Sunday, November 25, 2007

If You Hate The Hold Steady, Skip This

Someone please tell me why I should hate this band. Beside the fact that they do everything wrong: derivative licks, pretentious lyrics, frat-boy posturing.

I wish I hated this band. But I am not cool enough to hate this band. I love this band. I love the way they find that expansive big riff that carries the song. I love the way they shamelessly worship gesture rock. I love the way they sound like Social Distortion meets Molly Hatchett while The Fall mediates the peace talks.

I'd like to see them tour with the Drive-By Truckers, so folks could see side-by-side what a trying-to-sound-like-a-rock-band band sounds like next to a real rock band.

There's a deep sad irony in why Lucero and DBT aren't the shit yet The Hold Steady manages to garner significant press. Don't get me wrong: I love this band. Like, I play "Arms and Hearts" over and over again. I love 'em. But they have copped that hipster pose that allows them to ape authenticity without having the responsibility to back it up. DBT backs it up. And Lucero is simply too good for people to grasp until the band dies horribly or saves a baby from a well.

Leach the irony from a Hold Steady song, add pedal steel, better songwriting, and a Southern drawl and you have the Drive-By Truckers.

But DBT has been honing their craft in bars for 20 years, and The Hold Steady arose from the remains of Lifter Puller (an admittedly pretty good band), Tuesday.

DBT actually thinks that there's a vernacular rock and roll that matters to people. They still exist at the locus of rock, R&B, country, and blues. The Hold Steady sees that as a pose and tries to take something from the dead parts and build a zombie out of it.

Both approaches have merit. Guys go for looks, girls go for status. That's hard to argue with.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mass Effect: Further Impressions

I had about ten hours of game play done and I kept getting my avatar's ass whipped and I realized that I was fundamentally DOING IT WRONG so I deleted all my save games and started over. Yeah, I know. But isn't that how other people play RPGs? You're not committed to that first game, right? It's just for experimental purposes, to try stuff out. That's what I'm telling myself, anyway. Playing as a female vanguard instead of a male infiltrator, and enjoying the combat much more -- it's really fun to cast warp into a crowd of enemies and watch their knees buckle as they collapse to the ground. Whipping through the early plot points with the intent of getting the Normandy and accumulating as many paragon points as possible in the process, I also have taken the time to pick up a lot more Citadel quests. I thought I'd explored pretty thoroughly the first time through, but there was more to see and do.

I've scanned 20 of 21 keepers, and have no idea where the last one is (yes, I found the one in the docking bay and the one on the balcony behind the bar near the embassies). Wrex killed Fist, and I chided him for it. Garrus and the quarian have joined the team. I haven't picked up one p[arty member yet, and by the outline, I'd say it's an asari female. Don't know when she'll appear. I hope I haven't someone permabanned her by turning down a branching plotline inadvertently. I'm trying to finish all the Citadel quests before going forth to explore the galaxy, my thinking being I'll have more skillz at a higher level than I did before, so the combat should be a little easier. Or maybe I'm just a n00b who can't figure out the subtle nuance of Mass Effect's combat system.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mass Effect: Initial Impressions

Can't talk, playing Mass Effect.

I'm about three hours in. Haven't gotten command of the Normandy yet. Exploring Citadel Station and finishing the prologue. I hope that's a true indicator of the scope of the game: more than three hours to finish the prologue.

Here's my first take, which will of course change as I figure the game out and get deeper into it:

This is KOTOR on steroids. That's a good thing and a bad thing. The good: buckets of plot in which to wallow, the best NPC-conversation system yet devised, and a rich backstory that makes you feel like you're starring in a 1980s science fiction movie. The bad: talk talk talk talk talk talk, I still feel constrained by invisible walls, squad members get in my way when trying to select objects or talk to NPCs. Also, the tutorial-to-handholding ratio is weirdly skewed. There's an acre of text telling me how to use the (simple and intuitive) mission computer, but not a word anywhere about how decryption works, exactly.

The combat is odd, but fun so far. It's easy to pause the action and issue squad commands, but the targeting (or absence of) is weird, I haven't figured out how to use the sniper rifle yet, and I'd like an indicator in my HUD telling me how many medkits I have available.

Visually the game is gorgeous, and the pop-in and frame-rate stutters that other reviewers have mentioned don't seem that bad. I've yet to see the game really rev up for a big boss battle yet, so that may change.

