The Decemberists: Castaways and Cut-outs

Friday, 30 May 2003

Hell, I’m al­ways on the look­out for some good new mu­sic. Unfortunately my search of­ten re­sults in less than good new mu­sic. There are far too many bands out there with delu­sions of grandeur, weird gim­micks, and stranger sounds, all of which don’t par­tic­u­larly agree with my con­sti­tu­tion.

Thankfully, The Decemberists al­bum Castaways and Cut-outs does not fit this bill.

[ini­tial­ize pom­pos­ity]

They are from some­where in the Pacific Northwest, Washington or Oregon, or some­place. Treehuggers. Their sound on the other hand, seems to draw on in­flu­ences from the world over, merged into a very in­die feel. The vo­cals fo Colin Meloy gives the band a very Irish sound, he’s got an Irish name too, but he is from Missoula, Montana. Some of the song con­tent is also quite rem­i­nis­cent of rel­a­tively cur­rent events in Ireland. “Leslie Ann Levine” in par­tic­u­lar would fit quite well as a med­i­ta­tion on the rife sub­ject of teenage preg­nancy, abor­tion and the Kerry ba­bies case.

The songs are quite seedy in con­tent, and cre­ate within me a sense that the en­tire al­bum is a pe­riod piece of wharves, docks, and sundry other salty top­ics from a 19th cen­tury sea story. Petticoats, camisoles, cast­aways, and men at war, all blend to­gether to cre­ate a sub­tle and sin­is­ter lyric-scape that is only height­ened by the peppy mu­sic. You en­joy lis­ten­ing to the songs but then when you think about the lyrics you’re, like, whoa!

“A Cautionary Song” is prob­a­bly the best ex­am­ple of this. Its a song about a mother who whores her­self out in or­der to feed the kids. It rol­licks along though, to a concertina/​accordion, in a sea-shanty sailor rhythm. You might find yoru­self tap­ping your feet as you hear about how she goes through an en­tire ship in a night.

and the next time she feeds you col­lard greens
re­mem­ber what she does when you’re asleep

A nice zinger to end the song, eh? So sorry kids.

Their mu­si­cal abil­i­ties are an amal­gam of coun­try, pop, stan­dard rock, and var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions of form [i.e. the shanty] through­out the al­bum. It might end on a note of hope, but it is a bit hard to tell, “California One/​Youth and Beauty Brigade” is the clos­est the Decemberists seem to get to truly mod­ern cookie-cut­ter false unity/​alienation, yet the lyrics seem ironic, as if join­ing the Youth and Beauty Brigade might not be such a good thing. Perhaps this irony is meant to ex­pose the shal­low­ness of the “Youth of a Nation” vs. “Broken Home” di­chotomy that so much crap mu­sic to­day seems to feed off of.

The Decemberists’ Castaways and Cut-outs should def­i­nitely be added to any self-re­spect­ing audiophile’s li­brary.

an­other link

[end pom­pos­ity]

3 teeth

Thursday, 29 May 2003

Yessiree, you heard it here first. I truly am teething. Or, per­haps, tooth­ing, to be more pre­cise. A [sin­gu­lar] wis­dom tooth has deemed its time ripe to emerge from the evo­lu­tion­ary boon­docks that forms the back­plates of the mandible. My wis­dom tooth, in­stead of be­ing a mere nui­sance, and a rea­son for peo­ple to look like jaun­diced chip­munks upon re­moval, serves a pur­pose.

I’m pretty sure that sen­tence has way too many clauses.

I am miss­ing three teeth. One wis­dom tooth [lower left], one per­ma­nent pre­mo­lar [lower right], and the baby ver­sion of afore­men­tioned per­ma­nent pre­mo­lar. The AWOL wis­dom tooth is cool, it means when they are fi­nally yanked, only the up­per ones will come out, and the like­li­hood of dry sock­ets de­creases log­a­rith­mi­cally.

I used to have the lower right pre­mo­lar [the baby ver­sion] but when I got braces a few years ago, it needed to come out. The rea­son it had never fal­len out was be­cause I had no per­ma­nent tooth un­der­neath to re­place it.

