Monday, September 11, 2006

The Hole In The Ground

Ground Zero: incredibly, still there.
Following another day of the same sanctimonious and empty gestures from our Fearless Leader, Keith Olbermann did it again. He's been on fire lately this season as the anti-Democrat/pro-fear rhetoric has ratcheted up yet again, and this is quite possibly the best special commentary he has done since his classic post-Katrina piece excoriating the government's clueless response to that epic disaster.

The full transcript of his words follows this paragraph, but I highly reccommend watching the video of this seething commentary (posted
here) to get the full effect.

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.

Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ultraman Revisited

Ultraman DVD ArtworkMonths after posting in a nostalgic sense about the wonderful world of Ultraman, the powers that be have elected at last to release the original series on DVD ... well, the first twenty episodes, at least.

Let's get the technical stuff out of the way first: the presentation is fairly good throughout, especially with the factors of time and storage considered, though there are some issues with the sound, in particular the dubbed English dialogue switching irritatingly to Japanese at the drop of a hat without automatically triggering the subtitling (I had to manually activate this function on a few occasions). The extras, sadly, are largely inconsequential: a dull, amateur-quality recording of a conversation with the three principal voice actors who dubbed the series for English television, a more informative (though very dry) slideshow walk-through introducing of the monsters featured during this batch of episodes, and finally the English-language opening credits for the show.

As was the case during my marathon week of Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot on a home-made DVD compilation a few months ago, watching Ultraman Vol. 1 over the last few nights was a rather illuminating experience, as many newer impressions of the show have surfaced since the last time I watched it (which was somewhere around 25 or more years ago). It was also impossible not to contrast the two series as the series wound onwards, and I am pleased to report that Ultraman quickly overpowered Sokko in nearly all fields of comparison.

The most immediate impression I got from watching these DVDs was what a weirdly schizoid show Ultraman could be as it occasionally blended goofball slapstick humor with surprisingly heavy existential plot developments, not to mention an unexpected, not-quite-psychedelic-but-definitely-mid-1960s surreal twist noticeable in the style of the later episodes.

Science Patrol Members Ito, Captain Mura and IrashiDespite some genuinely creepy monsters and set-pieces scattered around the first 20 shows, Ultraman comes off as a lot more overtly kid-aimed than I'd remembered. I realize that this isn't exactly an amazing observation concerning a show that features stunt performers in silly rubber monster suits getting their asses kicked on a weekly basis by another guy in a skin tight silver getup, but bear with me a bit. Unlike Johnny Sokko, whose characters were taciturn and businesslike with only rare occasions where they engaged in comedy, there are times watching Ultraman when you wonder exactly who selects agents for Science Patrol duty, especially if such clods as Ito (an electronics whiz who comes off like a Japanese version of Jerry Lewis), Irashi (a hot-headed dolt who wants to blast everything in sight with his two-handled ray gun), and the obligatory "troublemaking kid character" Hoshino somehow made the grade.

Then again, the whole reason I watched this show as a kid was the monsters, and watching these epic battles between Ultraman and his foes is a massive giggle not altogether different from a pro wrestling match (with some good ol' fashioned sumo moves here and there for color). While Johnny Sokko's Giant Robot fought in pretty much the same clunky way you'd expect a robot to fight, Ultraman was a nimble, graceful, sometimes playful figure in the ring who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. I will also add that the carnage is often spread equally by the battling titans, as Ultraman also seems to cause just as much damage to balsawood Nipponese infrastructure as his nemesis in any given battle. It was also surprising to note how quickly most of these fights were resolved: Ultraman was able to dispatch many of his assailants by simply utilizing his badass Specium Ray after a few moments of spirited leaping about and a few strategically-placed karate chops.

Another thing that struck me was that the production values on Ultraman seemed much higher than those of Johnny Sokko in nearly all areas, from the music to the use of location shooting and generally more creative monster design (not only were many of Sokko's adversaries rather cheesy in comparison, but the show's creators gleefully re-used their monsters two and three times over during the show's run).

I'll conclude with what is for me the most interesting difference between the two series: the tone of the shows as a whole. The U.N.I.C.O.R.N. organization were effectively at war with the Gargoyle Gang throughout the run of Johnny Sokko as every single foe faced by the Giant Robot was a stooge of the bad guys. With Ultraman, the enemies are spawned by nuclear accidents, radiation exposure, or just happen across the Earth from the depths of space and time, and not all of them had what could be construed as "evil" intentions. Thus, there are a few episodes of Ultraman that end on a surprisingly melancholy note as the defeated monsters are given a mournful musical sendoff rather than a rousing fanfare of victory.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Goat, I am beat right now ...

