Monday, March 31, 2014

Canceling Colbert

#CancelColbert is a hash tag that has been making the rounds, stirring strong reactions. There have been some good articles that still miss certain aspects, so I want to go over how it looked from my end.

It started with a tweet from a PR account for The Colbert Report.

"I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever."

I saw it from @suey_park, who started the #CancelColbert hash tag.

I had mixed feelings. I was appalled by the tweet, but I was pretty sure it was not meant to be harmful, and canceling seemed extreme. I also understood that with the alliteration factor and with the severity, that worked better as a hash tag than anything more nuanced. And, Park and the others were not actually organizing to cancel, either, but I take things literally, so that was an issue for me. I didn't re-tweet, but I did immediately write one reply to the original account, and one question to Stephen Colbert's personal account, questioning if he knew about the tweet.

The show's account put up the sketch that the quote came from, but that actually made it worse.

The tragedy is that it starts out really well. The lines about the name not being offensive if you only use it once in the organization's name, and the picture with the coats, and the part about the backhoe, all work. "Smoke'm the peace pipe" is questionable, but still, there were good points made.

It went wrong when Colbert brought up the old character. And I do mean old, because the clip was from 2005. I suspect it got some pushback as offensive, and it feels like there was still some resentment over that that increased their motivation to trot it back out -- "See, we really are funny, and way less offensive than Dan Snyder." I could be wrong, but that doesn't change that it didn't work.

That all happened Thursday. Friday Park did a segment on HuffPost Live with Josh Zepps, and it was clear early on that Zepps had no intention of actually listening to Park. Based on his initial line of questioning, he had done no research. He was patronizing, spoke over her, and called her opinion stupid. Eventually she refused to engage on that level and the conversation ended.

Park has gotten a lot of hate directly, but also I have seen many criticisms focusing on the hash tag, and they miss key points.

One complaint is that it wasn't from Colbert's own account. Many pointed out his eventual reaction as surprise because he did not seem to be familiar with the PR account, so don't blame him. Okay, Colbert did not tweet that tweet, but he said the lines on the show. He's involved.

There have also been defenses that the problem is that the tweet was just the punch line, without the setup, and that's why it fell flat. No. Watching the setup, it still falls flat, even with the context. Granted, if the tweet had not happened, the bit might not have attracted any attention on its own, but the offensive material was part of the show.

A less common issue, but one that Zepps tried, is implying that going against Colbert when he is making fun of Snyder is like supporting Snyder in adhering to the Redskins name, with the wider corollary being that you can't have dissent within the ranks. (This is one reason I say Zepps did not do any research. He should have known about #NotYourMascot.)

It is not beneficial to divide the world into good guys and bad guys and then set up strict lines of team loyalty. People are flawed. Well-meaning people goof. People who make a lot of bad decisions still come through sometimes.

Granted, if you take a look at Fox News and the GOP, many of them appear cartoonishly ignorant and heartless, but it seems possible that part of how they got that way is following the party line too closely, and not being able to call someone on "their side" out when it was needed. No, that is not a reason to be silent.

And now for the biggest complaint of all, that people just don't get humor, they don't get the joke, and most of all that they don't understand satire; now that's patronizing!

Sadly, I think most of us have experience with someone who is being a jerk, but adds "LOL", or "Just kidding", thus putting the burden on the offended party because they don't get the joke. The joker may have latent or barely disguised hostility, or they may want so much to be funny that it impairs their judgment, but humor as a defense is not automatically valid.

"Ching-chong" is something that still gets used. Children are teased with this. I have heard people laugh at it. So, it is a charged phrase, and the viewers are being invited to laugh at it. I don't think anyone involved with The Colbert Report intended ill, but they messed up. They messed up by forgetting that humor needs to be directed against power to work. Making fun of Dan Snyder, who has millions of dollars and is an ass, works. Making fun of the way racists think that Asians talk sounds like it should work, but it came out sounding too much like making fun of the was Asians talk.