Getting that baby tooth re­moved wasn’t peaches and cream, or even or­anges and cream, or even sour cream. It was just bad. I’ve got damn strong teeth, no cav­i­ties, no fill­ings, no prob­lems apart from be­ing a few teeth shy of a ra­tio­nal amount. This baby tooth did not want to go; it was huge, se­cure in its grip­ping power on my gums, and not about to take any sass from a den­tist.

The roots were so in­tent on be­ing im­mov­able they were as close to be­ing barbed as they could get. The nerve was sur­rounded in a per­fectly ex­e­cuted four pronged pin­cer.

So the den­tist cut it down the mid­dle with a saw and yanked out each half.

When I got my braces on, they put a bunch of torque on my lon­seome mo­lar, to bring it up next to the bi­cus­pid, to fill in the gap left by the pre­mo­lar, so my wis­dom tooth would also move for­ward, emerge and take the place of my last mo­lar.

Too many clauses again.

Thus, what I once thought of as an evo­lu­tion­ary throw­back to our more ro­bust skele­tal struc­tures, and more her­biv­o­rous or fru­giv­o­rous eat­ing be­hav­iors, ac­tu­ally serves a pur­pose for this gracile Homo sapi­ens sapi­ens[me].

I’m go­ing to suck on some ice now.

Computer Crapola

Tuesday, 27 May 2003

The past few days have been spent in a flurry of sundry com­puter clean­ing pro­ce­dures. We’ve ghosted the sum­mer im­age onto the busi­ness clus­ters, we’ve scraped the hand salsa off of in­nu­mer­able key­boards and mice, we’ve shined mon­i­tors and razed the clus­ter kiosks of any and all un­nec­es­sary para­pher­na­lia.

On the per­sonal side, I re­for­mat­ted my PC at home and in­stalled XP in or­der to squeeze an­other year of use out of its ag­ing cir­cuits. I didn’t have any prob­lems at all run­ning Win2000Pro but XP takes up a bit less space with­out the un­nec­ces­sary NTserver scripts.

Signing up for hours looks like it is go­ing to be a chore this sum­mer, we are a bit over­staffed, so I’m go­ing to have to scrounge to get the full 40 I am alot­ted.

I man­aged to copy every­thing over to my friend’s ma­chine so I saved all of my mp3s, pa­pers, etc. Everything ex­cept my con­tact list/​address book with all of my email ad­dresses, and all of the saved emails that I have. d’oh!

If you are read­ing this, know who I am, and would like to be re­in­stated into my new con­tact list please email me with all of your per­ti­nent con­tact in­for­ma­tion [email, phone, etc.].

If you are read­ing this, don’t know me per­son­ally, but would still like to be put into my ad­dress book, please do the same.

The Matrix: Reloaded — Gothic Production Values

Sunday, 25 May 2003

The sec­ond en­try, and then I must needs say no more about ma­tri­ces till November.

As a film, The Matrix [orig­i­nal] was au­then­tic in its raw­ness of mise-en-scene, tight plot, char­ac­ter con­struc­tion and phi­los­o­phy. The Matrix: Reloaded, has the mangy paw of Hollywood over­pro­duc­tion and ov­erengi­neer­ing all over it.

Now that the goth look is main­streamed [hoo­dathunkit?] it is at the same time ex­tremed in the Matrix, Hollywood knows who its de­mo­graph­ics are and plays to them, even putting in vam­pires and ghosts. Every good guy is gothic while in the Matrix. Zion even has that re­tarded rave/​orgy/​infernal masses se­quence, where every­one porks to heavy bass beats. All of the guns from the last flik have been re­placed by a va­ri­ety of weapons [katana, longsword, tri­dent, sai, mace, etc.] that don’t do much good ex­cept look cool. Then, of course, you’ve got the gothic château in the moun­tains, the gothic retro tech­nol­ogy [old TVs etc, still cool] and the rusted out ships of Zion.

Costuming

The cos­tumes in the orig­i­nal Matrix were in­deed quite cool, but their cool­ness was sec­ondary and the man­i­fes­ta­tions of the mind that wears them. In TM:R the clothes were cool be­cause Hollywood de­cided it must be so, and they fail at it. Keanu in a cas­sock, is a bit pre­pos­ter­ous, Trinity main­tains skintight pleather, and the only no­tice­able dif­fer­ence in the agents and Morpheus is that they’ve got spiffy new shoes. The Zionists can’t man­age to clothe them­selves de­cently [ex­cept for the el­ders] de­spite their abil­ity to hew an ex­is­tence near the earth’s core. The bad­dies just wear white or black vari­a­tions in suit themes. Who re­ally cares.

