Wednesday, September 28, 2011

If it quacks like a spam


I just finished Pope Brock's excellent Charlatan, and have been playing an electro-radio healer of dubious humbug in an online Call of Cthulu game, and at the very least, it's livened my responses to spam emails (I regularly hope for an ongoing exchange to sharpen my flimflam). To wit:

My Dearest In The lord,
Let me first of all inform you, I got your email address from a mail directory and decided to mail you for a permission to go ahead. I am Mrs. Amelia Mitchell from United Kingdom, married to Mr. David Mitchell who worked with construction company here in London before he died in a ghastly motor accident on his way to a Board meeting. My Husband and me were married but without any children. Since his death I decided not to re-marry and presently i am 71 Years old. When my late husband was Alive he deposited the sum of $23M. (Twenty Three Million U.S. Dollars) with a finance company here in United Kingdom.
Presently this money is still with the company and the management just Wrote me as the beneficiary to come forward to receive the money or rather Issue a letter of authority to somebody to receive it on my behalf. I am presently in a hospital where i have been undergoing treatment of Cancer of the lungs.I have since lost my ability to talk and my doctors have told me that I have only a few months to live so i think the best thing to do is to use the money for charity purposes.
I want a person who is trustworthy that i will make the beneficiary of my late Husband's Fund deposited with the bank so that the person can get the money and utilize 60% of this money to fund churches, orphanages and widows around the world.
As soon as i receive your reply i shall give you the contact details of my lawyer for transfer of right and privilege. I will also issue you a letter of authority that will prove you as the new beneficiary of this fund. Please assure me that you will act accordingly as i stated here in and Keep this contact confidential till such a time this funds get to your Custody.
This is to ensure that nothing jeopardizes my last wish on Earth.
I await your urgent reply. May almighty God bless you and your family.
Regards,
Mrs.Amelia Mitchell

My Dearest Out The Lord,

Died in a ghastly motor accident you say? Do tell!

I am, of course, moved by your plight, but I must confess a curiosity with regard to ghastly accidents. I find the Lord works so often in ways meant to pique our interest, wouldn't you agree? For instance, my late wife was mangled in a thresher while trying to pull our boy out; luckily, she failed and the boy was baled. He lived, but must be transported by pitchfork.

I am sorry to hear about your Cancer of the lungs. I have a Cancer of the astrology myself, and have enjoyed an electrostatic rejuvenator that works with the orgone present in every adult to reverse the tragic plenepluerisy that so rapidly overcomes the dorsal meatus. It's lucky that you contacted me, of all people, a most propitious spanner from the Lord Jesus He Is Ridden thrown right into the works of the machine man, with all the attendant success that entails.

The most important thing, Mrs. Amelia Mitchell, is that I can cure your cancer. While I will undoubtably proceed with your plan of precipitating the uric of your prosperous perspicacity upon the charitably unctuous of the flock — and encourage you to send me more details forthwith, as we say in America — we must first put aside all notion of your imminent demise! The materials, or shall we say materiels, for this must be a war, are alas not cheap and I have trouble providing for all who would need my care. But with your alleged holdings, I feel confident predicting a 150 percent recovery.

Let your money in my hands not be your last wish, but one of many cascading wishes, all of the same form.

Yours in crimps,

Dr. Bonyface Licklopper, MNOP

(The image is from a book on high frequency electrical treatments from around a century ago; this was ostensibly serious medical research, and I've found similar devices recommended by the University of Michigan at about the same time.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

I have my revenge on the Crying Cowboy

When we first moved in, the neighbor downstairs was having an emotional time.

He'd sit out on his step in a folding chair, right below our apartment, and cry inconsolably while singing along to ranchero music that he played from inside his empty apartment. We'd walk past him any time we came to or from the car, and studiously not make eye contact. Because what do you say to your sobbing neighbor when the most you can make of their language is a faux cognate soup of embarrazados? And he had an unwavering preference for staring over talking, so that he'd watch every time we pulled the car out, or walked past, which made me feel like I was in the presence of a middle school principle, but when I'd tried to introduce myself, he'd blankly fix guileless eyes on me and just not reply. He made me feel profoundly awkward, so there was no way that I was going to ask this stranger why he was sobbing.