Spent the last two days at work re-wiring (or replacing) speakers, and my limbs are presently yelling at me for all of the stretching and reaching from the stepladder I had to do to run the new wire over and under fixtures and hidden behind acoustical ceiling tiles.

This was supposed to be a one-two hour project, tops, but thanks to doing this with a regular of ours who is a bit of a perfectionist woodpecker, it wound up taking the entirety of Tuesday and a chunk of today to get everything looking and sounding good. Once that was completed, there was a lot of re-thinking and re-arranging of counter space that had to be done in order to relocate the amp and CD player since we ended up short two feet of wire where it mattered the most (of course). The rest of tonight was a mad dash of getting caught up with orders, inventory adjustments, program buy-ins and ticketing/shelving stock to avoid falling two days behind on the assorted busywork. Ugh.

Incidentally, as far as that situation at work last week is concerned, things will be turning out for the best after all as the new release shipment problem we had has apparently been corrected ... it's just too bad that the one week everything went freakin' haywire was a heavy release week, so we have quite a few albums by Prince, Ben Harper and My Chemical Romance (not to mention a pile of South Park DVDs) that will be stinking up the place for a while. Dohhhhh.

Finally, in late-breaking news, Moe has a heretofore-undiscovered passion for roast beef. I had brought home a sandwich from Arby's with me, and the scent of it had Moe up the kind of invasive antics he hasn't attempted since he was a kitten (including trying to leap directly onto the sandwich itself, and then finding every possible way to get his head in between me and my dinner). I think he is still sniffing around for it as I type this, the little goon ...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

RD Top 20 Sellers For Week Ending 3/12/06

On An Island - as big as they get for us these days
3. MOGWAI Mr. Beast
4. RAY DAVIES Other People's Lives
5. SHAGGY 2 DOPE Fuck The Fuck Off
6. REVOLTING COCKS Cocked And Loaded
7. SHE WANTS REVENGE She Wants Revenge
8. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN Hammersmith, Odeon, London '75
9. ROBIN TROWER Living Out Of Time: Live
10. THE CARS Greatest Hits
11. CHEAP TRICK Dream Police
12. COVENANT Sky Shaper
13. DAVE DAVIES Kinked
14. JUVENILE Reality Check
15. VAN MORRISON Pay The Devil
16. OF MONTREAL The Bird Who Continues To Eat The Rabbit's Flower
17. SCARFACE My Homies, Part 2
18. GLENN TIPTON Baptizm Of Fire
19. STAIND Chapter V
20. PINK FLOYD A Momentary Lapse Of Reason

How big is On An Island? Combine the sales figures for all of the albums from #2 to #20 on this week's chart and you'll still be short of the Herculean total posted by the new David Gilmour solo album in its debut week. Not only did Gilmour post the biggest selling debut of 2006 by a factor of 3 to 1 over previous champ Shaggy 2 Dope, he also lobbed up the fastest-selling album since U2 posted an identical total (70 copies) at the end of November 2004. With figures only available since the middle of 2003, these two mark the biggest openings in our store's recent history, maybe even since the days of our old Great Lakes Mall location ... YouthIn Gilmour's wake, all other debuts look relatively puny, though in any other week, Hasidic reggae singer Matisyahu's dozen-piece start would compete or take the pole position ... Also opening strongly is the new Mogwai project, reflecting combined sales of two different editions, while the first new album from Ministry side-project Revolting Cocks managed to reach #6 just in front of the resurging She Wants Revenge album ... Mr. BeastNot as spectacular were the sales on the new Van Morrison album, which lagged behind the rest of the pack at a disappointing #15, right around similarly underwhelming entries from rap luminaries Jaheim and Scarface ... While none of the releases due for March 14 have anywhere close to the firepower of Gilmour, it is certainly likely that the new Donald Fagen solo album will reach well into the teens for its opening week, maybe even enough to lock up the top of the next week's chart, though we certainly expect On An Island to show some legs and not be a one-week super flash in the pan. Aside from Fagen, also watch for a high debut from guitar ace Joe Satriani, a smashing entry from the Pretenders box set, and renewed action from rock upstars Fall Out Boy with a reissued version of their breakthrough album ...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot

One of the biggest surprise gifts I recieved this past Christmas was a 2 DVD-R set containing the complete run of Johnny Sokko And His Flying Robot: a 1967 Japanese T.V. series that was imported (and substantially re-tooled) for U.S. syndication two years later.