Plot

Schizophrenically pol­y­se­mous. Dragged a bit, then had some über-cheesy part, fol­lowed by an über-philo­soph­i­cal part. Rinse, re­peat. This is where I found the con­flict be­tween a smart film, and a Hollywood film to be most preva­lent. The cheese parts [the n Smith fight, rave, the Seraph fight, sex scene, uber­car chase, the other n Smith fight, the you saved me di­a­logue at the end] are Hollywood. The smart parts [Oracle, Merovingian, Architect, back doors, Keymaker] re­minded me most of the orig­i­nal film, de­spite the fact that the Merovingian and the Architect still had some ob­vi­ous dis­trac­tions to them [yesterday’s post]. Although, the Keymaker, when de­scrib­ing how to get into the main­frame, re­minded me much of the Old Man From Scene 24 in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is also the whole Keymaster of Gozer thing from Ghost Busters as well.

CG/​Special Effects

They were cut­ting edge last time, but main­stream this time. Bullet time/​slomo adn the spin­ning cam­era moves were the same stuff from the last movie. The CGs were pretty ob­vi­ous too, sup­port­ing my the­ory that dig­i­tal still has a long way to go be­fore it can ren­der as well as film stock can pick up the min­ute de­tails of a person’s face. Thus, some­times Neo and Smith look quite CG, be­cause the sub­tle shad­ows and fa­cial ex­pres­sions are not there. Rendering fab­rics is pretty damn hard as well. Thus, Neo’s id­i­otic cas­sock goes from be­ing nice and tex­tured to smooth as silk when he is CG. The wire-work le­git­i­mately seemed ripped off from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Sound

Sound ef­fects and Foley work was im­pres­sive, though the mu­sic was most def­i­nitely cre­ated with the sound­track in mind, and of course con­tained tracks from the most gothic sell­out — Rob Zombie. Hell, it even had a track by Dave Mathews. [*pukes*] I did like what Juno Reactor did with many of the songs though — mix­ing stan­dard techno/​trance with the score in many in­stances.

Other

The shot se­lec­tion was also a bit schizoid. The OTS shots were so repet­i­tive i could pre­dict what was go­ing to hap­pen next [MS1a, MS2a, MS1b, MS2b, MCU1a, MCU2a, etc.]. At the same time, the dig­i­tal stuff with Morpheus fight on the trailer, and the mo­tor­cy­cle shots — were pretty damn amaz­ing. The washed-out hot­ness of the whites, and the sub­tle lows of the blacks seemed ap­pro­pri­ately gothic and also helped the CGs fit into the the film bet­ter, since so much data was lost by in­ten­tional over­ex­po­sure.

Morpheus says the prophecy should have come true if Neo reached the source, but Neo did not reach the souce, he went af­ter Trinity, some­thing that I only re­al­ized post facto the movie. There is no men­tion of it in the flik it­self.

Wrap

I liked TM:R, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t like it as well as the first one. I give the 1st an 8 and this one a 6. Mostly be­cause, it is ob­vi­ous Hollywood tried too hard as usual, only ap­prox­i­mated what it feels is au­then­tic — rather than go­ing for the real thing. Ergo, all the peo­ple are goth­ically se­ri­ous ex­cept for Link who is more a fam­ily man thug than any­thing else — and the won­der­ful Merovingian ass­hole. The bad guys are much more in­ter­est­ing than the good guys. It leaves no room for any type of those once plugged in than the gothic. Someone should crack a joke or play a prank or per­haps wear com­fort­able clothes that are non­de­script. Right? I think it is too shal­low be­cause it is too pre­ten­tious.

Probably much like this re­view.

The Matrix: Reloaded — Fides et Ratio

Saturday, 24 May 2003

I’ve seen The Matrix: Reloaded twice now. Fittingly I will give it two en­tries, one on phi­los­o­phy and one on its cin­e­matic qual­i­ties. This is the philo one. Most likely they will both con­tain spoil­ers.

To start out, those who say that this sec­ond film lacks [in sub­stance and thought pro­vok­ing ma­te­rial] are id­iots.

