ANNOUNCEMENT: Guests for next year's Confluence

August 4-6, 2017
Sheraton Pittsburgh Airport Hotel

Guests of Honor: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Author creators of the Liaden Universe®

Featured Music Guests: Consortium of Genius
Melodic masters of mad science

With tentative additional concert performances by:
The Blibbering Humdingers
Cheshire Moon
Zoe Gray
and others to be announced

NOTE: As one might imagine, it will be more costly to get Consortium of Genius from New Orleans to Pittsburgh than Confluence could normally afford. The $900 difference has been covered by a third party whom it would be wonderful to at least partially reimburse. If you can contribute toward that effort, please PayPal me at mrgoodwraith (at) yahoo (dot) com and I will pass those funds along. Thanks!

On privilege and language correction

My friend W. Scott (soon to be Stacy) Lockwood III is a fellow fan of comedy music and someone whom I respect for the majority of their progressive opinions and for having the courage to come out as transsexual in this current era in which trans people are being vilified for having the satanic urge to...pee in a place where they feel comfortable doing so. That being the case, I was heartily dismayed to read a post that they had put up on Facebook this morning. More behind the cut.Collapse )

The worm turns

Some 25-odd years after my birth father, who prided himself on his driving endurance, fell asleep at the wheel and rear-ended another driver...

23 years after I worked 17 hours straight behind the camera and in the video room at the Costumecon in Pittsburgh, fell asleep at the wheel on my way home, spun out, and sheared the front end of my Cutlass Ciera along a guard rail like a pat of butter against a long knife...

17 or so years after a man in my local church family fell asleep at the wheel a mile from home and veered head-on into a coal truck, leaving his wife a widow and his small children fatherless...

Two and a half years after a young man cramming for finals fell asleep at the wheel, slammed into my parked car, and smashed it through the fence of friends I was visiting...

...I demonstrated exactly how much I'd learned by pulling an all-nighter at work, trying to drive home this morning (because "I felt fine"), falling asleep at the wheel, crashing into two other cars, and rolling and totaling my own.

I'm finding it very hard not to be filled with an incredible self-loathing right now. The one saving grace is that neither I nor anyone in the other two cars seems to have sustained more than minor injuries. If I had maimed or killed someone as the result of my stupidity and poor judgment, I would probably be suicidal.

Folks, please, don't drive drowsy; if you're badly sleep-deprived, don't drive even if you feel like you could do so without a problem. I know that we guys especially like to think that we can get away with pushing ourselves to the limit and then driving some more, but we're not superheroes. I implore you to be wiser than I was today.

Google, I'm ready for self-driving cars to hit the market any day now. Just don't let anybody burn too much midnight oil to get it done, OK?

An appreciation

At the intersection of Throwback Thursday and today's news:

My parents didn't listen to pop music, so I didn't really discover it in any meaningful way until the summer of 1981, mostly because I started watching (yes, laugh if you want) "Solid Gold." One thing led to another, and eventually I was tuning our kitchen radio in to the local pop station where I could listen to songs such as Soft Cell's cover of "Tainted Love" (much to my mother's dismay) and watching videos by utterly obscure UK synth-pop bands on MTV.

In early 1983, an artist calling himself Prince appeared on "Solid Gold" to stage his first breakout number, "Little Red Corvette." I didn't think much of the song or of his lip-synced performance, but as time went on he made me take notice.

During the summer of 1983, my final vacation before my senior year of high school, his single "1999" was re-released. Now *that*, I approvingly noted to myself, was more like it! His follow-up, "Delirious" -- now that I think about it --, made me uncomfortable at the time by virtue of how "feminine" and/or "androgynous" the synths and Prince's vocals sounded, but after that he simply reached out and grabbed me by the ears time and time again.

May 1984. I was about to graduate from high school and was listening every chance I got to Billboard #1 song "When Doves Cry" -- written and composed by Prince, vocals by Prince, all instruments by Prince. (I was also hearing Prince's composition on Sheila E.'s "The Glamorous Life" and him playing every instrument other than guitar on The Time's "Jungle Love" and "The Bird.")