Similar to the previously-discussed Ultraman T.V. series (which was shown back to back with this show on WXON Channel 20 in Detroit during my youth), Johnny Sokko was all about hilariously fake-looking giant monsters attacking Tokyo on a daily basis and getting their rubbery asses kicked in short order by a 100-foot tall Egyptian-looking robot equipped with eye lasers, a flamethrower for a mouth, and rocket-launching fingers. Said robot can also fly at Mach 17 and is controlled by the series' namesake: a pudgy 12-year old kid with a radio-control wristwatch.

Adding an element of secret-agent cool to the proceedings is the "secret war" that represents the story arc of the entire series. You see, these unending monster attacks weren't just random beasts sludging ashore from the depths of the Pacific out of sheer boredom, but instead these were deliberate attacks by the evil Emperor Guillotine from the planet Gargoyle, whose planned takeover of the Earth by way of "Giant Robot" was short-circuited by Johnny Sokko being the first voice heard by the automaton following its accidental activation by an (apparently very low-yield) nuclear explosion at a Gargoyle-run construction facility.

Since Johnny is now the sole controller of the robot, he is quickly persuaded by his new best buddy (and suave secret agent) Jerry Mano to join U.N.I.C.O.R.N., a kind of worldwide police force charged with the security of the Earth against all foes, most notably Guillotine's hired muscle, The Gargoyle Gang (the footsoldiers of whom all resemble Japanese Nazis in Ray-Bans, particularly their initial boss, Spider).

I suppose being a kid and seeing these 26 episodes scattered over a month or so of afternoon T.V. viewing failed to telegraph just how incredibly stupid most of the plots for this series really were, but watching all 26 in a 3-4 day period really drove the point home. Your average Johnny Sokko episode (you can view synopses of all the shows here) pretty much goes like this:

1. A monster attacks something somewhere.

2. Johnny and Jerry are sent to investigate, alone.

3. In a matter of minutes, Johnny and Jerry are captured and summarily threatened a lot by the Gargoyles and their current leader (any one of a mixed bag of cool / extremely annoying characters). Of course, the two are never killed outright (which would be the most immediate way to take Giant Robot out of the equation once for all), but constantly placed in a room with a time bomb ticking away in the corner. The enemies, of course, all chuckle evilly and walk off to another room in order to await the big ka-boom.

4. Johnny and Jerry escape, of course, and the day's monster is unleashed upon Tokyo.

5. Johnny calls in Giant Robot and the final battle is waged (and generally won in very short order).

One key factor to this show being as, well, laughable as it is most of the time has to be due to the near identical nature of the plots from episode to episode, as described above. While I realize a certain amount of fallibility in both organizations is necessary for there to be any kind of tension in the battle between good and evil, the incredible, absolute incompetence of both organizations is just staggering to behold. Funnier still, in light of their apparent complete inabilty to keep a secret or guard any given location with any number of soliders, both sides also display a convenient omniscence in being able to infiltrate the deepest reaches of their enemies' organization at the drop of a hat. If, say, U.N.I.C.O.R.N. hatches a top secret plan to move a new, indestructible metal from Point A to Point B, you can guarantee at least one agent will reveal himself as a Gargoyle member and steal said formula. Bet the house on it. You'll never lose.

Dr. Botanus: the spritual father of Destro, I'm sureDespite these often hare-brained plots, a few of the later episodes in the series managed to reach some startling (and occasionally very creepy) creative heights for a kid-aimed T.V. show, which is rather disappointing since you must wade through so much dreck to get there. The same was true of the characters employed by Guillotine to command his foot soldiers. Spider was dealt with early in the series (in a rather bloodless, yet graphic fashion), leaving the command of the Gargoyle forces to a host of replacements. Yet, for every interesting leader such as the silver-skulled Doctor Botanus, the truly ghoulish Space Mummy or the Gargoyle-controlled robot Torozon (perhaps the only truly worthy opponent faced by Giant Robot during the whole damn series), you have such incredibly inane creations such as Fangor (imagine a cross between William Hung and The Phantom Of The Opera), the unbelievably irritating green gigglemuppet Dr. Engali, or the monster Double-Head (the most hilariously fake monster of them all: Giant Robot very nearly knocks the headpiece off of the costume a few times during their climactic battle).

All that said, it was a hoot to watch this series again through older eyes. I don't know if I could ever watch all of these again in sequence (some were that bad), but there are definitely a handful of standouts that should stand up well to repeat viewings. Here's hoping my friend Dave (who gave me this collection) can come up with the whole run of Ultraman on DVD for this Christmas ...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Christmas In March!

March 7, 2006 ... which is also the same day as Morph The Cat: the first new Donald Fagen solo album since 1993.