They must have ig­nored [slept through, dis­missed be­cause they did not un­der­stand] the Oracle, the Merovingian [who is ridicu­lous awe­some], and the Architect. Granted, much of the rest of the film is cot­ton candy [to be cov­ered in the next en­try], but the afore­men­tioned seg­ments are any­thing but.

Continuing the de­bate that was ex­humed in the orig­i­nal Matrix, this film deals time and again with the an­tag­o­nism be­tween choice/​free will and causality/​predetermination. Its pretty ho hum, and the screen­writ­ers are ei­ther ge­niuses or stayed up all cram­ming and then re­gur­gi­tated the an­swers. I lean to­ward the bile side my­self, be­cause the Oracle, the Merovingian, and the Architect all con­tra­dict them­selves in their so­lil­o­quys on choice v. causal­ity.

The Oracle

An ‘in­tu­itive’ com­puter pro­gram that cre­ated a ver­sion of the Matrix that 99% of test sub­jects ac­cepted as long as they were of­fered a choice. Neo looks to her for guid­ance and ques­tions her re­gard­ing choice. If she knows the an­swer to the ques­tions she asks him, what does his choice mat­ter? She tells him that his choices have al­ready been made, Neo is now sup­posed to un­der­stand why he made/​making/​will make these choices.

But then, ‘we can’t see past the choices we don’t un­der­stand.’

All of this time, while dis­cussing choice, the dis­cus­sion has re­ally cen­tered on causal­ity, the Oracle seems to be hint­ing that choices do not mat­ter. At the same time, she tells Neo to makes choices.

For her it ap­pears that choice is merely an il­lu­sory mech­a­nism of causal­ity. But not see­ing past the choices we do not un­der­stand gives her the lie, for un­less she un­der­stands all choices, how can she see the fu­ture. To me it ap­pears that for causal­ity to func­tion is must be con­cerned only with hind­sight. It can only prove its ve­rac­ity by show­ing com­pleted cause and ef­fect re­la­tions as some­thing in­evitable. It should only be able to pos­tu­late the fu­ture, not pre­dict it.

The Merovingian

This guy is my fa­vorite char­ac­ter in the en­tire film. We’ll just get that out of the way.

This ex­quis­itely con­temptible French pro­gram ap­par­ently touts causal­ity as its cham­pion. He says choice is an il­lu­sion given by those with power to those with­out it. Ostensibly, as a means of con­trol [see The Architect]. He states the hu­mans run on in­stinct, and proves this by en­chant­ing a hot chick with a pro­grammed piece of aphroditic choco­late and mak­ing her all horny. Thus, dou­bly prov­ing his point [if you were even lis­ten­ing to his mono­logue] be­cause most likely the au­di­ence watch­ing the film was more in­ter­ested in the warm spot in hot chick’s crotch than what the Merovingian was say­ing.

He says that those with power are those who ‘un­der­stand the why’ of things.

To me ‘why’ is a word that deals with choice. To know ‘why’ you do some­thing is to know the rea­sons you made the choice. To un­der­stand ‘what’ is to un­der­stand causal­ity. ‘What made you do some­thing’ — this rec­og­nizes that an out­side, pre­de­ter­mined, non-will­ful stim­u­la­tion re­sulted in an act. Why is sub­jec­tive, thus con­trol­lable, What is ob­jec­tive, and causal.

When Persephone screws him over, in a beau­ti­ful throw-away re­mark af­ter his re­cent homily, he de­mands to know the rea­son she lets Neo have the Keymaker: she says some­thing about causal­ity and re­torts with — Cause? There is no cause for this!

The Architect

Like the Merovingian se­quence, The Architect uses a shit­load of mon­i­tors show­ing dif­fer­ent things to dis­tract the viewer from the dis­cus­sion.

The Architect ex­plains about the means of con­trol within the Matrix, that Neo is an ex­pected anom­aly re­sult­ing from the in­abil­ity of the cause/​effect na­ture of pro­gram­ming to ad­e­quately cope with the de­mands of im­per­fect hu­man de­sires and choices. The hu­man mind is lesser or, per­haps, not bound by the de­mands of per­fec­tion. To deal with this the ma­chi­nes use life out­side the Matrix, and Zion, an ap­par­ently oft de­stroyed and re­built city, as an­other method of con­trol. Neo is also ap­par­ently the sixth anom­aly, so Zion is in its 5th rein­car­na­tion.