One of our other neighbors said he was singing only to songs about women leaving men, she thought that was what happened to him. It went on for months, every night. He'd sit in a denim shirt with blue jeans, white straw hat cocked up, and tall leather boots, and as sympathy for suffering turned into resentment over the intrusion of straight pathos into the common area, and the inability to deal with it in our Spanish or his English, we started calling him the Crying Cowboy.

But after six months or so, he got over it. First his family started coming over, then some new woman, then some new woman and his family all at once. They'd barbeque under our window, and we'd say through the smell of lighter fluid, "Well, at least he's not sobbing endlessly every night." We still hadn't talked about our respective mustaches — mine part of a beard set, his just a gray Tom Selleck thing — but he opened up a little. He came to our door once when his apartment was flooding because three upstairs apartments all drain through it and it had been raining for days, so the downstream sewer was blocked. That was the only time he ever introduced himself and told me his name, and I wish I had written it down. He introduced himself very formally as the man who lived downstairs, which we already knew. Maybe that was what threw him off — he'd practiced the speech he was going to give, and we jumped on his lines. But he kept explaining to us that we couldn't use any of the water, even after we agreed that we wouldn't be using the water, because it drained through his apartment. It was important not to use the water.

Encouraged by this false camaraderie, the next time I saw him, it was still raining and as Amy and I went to the car, and I waved and said, "It's really coming down, isn't it?"

He looked at me like I'd just told him that fire was hot and said, "Yes, rain does come down." Like, "Where else would it come from, dumbass?" I felt embarrassed and stumbled for some "See you later," while he watched us pull out and drive off instead of going into his house. I drove off stuck with l'esprit de l'escalier, thinking things like, "Well, but sometimes it comes from the side when there's a lot of wind, jerkstore!" and "I'll get you!"

Last night, when I was heading to the store, I looked down right as he looked up and he'd obviously been staring off into space, because he had that start of someone caught thinking about something else. He was fumbling with his keys, and kept fumbling the entire time I was walking down the stairs, so that he was still there right as I was walking behind him. In my best conspiratorial guy voice I asked, "She lock you out, huh?" and he blushed crazily, and said, "No, I have key." But he practically slunk over to his truck, all the while grinning like he'd been caught watching Cinemax.

We're even, Crying Cowboy. Hope you learned your lesson.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The job search

How's the job search going? Well, I'm applying to work at some place called Inertubetv.com. Yeah, eyener-tube-tv.com. It's supposed to be innertube, but it's inertube. I saw the ad on craigslist and I went to the site, and I'm afraid to even give them my personal info, it looks so much like a phishing scam. They want to "Catch a Rising Inertubetv.com You Tube Star" (sic all across, of course), it says on the banner. My girlfriend and I repeat this around the apartment in gales of laughter. Inertubes!

I look to see what their about page says, it says, "Imagine a viral innovative on-line Video News Magazine show in the genre of Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight with an edgy feel like TMZ and The Soup." I start imagining. It doesn't say that it is or will be this show, just asks you to imagine the possibility of one. I feel led on, like someone said "Imagine you're eating at Pizza Hut" and then just stopped. Like, OK, I'm imagining it. What else? It seems kind of unnecessary. Doesn't Tosh.0 or whatever Short Attention Span Theater (old) do this already?

But it's got this model to host, apparently. I can't tell from her head shot for sure, but she looks like she's got one of those short people heads. Which is OK. If she's short, she can interview Tom Cruise.

They may be running some sort of battle of the bands, something they call Pressure Gauge, except on the logo, where they call it Pressure Guauge. It promises that there will be some voting and that one band out of the top 100 will be eligible for something on MTV at some point. This is probably like those homeopathic pills, you know, for colds, where they just figure that at some point, out of 100 bands, they'll end up on MTV anyway.

But the best part is The Garage, which is a hard word to spell and they get it right at least twice, so, you know, credit where credit is due. In The Garage, you're able to join the community and become a "tubber". Become a tubber on Inertube. Inertubetv.com. You can see why I don't want to even give these guys my address, right? The best case scenario has this as a honeypot for 4chan.

