Sound of Da Police

I’ve expressed my admiration for this song before but goddamn, I can’t think of a more appropriate song considering recent events. It does a great job of showing the ongoing problems black folks have had with the cops. It’s sad that the song is just as relevant today as ever…

 

Are you really for peace and equality? Or when my car is hooked up
You know you wanna follow me, your laws are minimal
‘Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
‘Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police

 

 

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Yeah, I’m straight out of Compton

I haven’t been keeping track of the late night talk shows and I certainly haven’t kept up with The Tonight Show since Leno came back. I heard he left and that Jimmy Fallon took over. My problem is that I kept confusing Jimmy Fallon with Jimmy Kimmel. Hopefully I’ll be forgiven for not wanting to watch a talk show with Kimmel hosting… Turns out Fallon is  likable guy and seems to be funny enough to hold down the spot. The only reason I’ve seen any of the show is because of the popularity of the history of rap segments he’s been doing with Justin Timberlake. Haven’t seen those? Here’s the 5th installment:

 

 

I’ll start with the negatives. OK, yeah, it’s two white guys going over the history of a musical genre that was not only predominately written and performed by black folks but often spoke of a uniquely black experience. On top of that, outside of the band I don’t know if there were any black people in the building at all. If you wanted to be uncharitable you’d say that it’s another example of rich white people riding not only the efforts but the actual culture of black America for their own ends.

There was a little bit of that for me in this performance but I’m willing to forgive them mostly on the basis that they clearly love the music. They weren’t making fun of it, they were attempting as genuine a performance as possible, down to the dance moves and vocal mannerisms of the original acts. They were clearly having fun. Most of the songs they picked in this episode were top 40 hits. The exception is when they did a trio of “Gangster Rap” songs culminating in an aborted start of Straight Out of Compton. If you don’t watch any other part of that video, make sure to watch the few seconds starting at 1:50. 

That was gold. It’s a bit that everyone can laugh at. The idea that Jimmy Fallon could even attempt that song without descending into parody and/or become a laughingstock is just silly. As it was, he was able to pull it off for 4 seconds with only Timberlake seemingly pulling him back from the brink. Fallon went all in and took it as far as someone like him could. Timberlake making fun of him was the logical denouement. 

I think the reason that bit resonates with me so much is also the reason I think they “got away” with doing this. For those of you not familiar with Straight out of Compton, allow me to introduce you. To complete Fallon’s start…

”Straight out of Compton crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube

From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes

When I’m called off I got a sawed off

Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off…”

 

It is, in a word, horrifying. If taken literally, it consists of mass murderers bragging about their body count and especially taking glee in gunning down cops. Oh, it has some truly grotesque misogyny thrown in for good measure too. So why is it popular? Are the people that like it just cretins? I’m sure some of them are. I can tell you that from the perspective of a well off, white (late)teenager, it was exhilarating. A pure dose of testosterone wrapped up in a fantasy of anger unleashed. Straight out of Compton was probably the height of bragging rap. It was understood to be hyperbole. Well, it was understood to be hyperbole to its targeted audience. To everyone else it was self described “Niggas” talking about killing people and they were from Compton after all. No wonder they scared white people everywhere! It was attractive to me because, as a frustrated male coursing with hormones, violent thoughts weren’t all that uncommon even if, and maybe because, I never gave in to them. Why was I frustrated? I dunno, aren’t all teenagers? As attractive as this was to me, I can’t begin to imagine what the effect could have been on people actually living in Compton. You know, people that had real frustrations in life, the kind that lead to making that kind of music…

For 4 seconds, Jimmy Fallon channeled that teenager, giving in totally to the rush. And while playing the cassette in your car as a teenager gave you the freedom to feel totally bad ass, a white guy on national TV has no justification. Having Timberlake bring Fallon back to reality was a gentle rebuke to all of us. It is this awareness that kept the entire exercise from veering into the stupid. Acknowledging that there  are limits and using them instead of the off limits material is a sign of a mature performer.