It reminds me of last year when The Onion got in trouble for a "joke" that they made about Quvenzhané Wallis. I got exactly where they were going with it. They had a more effective piece that came from a different angle, about Anne Hathaway reciprocating one women's baseless hatred of her. Going on that theme of cattiness and unfair resentment, it probably seemed that making an adorable 9-year old the target would highlight what was wrong with it, except they called a little girl the C-word, and it did not go over well.

It is really easy to misfire on satire. Doing satire well requires a lot of intelligence, and it requires double-checking to make sure your targets are correct. The Colbert Show failed on both points. It's perfectly reasonable to call them on it.

People tweeting #CancelColbert understand satire. That is not the problem. However, people defending the show as not racist by using hate speech or telling people to shut up as a way to fight censorship (and that happened a lot, and is still happening), may not really grasp irony.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Band Review: The Nightwatchman

The Nightwatchman is a solo project of Tom Morello, who has done a lot with music but is also the author of Orchid, which is how I got here.

This is not solely a review of music related to Orchid. There were two songs that came via the comic book. One was "Iscariot". With obvious Biblical overtones in the title, it is sometimes lovely and sometimes moody, building its own story as a complement to the comic book.

The other song, "It Begins Tonight", is also featured on the album World Wide Rebel Songs. I have been listening to the album, and I have never heard anything like it. I guess the most appropriate categorization would be folk rock. It has the political feeling of folk, but it is so much more vibrant and interesting. The vocals go a little flat at times, but it is minor, and all of the instruments - drums, guitars, harmonica - are excellent.

There is a great diversity of sound among the tracks. "Facing Mount Kenya" has sort of a '60 Beat feel, where "Stray Bullets" reminds me of a sea shanty, and "Speak And Make Lighting" has a bit of a revival feel with its joyous call and response.

In my review of Orchid I was disappointed to not emotionally connect with it; the emotional connection is here. Some of that may be due to the songs being more upbeat, and more beautiful. It's not that the dark materials aren't there, but something better has been built upon them.

This is one of the most invigorating albums I have heard. Definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Music Review: Cartoons and comics

I don't think that's the best title, but I was not sure what to call this.

One thing with yesterday's reviews is that they both have associated music. Orchid has two songs you can get, but it is also possible to do a regular review of Tom Morello: the Nightwatchman, and that will happen tomorrow.

Emily and the Strangers has one song and video, which would not be a lot to review, but it got me thinking.

The first thing that I remembered is that the Luann comic strip had put out some songs. It is not uncommon for characters in comic strips and comic books to be musicians. Sometimes it is just teen characters practicing in a garage, like Jeremy's friends in Zits or Chip's friends in Hi and Lois. Sometimes there are storylines revolving around the band, as in Safe Havens.

Luann actually putting out songs seemed new, so I tried hunting them down and found a few:

I didn't love them. It's probably appropriate, because the idea behind them is that a high school girl is using poems that she wrote growing up for lyrics, and they are being accompanied on the keyboard by another high school age student. Given that, they are probably pretty realistic, but I don't want to keep going back to them.

One thing to consider is that the skills used for drawing a comic strip are different than those used in making songs and videos, but there is more correlation if you are making a show. Because of that, it is not unreasonable that a cartoon band might have more resources to produce some better songs. So, the Archies had a radio hit, and maybe "Jem" or "Josie and the Pussycats" had some memorable songs, but really, I'm thinking of "Daria".

Actually, it would not have been too realistic for Mystic Spiral to be that great a band either, but I still always enjoyed their appearances. In my mind I remembered "Freaking Friends" as being livelier, but they had a lot of songs. I think "Betrayal" had a lot of potential.

Some of those cartoons had their origins in comic books, which brings us back to Emily and the Strangers, and their song "Calling All Guitars".

I love it. In addition to sounding as if it's something that the band as depicted really would play, it's also good listening.

The video really captures the feeling of the book. I do feel a little bad that they seem to leave Willow and Winston out of the roll call. There is some reuse of footage, which I suspect is a budgetary thing, but even with that they did a great job. The plan is to eventually produce a full album, and I can get behind that.