Besides all that, The Architect points out the flaws be­tween causal­ity and choice. He of­fers Neo a Lady or Tiger choice, choose a door. This is where the philoso­phies get a bit shal­low for me. Cause and ef­fect seem to hang on Neo’s choice. Except, Neo seems to think he only has two choices, one door or the other. He has plenty of op­tions.

Other

Where is the re­li­gion? TM:R uses the de­vices of re­li­gion [Morpheus as a prophet, men­tions of prov­i­dence, the need for faith, etc] but never deigns to il­lus­trate the ef­fi­cacy of these de­mands, nor to ex­plain what it is peo­ple are to have faith in. Are we to as­sume that faith should be placed in Neo. Who should Neo have faith in then? Only him­self? Morpheus faith seems bound to his ideas about choice and prov­i­dence, but at odd points these eat each other. He says every­thing hap­pens for a rea­son, his prov­i­dence, but he also says every­one has a choice. In the di­alec­tic set up within the Matrix, these are at cross-pur­poses.

They could how­ever, be ex­plained in re­gard to faith. Yet, they never are.

Last BS

I think, though I am quite pre­pared to ad­mit that this could very well be wrong, that what the Architect spoke of, that 99% ac­cept the Matrix as long as they are of­fered a choice, hints at a pos­si­ble twist. Perhaps while Neo and Trinity, and Morpheus, et al. think they are out­side of the Matrix, they are ac­tu­ally still within it. Thus, The Matrix en­com­passes both the Zion-world and what we have come to know as the Matrix it­self.

This is ex­plained both through what the Architect says, as well as in Neo’s freaky light­ning abil­i­ties at the end. He can sense the sen­tinels in the ‘real world,’ and can EMP-bake them with his hand in the ‘real world.’ I think he re­al­ized he was in an­other level of the Matrix, and sent his con­scious­ness forth into a higher state of mind. Yeah, it sounds a bit new-agey.

or, per­haps while he was in the main­frame, he gained a new abil­ity, to trans­port him­self di­rectly into the Matrix, with­out plugs.

Hell, like I know what I’m talk­ing about.

Summer Reading

Friday, 23 May 2003

The Summer Reading List cur­rently con­tains:

  1. High Fidelity — Nick Hornby
  2. Ulysses — James Joyce
  3. The Hawkline Monster — Richard Brautigan
  4. The Wasp Factory — Iain Banks
  5. His Dark Materials Trilogy — Philip Pullman
  6. Gravity’s Rainbow — Thomas Pynchon
  7. The Corrections — Jonathan Franzen
  8. Something by Kafka

I’m al­ways tak­ing sug­ges­tions as well, es­pe­cially po­etry.

Tomorrow I get my St. Joe County Library Card.

Confused Little Ant

Thursday, 22 May 2003

I had lunch with her to­day. She had been gone to Spain all last se­mes­ter, and had just got­ten back the pre­vi­ous week. She came up to South Bend to get her job at the Center for the Homeless set­tled, and to run a few other er­rands. She cut her hair.

I re­ally like the new look, al­though her long hair was nice as well. Now she has this quite at­trac­tive flip to her hair, which height­ens her al­ready quite att­trac­tive­ness. It was a bit strange to be ac­tu­ally talk­ing to her af­ter so long an ab­sence. I left things un­said as usual [while talk­ing my lips off].

She spoke of Spain in glow­ing terms, she wants to go back. It sounds quite the nice place to be. She also spoke of her friend Javi [I hope not boyfriend]. She does not know if she wants to live in America, be­cause af­ter be­ing abroad she un­der­stands just how work-cen­tric the American cul­ture is. I’ve felt the same way my­self, but just on hearsay, that Europe sounds like my sort of p[l]ace.

Her fa­ther called while we ate at Macri’s Deli, and when he heard I was there with her, told her to tell me a joke: he loves bad jokes.

Q: Why were the lit­tle ants con­fused?

A: Because some­one told them that their un­cles were aunts.

That one was pretty bad, but for me the hu­mor de­rives from know­ing a per­son who rel­ishes such bad jokes.

She and I are both quite pro­tec­tive of our in­ner thoughts, we speak them rarely, so it is most dif­fi­cult for one such as me to work up the con­fi­dence to broach cer­tain sub­jects with her. I hope I can do it the next chance I get.