Thursday, May 27, 2010

To anyone who thinks the Internet is a waste of time...

AskMetaFilter is a site that allows users to ask questions of the Great Internet Abyss, and hopefully get something approaching a useful response. Usually the questions range from Why is my lawnmower suddenly racing? to Liberal hipster dude thinking about attending BSU, will I hate it?

A week ago, though, the user 'fake' showed up with a different kind of problem.
Help me help my friend in DC.

My friend and former student K arrived in DC yesterday, along with a friend. She came over on some kind of travel exchange program put together by a Russian travel agency called 'XXXXX'. They paid about 3K for this program.

The program promised a job offer in advance, but didn't deliver. They said they would send one via email, but failed there, too.

Her contact in the USA barely speaks English, doesn't answer her calls but does answer mine. He has asked her and her friend to meet in NYC tonight around midnight, with promises of hostess work in a lounge. Yes, I know how horrific that sounds- that's why I am working all possible angles here.

She is not going to NYC but I need some help handling and understanding how to handle this- I have a friend helping them with a cheap hotel for the night, but that's all at the moment. I am presently driving to LA and could fly her and her friend to meet me there on Saturday, but couldn't house them indefinitely. I will be monitoring this thread over the next hour.
Other users immediately recognized the signs of a human trafficking case, and the thread became a real-time desperate race to convince the two young women not to meet with their sketchy contact in New York. Consulate, State Department, and local PD phone numbers were bandied about, investigations were made into the legitimacy of the supposed 'lounge' (HIGHLY sketchy strip club), and when the girls got on an NYC-bound bus despite their friend's pleas not to go, local MetaFilter users descended on the station in a last-ditch effort to intercept them and save them from a life of forced prostitution.

And, incredibly, it worked.

There have been studies recently about how the semi-anonymous nature of the Internet often leads to a dehumanized view of other users. (A conclusion that most Internet users would greet with a resounding, "DUH.") But in this instance, MetaFilter users went to great lengths and were willing to risk their own welfare in an effort to save complete strangers.

Me, I don't believe that the Internet is a great devil, or a great savior. There is no nebulous mass consciousness that has any particular personality or inclination towards this or that behavior, no idle whim that demands we troll the IMDB message boards or vandalise Wikipedia articles or bend our bytes only for the powers of good. It is whatever it's used to be. We're all still people in here: meaningless, often; occasionally magnificent.

ETA: Mother Jones has picked up the story and has a more detailed account, including interviews with the MetaFilter user who intercepted the girls.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Movie: The Obvious Child (****/****)

Stop. Think of five stories that you know, in American film, television, comics, novels, or other forms of media, that depict a woman wrestling with the decision of whether or not to have an abortion.

Now try to think of any, among those five, in which the woman went through with it.

NOW try to think of any, if there are any remaining, in which that act is depicted as a good thing. As something that is probably the right decision, given the woman's economic, mental, and emotional state.

I couldn't, until I watched the short film "Obvious Child."

(PS My five were Miranda on Sex and the City, Dolores of the Wally Lamb novel She's Come Undone, the titular character in the movie Juno, Mary from the movie Saved!, and Alison from the movie Knocked Up. In only one, She's Come Undone, did the woman go through with the procedure, after being pressured into it by her asshole boyfriend, and she deeply regretted it later.)

Obvious Child was written and directed by Gillian Robespierre. It's a romantic comedy, and that right there came as a jolt. There is a cultural expectation engrained inside me that says abortion must be a weighty topic: men kill each other over it, supreme court candidates are made and broken on the litmus of their support, and fathers blow their daughters' brains out when the girl wants to abort their own incest baby. Yet it's not in Obvious Child. It's a fact of life, depicted in 20 minutes and 51 seconds of charm and humor.

As a society, America is pro-choice by law, but not by culture. The narratives that we tell firmly support a pro-life agenda; the stories we tell might be pro-choice, but there's only one obvious right choice. Hell, there's even a TV tropes section devoted to the subject. It's called "Good Girls Avoid Abortion." Gag. We may not be forcing pregnant women into back alleys to stick a wire hanger between their legs, but we are still shaming the hell out of them.