There was one point in the video, where the cat flying through the air unzips to Emily, that reminded me of something else I had seen recently:

I have been thinking a lot about how rock and comic books can go together, but there may also be some room in the realm of Saturday Morning cartoon shows. Though, if we are marketing to children, there could be some lyric issues. Those are things that can be worked out.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Comics Review: Emily and the Strangers and Orchid

These two may not seem like an obvious match. The connection is that they were both acquired via a Dark Horse Rock & Roll Comics weekend sale.

There were other books included in the sale. I already had Killjoys and Umbrella Academy, of course, but it made sense to keep Killjoys with yesterday's post. I wrote a little about Umbrella Academy when I was just getting started, but I may revisit it later. There is supposed to be a new chapter in development.

Technically I ended up getting hard copies of Emily and the Strangers from the Kickstarter, so I probably should not have bought the digital copies, but they were on sale and sometimes it is convenient to be able to bring them up on computer.

The other book that was on sale was House of Gold & Bones (by Corey Taylor of Slipknot), which I decided against. Other reasonable inclusions for Rock & Roll comics, if we included other publishers, would include IDW's Killology, which has Marky Ramone as a character, and Lobo from DC, written by Scott Ian of Anthrax. There is a lot of room for collaboration between rock and comics, and I like that.

Let's get to the comics I bought and read through the sale!

Emily and the Strangers, written by Mariah Huehner and Rob Reger, art by Emily Ivie.

Emily's quest to win her idol's guitar requires a band, which leads to creative difficulties for the habitually solitary Emily.

Emily's a bit of a pill. That was frustrating for me in terms of enjoying the character, as she can be arrogant and rude and an ingrate. That wasn't so much a flaw as the point, though, as she has to learn to work with the others, and perhaps even enjoy it.

The solutions for the problems end up being pretty easy most of the time, with occasional delays due to stubbornness, but there was never a lot of dramatic tension. Where I ended up being totally engaged is with the art.

The first page of the first issue has an intricate background, an Escher tribute in the foreground, and visual interest everywhere. I could look at the pages all day long. It is totally logical that while Emily might start as a brand mascot, that she would become more, because there is something alluring about her.

Also, I love the way cats are constantly overrunning everything. The artwork for the cats is good, but they are used well for humor and frustration.

Orchid, story by Tom Morello, art by Scott Hepburn, colors by Dan Jackson, and letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot.

Rising sea levels resulted in a brutally deadly world with many oppressed. A mask that can destroy or empower the wearer is pursued by a tyrant and used by a prostitute.

My problems with Orchid started with the opening. During the setup there is a line, "When the seas rose, genetic codes were smashed" leading to pictures of animals mutating in uniformly terrifying ways. (I believe After Earth went in a similar direction.) Anyway, I remember thinking that it wouldn't go down that way, and so I didn't get lost in the world as much as I could have.

This may have been for the best, because it was an exceedingly ugly world. I don't mean that based on the artwork or the writing, because it was pretty well done. The symmetry between Opal's experience and then Orchid's made sense, and the turnaround at the end, was well-written. Orchid's putting on the mask the first time made sense.

There were things that did not feel real to me, and that took me out of the story. Some of it was minor, like the relationship between Anzio and Simon felt tacked on at the end (to be fair, a romance between Orchid with Simon would have felt much more forced). It felt like something would have to happen with Yehzu, so that worked but was underdeveloped. Though, as part of that arc, you knew Tomo's death was assured when he killed Radius, and the page where Barrabas saw it was drawn exactly right.

Mainly though, I feel like the philosophy behind it was missing. If being able to wear the mask requires being a saint, I can see how Opal's desire for a better world, and to protect Orchid, qualifies her, but it feels wrong that Orchid's desire solely for revenge should. The bridge people working together is the kind of change that should turn things around, but again, if everyone is planning to die in the pursuit of vengeance, how did they get their better world? That requires them to be the kind of people, and have a vision, that they are rejecting. Ultimately, it never felt real.

