Archive for May, 2006

Zits blog-a-thon

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

The popular daily cartoon strip “Zits” has been on a roll all this week with its portrayal of blogging, and brings a smile to the face of those of us who have been regulars in the blog world for a while now:

It may be hard for us seasoned vets to realize that there’s still a lot of people out there who just don’t “get” blogging (like my sister-in-law, for example; I can safely single her out because I know she’ll never read this) but it’s likely that plenty of befuddled parents may look at their kids after reading these strips in the newspaper and ask “Honey, what’s a blog?” It won’t be that way for very much longer. Blogging is fast becoming part of mainstream culture, no longer just the personal hobby* of a handful. As of this month, blog search engine Technorati was tracking over 38 million blog sites, with another 75,000 new ones being created every day. 50,000 new posts appear every hour, and the Blogosphere is doubling in size every six months. The search site monitors over 2.4 billion links. Those are some pretty incredible statistics, and may indicate that we’re close to reaching what author Malcolm Gladwell calls a “tipping-point machine”, an engine of cultural change that happens so fast, it can cause a good idea to suddently tilt from obscurity to ubiquity. As Gladwell puts it, “Ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics.”

Zits is © 2006 by King Features Syndicate. Kudos to creators Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman.

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*Feel free to use the word “obsession” if it applies to you.

A victim of conservative nose-tweaking

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

My blood is boiling after reading another article bemoaning the so-called “Liberal Media Bias”, this time by columnist Max Boot in the L.A. Times.

And of course, this was exactly his point in writing it.

To conservatives, any claim that the mainstream media has a leftist slant is preaching to the choir; they accept it as undisputed gospel. So there’s no purpose in reiterating this drivel except to piss off progressives like me, whose noses get severely out of joint when they read bullshit like this:

It is hard to see how media apologists can deny their political bias when no fewer than four (Pulitzer) prizes were given at least in part for Bush-bashing. These included awards to Mike Luckovich, the left-wing cartoonist of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who routinely portrays President Bush as a malevolent dolt, and Robin Givhan, the catty fashion critic of the Washington Post, who devoted an entire column to ridiculing Vice President Dick Cheney’s attire at an Auschwitz ceremony.

There’s nothing wrong with caustic criticism, but two of the award winners went further, into areas that may hamper our battle against Islamist terrorism. The Washington Post’s Dana Priest won a prize for revealing the existence of secret CIA-operated prisons in Eastern Europe, and the New York Times’ James Risen and Eric Lichtblau won for revealing the existence of a secret program to intercept communications between terrorists abroad and their domestic contacts.

Oh, really. Let’s look at the charges, and the facts:

  • Routinely portraying President Bush as a “malevolent dolt”: Do we really need to go there? Many, including myself, think Shrubya is clearly the worst president in American history. I’ve seen some of Luckovich’s political cartoons: believe me, he’s being kind.
  • Cheney’s attire at Auschwitz: Last January, all the world leaders who gathered for this most solemn ceremony were dressed with dignity, in formal dark suits, dress shoes and gentlemen’s hats — except for one. Cheney stood out like a sore thumb in an olive drab ski parka with a big fuzzy collar and his name embroidered on it, a ski cap, and hiking boots. He was dressed (according to the article by Robin Givhan that Boot is so upset by) in “the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.” Any person, be they Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, deserves to be taken to task for such a display of insensitivity. Even downplaying any embarrassment to the United States or to the memory of the holocaust victims, Givhan is a fashion editor for heaven’s sake, and commentary on the attire of the participants was well within her scope. This is “liberal bias”?
  • “Bush-bashing” in general: in our society, those in power should expect to be examined closely by the media — this is the reason a free press exists, after all. Any administration or individual tends to bring criticism upon themselves by their own actions. The media are not only obliged to report this, but may also editorialize when they feel the subject deserves it. Those who think this is the exclusive territory of liberals seem to conveniently forget the relentless drubbing of Bill Clinton by the press during the Monica Lewinsky affair. It’s extremely interesting to me that public outrage with Clinton during this time belayed a long line of Presidential indiscretions, from Thomas Jefferson’s five children with Molly Hemings (whom he owned as a slave) to Dwight Eisenhower’s affair with his driver Kay Summersby, and of course JFK’s legendary and frequent White House trysts. Clinton was impeached for getting a hummer in the Oval Office, yet Bush is getting away with far more consequential offenses; so much for the power of the media.
  • Finally, the most serious charge, that the press is somehow damaging the effort in the war on terrorism: I think most Americans want to know when their country, supposedly a beacon of democracy to the world, is torturing prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention and covering it up by conducting it “offshore”. Is this what we’re fighting for? And in case anyone’s forgotten already, that “secret program to intercept communications between terrorists abroad and their domestic contacts” that Boot refers to is none other than the NSA’s illegal wiretapping operation, designed to spy on ordinary Americans without the bother of obtaining a court order. Bush has used an amorphous “war on terror” as a convenient excuse for a naked executive-branch power-grab, and apparently, the only thing he regrets about violating the Constitution is the fact that ordinary people like you and I are now aware of it.