That's OK, though, I told Amy. Because the other place I applied was to be an insurance investigator, in that ongoing "If I just apply for everything I'm even mildly qualified for, someone will hire me accidentally and I can coast on that for at least a year" theory. I told them that I should be an investigator because I have good interview skills, I know how to fill out paperwork. I didn't tell them it was because I read a lot of mysteries and got called Encyclopedia Brown as a kid. "See, if the guy claimed that his accident happened in a canyon in the evening and he couldn't see because of the sun, I would know that it was coming from the west." I didn't tell them that I usually figure out the Poirot mysteries halfway through, because, you know, I didn't want to seem pretentious.

I figure I'd be killed on the job on the second or third day anyway. "I don't know sir, I don't think it looks like an accident at all. Of course I'll walk in front of you into the shed!"

I mean, I'm the kind of guy who'd apply for a job at Inertubetv.com. How bright could I be?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Do the crossword in pen



Sit back, relax and enjoy a bit of fun and games!

There's a crossword puzzle from Woodblock100, Jharris shares memories of the extra lives of the Vic Viper video game icon, msalt delves into the literary tradition of palindromes and reversals, Languagehat learns a life lesson after getting conned in New York, Troll reveals the design of a new card-slash-board game , and Mike Mongo has a stencil that is designed to be cut out of the magazine and sprayed in your favorite (legal) haunts.

Buy it through the MagCloud link or get the PDF here free!

Art of the day: Olivier Valsecchi

Amazon's terrible warehouse and the letter I wrote

Dear Amazon,

I generally like Amazon — I like the low prices and free shipping. I like the incredible variety of products available. I had planned several purchases in the next couple of months, from a new french press to a new laptop.

But I also like workers, and the American way of life. Which is why I was so disappointed when I heard about conditions in your Lehigh Valley, Pa. warehouse, as detailed in this story by the Morning Call: Inside Amazon's warehouse
Lehigh Valley workers tell of brutal heat, dizzying pace at online retailer.


It shows me several things: First, that Amazon is exploiting its workforce, or, more specifically, exploiting the temporary workforce. It shows that Amazon is engaging in unsafe working conditions, draconian discipline and a general failure of management to treat workers with respect and care.

So, until these problems are resolved, I feel unable to support Amazon in any way, including making my purchases through you. And unfortunately, through the official statements made in the story, it's clear that Amazon can't be trusted to accurately report the conditions it requires of its workers, so I won't be able to shop at Amazon until there is an independent news agency that reports an improvement in conditions at Amazon's warehouses, or when I hear that Amazon's Lehigh Valley warehouse is organized and unionized.

I hope I hear these things soon — as I mentioned, I do appreciate Amazon. But I just can't know that saving me a dollar comes at the cost of heat stroke and brutal conditions. It's not right, and I hope you can understand that.

Josh Steichmann

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Oppose Anti-Vax Woo in the name of SCIENCE!

There's a little storm brewing in my inbox.

I was forwarded a letter from one of the google groups I'm a member of, a mailing list for a defunct warehouse that I went to a couple of workshops at. It's about California Assembly Bill AB499, (summary and text here), and, well, you should probably read the letter for yourself.



California AB499 ALERT
Biodynamic Wellness
858.259.6000

California Parental Alert

It is important that we as parents retain the right to decide on medical treatment for our children. Please see linked stories and forwarded email below. If Governor Jerry Brown signs this bill into law, the government/schools can vaccinate our children at school without our consent. Please call Governor Brown, 916.445.2841, and ask him to veto AB499. AB499 involves vaccines in addition to Gardasil. Forward this to everyone you know.
There have been deaths (36 to 49) and 10,000 adverse reactions including permanent disability after Gardasil vaccination.

The CDC confirms adverse reactions and death from Gardasil: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/hpv/gardasil.html

World Net Daily story: http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=68454

ABC report: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/CancerPreventionAndTreatment/gardasil-hpv-vaccine-faces-safety-questions/story?id=8356717

Toyota 52 Deaths, Gardasil 49. Toyota Recalled:
http://vactruth.com/2010/03/31/toyota-52-deaths-gardasil-49-toyota-recalled/
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

ATTENTION California Parents! Tell Governor Jerry Brown what you think about a law that will allow someone to give your 12 year old child Gardasil and other vaccines without your knowledge or consent. Read NVIC's Urgent California Action Alert here.