One thing that I did like is a recurring theme that reading is transformative. I do believe in that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Comics Review: Grimm, Killjoys, and BPRD Vampire Revisited

I read something recently about how new series get reviewed, but there generally isn't follow up. The more I thought about that the more surprising it was, because often with comic books there is so much exposition in the first issue that you really don't know how it will come out.

That's why I decided to revisit these three series that I wrote about in June. Of course, two of them were limited runs, but those two are finished now, which is one good reason for returning. Also, reading my original post, I can see that a lot of my optimism was based on trust in the creators, which is interesting, and we can look at how that trust works out. If you are not reading a one-off, there will be expectations.

Most of this will be about the things I didn't expect, and maybe could not have expected, and whether or not that ends up being a good thing.

BPRD Vampire (Dark Horse Comics): Story by Mike Mignola, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, with art by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, colors by Dave Stewart, and letters by Clem Robins.

When I last wrote about the series, I had just finished reading issue 3 of 5, and it was a turning point where the was this jolt of realizing that I did not know where it was going at all. You might think that would cause a reset where whatever happened would not throw me, but I was still totally thrown by the conclusion.

It's not that it didn't make sense. Actually, re-reading everything last night, the ending of the first issue kind of predicts it all. Anders wants to kill the vampires, and he will do that beyond his wildest hopes, but there's still no way you could have seen the bear coming.

BPRD Vampire is chilling, and it is a complete story in five issues, yet it is also part of a much larger story, connecting to other issues of BPRD, and to mythology and history, so with roots sinking deep and tentacles reaching out.

Grimm (Dynamite Comics): Plot by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, script by Marc Gaffen and Kyle McVey, art by José Malaga, colors by Thiago Dal Bello, and letters by Marshall Dillon.

This is the series that is actually continuing, and yet I am not continuing with it, which is disappointing. There were two things that I thought were handled well from the first issue. One is that they got through the world-building exposition with a nice balance of information without being too repetitious. Also, I thought the introduction of Maya would be good as it would allow the comic to do its own thing without having too much conflict with the show.

I think there was sort of a shift where someone picking up the series now without being familiar with the show might face some confusion, but that is not the problem. It's more that the comic is just too typical. Once the initial storyline of the coins wrapped up, things lost steam, with some fairly perfunctory monster of the week cases.

I gave up after issue 8, which ironically was the best, focusing completely on an episode from Aunt Marie's past. There is a really rich world here. The books in the trailer give a long history of Grimms and Wesen, so there is a lot that could be explored without being hampered by worries about contradicting the show.

That being said, the books still struggle with typical comic book problems. Here's a female; she better dress sexy. Even Kelly ends up in ball gowns, with the cliched skeevy villain making her try them on. It feels very stereotypical, which prevents it from living up to the show, which I still adore.

All of which may just be one way of saying that I still think it should have gone through Dark Horse.

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (Dark Horse Comics): Script by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, Art by Becky Cloonan, Colors by Dan Jackson, and Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot. 

The biggest overthrow of expectations here happened with the conclusion, which came surprisingly easily. Everything was set for an epic showdown with a lot of deaths, and that is not how it happened at all.

It feels like it should feel too easy, but it doesn't, and I have puzzled over that. Korse and Val have, from different side, killed many people. Korse has seen some loss and suffering, so that he can drive off into an unknown future is one thing. With Val, it could be even less satisfying; he can just say he's sorry and walk away?

But you do a see a weigh one him, first in a close-up of his face, and then farther away as he is surrounded by many, from both sides, just as newly free, all of whom have done horrible things with varying degrees of knowledge, and who aren't going to be done thinking about it or adjusting to it that quickly. What would we all do if we were suddenly free? So I think one reason it ended up being satisfying is that it felt realistic. It could go down like that.

The other thing, though, is the girls' arc. She learned to understand herself and the world around her, and actively chose what she was going to do about it, and it was a higher choice than a lot of easier ones.