For those of you that want “to witness the strength of street knowledge,” I give you NWA. If you haven’t heard it before, it is definitely NSFW. Those of you that have heard it before I’ll leave it to you to decide how gangsta you want to be at work…

 

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It’s all too much… (NSA, Syria, etc.)

The idea was that once I had my shiny new blog(s) I would commence blogging again. Aside from a few silly posts I haven’t done much really. iPhone, stereo, Doctor Who, not much of substance. It’s not as though there isn’t anything to talk about but rather that there’s too much. There are so many big things going on that make me crazy I’m overwhelmed. In addition to the ongoing drone strikes there is now:

1) The NSA scandal that won’t stop depressing me. First we found out that they are scooping up phone records of everyone, then we learn that they are collecting seemingly every interaction on the internet, we are just starting to feel the international response to revelations that the NSA spied on foreign leaders and even the UN and EU, and now we have learned that the NSA has been active in making sure it has backdoors to get around most encryption used on the internet. That last bit is worrying since if the NSA has a backdoor, others could use it as well if it is found. The idea that the NSA has weakened our protection online in order to protect us against the boogyman is galling to say the least. More and more I’m coming around to thinking that Snowden may have done the right thing…

2) Turns out the DEA is also collecting vast swathes of information about people in general. There was also talk of the DEA getting info from the NSA and then reverse engineering investigations to hide their info source. 

3) The whole Syria thing. Who exactly would we be helping if we bombed Syria? How many civilians would be killed if we bombed them? How do you determine who is a civilian in a war like that anyway? Is the desire to oust Assad really a desire to help Qatar and Saudi build a pipeline and stick it to the Russians? Three months ago I would have said that is crazy but what little trust I had in the machinations of the feds has all but evaporated. Plus, now Kerry says that “Arab” nations are offering to pay for an invasion of Syria? Ugh…

Add to that the ongoing drone strikes, various blog and publication attacks of “libertarians”, and, oh yeah, my health and I just can’t keep up with what to be outraged over.

If I force myself, I can see a bit of a glimmer of hope. There does seem to be widespread opposition to bombing Syria among the US populace. We’ll see if that’s enough to sway the representatives. And if it is enough, we’ll see if that’s enough to reign in Obama. It’s nice to see some anti-war sentiment coming back finally. I’m also sensing a building backlash over what the NSA has been up to, at least online. I do wonder how much the regular guy cares or knows about it but things do seem to be piecing up steam.

Anyway, if I can work up the energy I’ll blog in more depth on these things, but man… where do I start?

Don’t blame a video for foreign policy shortcomings

Widespread anti-US protests have broken out all across the muslim world, with fatal consequences in Libya. Check out this Google Maps page to see how wide the protests are. If you believe the press reports, a video on youtube is the reason. That in turn has brought out bizarre responses from all over the political spectrum. Some are claiming this just proves that we need to increase our presence in the War on Terror. Others are lambasting the video makers and treating them as if they are the ones that killed the ambassador in Libya.

All of that is missing the underlying reality. If the US were seen as a benevolent, freedom loving, peaceful nation, a video on youtube would have little effect. That video is a rallying point for a sentiment that keeps growing across the muslim world, it isn’t the cause of the sentiment. It isn’t as though this hatred has come out of nowhere, that everything was fine until that video was made. Yes, protesting and killing people over a shoddy youtube video is stupid but that is the point. The video was simply the match that started the fire. The conditions have been ripe for a conflagration for a while.

The violence should be a wakeup call. Our war on terror has not made us a lot of friends. Nor has our current and former support of terrible rulers been forgotten. It’s rare that people from all political stripes misjudge an event like this. Our ever expanding war on what amounts to Afghan, Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali rednecks keeps upping the anger. Between our now 11 year(!) war in Afghanistan and our ever increasing drone strikes in the hinterlands of distant countries, outrage is easy to come by.

There was a time when Americans were upset by war enough to take to the streets. The Yemenis I knew took comfort in knowing that a lot of Americans didn’t like what the government was doing. Now nobody seems to care over here. What used to be considered evil is now tolerated. Why? 

