special, a return home of sorts with its particular traditions and scenic setting. And later, when ESPN is done telling the nation that based on expectations, "Clemson has to be the biggest disappointment this year," we just have to look ahead for better times to come... and better coaches.

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The Verve - Forth

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Back around 1998, I arrived in a movie theater a good bit before showtime. Way back then, theaters played music while the lights were on before the show, instead of product advertisements, trivia slides, and Army recruiting spots. That's not necessarily bad, but one nice thing about the movie theater experience is the sound system, as long as you're not subjected to Britney Spears.

Such was not the case. A song started which captivated me for whatever reason, its long musical introduction amplified throughout the space. It was like a 5,000 sq.ft. set of headphones. That song was "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve, and every time I've heard it since it hasn't quite reached the majesty of the first experience. I later listened to the album on which it was included, and it had its moments, although it was an uneven effort overall.

For those unfamiliar with the song, here it is:



Alas. The group's principle singer and songwriter went on to record several solo recordings, the first of which, "Alone with Everybody," had much of the same sonic signature (strings, brass, electronic chirps, and other goodies) that were similar to "Bittersweet," such as "Song for the Lovers." However, subsequent releases found him going through the motions and seemingly searching for something to say and an interesting way to say it (not a good thing).

So here we are 10 years later, and The Verve has reunited, which was no small thing due to the arguments and egos that ultimately doomed them (and so many other bands).

"Forth" is not the album that I wanted it to be. I had hoped it would reclaim the potential that they had only touched upon. Ashcroft has always tended to be anthemic in his writing, and if the reunion could rekindle decent lyrics and pair them with appropriate music, good things could result.

Unfortunately, "Forth" is also uneven. It starts well enough with "Sit and Wonder" and then moves to their single, "Love is Noise." The title sort of stops you, taking something that one likes and mixing it with what one does not. It's a great song, except for the main musical refrain that sounds like "uh oh, uh oh, uh oh" (though it may to different ears sound like "uh huh..."). It just becomes annoying, ultimately ruining something that I'd otherwise like to hear again.

And then things never quite recover. The songs sound a bit neglected, as if the band recorded extended versions intending to go back for a judicious edit that never happened. I have nothing against longer songs, and, in fact, enjoy them, as long as there is something to maintain interest - a musical diversion, a change of pace, etc. These just last too long, becoming quite tired in their repetitions by the end.

To a degree, reuniting the band helps Ashcroft by not being singly responsible for all the lyrics, and the band adds a harder edge to the songs than he would favor on his own. On the other hand, the songs not written by Ashcroft sound compromised, as if Ashcroft's romantic instincts were not welcomed, landing them somewhere in the middle ground of solid rock or ear candy, where one or the other is needed.

In short, there's nothing wrong with creating music that requires contemplation, but there is little here that makes any kind of emotional connection or offers a memorable "hook." Despite the big beat, heavy guitars, and anthemic structures, it's a sterile endeavor, which, viewed some years farther down the road, perhaps is the lyrical prediction of "Bittersweet Symphony" itself.

Recommended tracks: "Sit and Wonder," "Valium Skies," "Appalachian Springs"

Rating: 2 Stars

Samples can be heard below:

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Time for Some Campaignin'

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I initially resisted using a link as a standalone blog entry; it's like a bacterial infection into my trail of thoughts. Still, I felt I had to in this case. And I had nothing else to say at the moment! Enjoy.

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Fuel for Thinking

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I feel like I'm in school, and I have a paper that's overdue. What to write? CD Reviews - I have several choices, but I just did one of those. Politics? Blah. I'll dance on the graves of "Well Intended Public Servants" later. Clemson football? I'll wait another month until I'll likely be miserable enough to rant.

So, that leaves... just an observation. I have somewhere in an appropriate archive a 20 plus page paper on Y2k and, at the time of its writing, the future implications for society written by no less a technological powerhouse than Raytheon. Corporate write-downs for Y2k analysis and upgrade expenses were enormous as "old" was replaced with "new."

At a more observable level, people were stocking their pantries with canned foods and bottled water, buying survival guides, and relocating, in some cases, to the mountains to avoid the end times that were coming when the lights go off for good and ATMs quit working.

I also vividly recall toasting the New Year with... well, indifference, as it interrupted a card game, only to find out that, hey, the TV still worked at 12:01. And it worked just as well some hours later when college football enjoyed its annual day of dominance.

Y2k is a prime example crying "Wolf." Each time a hurricane turns a bit left or right or slows down, many who were incovenienced look back and say... "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Shame on those who don't recognize a wolf and have sense enough to give it free roam.