And it ended on a sweet surprise that you wouldn't have dared hoped for, but that still makes me tear up.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Comics Review: I'm a German Shepherd and Island of Memory

This could be subtitled "my birthday comics". They were both books that I requested for Christmas, and were not received. I had written earlier about how difficult it was to locate a copy of I'm a German Shepherd. Island of Memory was readily available through Floating World Comics, but for people who were only used to looking at Powells and Amazon there was still some difficulty. Fortunately my older sister really outdid herself in terms of hunting down leads, and so the one book was a little late, but I now have both in my hot little hands.

I will be reviewing comics all week, but these two go together. It is not just because of how they were both obtained, but these are also both single artist works, with writing and illustration and color all being done by the same person. Bak worked with Floating World, while Martins self-published, but I think both have to be considered as labors of love.

Island of Memory by T Edward Bak

We begin with a quote, from Seneca - "There is nothing dead in nature" - and we see four pages of sea life: otters, birds, crabs and sea weed. The colors are muted, but there is a lush feeling to the images. Then there is a colored band with similar figures down the center of a stark black and white page. The otters are still there, but a ship enters, and soon we have humans.

The narrative goes back and forth between Alaska and Russia. Sometimes there is color, though never overpowering. There is often an awkwardness to the human figures, especially in Russia. The most beautiful work seems to go to the Russian animals, but it is interesting watching the artistic style change. Sometimes we know we are in a memory or a dream, and sometimes there is something else entirely. I think the last few pages function more as a vision.

There is a sense of foreboding that things can't go well. There are very harsh elements for the expedition. There are always storms coursing through the work, and foxes breaking up dreams and digging up graves, yet the Russian society is clearly full of threats too, and the formality with which the are approached is kind of more chilling than the snow.

It is very clear that this is just one volume of a longer work. Even if that were not specified on the last page, there are just many things that we don't know. It is not merely not knowing what is going to happen from this point in the story, but there are things in the past that are only hinted at. That may be a little overdone - it might work to let some things be more clear - but that depends on how it will all take shape.

It's interesting in that we all know names like Stellar and Bering, but we don't really know much about them. This is a chance to learn more, and to see some compelling artwork. I do love the otters, but I really want to see the sea cows.

I'm a German Shepherd by Murilo Martins

Dogs are an easy sell with me, and the bold, vividly-drawn German shepherd on the cover appealed to me right away. There is so much personality in that fairly simple drawing, and you can easily imagine him saying the titular line.

I have to admit, it was not what I expected. The cover looks like you are going to have a cute and humorous story, and there is a much darker vein than I had possibly expected. Actually, the ending was really a shock, and since our recently adopted greyhound looks and barks rather like a German shepherd in some ways, that kind of made it more alarming.

That doesn't mean the book doesn't have merit. I have thought about it a lot more seriously than I would have otherwise, and wondered how much it was influenced by the political situation, and what could have gone differently.

Still, I think it is strongest on the art. There is a surface simplicity but it is really effective and elegant, and just naturally draws the eye.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Band Review: Sheabou

Sheabou (pronounced Shay-boo) is a four person band out of London.

Their biography mentions using a songwriting progress that focuses on democracy, starting with vocals and adding instruments on at a time, rather than the more traditional format of having the singer as the primary songwriter.

This probably influences the very mellow feel to their sound. I would describe it as a sincere, coffee-house vibe. At the same time, the process may water down the songs, as it is hard to point to something that stands out. They are pleasant background, but not generally attention grabbing, one exception being the intro on "Just Go".

They appear to be a relatively young band, so there is room for growth.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Band Review: Kid Fella

With Kid Fella, I am back to my occasional dilemma of usually not liking rap, but feeling guilty if I don't review someone who followed me, and also, sometimes I do like it, and it feels wrong to automatically discount it. So, that's my disclaimer that if you like the genre you may respond to the music completely differently.

I would say that Kid Fella has better than usual hooks, finding a little more variety in the different types of sounds to bring in, and more variety of tempo and rhythm. I appreciated that.

I was still irritated and frustrated by the language, including use of the N-word. Not unusual, but it was repetitive and annoying in that way. I think "Infamous" was the worst for that, which makes sense. Also the misogyny.