We crossed a line a long time ago between “defending the US” and killing people that don’t like us. I never once worried about being an American in Yemen, I would now. Not only has the US government gone on a killing spree, there is no longer any hint of Americans caring. I wasn’t surprised at the violence and and protesting, only that it has taken this long to happen.

Healthcare reform

My Facebook page is being filled up with impassioned pleas to save healthcare reform. They are of course talking about the arguments in the Supreme Court over the “Affordable Healthcare Act.” I’m not a big fan of the legislation, no surprise there. Funnily enough, I don’t need to know the minutia of the 1000+ page law to draw my conclusion either. The main sticking point to me, and I think the reason it is being argued at the Supreme Court, is the individual mandate. The law says that everyone has to purchase health insurance, in fact it relays on this in order to realize its cost savings that are supposed to come from it.

Let’s forget for a moment that this law is not about healthcare, but health insurance, and let’s also forget for a moment that popular opinion shouldn’t sway the Supreme Court. I am also going to, for the sake of argument, allow that the law actually would reduce health insurance prices and it would actually work out best for everyone. I don’t believe that for a second mind you, but I don’t want to dwell on that here.

Have you wondered why there is so much chatter about this supreme court case? I’m not talking about the political scorekeeping involved, I’m talking about the commerce clause.

 

[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;

 

That little clause has been twisted to the point where it is unrecognizable. It’s meaning seems rather straightforward, but congress, with the Supreme Court’s blessing, has used it in all manner of strange ways. In Ashcroft vs. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government could outlaw marijuana because of the commerce clause even though in this case the defendant never sold it at all, let alone between states. It was ruled that the defendant could have sold it, therefore the federal government had jurisdiction over it. Judge Clarence Thomas said this in his dissenting opinion:

 

“If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to “appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.”

 

So who could blame congress when it passed a law saying that it could force every American to do something? When pressed on what gives them that power, they respond that the commerce clause gives it to them.

This really is the drug war’s chickens coming home to roost. Once the Supreme Court ruled that congress can essentially legislate anything at all because of the commerce clause, all bets were off. If this law gets struck down, they will have established that the Federal Government cannot force you to buy something. That’s hardly a shocking idea and it shows just how nuts the law is as determined by the Supreme Court.

There was a time when lawmakers assumed that prohibiting a substance was unconstitutional. Banning alcohol was a popular cause at one point, but they knew they couldn’t pass laws banning it until they amended the constitution. How quaint. It is now assumed that the federal government can legislate any damn thing it wants to. This law getting struck down will carve out a very narrow limitation on the feds, one that I’m really terrified that we have to spell out so clearly.

Much has been made about the hypothetical broccoli law. The thought experiment goes like this, broccoli is good for you, so can the federal government force people to buy it if not eat it? It’s a silly thing, no one really thinks that, but there are legions of people that think in the abstract that the government should legislate “good” things. You, know, for our own good.

this goes right back to my “Everything is fine as long as the right people are in power” model of politics. Why does no one think about the damage that will ensue as soon as the “wrong” people are in charge? Limiting government power is to protect us from whatever politician you think is evil incarnate. Dick Cheney or Nancy Polesi, it doesn’t matter. No one should be afraid of the changing of the political winds.

This is the real reason why this case is so important. If we can get some sort of semblance of sanity with regards to the commerce clause, it will be a victory. With any luck, it will also force the court to reconsider previous contortions over the clause as well. Remember, the law being “good for us” is not a sufficient reason for the government to employ its force.

Audio Doctor Who Spinoffs

Big Finish has produced a bunch of Doctor Who Radio plays. By and large they are great. As time has gone on, they have made a bunch of spinoffs that don’t include the Doctor in any of his versions. Most of these use characters or groups directly from the TV show although they have done a few that are products of Big Finish. I wasn’t too impressed with the first one I heard, Graceless. It was about a pair of “sisters” that were created by powerful entities during one of the story arcs. Never really felt like it went anywhere. They have since put out a second set, but I haven’t heard anything about it and I’m not all that interested in getting it. I am looking forward to one that has been in the works for years. Nick Briggs keeps promising that he is going to do a Charlotte Pollard spinoff. Charlie was played by India Fisher. Charlie was a long time companion to the 8th and the 6th Doctor (in that order interestingly) and she is a favorite of a lot of fans, including myself. Nick says it will come out at some point, I will definitely get it…

Big Finish has released a ton of other spinoffs. I’ve listened to the Cyberman, Dalek Empire I-IV, UNIT, I Davros, Sarah Jane Adventures series and enjoyed them. They do have two series that really stand out though, Gallifrey and Jago and Lightfoot.