Vaccine Wake Up Call for Parents: Your Children Are Being Taken
by Barbara Loe Fisher

Every mother has had the nightmare. We dream our child, who we love more than we thought we could love anyone, has been taken away by strangers and cannot be found. The cold fear rises up from our stomach into our throats as we search, endlessly, to find the child we would give up our own life to protect from harm.

The biological imperative for parents to protect their young is stronger than the law of any nation. It is stronger than any value or belief. It is primitive and hardwired into a mother's DNA because it is the fierce protective instinct that enables intelligent life on earth to survive.

Historic Power Struggle: Doctors vs. Parents
The debate about vaccination in the 21st century is not just about the science and whether vaccines and vaccine policies are a safe and effective way to keep individuals and populations truly healthy.

It is also part of an historic power struggle between parents and doctors about whether doctors or anyone else in society should have the legal right to give children a pharmaceutical product or medical treatment that carries a risk of injury or death without the parent's voluntary, informed consent.

CA Bill Strips Informed Consent Rights from Parents
Today, there is a bill on the desk of California Governor Jerry Brown (Assembly Bill 499) that has been quietly and quickly rammed through the state legislature by the medical-pharma lobby.

If Governor Brown signs that bill into law, then children as young as 12 years old will be vaccinated with Gardasil, hepatitis B and future vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases without the knowledge or consent of their parents.

Merck & Pharma Profit
This proposed law would cost the cash-strapped state of California multi-millions of dollars to implement. Most of that money will go to Merck and other vaccine corporations to pay for multiple doses of each vaccine that will be aggressively promoted to young children, who are not yet physically, mentally or emotionally mature enough to make fully informed decisions about risk-taking, including whether or not to take a medical risk.

This proposed law gutting parental informed consent rights is great news for drug companies like Merck, which sells Gardasil to the government for $108 per dose, but it is very bad news for parents.

Parents Legally Responsible for Secretly Vaccinated Children
What if a 12 year old child is biologically at high risk for having a life threatening vaccine reaction but the parent is not told the child has been vaccinated and does not watch for symptoms and the child's reaction ends in permanent disability?

Will the person, who has secretly given the vaccine to the child without the parent's knowledge, be legally responsible for what happens if the child has a serious reaction?

Will the drug company that sold the vaccine to the state be legally responsible for the physical harm done to a secretly vaccinated child?

No. The parent will be legally and financially responsible for caring for the child, who was taken by strangers and vaccinated without the parent's consent, and is now brain damaged for life.

No Liability for Drug Corps or Doctors
In America, there is no legal liability or responsibility for drug companies selling or doctors giving government recommended vaccines when those vaccines injure or kill children or adults

How can the state of California - or any state - give anyone in society the power to secretly take a child away from a parent and subject that child to a medical risk without the parent's consent?

There is no doctor, no government employee and no politician, who has the moral right to do that to a parent or their child.

To read the rest of this referenced commentary or to watch a 6 minute video,
click here
.
Take action in your state to protect you vaccine informed consent rights. Sign up for NVIC's vaccine choice Advocacy Portal.

Have you been threatened by doctors or anyone else about vaccinating yourself or your child? You can share your story on NVIC's Vaccine Freedom Wall.

Here's my reply:

Hi all,

This is scare-mongering bullshit, and it's a shame that you've gotten it. I only hope that you've taken the time to do some basic reading, like I have, and understand the difference between paranoid ravings from anti-vax quacks and what actual science says.

Let's start out with the claims in the front paragraph:

Barbara Loe-Fisher and Steve Hamlin, who are the only names I see associated with the writing of this piece, would have you believe that there have been significant adverse reactions to Gardisil. They base this on the VAERS data reported by the CDC, but INSTEAD OF USING THE DATA AS PROVIDED they conflate it with the Toyota deaths.