Sorry, folks being rescued at Galveston, TX. It's really hard to feel sorry for anyone whose sense of self-preservation fails to move their rear-ends out of harm's way. And for New Orleans, I'm sorry too. We can point fingers at the ineptness of government at all levels, but, hey. You live in a city that is below sea level, located by the sea. I know it's much more complicated than that, but I'm still amazed at the numbers of people that decided it was in their best interest to actually return.

Why is that? I think we're soft. When a snow storm threatens Georgia, everyone goes to the supermarket and buys milk and groceries. Why? We're not sure, but it's what we're supposed to do. There's a news reporter from every channel reporting that, "yep, it's all gone folks! Back to you in the studio." That's not really a help. And that's just a hiccup in the vast possibilities of interruptions to the routine.

We're spoiled rotten. It used to be an inconvenience when the power went out for half a day. Now we're outraged if the Cable TV is interrupted during our favorite program. And heaven help us all if the internet is cut.

I know. Blog=Blah(g).

Forget all that "nice to have" stuff. It's about fuel. Our elitists can debate the utter irrelevancy of agrarian societies in a modern world and our post-industrialism expectations of information and technology meeting our needs above yester-year's focus on nasty, sweaty, anti-environmental manufacturing. We want our daily shower, our microwaved foodstuffs, our evening entertainment, and, please, no panhandlers on the street. Clean. Easy. Convenient. The hallmarks of modern life. But, when the chips are down and the computer is out, we want food on our plate. Advantage: agrarian society.

In one day, due to Hurricane Ike, gas prices locally soared from $3.68/gal to $4.89/gal, at least that I personally observed. As such, we pay at the pump, counting on a return to "normalcy" in the coming days. How many stop to think about "what if?"

Exhibit A: Colonial Pipeline's Southeastern Supply.

Turn off the pump at the lower left, and we've got trouble. The Racetrac location below tends to have the cheapest gas each day on my 28 mile daily commute. It's normally filled with cars.

Not for several days this past week. BP, Quiktrip, and others were out of gas for much of the week, and most stations that had gas didn't have all blends. Colonial wasn't pumping for a while.

Most of us rely on the expectation that what was once, shall be again. It's a false sense of entitlement, and it requires fuel to supply our power plants and to fuel our transportation systems so that food can move from the farm to the fork.

In commercial insurance, we ask our clients to create a business interruption plan, which is a formal plan on restoring their commerce in the event of fire, tornado, etc. If they can't preserve their business clientele, it's hard to start over when the bricks are finally replaced. The vast majority have not done so, expecting that intelligence and experience can put Humpty Dumpty back together again. To that we say, ask a Floridian what it's like getting a simple roof replaced when 400,000 others need theirs replaced as well. Supply ≠ demand.

We're good at dealing with setbacks at an individual level. Our society is built to give aid. But at a macro level where hundreds of thousands, or millions, are affected, we're woefully unprepared.

Isn't that rather amazing that we can listen to threat of ebola or Avian flu, and say to ourselves, "It won't happen here." Why not? It's not convenient for us. We're Americans!

From the comfort of our living rooms, we can watch looting on TV from a natural disaster or other interruption to a police response, but we expect that "we'll be okay" if it happens here. Why? We have been so far. And as long as the fuel keeps coming, we'll keep thinking the same.

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Donavon Frankenreiter - Pass It Around

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The titles of some CD's kind of make you wonder. "Pass it Around," eh? Donavon's sound is consistently mellow, laid back, and smooth, in many ways similar to his friend and fellow surfer, Jack Johnson. This CD is so smooth, you don't know whether it's the groove of peace, love, and liberalism that is being passed around or a joint.

Whichever, it all kind of fits. The prior options are worked throughout the songs, and I have no doubt DF has enjoyed many a joint. I mean, just listen to the music.

Following the superior "Move by Yourself" CD in 2006, this release is a bit of a disappointment. There is no artistic growth, and, if anything, his style has settled so far into "mellow" that one song becomes the next becomes the next... the lyrical content, which is decent at times, gets lost in the groove.

The prior release suffered from the same problem to some extent, but it was the funkiness of the groove that made you want to move a bit, rather than slide more comfortably into your chair. Still, there's nothing bad here, but I had hoped for more, or, at the least, some of the same zip.

For whatever reason, the artist requested no embedding of videos elsewhere, but if you click >> HERE <<, you'll go to youtube to watch his latest single, which is also heard in Hilton commercials. The video appears to be done on the cheap. Again. "Move By Yourself," from the previous CD, can be heard >> HERE << for comparison.