Gallifrey chronicles the goings on back on the home planet of the Time Lords. It stars the regular Doctor Who characters of Leela, Romana II, and K-9. It also includes a book/audio character named Irving Braxital. The first three episodes were gripping political dramas with lots of action and intrigue. The fourth series was a real departure and that made a lot of fans angry. I’ve warmed up to it, mostly because we have been told that the series will finish up picking up where we left them in series three. Gallifrey does an excellent job of showing how conniving and political the Time Lords were. No wonder the Doctor had to get out of there…

The other standout series is Jago and Lightfoot. Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Lightfoot were characters in the classic 4th doctor adventure “The Talons of Wang Chiang.” Big Finish has managed to create an entire series based around those characters’ infernal investigations in the Victorian era. It seems strange to think that secondary characters that showed up in one TV show could have 12 more stories, but it works very well. The acting is fantastic and the whole thing is all kinds of fun. Lots of fog, lots of monsters and bad guys. Even a little time travel thrown in. All in foggy Victorian London. Good stuff, well worth listening to.

There is a new series coming out from Big Finish. Since they hit a home run with one set of secondary characters, I guess they are going to try again with a different set. This time it is a group from the 7th Doctor story Remembrance of the Daleks. I’m looking forward to hearing it. The trailers make it clear that they are aiming to recreate a 60’s sound. We’ll see if Big Finish can do it again.

Another audio spinoff that is well worth listening to is from Magic Bullet productions. The Kaldor City series uses the world created in the 4th Doctoe show “The Robots of Death.” It is a classic episode and Magic Bullet have managed to make a great political thriller out of it. It is very reminiscent of Robots of Death, there are plenty of mentions of Terran Capel, robophobia, sand mines, etc. If you liked Robots of Death, you’ll love Kaldor City!

Doctor Who spinoffs

Sure, some fans of Doctor Who consider themselves crazy fans because they have seen all the new series. Some others think you have to have seen all of the original series too. I think those people are missing out on a whole world of fandom. There are zillions of books, audios, and comics out there that explore the universe that the TV show created. Personally, as great as the TV show has been, I think that the audios and books outclass the TV show by a considerable margin. I have listened to the vast majority of the Doctor Who audios and love them. The hit rate on them is quite a bit higher than the new series, and miles above the original. I have read 40 something novels and also found them to be more engrossing than the TV show. SO fans of the TV show have a lot of exploring to do in order to get a more comprehensive view of Doctor Who.

So, as a fan I think the Doctor Who books and audios are where it’s at. But I’m going one step further, this post is about the spinoffs of Doctor Who. How far into the red can my nerd-meter go?

First off, the TV spinoffs. As far as I can tell, the TV spinoffs amount to a pilot episode of a Sarah Jane investigates show, the proper Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, and a K-9 show that I can’t remember the name of. Th Sarah Jane Adventures are easily the most consistently good of the shows. Torchwood had its moments, especially the Children of Earth series, but was really inconsistent. The two shows are very different from each other. The SJA is quite clearly a kid’s show. Great writing, good acting, they are a lot of fun, but the are definitely for the younger crowd. Torchwood went the opposite direction. They wanted to be an “adult” show so badly. Per usual, this usually means violence and sex. Children of Earth was the only one I can think of that was properly adult (as opposed to being gimmicky) in that it involved real horror, despair, heartbreaking decisions and regret so real you can’t sleep. I’ve only seen one episode of the K-9 series, I think it’s made in Austrailia and it really didn’t seem to be very interesting let alone good.