Let's take a look at THE VERY FIRST PARAGRAPH of the CDC VAERS site:

"VAERS data cannot be used to prove a causal association between the vaccine and the adverse event. The only association between the adverse event and vaccination is temporal, meaning that the adverse event occurred sometime after vaccination. Therefore, the adverse event may be coincidental or it may have been caused by vaccination, however we cannot make any conclusions that the events reported to VAERS were caused by the vaccine." (Here.)

As everyone knows, just doing one thing before doing another doesn't mean that one causes another. There's an old joke about a Tiger Attack Rock, you know, ever since I started carrying this rock, I haven't been attacked by tigers once. It's at the very core of superstition and magical thinking — which is fine when rooting for sports teams, but idiotic and dangerous when dealing with medicine.

Let's look at what the CDC says about those deaths:

"As of June 22, 2011 there have been a total 68 VAERS reports of death among those who have received Gardasil® . There were 54 reports among females, 3 were among males, and 11 were reports of unknown gender. Thirty two of the total death reports have been confirmed and 36 remain unconfirmed due to no identifiable patient information in the report such as a name and contact information to confirm the report. A death report is confirmed (verified) after a medical doctor reviews the report and any associated records. In the 32 reports confirmed, there was no unusual pattern or clustering to the deaths that would suggest that they were caused by the vaccine and some reports indicated a cause of death unrelated to vaccination."

So, not only are MOST OF THE DEATHS UNCONFIRMED, there's nothing to suggest that Gardasil was involved in any of the deaths. Which, as we saw above, are only linked by time. If you got a shot of Gardasil and were hit by a bus, that would still be counted as one of the deaths.

This information is available to anyone who follows the link, but from the hyperbolic and inflammatory language, it's clear that the authors didn't intend you to — why would they be so obviously wrong if they thought you'd check?

Let's take a look at the rest of the letter:

First, what does AB499 actually say? From the legislative summary: "Existing law allows minors to consent to specified forms of medical or dental treatment. This bill would, in addition, allow a minor who is 12 years of age or older to consent to medical care related to the prevention of a sexually transmitted disease."

So what's all that nonsense about taking children away? Scaremongering unconnected to the facts. Now me, I'm mad when people lie to me, and these anti-vax folks are lying. And it doesn't seem like they're just ignorant — though certainly, Pricilla may not have read through the whole thing — because their lies are so over-the-top and inflammatory.

Let's keep going: Does this bill remove consent from parents and give it to the state? Will anyone be forced to get vaccinations? No. That's flatly wrong too. It puts the decision with the person being vaccinated. Now, you can argue that parents deserve to be involved in their children's health decisions, but what about the kids who can't talk to their parents about their sex lives? What about the kids for whom this is a choice between being kicked out of their house and risking cancer? (You'll not that I avoid speaking as if the cancer has already occurred, because it's important to be honest here too). If you feel this is a big deal, you're welcome to talk to your kids about it. But don't lie and say that it's taking away your children or that there's a state-wide plot to secretly vaccinate.

Don't be fooled into thinking that this is about informed consent — it's about another scare-mongering campaign from woo-woo anti-vaccination cranks who are playing on your love of children and skepticism of the government in order to push their quackery. And because the effects are long-term and population sized, it's unlikely that they'll ever be directly linked to the women (because let's be honest, that's who is at risk) who will die if these vaccinations are scuttled. They'll continue living their lives ignorant. Ignorant of science, and ignorant of the costs, ignorant of the women who will end up dying of cancer because they got a common STD and didn't get the cheap, safe preventative.

So instead of forwarding that bullshit letter around further, realize that you're sending on the modern equivalent of an urban legend promulgated by arguably well-meaning idiots who don't even respect you enough to tell you the truth.

Josh Steichmann

So, if you see this, instead of calling Jerry Brown, I encourage you to call Biodynamic Wellness (858.259.6000) and take them to task for spreading fear-monger bullshit that will hurt vulnerable people if effective. I'll be calling them today, because I think it's important. I'll tell you what they say. So far all of the emails I've gotten have either been of the "That's interesting" or "Take me off this list!" variety (far more of the latter), but I'll print them too.

In ought-dickety, the only stat we had was height

DesigNate Robinson fisks more old fart nonsense about Verlander's MVP.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

After green curry

When I was in Thailand, I took an afternoon cooking class and one of the highlights was making my own green curry.