I believe that the press, by and large, bends over backwards to be fair, accurate, and objective; but none of my arguments will hold any water with Mr. Boot or other conservatives like him who honestly think the news media is controlled by a vast left-wing conspiracy. However, it’s really quite irrelevant: this particular debate has been going round in circles for many years, and Boot’s article and this blog post merely complete one more revolution. As I said at the outset, the only reason anyone trots out this tired tripe any more is to rattle some liberal’s cage. He’s done so, and I’ve growled back. End of rant.

Let’s move along now, there’s nothing more to see here.

Gimme that good ol’ rock and roll

Monday, May 1st, 2006

I’ve just realized that since I started this blog some eight months ago, I haven’t really mentioned my radio station. So, this seems like a good a time as any to post a shameless plug gracious invitation for you, gentle readers, to check it out for yourselves.

But first, a bit of background: before crossing over to the “respectable” side of the broadcasting business as an engineer, I was a DJ; for many years I roamed (in the words of the theme song from WKRP in Cincinnati) from “town to town, up and down the dial”.1 In addition to being part of South Florida’s legendary underground rocker WEDR (“The Miami Heavy”), I also spent time in such lesser markets as Santa Cruz (California), St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), Sarasota (Florida), Galveston (Texas), as well as a number of other towns too small to mention. Now, many people think that being a disc jockey is a highly-paid, glamorous, “show-biz” sort of career, but in reality nothing could be further from the truth. The hours are long, work conditions can be difficult,2 there is no job security whatsoever, and unless you really make it big (and very few ever achieve the god-like status of people like Opie & Anthony, Ryan Seacrest, Don Imus, or Howard Stern) the pay is lousy — barely minimum wage in many cases. In fact, it was a regular joke when I was on the air that standard pay for DJ’s was “a hundred dollars a week and all the records you can eat”.3 This saying, however, does hint at the one major fringe benefit to working in radio: free music!

Yes, record companies inundated stations I worked at with truckloads of albums and CD’s, and it was all we could do to find a place to put them all. At one station, I literally had to rent warehouse space in which to keep the crates of records that promoters would heap upon us. Many, many of these were “no-name” artists who were, quite frankly, terrible. But the DJ’s got their pick of the cream of the crop, and there was enough good stuff that over the years I managed to amass a rather respectable music collection.

Several years ago, after moving into our present home (which required the schlepping of what seemed like several tons of records and CDs into and out of a U-Haul truck), I decided that the time had come to digitize my music collection. Computer hard disk drives had finally reached a cost/capacity point where such storage was feasible, so I accomplished this task over the next few months. Once all the tracks were ripped, starting my own Internet radio station just seemed like the next logical thing for an ex-DJ sort of guy to do, so “Star 98″ was born.4