There's no shame in Obvious Child. Donna (Jenny Slate), a 20-something New Yorker, discovers that her boyfriend has been cheating on her; during the therapuetic binge that follows, she hooks up with a scruffy but sweet guy named Peter (Chris McHenry). A split condom and 5 and a half weeks later, Donna finds herself pregnant and in need of "a date with a vacuum." She and Peter happen to meet on her way to the clinic, and what results is both the most awkward and most awesome meet-cutes that I've ever seen. At no point is Donna's decision to have an abortion called into question; I actually just started to type a sentence that justified her decision, but really, it requires no justification. It's her choice.

It might seem weird to qualify a short-film romantic comedy as "Important." But until we are pro-choice by culture, until we tell stories that embrace abortion as a right option, our laws will forever be tenuous and constantly threatened.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Representations of women in comics

I'm putting this up as much for my own later reference as for others: a good article in Jezebel that refutes much of the bullshit defenses for why women in superhero comics always have their tits and asses hanging out of their costumes.
"[G]o through your favorite DC heroes. Now, think of your favorite DC
heroes that don't wear pants. How many of those pantsless heroes are women?
Think about Superman for a second: what if he started going without pants? Would
you think that was weird? Superman doesn't need pants, after all, he's
invulnerable. You would think it was weird, obviously, and why? Because it would
seem a little gay to you to look at a guy's naked legs while you're reading your
comics. Because you sexualize naked legs."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Their only weakness is a rainy day. Or ray guns.

I, for one, had no idea that we were opening up Olympic competition to space aliens from the planet Gay.
I think I speak for most of planet Earth when I say: WHAT IN THE SWEET BURNING HELL ARE THOSE THINGS? AND HOW DO WE KILL THEM?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Drumming diary: Live for the good days, live through the bad

When I was in the Army, I did a lot of stupid shit to my body. I was young and anxious to prove myself, wanting to show everyone how awesome I was so that they could report back to me on the subject. This led to all kinds of over-drinking, over-working, and picking up Cadet Holgien.

Cadet Holgien was the biggest guy in my ROTC battalion. He was 220 pounds of craggy-jawed muscle; he was the kind of guy that you expect had camo PJs as a kid. One day we were learning casuality carries -- fireman's, piggy-back, two-man throne -- and had to practice picking up "the wounded" and carrying them the length of a football field.

I, being the gung-ho idiot that I was, decided to prove my mettle by picking up Holgien in a fireman's carry. This screwed up my shoulder something fierce: I pushed a ligament out of the groove of bone it's supposed to rest in. Then I exacerbated it more with pushups, oh the endless pushups. The campus docs injected me with cortizone, but I didn't give myself the proper time to rest. Between that and the Morton's Nueroma in my foot, my days in the service were numbered.

But goddamn if I didn't carry Holgien to the end zone.

The point of this little anecdote -- and hush, I do so have one -- is that sometimes, when something's come out of its groove, trying to force the issue is just going to make things worse, and then you wind up sore and irritated.

Drumming, as with all things, has its good days and its bad days -- days when you sit at the throne and can't keep a groove to save your life. Your muscle memory fails you completely, your limbs won't obey your commands, and your toms appear to have inexplicably shifted two inches, causing you to smack your knuckles right on the metal rim. one of those days.

It has, I'm pretty convinced, nothing to do with skill. I suppose the more muscle memory you have the harder it is to lose it, but when your internal beat goes haywire it's not something that you can just power through.

So I stopped trying to play anything specific and switched to basic practices -- flams, paradiddles, triplets, open rolls, that sorta thing. I don't know if it's a sign that I'm getting older or what, but I'm much gentler with myself than I was as a kid or a young adult.

Be gentle with yourself. You're gonna fuck up and you're gonna have days where it Just Doesn't Work. Accept that, and roll with it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drumming diary: I don't have a staircase handy

Working away on "When the Levees Break." The biggest thing tripping me are the breaks in the bottom half of the song. John Bonham likes his triplets.

At 70 bpm, it's one of the slowest songs I've ever played, right down there with "Violet Hill." Some of the counting gets tricky, though: the groove goes 1----2---a--&a4, and then the breaks build off of that with 1e&-2---a-e&a4 then 1e&-2---a-e&a4-&a and so on, skipping between the bass and snare while the hi-hat just drives and drives relentlessly.