We rode a Rot Dang to some sheet-metal pole barn, and got a lesson from the only "cooking school" in Chaing Mai that advertised itself as "vegetarian friendly." It was a blinding hot paste of green chilis, toasted spices, and the general Thai menagerie of cilantro, coriander, galangal, etc.

Since I foolishly left that cookbook at my folks' house, and haven't been able to get it back, I've been flailing along with a succession of green curry recipes, most recently this one.

Because you go to the stove with the ingredients that you've got, not the ingredients that you'd like (well, more that I don't really plan shopping by recipes), Amy and I made a series of substitutions from almost the giddyup. Our recipe follows:

1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp whole white or regular peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek (Amy hates anise, so we don't buy it)

Grind to powder.

1 1/2 tbsps garlic
3 tbsps cilantro leaves and stems
1/2 cup loosely packed chili leaves
1/2 cup chopped Thai chilis (leave seeds in)
1 cup green pepper
2 tbsps ginger, peeled and minced
2 tbsps lemon juice
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp shallots
1/2 tbsp Vegetarian Stir Fry Sauce

We fried up a bunch of veggies to go with 2/3 cup of the above paste:

1 1/2 cup cubed tofu
1 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 cup chopped potato (two small red potatoes)
3/4 cup beet (one golden beet)
1/3 cup chopped carrot
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 can light coconut milk
1 tbsp cane sugar

It came out well, tasting halfway between a green curry and a yellow one, and very spicy. We didn't have a blender, so it was mostly chopped and blended with a mortar and pestle. There are half a dozen ways I could make it more authentic, but it was damn tasty and tomorrow we're going to scramble it with eggs (and maybe rice noodles).

Why Ender Wiggan's a creepy little fascist

John Kessel's classic essay: "Creating The Innocent Killer.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Fuck Yeah Fuck Yeah Fest

Fuck Yeah Fifes — FYF Fest grows up
by Josh Steichmann

This is the year they finally did it right.

After a couple of successive debacles, where great line-ups were marred by long lines, dehydration and bad layout, FYF Fest teamed up with Goldenvoice, the promoters best known for Coachella, and pulled off a festival that was both relaxing and exciting, a punk rock fest that finally stopped fucking up its own success and reconciled growing up with selling out.

From the very giddyup, FYF Fest ("You goin' to fife?" "What's it about?" "Minutemen and marching, I think.") cut out the bottlenecks of last year, with VIP and will-calls available for days before the fest, the entirety of Spring St. closed, and Metro service extended (no driving means extra drinking).

The hassles getting in were mostly of the city-promulgated variety — after the teen boiled her brains at the Electric Daisy rave, event permitting has included draconian security theater, including banning empty water bottles ("They could be coated with some kind of drugs you add water to," a very earnest guard told me) and backpacks, perhaps because you could fill them with glue and huff in them.

But after last year's hour-long line, five minutes from Metro through security was a dream. And likewise, having an ID check station cut the beer garden lines to a quick flash of the wristband and transfer of cash. Even the fencing was better laid out, making a better lane across the park and keeping the hills out of the way.

The music was as carefully curated as the logistics, with a punk for the whole family vibe with headliners like the Descendents barking out a respectably earnest "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," and the Dead Milkmen rambling through a surprisingly entertaining Marcus Bachmann intro to "Bitchin' Camero" ("Marcus told me that I wasn't born short, it's a lifestyle choice!" mugged lead singer Rodney), all while kids conceived to Green Day pogoed in their brand new patched jackets.

While the Descendents were more a confirmation ("Huh, that's what Milo looks like now") than a revelation, and the Milkmen's novelty vamping is like rewatching Repo Man (still funny, even if you know what's coming), the classic '93-'96 Guided By Voices started slow and, after one false start, tore up the stage. They've always got the secret soul of Cheap Trick inside of them, and Bob Pollard took them through the Bee Thousand- and Alien Lanes-heavy set with a relaxed, confident swagger that turned even bummers like "Tractor Rape Chain" into chugging rockers, and electrified pop nuggets like "Kicker of Elves." Not every legacy band did as well — Olivia Tremor Control played a bland, mid-tempo set, disappointing us Elephant 6 fans in the audience.