July 1984. I was gearing up for community college and listening fanatically to "Let's Go Crazy," another #1.

November 1984. I was finishing my first semester and listening often to the Top 10 hit "I Would Die 4 U." (Somewhere around this time, Tipper Gore bought her daughter a copy of the "Purple Rain" album and was horrified by the words to the song "Darling Nikki." She decided to found the Parents' Music Resource Center -- which has been bringing you those invaluable "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" stickers ever since -- just in time for the Center to criticize Sheena Easton for "Sugar Walls," another song Prince wrote.)

January 1985. I was starting my second community college semester and listening absolutely obsessively to "Take Me With U," which only reached #25 on the U.S. charts but mesmerized me with its hook and would not let me go.

May 1985. My second semester was ending and I was listening to "Raspberry Beret," which wasn't as compelling to me as his previous few songs but was inescapable on the airwaves.

July 1985 -- "Pop Life." October 1985 -- "America." Few people remember those singles today, but I loved them. November brought Prince's duet with Sheila E. on "A Love Bizarre," another piece that he wrote for her.

January/February 1986. My fourth semester got underway to the strains of "Manic Monday" -- performed by The Bangles but written by Prince -- and "Kiss."
May 1986. My fourth semester ended on a high note (sorry!) with "Mountains" (another obscure Prince single that blew me away).

February and July 1987. My sixth semester and my final push for my first associate degree were bookended with "Sign o' the Times" and "U Got the Look"; the latter in particular is yet another tune that I simply couldn't stop listening to.

"U Got the Look" marks the tail end of Prince's "golden years" for me; I couldn't relate as well to his immediately subsequent material, the "Lovesexy" album and the pop soundtrack for Tim Burton's "Batman" movie (a perennial staple of the bargain bins at National Record Mart). Still, throughout his quixotic career, Prince was always capable of creating songs that captured my enthusiasm: "Thieves in the Temple," "Nothing Compares 2 U" (so starkly and beautifully covered by Sinead O'Connor), "Cream," "Diamonds and Pearls," and "Pink Cashmere," to name a few.

Goodness knows, he had a huge ego to go with his huge talent. He was unrelentingly eccentric; he wrote, performed, and recorded dozens and dozens of bizarre and self-indulgent tunes that most people find unlistenable; and I've never grokked his enduring fascination with trying to meld hypercarnalized sex with hyperspiritualized religion. Still, his songs hit me in the gut during the part of my life in which I was most in tune with popular music, and I will miss him in ways that I won't miss Michael Jackson or even David Bowie.

Sorry to see you go, Purple One; for a while, you held the highlight reel of my personal soundtrack in your lace-fringed hands.

Dehumanization through art: How not to make the world safer for the next generation

Yesterday I listened to an NPR story about the 1-year anniversary of the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, that killed 141 people, 132 of them children. Among the many commemorations is a song commissioned by the Pakistani Army in which a young boy sings about facing an enemy that "isn't human and has no God."

I'm sorry, but the message of that tune -- assuming that it's being translated and communicated accurately -- is exactly the wrong response to this kind of situation, for several reasons:

1. No matter how alien their thought processes and motivations might be to most of us, killers (jihadi or otherwise) are still human beings. They are not a devilish, monstrous Them or Other; they're just a tragically different variety of Us. Encouraging people in the wider population, especially children, to think of radical Islamists or other human foes -- murderous though they might be -- as utterly evil homunculi who have no human needs or feelings or desires and are not worthy of human rights or consideration has several very undesirable effects, such as:
- Making the kind of negotiation and compromise that might actually achieve results -- the same type of distasteful but necessary "negotiation with stone killers" that largely ended The Troubles in Northern Ireland and the apartheid era in South Africa, I'll remind folks -- difficult or impossible;
- Making it easier for populations and the governments that ostensibly represent them to commit war crimes and other atrocities against said enemies, which spawns revenge crimes, and so on, and so on;
- Making the people in your audience more likely to adopt similar prejudices about other groups and individuals they don't like;
- For extremist groups, aiding recruitment (by vilifying a counterculture that people who are already alienated and at the fringes of society can identify with) and retention (by making people who are already members of such groups feel as though they have nothing to return to and thus less likely to leave).