The one break that throws me every time, though, is the one with triplet on the kick. I seriously don't know how Bonham did those with just one bass pedal. I've got a double pedal and it's still difficult to count out 1-&-2-&ea3ea&ea4ea between my feet. I do it earlier in the song, circling between the snare, high tom, and floor tom, but to do that between the hi-hat and kick? I keep getting muddled. My feet aren't accustomed to moving that fast.

I guess it's time to do some more feet exercises. Here, you can do them with me. Sit with your feet flat on the floor. Now, without moving your heels, tap the toes of each foot, right-left-right-left. It sounds simple, but do that for five minutes without whimpering and you get a cookie.

No matter how much I try, of course, what I play is never going to match what the song sounds like. That's because Zeppelin recorded the song in a stairwell. Bonham had his kit set up in the hallway and was playing the song; the mixer overheard it and decided to use the natural dynamics, so they wound up putting Bonham at the bottom of the stairs and the mics at the top. That's how they got that big, echoing sound to the song, and that's also why Zeppelin hardly ever played "When the Levee Breaks" live at their shows.

What you hear every time you listen to that song is a one-of-a-kind sound, that can never be properly duplicated, even by the goddamn people that made it.

That's rock and roll.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Avalanche artists

Potential Disney Heroines, via

I would also submit as potential(ly terrible/hilarious) Disney heroines:
- Joan of Arc; "Voices to Guide Me"
- Cordelia from King Lear; "My Poppa and Me"
- Pocahontas ---- oh, wait.

While you're checking out Avalanche's other Disney Heroines, have a peek at their Homeless Robots and War Machines sections. Delightful!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Drumming diary: Drum girls

I'm copying this from a previous post on my private journal, because I would like as many female readers to see it as possible.

I wanted to focus this entry not on my own drumming, though, but on what it's like being a female drummer.

I ran across this article that says more girls than ever are learning to drum (yay!), but that only about 5-10% of the pop music instrument market are women (boo!). Of all the instruments, drums are probably one of the least played by women (I don't have any evidence to back this up, just personal observation from looking around at bands and talking to people). This is actually a big part of the reason that I chose to start playing the drums: let it never be said that I am not a contrary creature. >:)

Setting aside any issues about gender conditioning or growing disparities in income between men and women (drum kits ain't cheap, yo), there are valid physical reasons why so few women choose to drum. It's an unfortunate truth that on the whole, women are smaller and have less muscle mass than men, and if there's one instrument that needs both size and strength to play, it's the drums. The drumming industry might be taking steps to entice more women, but its salespeople, teachers, and manufacturers are still unequipped to address the needs of female drummers. So, we gots to look after ourselves.

The biggest issue I've come across is the drums themselves. They are manufactured to assume a male form, with the height and longer reach of a man. The standard size of a rock-music bass drum, for instance, is 22"x18" (meaning, 22 inches in diameter and 18 inches in length). These days they often come with tom mounts on top, which would be very handy...except that puts the toms (the smaller drums that aren't the snare) up too high for me to play without hitching my shoulders way up. I'm on the hunt now for a 20" diameter kick, or even an 18". It'll take some tuning and muffling to get the same BOOM, but I've got to be able to bring everything down lower and within my reach. I'm doing that with my entire kit, actually, struggling to bring everything in closer than it was all built to do. I'm thinking I'll also need to get a smaller snare, maybe a 13" or 12" instead of my current 14".

Another point to be very aware of is wrist strength. Woman have weaker wrists than men, period. You can get stronger wrists than you currently have, but you'll never get as strong as a man doing the same exercises. Conventional drumming techniques rely a lot on the wrist and forearms. Do whatever you got to do to get around that, but if you're taking lessons bear in mind that the way your instructor's telling you to drum might not work for you long-term.

Basically, the standard model of a drummer does not apply, and you've got to find your own way to make things work for you. Keep at it and good luck!

BONUS: Can't support female drummers until everyone knows who they are! Tell me in the comments about a badass female drummer that you know of! I'll start out: Kim Schifino from the New York punk cabaret indie duo Matt & Kim. They won Breakthrough Video at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards for their video Lessons Learned (WARNING: NUDITY AND A TWIST ENDING) in which they basically walk down a street in New York taking their clothes off. Also check out an interview here. Their songwriting process is very interesting to me.