Suggested Tracks: "Too Much Water," "Mansions On the Sand," "Someone's Something"

Rating: 2 Stars

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DragonCon - Gaming

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The basement of the Hyatt hotel was basically reserved for board gaming, primarily collectible card games such as Magic and various role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons (TONS of others). There are tournaments as well as "friendly" games for those exited on the way to crowning a champion.

Many of these are played with dice. In the vendor's
area, the variety of dice was rather overwhelming, although certainly colorful. It's hard to imagine making a living celling dice, but I have no doubt, now that I've seen it, that one can.

I picked up a Sherlock Holmes game, no dice involved, that involves researching clues, a map to London, case files... a bit different from Clue or other classic
board games. Not surprisingly, those, such as Monopoly, Life, Parchesi, or Sorry, were nowhere to be found.

One wonders how even D&D and specialty card games will fare going forward in the virtual age.

As a regular of an online role-playing game, Runescape, I can understand some of the attraction with computer hosted games. The main difference is that families (or friends) are not gathered around a kitchen table, sharing the experience personally. Also, many games played over the internet no longer include clear-cut winners. Success is measured by
advancement through ranks or accomplishments, but without a definite end-goal.

Still similarities remain. Socializing has not left the scene. Card games, such as Hearts, or even board games like Risk, can be played on-line, against unseen opponents, but that does not mean that they are necessarily unknown. In fact, technology has enabled many to socialize while playing games on the net. Instant messenges, in-game chat systems, and internet voice chat (one on one or a conference call type group format) allow players to get to know each other very well. This has many benefits, as well as dangers that are read about periodically.

To be clear, on-line gaming is not the domain of just kids or adult predators. There are many adults who play for the enjoyment of the various games.

The point here isn't to debate what is right or wrong in all this. I have many board games from my childhood, and I still enjoy them when I play. But the current generation likely won't carry many of these forward to the next. What will they bring in their place?

Here's some possibilities that have been out there in development over the last couple years. So much emphasis has been placed on portable devices, that the next logical step will be something larger, more "family friendly." Like an I-phone, touch-screen functions are a given:


I know, I wouldn't want to play a game based an image on something like that, either. How about this?

Don't spill your drink on it. But then again, don't think old school. Imagine sensors that understand where you moved your marker, and from that input, dynamically change the game for others playing. In other words, there is another intelligence at play beyond those you are playing against.

A static image is hard to get excited about, but don't worry! Microsoft, our trusted companion for fun things like hacker-free software and operating system world domination, presents the next generation. It's a bit long, but worth the time:




For the scoffers, there is fun to be had as well:



What the financial cost of this or similar hardware systems is one thing. Whether there is a cost from virtual playing on a societal scale remains to be seen.

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DragonCon - Autographs

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Back in 1978, I attended Star Trek Atlanta, being a big fan at the age of 14. Aside from a few memories, the only thing I have to remember it by is several autographs, those being from Walter Koenig, James Doohan (who told me I was standing too close to get a good picture with the Kodak Instamatic - he was wrong), and William Shatner, now as famous for his Priceline.com ads and for Denny Crane on "Boston Legal" as Captain Kirk.

The first two autographs were free. But for Shatner's personalized signature, I had to buy the imaginatively titled "William Shatner Live" double LP, featuring spoken word excerpts from "The War of the Worlds" and "Cyrano de Bergerac." Exciting stuff, believe you me, but an effective way to unload a warehouse of wasted vinyl. In any case, such is the desirability of a souvenir from being "in the presence" of someone you admire.

Speed forward to DragonCon 2008. A focal area of the convention is a large room filled with various film/TV celebrities (Richard Marsters, Edward James Olmos, Adam West, many others) who are quite happy to provide you with an autograph (for a fee), a a picture using your camera (for a higher fee), or a picture together taken by a professional photographer (for the highest fee). I didn't get one.

Why not? Was it the price? At $20, I could afford one. But with the other three autographs tucked away in boxes in my basement, unseen for 20 years, it's hard to imagine a fate other than just that. I mean, I could frame it, but that would only validate my daughter's standing opinion that "my parents are geeks." Sigh...

Imagine yourself in a room with 40+ celebrities, and you walk away without an autograph. It's something akin to not making the most of the opportunity.