Thoughts so far: do you like words? Lots of words? Spoken, displayed, and scrollable words? Yes? Then you'll like this game! I'm enjoying it, but I can see how people with less patience would toss away the controller. I'm looking forward to seeing how the world opens up after I get command of the starship.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Country Music Sunday

Been feeling rootsy.

Here's what's scratching the itch these days:

Dale Watson
Bobby Bare Jr.
Bradley Walker
The Meat Purveyors
Kelly Hogan (she usta be in the Jody Grind!)

I'm even rockin' rootsy:

Two Cow Garage (Warning: MySpace link)
Matt Mays and El Torpedo
The Sadies
Scott Miller and the Commonwealth

Next week I'll be back to the usual screamin' rawk, but for right now, on a gray Sunday afternoon, nothing suits the mood better than Dale Watson. Why is this guy not the biggest star in country music? Oh, that's right. Because country music isn't country anymore.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An Open Letter to Mayor Langford

Hi Larry.

Congratulations on your election, until such time as it is overturned on a technicality because you don't really live in Birmingham. Of course, I don't either, and I care about the city, too. I can't really blame you for being confused by all the redistricting and gerrymandering and meandering squiggles that geographically represent money and power and influence fleeing the city limits -- you'd have to be like a county commissioner or something to figure that shit out.

You may not remember me, but a while ago I was a cashier at the Fish Market downtown and you ate there frequently. We chatted. I think you once offered me a cigarette, which I accepted, and we sat in the sun on the bench on 21st Street and talked about public transportation. I was the skinhead-looking dude. I'm different now, but that's not the point. You're different now, too. You're the Mayor.

All that hard work has finally off.

But I gotta say that I'm torn, Larry. Torn like an old sweater. On the one hand, I know you're a smart guy who's always working the angles. You're energetic and enthusiastic, and this town needs a good swift kick in the ass. On the other hand, you're the Machine, man. You've made a career out of picking up a taxpayer-funded paycheck (I know, you worked for Birmingham Budweiser, too, but was that really a job job, or was that a "job"?) and then erecting some boondoggle while raising sales taxes and swiftly moving on. We don't need a goddamn dome in Birmingham, Larry. We really don't. We need cops walking beats, we need to sell off some fucking land to the rich municipalities who want it, we need to take advantage of a crumbling but miraculously largely intact downtown infrastructure (sans Terminal Station) and make Birmingham COOL AGAIN.

That's right, cool again. When was it ever cool, you ask yourself? And I answers: it was cool when it was a filthy, unsafe, industrial cesspool full of syphilitic Greek prostitutes and steelworkers. The 1920s.

Think about it, Larry. Hookers on every corner. Cops on the take. Liquor stores and gin joints and knife fights under the gaslights along the trolley line. A simpler time, Larry. A time when the blacks lived in one-room shacks on one side of town and the whites lived in two-room shacks on the other.

OK, maybe not.

I do have some concrete suggestions, though. One: stop hiring consultants. City-wide moratorium on any new contracts. Consultants don't actually DO anything, you see, and your campaign slogan seems antithetical to that premise. Two: take your energy from the dome project and focus it on selling downtown retail space to a good grocery store/pharmacy in walking distance of the loft district. Tweak the city code and allow merchants to live above their shops again. *Waves at cousin Jimmy, defiantly living above his shop for years* Let's get a neighborhood established downtown. That means COPS HAFTA WALK BEATS, Larry. Not drive them. Bike them, maybe. Remember, city limits are gonna shrink. Three: speaking of bikes, let's figure out how to move people around more efficiently. That means sidewalks and bike lanes and stuff. It doesn't mean more parking decks and corkscrew off-ramps.

I've gone on too long, Larry, and I know you've got a lot on your plate. So I'll wish you well and let you get to work. Just, please Larry. Don't steal us blind. That's sooooo been done.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Toys For Troy

Maybe if we send Troy King something to fuck he'll stop turning his raging moralistic hard-on on us. That seems to be the thinking behind a recent "Toys For Troy" proposal, dreamed up by Alabama's finest shit-stirrer, Loretta Nall. With our lead lawman sporting major wood and gunning for Hoover's own Love Stuff, purveyor of skimpy lingerie and butt plugs, the time has come, citizens, to take matters into our own hands.