It doesn't hurt that she's totally hot and tattooed, neither. For more info check out their website.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Drumming diary: When the Levee Breaks

There has been a tragic lack of music on this blog thus far, so I've decided to start posting my drumming diary here.

I've been drumming for almost two years at the moment. I started on the advice of a therapist, who thought that it might help if I started hitting things on a regular basis. Since your mom wasn't available, I went with the drums. (*hi-hat sizzle*) Thank you, I'm here all night, and so's your sister.

Please to be noting that I am by no means an expert on drumming. Before two years ago, I had never known a damn thing about percussion, and I still know very little about music theory. I would eventually like to play in a band, so if anyone's in SE Portland and wans a jam partner, shoot me an email.

Previously on the drumming diary, I've learned:

"Back in Black" by AC/DC
"Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution" by AC/DC
"Northern Downpour" by Panic! At the Disco
"Creep" by Radiohead (my favorite to play)
"Supermassive Black Hole" by Muse
"Violet Hill" by Coldplay
"Mr. Brightside" by The Killers
"Beautiful Day" by U2
"Fix You" by Coldplay

Obviously all well-known songs; I'd love to learn something more obscure, but those are the drumming tabs that I can find online, and that says nothing about their accuracy. (As I discovered when the "Rock and Roll" one had a screwed-up second bridge.)

I'm currently learning "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin. Drummer is John Bonham, who was notable for both the drums and drinking, eventually drowning in his own vomit in 1980 after allegedly downing forty shots of vodka. Forty shots! Jesus. I like to imagine that after his death, Bonham's liver punched its way out of his coffin to seek bloody revenge on the Smirnoff company.

At the time that "WtLB" was recorded, Bonham's kit consisted of a 14x10 high tom, two floor toms (16x16 and 18x16), a 26x14 bass drum, a 14x6.5 snare, a couple of timpani's for good measure, and a single bass pedal. Bonham is notable for the speed of his right foot: using that one pedal, Bonham played fills and breaks that would take almost anyone else (myself included) a double-pedal to play. "WtLB" has a number of those moments, including a five-triplet fill on the kick in the back half of the song.

The song has one of the most distinctive grooves I've ever heard, for the all the fact that it's extremely simple. But therein lies the appeal: anyone who says they've never rocked the fuck out to AC/DC is a filthy liar, and that's about as simple as drums gets. It's also a LONG groove, with one measure being repeated up to 19 times. All drumming has trance-like qualities, but this song especially so. It's almost a shock when it's time for a break, like the snare's pop is my alarm clock.

Reading: "The Walking Dead" by Robert Kirkman
Listening to: This
Playing: This

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why I don't read mainstream superhero comics. (Or David Sim.)

Items 1-5, as provided by Cracked. I prefer not to smack my forehead on a regular basis.

Which is not to say that independent comics are a field of posies through which people of all genders, races, and sexualities skip hand-in-hand (and possibly stop to buy the world a Coke). Why, David Sim, writer of Cerebus the Aardvark and winner of the 1994 Eisner for Best Graphic Album, has repeatedly espoused the view that a "feminist/homosexualist axis" is leading to the downfall of America, that men are superior creative "lights," and women are inferior un-creative "voids" that leech off the men and steal their light until they are completely emasculated, i.e. gay.

In 1996, a year after Sim wrote the essay "Reads" that basically claimed women have no souls, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund gave him a "Defender of Liberty" award. Defend us, oh Sim, from the soulless ladies and gay men.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reading: Transmetropolitan (****/****)

Title: Transmetropolitan
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Darick Robertson
Letterer: Clem Robins

I figure I should start a ratings system for these things. Four stars (****) is the highest, zero (-) is the lowest.

I'm also going to break my own rule here and post about a series before finishing all current issues. Transmetropolitan finished its run in 2002, and the rest of the series is waiting for me at the library; but I find that I just cannot contain myself. I want to leap onto tall buildings and hold this book up to the sky like Moses. I want to accost random people on the street and force them to read its pages. I want to get a three-eyed smiley face tattooed on my butt.

In case you haven't picked up on it yet, I really, really, really like this series.

I think a fair chunk of that adoration springs from a childhood spent reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The two works share a wry, cynical view of the world tempered by a weary kind of love; mankind, they seem to say, would be a wonderful thing if we weren't such a bunch of apes.