Elsewhere in the "Con," non-personalized autographed pictures were being sold by several of the vendors, including by those far beyond the fan base of this particular group - Tony Randall, anyone? People collect all sorts of things, and autographs are one; I can respect that. But a plain signed photo, obtained by someone else is impersonal. I met Chekov, Scotty, and Kirk. Even tucked away in boxes, I have their autographs to prove it, personalized to me.

My wife is a bit more adventurous than me, I suppose. Faced with a celebrity at a table looking awkwardly alone, she has no problem walking up, saying a few complimentary words, and making a celebrity happier by having someone with which to speak. Yep, that easy. Hello Jamie Bamber; hello Kevin Sorbo. Hey, if she can do this, so can I!

In yet another nostalgic trip to 1978, hey! There's Colonel Wilma Deering, from "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," sitting right over there, looking rather unoccupied. Why not talk to her? So, I did. She was very conversational and appreciative, and very sharing with the busyness of her current life. A friend and I chatted with her several minutes before giving way when a paying fan came seeking her autograph.

As I understand it, the celebrities there were not paid to attend; they recover their expenses through autograph fees. Whether true or not, autographs for fees should be no surprise to anyone in this day and age - we must wonder only if they disclose the income to the IRS. But one thing is clear. Autograph signings such as these are not just a "purchase" transaction. However short the conversation, it's an exchange. The celebrities come to these conventions as a means of giving back to their fans.

I still don't know what to do with autographs, but, after it's all said and done, I regret not having gotten one, so I'll likely get one from Erin Gray next year. I still haven't reconciled with the "why," but I do recognize that I have a memory but no souvenir.

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DragonCon - Costuming

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DragonCon, in its 31st year, occupies the convention space of four prominent downtown Atlanta hotels (Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, Sheraton). The organizers indicate that over 30,000 participate each year. Science fiction or Star Trek specific conventions of the ‘70’s have expanded to become such topics as these: writing, art, anime, gaming, comic books, space science, independent film, podcasting, robotics, and specific popular programming (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, etc.)

Sure, I left a few things out. There’s a lot going on, with over 850 hours of total programming. The public side to this Convention is the DragonCon parade, an hour long succession of one costumed theme after another.

The parade might fool you. The costumes are definitely not worn for “just” the parade. It’s a weekend long endeavor, for which many bring multiple costumes. There’s also a variety of costuming “how to’s” that support the many contests. The major one is the Masquerade, but genre specific costume contests are also held, such as the Mrs. Klingon Empire Beauty Pageant. Be still my beating heart…

As much as anything “sci-fi or fantasy,” DragonCon is about the costuming. It’s the most visible common denominator amongst all the varied interests represented. This is also well known. To admit going to DragonCon puts one at the top of the “known Geek” list, but the follow-up question is the one seeking to stereotype: “Okay, and do you dress up?”

There’s a lot of that - just click the Flickr banner to the right for photos we’ve taken over the past two years. Even those deeply entwined with the subject matter can’t always identify who, or what, people are supposed to look like – there’s simply too much source material. Plus, some number take inspiration from source materials at hand, not necessarily something that others would recognize. This isn’t age or physique specific, either. Certainly, the majority are aged 20-30, but the middle aged, more seasoned, and youth also participate.

It also can make for an interesting escalator traffic. Next?



As fun as it is to “people watch,” those that dress obviously like the attention, and the vast majority of those attending (except the gamers buried in the basement of the Hilton) are more than willing to give it. But it’s the unsuspecting public that is even more fun to watch. Hotel staff are either very well trained to act nonchalant or have otherwise seen everything. Policemen… start off shaking their heads on Friday, and by Sunday are as fed up with holding traffic for aliens crossing the street as they would be with any typical Earthling. And we won’t even discuss the food court.

Add to the midst of abnormalcy the hordes of unsuspecting Clemson and Alabama football fans who descended on the city for Saturday evening’s game. No doubt they’ll be going home to warn their loved ones of the dangers of mingling with “big city folks.”

A couple of notes. The pictures show a large number of Star Wars stormtroopers. This isn’t by accident. (note: turn volume down before clicking; they have vocal fan support):

There are many groups for people of common interest, and the Stormtroopers, as well as the other evil Empire staff, are members of a club called the 501st Legion. With over 4,000 members worldwide, they’re available to march at fundraisers and other events by request. For those not aligned with galactic evil, the Rebel Legion is a sister organization with the same purpose. They have a sense of humor about themselves as well.

There were two other videos worth sharing. I have no clue how people make these things, but they look pretty darn amazing:

The second is a great example of a Dad getting involved to help a dream. The first time I saw this, I thought it was someone with a remote controlled tank. Presenting, the Transformer:

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