When the show was cancelled in 1989, fans were cut adrift. Some people convinced the BBC to allow them to write Doctor Who novels with the 7th Doctor and his companions. The Virgin New Adventures picked up where the TV show left off. Overall, they were quite a bit darker, with more violence, sexual situations, and generally adult themes. The 7th doctor continued with Ace for a while. He eventually picked up an archeologist in the Paul Cornell book Love and War. No, not that archeologist, Bernice Summerfield! Bernice (Benny to her friends) has been going strong for 20 years now. I’ll have to count, but she may have been with the Doctor for more books than Ace was. Benny stayed on with the Doctor until Virgin lost the license to write about the Doctor. So they spun her off into her own books. Like all good spinoffs, they were limited by copyright issues. The books certainly exist in the Doctor Who universe, but they can’t mention The Doctor, the TARDIS, Cybermen, or anything else owned by the BBC. It isn’t as limiting as you might think. Benny is still going strong. Big Finish is celebrating her 20th anniversary this year with new books and continuing the audio series. I’ve been talking to the folks at Big Finish and they would like to make ebook versions of their out of print Benny books but worry about the difficulty of getting digital distribution rights. The New Adventures seem to be stuck in copyright hell. Most of them are long out of print and it doesn’t look good for them being re-released.

When the BBC worked with FOX to make the 8th Doctor TV movie, it was the end of the Virgin Doctor Who franchise. Since the movie actually showed the 7th Doctor turn into the 8th, it also spelled the end of the 7th Doctor. When nothing became of the hoped for 8th Doctor series, they started making books with him in them. The BBC also started to publish past doctor adventures featuring previous Doctors and companions.

 

Iris Wildthyme came out of the Past Doctor Adventures, we first see her with the 4th Doctor. She is an older, boozy time traveller that exists as a warped parallel to the Doctor. Her stories are really about having fun. Her “TARDIS” is a Routmaster double decker bus (the no. 22 to Putney Common) that is curiously smaller on the inside than the outside. Her favorite gin is Bombay Saphire, and she typically travels with a stuffed panda (don’t call him a toy!) named Panda. Reading her stories is frequently a trip into Doctor Who fandom and mythology. She has alluded to her knowing that she is fictional several times, it can get a bit meta at times. Iris books and stories are all about having fun. For example, my favorite line of hers is from the Big Finish audio “The Wormery.” She has been communing with the villains behind the scenes in a drunken stupor and the 6th Doctor is giving her a hard time about it. Her retort? “What we need is less thinking, MORE DRINKING!” Katy Manning (who played Jo Grant on the TV show) plays Iris brilliantly in the audios. Another example, Obverse Books is coming out with a short story collection featuring her being trapped in realities based on David Bowie songs. You get the idea, a more frivolous take on Doctor Who. If you don’t like Iris, you’re too serious. Iris audios are being made and sold by Big Finish and the books are mostly being put out by Obverse Books.

Lawrence Miles introduced us to Faction Paradox in the 8th Doctor Adventures. The Faction is a splinter group of Time Lords that embraces paradox, something that is anathema to the Time Lords. They are your typical criminal, time traveling cult that uses ritual to disrupt time lines and screw with the TIme Lords. Lawrence spun off Faction Paradox in a series of novels, audios, and a short lived comic series. Since he was writing outside of BBC blessing, he had to change a few things. First off, there was no mention of The Doctor and the Time Lords were referred to as “The Great Houses.” The Faction Paradox world reviles around The War between the Great Houses and The Enemy. We never do get an explicit explanation of who the enemy is. Fans have speculated on everything from future versions of the Time Lords, The Doctor, or even the concept of Fiction. Yes, concepts can be an enemy in the world of Faction Paradox. The novels from Mad Norwegian Press spend quite a bit of time with the idea that information, meaning, and the connections we make between them are the real reality. Whoever can control that and adjust it have the real power. I have really enjoyed the Faction Paradox books so far because they have really widened my view of the Doctor Who universe. I have a better understanding of what is at stake with the altering of time lines, paradox, and time travel in general. Plus, they manage to bring in a little magic too. Well, it looks like magic, but it is just a different way of altering information, so it looks like magic. There have been two audio series of Faction Paradox. One was put out by a company called BBV and now are only available from the owner via eBay. Haven’t heard them yet but they have a great reputation. The other, more recent series was put out by Magic Bullet Productions and is excellent. Still available too.