And when you're through, towel off, wash up, and finish reading this post.

There. Feel better? Cigarette?

I am trying to imagine just what it is about the sale of sex toys that has King in such a lather. As usual, my imagination is not equal to the task. Why would anyone waste tax dollars and time pursuing this? Does Troy King really think that dildos and fucksleeves and nipple clamps are a problem? Why? Is there a mad, nipple-clamped dildo bandit on the loose? That actually might explain the gaping assholes recently exhibited by a host of GOP ne'er-do-wells, but I haven't read anything about it in the papers. What's the basis for this? If not for a general fear of sex and sexuality and honesty about the naughty bits?

Troy, c'mere man. See that? No, I'm not going to touch it. That right there? That's your PENIS, Troy. And you know what else? God GAVE YOU that penis, and He made orgasms fun for a REASON. And those orgasms, Troy? WOMEN HAVE THEM, TOO! I know, huh? Who'd a thunk it? And sometimes your penis may not suffice, or perhaps you climaxed when she removed her burqua, and then she might need a little artificial stimulation. Because making women happy during sex is OK, Troy! Really, it is. And while we know that YOU have never suffered from any sort of sexual inadequacy, God forbid, others HAVE. And in order for them to stay married and keeping pushing out babies to create the great Christian army, sometimes they require ASSISTANCE. In the form of a BIG FAT BLACK VEINY DILDO.

I'm glad to see that your ban on sexual aids like Viagra and Cialis is working so well. What's that? You haven't declared war on THOSE forms of sexual assistance, just the ones that you find titillating? S'OK. I'm sure you'll get around to it.

Meanwhile, the state constitution is the laughingstock of the developed world, Northern paper companies continue to evade property taxes that would fund rural schools, Alabamians' access to hospitals and primary care doctors continues to decline while our insurance rates skyrocket, and METH LABS ARE TAKING OVER SOUTH ALABAMA.

But please, continue your crusade against sex toys. It'll make us all a harder, firmer, more tumescent state.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Pop Has Eaten Itself

I'm kinda glad the cake is a lie, because there is no spoon. I was just thinking about a plate of shrimp, though.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Alabama Court Watch: Huh, What?

My main crush on teh intarwebs, Loretta Nall, has invited me to participate in the Alabama Court Watch blog, and I have accepted her gracious invitation. I have naught of value to offer besides drunkenly bilious semi-coherent bathos, so I will refrain from posting there for the time being, but know that I am hovering, always frowning in disapproval at bad grammar and sloppy spelling. So, Loretta: it should be "I and another Court Watcher attended...", not, "myself and another Court Watcher attended", for fuck's sake.

And when I was in court-mandated brainwashing and was subjected to several watch-me-pee sessions in Shelby County, I was always, without fail, offered a receipt. Never even had to ask for one, at either the court referral officer's office in Columbiana or the dank windowless warren of torture rooms that is the Shelby County Mental Health Whatchamacallit down 31 near the Alabaster city hall. And I don't remember anyone there not getting a receipt or complaining about having to ask for one. In fact, I specifically recall one time the network was down in Columbiana and dude had the old-fashioned spiral-bound carbon-copy receipt book out and had been scribbling in it all day by the looks of it. So, while human error or authoritarian malfeasance is never out of the question, I tend to think tweaker dude was lying his ass off about not getting a pee ticket.

And getting called onto the carpet and publicly humiliated by your public defender is probably good formative character development for a mopy emo kid, whatever the reason.

emo cat

So I look forward to participating in this project (largely by throwing bricks from the sidelines). I gotta ask about this, though:
Because, we are convinced that the majority of the defendants that make up the bulk of drug court case loads are adult marijuana smokers who are not breaking any laws other than possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Really? Surely there's hard data on that. Don't we pay people to keep track of this stuff? I imagine what we'll find is that marijuana is the most common illegal substance found but rarely the actual arresting offense. That's a guess, pulled directly out of my ass, but I suspect I'm right. Guy gets a DUI, cops find a roach in the ashtray. Guy gets popped selling pills, he's got a bong in his apartment. Gal picked up for public intox has a gram of kind bud in a cigarette pack. Pot's like the bonus bust for cops. No extra work, plenty of extra profit.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.