The protagonist of Transmetropolitan is Spider Jerusalem, a futuristic journalist who looks and acts like Hunter S. Thompson by way of Ford Prefect. He lives in a cluttered, filthy metropolis that's over-populated, over-stimulated, and under-informed. Jerusalem aims to fix the last of those problems with biting commentary that, surprise surprise, could just as easily be aimed at our current version of America.

Dystopian narratives are a dime a dozen, but writer Warren Ellis really put the work into this one and it shows. At first glance it's an imaginative playground, fun but harmless, until Ellis starts to pick it apart in his newspaper columns, examining each piece of the puzzle until we can trace its roots back to our own social triumphs and failures.

As our tour guide, Jerusalem is a misanthrope full of cigarette smoke, drugs, and cheap coffee who nonetheless is one of the last kind souls around. Driven to find "The Truth," he often champions the weak, the poor, those who this society (and ours) has neither the time nor the inclination to care about. No one is safe from Jerusalem's barbs (the name is obviously meant to evoke some kind of religious prophet, a situation that Jerusalem would probably both hate and love). He despises abusive authority figures most of all, and police brutality is a common thread, as is the incompetence or outright evil of our political leaders. Much of the main plot is driven by Spider Jerusalem's public duels with presidential candidate The Smiler. Jerusalem amasses enemies like a figurine collector, each more treasured than the last; but fate demands that sooner or later, it'll catch up to him.

Transmetropolitan is beautifully, wonderfully, refreshingly free of some modern prejudices. When a (beautiful, professional, Asian) woman turns down Jerusalem's advances by explaining that she's a lesbian, Jerusalem's only response is a rueful, "Oh, well," then some self-abuse of his dick (and not the way you think). As others have noted, Ellis is -- be still my heart -- a well-respected gay-positive figure in the world of comic books, and it shows in his work. (Apparently Ellis also created a gay superhero couple, Midnighter and Apollo. I've never been that big on superheros -- generally BECAUSE I knew there would be few queer- or female-positive storylines to be had in that line of comics -- but I'm gonna have to check it out.) If racism, homophobia, and sexism were bullets, Ellis would be like Neo in the Matrix, bending and twisting to dodge those motherfuckers. If any of them have scored a hit yet, I haven't noticed.

Nothing is done casually in Transmetropolitan. Everything has meaning, even (especially) the acts of violence that Ellis uses sparingly and gives actual weight to. I read thought in every single panel of every single page, and that is a rare thing indeed.

My absolute favorite parts of the series, though, okay, the things that have me all gleeful: Channon Yarrow and Yelena Rossini, the two assistants that Spider's newspaper provides for him. Admittedly, Channon's introduction is as a stripper and Yelena's is as a monosyllabic sourpuss; but we go on to discover that Channon was stripping her way through journalism school and is also a physical badass, and Yelena is just as whip-sharp as Spider Jerusalem. They both start out hating him, but come around to being his only loyal allies, while still having their own lives and goals. And best of all, they're shown to be friends with each other, frequenting male strip clubs, laughing as they run through the rain, and beating the shit out of small-time journos who try to stiff them out of payment for an interview with Jerusalem. Individually they are great, refreshing female characters; together, they are awesomeness personified.

I've read through the first four collected volumes and the first issue of volume five. I almost don't want to read further; I want to always imagine Spider, Channon, and Yelena cooped up in their apartment together, Spider spitting his prophet-poison from high above the city while Yelena rolls her eyes and Channon beats the crap out of some assassin out to get Spider.

Don't kill my dreams, man.

Listening to: "Souretsu" by Shiina Ringo
Reading: Volume 5 of this
Playing: "When the Levees Break" by Zep

Sunday, May 2, 2010

ATGTSTZA: Chapter 2

I'm happy to announce the arrival of Chapter 2 of A Teenager's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. In this 13-page chapter, The Miracle family ponder recent events, and Max meets the girl of his dreams. Too bad she seems to hate everything in the entire world, including him. Oh, and there's that decapitated zombie running around. Good times!

This chapter was illustrated by the lovely Ms. Alyssa Gnall, badass zombie killah and all-around good sport.

Go check it out! And do tell me how y'all like using the SmackJeeves site. Pros? Cons? Preferences?