Olivia Tremor Control's lackluster performance was made more apparent by their immediate predecessors, Canadian psych rockers Pink Mountaintops. The Mountaintops, this time playing as a duo of Stephen McBean (guitars and vox, looking like a haggard Jeff Daniels) and Jeremy Schmidt (keys), played an epic set of slowed down, opened up riffs, hitting the perfect balance between the fuzzy wash of Spacemen 3 and the dancey Motorik vibe of Moroder in Munich.

Stuck at the end of the "Splinter's Den" shows, Chromatics' cool Italo was helped by the claustrophobic tent — Singer Ruth Radelet came across as impeccably disinterested and reserved, and the round synths and reverb made more sense inside in the dark than they would have outside in the sun. But where antecedent bands like Adult. keep their nihilism to car crashes and drowning deaths, Radelet's distanced laments come across like longings she can barely articulate without being overwhelmed, especially on their signature cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." Keyboardist Johnny Jewel played later that night with his other Italo band, Glass Candy, who opted for a dancier set, but the bigger stage did them no favors and the sound lost a lot of its richness, and Glass Candy singer Ida No was buried in the mix, unable to project over it.

That thin mix on the bigger stages — a regular complaint of mine at outdoor shows across the board — hurt the prettier bands more than the rough ones; earnest Jonestown kids Cults lost their harmonies and enunciation, but still turned in a credible performance, while Broken Social Scene made up in numbers what their indie Springsteen anthems lacked in personality by packing the stage with their coterie of members. Only relative newcomers The Head and The Heart, who hit harmonies somewhere between Beta Band's shambolic multi-instrumentalism and Simon and Garfunkel's earnest folk, managed to sound great without embracing the uglier side of feedback and distortion.

Luckily, the uglier bands did just fine, with The Strange Boys pulling off a howling set of their blues-flecked punk, hitting all the right Gun Club and Screamin' Jay marks. Likewise, Ty Segall, of shitgazers Sic Alps and a handful of other Siltbreeze, Woodsist and Goner bands, pulled off a confident, careening set that whipsawed between The Who's power pop and The Stooges' raw power. That Segall wants his new album to sound Stooges-meets-Sabbath came through, and it really is a shame that five thousand shitty poodle-haired bar bands and earnest Melloncamp strummers have stolen the name "rock and roll" from its rightful inheritors, like Segall — he hit riffs with ease, windmilled and jump-kicked, all while churning out a blistering set of three-chord masterpieces. Segall's set was easily one of the highlights of the festival.

Unfortunately, like all multi-stage affairs, there's plenty that we didn't get to see: No Age is always a tight ride, and Japandroids are more fun than they have any right to be with songs like "River Phoenix." My friend, who broke away from us to go see Explosions in the Sky, said they were amazing; I tend to find them a bit plodding, but different strokes, I guess. The Weakerthans are always reliable for a stolid set of standard indie rock, and Four Tet has been one of the most consistently surprising electronic musicians over the last decade. And other friends came back raving about the Future Islands set that we missed in favor of the (aforementioned) regrettable OTC.

In the end, even the crowds seemed happier and more helpful than in years past, despite being 20000 strong — a chunk of us got drafted to push the solar food truck Green Machine up a hill (the irony was not lost), and got free burgers. People were sharing food and drinks, and even the kid flying the California flag from the middle of the mosh pit felt like a hopeful standard bearer at the glorious revolution's celebration. This is what a local festival looks like when done right.

(NOTE: I wrote this for Rock and Roll Confidential, but they're having technical difficulties, so I wanted to get it up before everyone's forgotten about it.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

And it cuts out halfway through the last tune

Vh1 Classic just averred, in the context of "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs," that "If the devil made a mixtape, he'd start it out with White Zombie's 'More Human Than Human.'"

Which is true. He'd also follow it with three more White Zombie songs and insist on playing it through your whole road trip. It's like, "Satan, I brought easily twenty different tapes to listen to and you just brought that?" "But this is my jam! I'm getting so pumped!" And then BAM, right back into the "Convoy" that he taped over while he drums on the dashboard.