2. No matter how repugnant their religious doctrines and practices might be, would-be theocrats don't act immorally because "they have no God." Implying that that is the case is not only factually wrong but ridiculous. Morality that other people can approve of is not the exclusive province of theistic or religious people; conversely, people who believe that their God will not only condone but bless and reward any hideous thing that they do in his name are capable of committing what other people perceive as the grossest of immoralities.

So, all in all, I predict that this little slice of the Pakistani Army's reaction to last year's slaughter, like many emotionally appealing official responses to complex problems, is likely to be counterproductive. And I doubt that many of us who have watched the never-ending parade of similar American responses to terrorism, official and unofficial, will find my conclusion terribly surprising.

Irresponsibility in action

As any actual expert will tell you -- and as is spelled out in the Department of Homeland Security's own publication, "How to Respond When an Active Shooter Is in Your Vicinity" -- the best response when one finds oneself in the same place as someone who is trying to shoot people is to get away, evacuating the area as quickly as possible. If one can't get away, one should hide as best one can. Only as a last resort should one confront the shooter.

However, on yesterday's "Fox & Friends," and you can already guess where this is going...Collapse )

New filk: "Close Your Eyes, Cupcake"

And here's the second song I finished over Philcon weekend; it's a filk, of course, of Daniel Glasser's classic sinister lullaby "Close Your Eyes," and if this lyric angle hasn't been taken before, I'd be amazed. A couple of lines demanded that I plug in a few extra measures, but I think the original is kind of amenable to that anyway. Lyrics are, as usual, behind the cut.Collapse )

New song: "Shovelin' Out the Front Door"

I belatedly want to say that was great to see and hear and hang out with everybody at Philcon last month: Marc Grossman, Roberta Rogow, H. Paul "Dr. SETI" Shuch, Mattie Brahen, Amy Fass, Kathy Sands, Mark Mandel (who I wish had been feeling better), Ariel Cinii, Murder Ballads, and of course Wen Spencer and all of the Pittsburgh folks who came out to support her. (Plus Bill Davis, with whom I rode up, and Steve Brinich and Crystal Paul, with whom Bill and I roomed.) I apologize for not making the open filking either night of the con, but I got very tired on both days and just didn't feel up to staying up any later than I did. I did manage to get another two songs done; the lyrics for the short one I wrote at the very last second for the songwriting contest -- the second one I've written imagining an alternate reality in which a 20th-century scientific miscalculation was correct -- are behind the cut.Collapse )

Contacts possibly scraped, spam might arrive

Have been informed by multiple friends that spam email is being sent out with my username attached to it. It's possible that spammers have harvested my contact list; any emails ostensibly from me that contain a single URL (or are otherwise suspicious) should be deleted without clicking on the link. My apologies!

Unfortunately, one has to update even the classics once in a while

"The Newer Colossus"

Strangely like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land to land to land to...ahem
Here at our sea-protected, fast-closed gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a pitchfork and a torch, whose flame
Is muzzle flash and napalm and vicious hate, and her name
Mother of the Citizens of Our Not Yet Sufficiently Secure Homeland. From her weapon-hand
Glows world-wide warning; her stern eyes command
The gleaming commercial memorial where twin towers fell.
"Keep, ancient lands, sob-story pity!" cries she
With hard-pressed lips. "Don't give me your so-called tired, your so-called poor, your sinister brown infected heathen,
Your hidden terrorists yearning to blow us up during their paid vacations,
The scheming 'refugees' from our glorious wars.
Send these, the stateless, tempest-drowned, back where they came from,
I lift my gun beside the bolted door!"