One of the great things about programming your own station is that you can play whatever the hell you want to. (Everyone is able to do this now, of course, but I-pods hadn’t exploded into their present phenomenon-status when I began my station.) What I mostly like is classic rock, so that makes up the bulk (roughly three-quarters) of what you’ll hear if you tune in. I start with the mid-60′s Beatles/Stones era, up to (but not including) 80′s heavy metal. Some sample artists: Crosby Stills & Nash (& Young), Steeley Dan, Moody Blues, Dylan, Aerosmith, Springsteen, Eagles, Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, etc. No bubblegum, disco, rap, or headbanger music; the hardest thing you may hear is an occasional AC/DC cut. The remaining 25% is composed of a very select and eclectic mix of more modern stuff (like Goo Goo Dolls, Collective Soul, STP, Matchbox 20, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.), funky old blues (such as Taj Mahal, Howlin’ Wolf, Albert King), and soul oldies (i.e., James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, or Junior Walker) — but very little in the way of “traditional” Motown.5 And because it’s my freakin’ radio station, dammit, I also throw in a liberal smattering of my own favorite artists, some of whom don’t get much airplay these days, such as Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jackson Browne.

With such a diverse collection you’d think it would be a pretty bizarre mash-up, but it actually works quite well. The best part is there are absolutely no commercials, ever; you should know that I don’t make a dime off of it and don’t care if I ever do. The only reason I do it is for fun. I don’t have a very big audience, but I get a kick out of seeing people from all over the world tuning in now and then to sample it, sometimes listening for many hours at a time.

During the week it’s all automated — non-stop rock, 24 hours a day. But on Saturday nights, I allow my old DJ self to step out of his padded cell for five hours from 9PM to 2AM (central time), with a show I call “The Trance Mix”. Along with my demented live ramblings, I play a continuous mix of electronic dance music, which is rather strange when you consider my un-hip age and professed musical sensibilities.6 Many people find trance music to be repetitive and boring, and while much of the cheesier stuff is indeed exactly that, some of it is uplifting and exhilarating … and those are the tracks I try to search out and play on the show.

If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, I hope you’ll give it a listen. (Hint: it makes great background music during the day at work.) You’ll need Winamp (free) or a similar player installed on your computer to listen to the Shoutcast stream. Click on the “Star 98″ logo there to the right for my station page, and then select either high-speed if you have a broadband connection, or low-speed if you’re on dialup. (Naturally, the broadband feed is in stereo and much higher quality.) If you do listen, please leave a comment here; I’d love to know what you think of my little hobby.7

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1 “WKRP”, despite being first and foremost a hugely underrated sitcom, was respected by many of us in the business for also being an extremely accurate representation of life at a real radio station, right down to the cart machines in the control room. We could all identify with the quirky personalities of the characters — we had known actual people just like clueless manager “The Big Guy”, slimy salesman Herb Tarlek, nerdy news reporter Les Nessman, or my favorite, the caffeine-addicted Dr. Johnny Fever. For what it’s worth, I envisioned myself as the charming, intelligent (ahem), but beleaguered program director, Andy Travis. And believe it or not, I thought Jan Smithers as Bailey Quarters was way hotter than busty receptionist Jennifer Marlowe (Loni Anderson). Go figure.

2 It is a little-known fact that Led Zeppelin’s seven-minute “Stairway to Heaven” was recorded by the band for the express purpose of allowing DJ’s the opportunity for a bowel movement during their 6-hour board shift. To this day, if you should happen to hear this song on the radio, the chances that the DJ playing it is taking a dump at that very moment are better than 95%.

3 In case anyone reading this may be too young to remember, “records” were large, round black vinyl platters used for the purpose of listening to music back in the days before CD’s. They were played by dragging a sharp needle across them while they were spinning in circles on a device called a “turntable”. I swear I am not making this up.

4 Yes, there is a popular station named “Star 98″ in Los Angeles, but I was unaware of this fact at the time I picked the name. It just sounded cool to me. I didn’t steal it, honest.

5 I admit there were in fact some great Motown songs, but really, they’ve all been played to death. And you definitely won’t hear any Supremes or Jackson Five.

6 There is a long story as to how an admitted musical snob such as myself could have possibly developed a fascination with mind-numbing electronic dance music, but I will save that for a future blog post. Let me just say that it involves a trip to The Netherlands (where such music is much more popular than it is here), and a fateful day spent in a “coffeeshop”. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, the rest should be self-explanatory.

7 Mrs. Toast will strongly disagree with this word as a description of my activity; she would instead likely choose the word “obsession”. Whatever.