 

This has gone on long enough, I’ll tackle the Doctor Who Spinoffs created solely by Big Finish in another post.

Raising awareness

The “Kony” video has been circulating around. I haven’t watched it, the brief intro turned me off. It said something to the effect that the video wasn’t suggesting a solution, but simply raising awareness of the man and the awful things he has done. I don’t doubt for a second that he is truly awful, but I really don’t trust any activity or organization that is about “raising awareness.”

Predictably, actual Ugandans aren’t so thrilled with the video. Apparently, there wasn’t a single instance of talking to people involved in the terrible things that the 20 minute video is about. Kony isn’t even in Uganda any more. There’s a fair amount of backlash. Why? I have always had a difficult time putting into words why I disliked the publicity thing, but I think I can now.

Several months after I got my job, I was spreading the news that I had MS. I was telling it one guy and he informed me that he takes part in a annual MS ride. Now he’s a really nice guy, and he really wants to do well, so the only thing I could say to him was, “Funny, I don’t do that ride…” My gut reaction was to ask him if I should thank him for riding his bike. Yes, that is incredibly cynical. I’m sure the ride made him feel good. I’m also sure those Ugandans probably figured all those white people in California felt good about making that slick 20 minute, high def video about problems in Uganda.

Yes, I’m sure the MS ride drums up money for MS research, but just like the video, I wonder if it is awareness of MS that is being raised or awareness of the National MS whatever that is putting on the event. The same complaint is being leveled against the Kony video. Detractors claim that the video did a great job of raising awareness of the NGO that made the video, but did very little about the actual problems, let alone admit that things were quite a bit more complicated than there being one bad guy.

If you are going to market problems, don’t be surprised when the people that actually suffer those problems question you. All of the effort put into raising awareness, that couldn’t have been put to more productive uses? Maybe it can, maybe. But the fact that you would rather take the chance instead of spending the resources on something concrete says something.

Well dog my cats!

In my mind there have been three important, long lasting comic strips that have defined the genre. Peanuts, Doonsbury, and Pogo. What? You haven’t heard of Pogo? Walt Kelly, the creator, died in the mid 70’s so those of you in my generation or later can be forgiven for not being familiar with it. Kelly was able to use swampland animals to make pithy comments on culture and skewer politicians that went too far. His most famous series involved making fun of Joe Mcarthy and the House Unamerican activities committee. It was pretty bold back then. Not only that, Kelly was a master illustrator. His panels are masterpieces, his drawing and lettering are still unsurpassed. He was able to do slapstick very well because of the artistry of his drawings. His lettering did an amazing job of differentiating between characters and their personalities. The strip ran for 30 years or so and had a tremendous influence.

So where the reprints? It’s a fair question. I don’t have a good answer for it. There seems to have been a sort of curse when it came to Pogo reprints. There were a bunch of them done in the 60’s or 70’s I think but they weren’t particularly comprehensive. My father has a handful of these and this is where I discovered Pogo. I once brought some up and let my roommate in college read some of them and he got hooked too. Eclipse comics tried to reprint some of the old Pogo comic books and they went out of business after publishing only 5 of them. Fantagraphics started a reprint series and got about 10 thin soft cover books out. That petered out too, and I never did find out why.

Fantagraphics announced that they were going to do a proper reprint of all of the Pogo books, starting from the very first ones going all the way through to the end of the series. Things stalled for years, most people assumed that it just wasn’t going to happen. Fantagraphics finally had a ship date, and I got really excited, so I ordered the book. That was in June 2010. I just got the book today.

It did take a while to get here, but it is a beautiful book. It’s bigger than the Peanuts books Fantagraphics is doing, and it’s a good thing. Kelly wrote for the larger panels that were available in papers back then. His artwork is filled with amazing details and you really do need to have larger panels to take advantage of it. It took a long time, but the wait has been worth it. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that they are able to release the entire series, Walt Kelly’s legacy has been waiting too long!