One page indicated that tracks were available through Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play, but I saw a link to CD Baby elsewhere, and that is included below.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Grimm: Come Together

Many posts ago I wrote that I loved what Christopher Nolan did with Lucius Fox in Batman Begins, but I didn't specify what. It was not just casting Morgan Freeman, though that is usually a sound strategy. What I liked was that it made the gadgetry that much more believable.

Accepting Bruce Wayne spending years developing physical strength and fighting prowess is one thing. Accepting that he is also studied magic and became a brilliant inventor and engineer is something else. Having someone else contributing some of that know-how, and getting it from an entire department, even one that was now shut down, was more realistic.

As long as we are starting with superhero movies, I loved Spider-Man 2. There were interesting things going on with Peter trying to have a normal life, but what was touching was seeing that he didn't have to be alone in the superhero life. The imagery in the train scene was a little over the top, but still, the passengers were caring and supportive, and MJ could know, and support him, and be there for him.

"Grimm" is not technically a superhero show. There are parallels, but even with the supernatural element, it is very grounded in reality. And, there might be disagreement over how realistic this is, but this hero has not been angst-ridden.

It could have gone the other way. Aunt Marie found it to be a curse. That makes sense. She lost her sister and brother in law, and presumably their parents were gone by this time. She had to give up her fiancé because of her responsibility. There is evidence that Aunt Marie was never simply a "behead-them-all" Grimm, but she was probably also never showered with gifts by Eisbibers.

I do think part of Nick having a better time with it was his role in law enforcement. Stopping wrongdoing was already his thing, and he could lock people up instead of always having to cut off their heads.

(I say that thinking that being a librarian was also a very good fit, and betting that not every new Grimm has a trailer full of helpful information.)

I also think a huge benefit for Nick has been Monroe. Monroe crashing through a window, and then offering Nick a beer, and being willing to help and answer questions. That's not typical behavior for any Wesen, especially a Blutbad, but it worked, and it started Nick's new world as a friendlier one, where he learned that he did not have to cut people off.

There were some rough spots, with Juliette turning down his proposal even before she lost her memory, and Hank and Wu both having some bad moments of disconnection, but the end result is stronger relationships and stronger support.

Nick does not need to know everything, and neither does Monroe, and sometimes it doesn't even have to be in the trailer. Rosalee knows herbs, and the seedy underbelly that exists with drugs and gangs. Juliette knows veterinary medicine, and has her own insights. Hank brings his existing police background, but now knowing more about what might be out there.

There is stronger connection within this group. They have not played it up a lot, but it is really great that Nick and Monroe's significant others are now friends; there are ways in which they are both very guy. This is not just for the cases that come up, either, because Juliette helped Monroe decorate for Christmas, and then helped Monroe and Juliette work through a relationship snag. It doesn't hurt to have more people care about you.

The last time I wrote about this, it looked like Renard was shifting from grey to villain. His turning point involved coming clean to Nick. This is what I have been asked to do, and I don't want to do it. Things can be different. Nick may still not trust him completely, and he may have a point, but there is a transformation of the relationships because of the new openness.

It is going beyond their group. No one exactly loves the Council now, but they can call on each other. There is at least a realization that things don't have to be the way they have always been. Nick survived the Wild Hunt not just because he had knowledge from the trailer, or help from Monroe, but also because Monroe's very traditional father loved his frustratingly independent son more than he hated the Grimm. And he can (maybe) start to see things differently too.

Dystopian themes have been coming up a lot in my reading and writing lately, and regardless of the cataclysm that led to environment, what makes it ugly is always the reaction - the way people start treating each other when things get rough. If we remember that the purpose of science fiction is not to predict but depict, then it is about now. What makes it ugly or beautiful now is how we are to each other. And there can be some pretty awful situations now, but the pockets of love and kindness are what make life worth living, and make life beautiful.

"Grimm" keeps choosing love. Even when there are real monsters, and real danger, their characters keep coming together and supporting each other. It makes the show more enjoyable, and it makes their triumphs more real. It's pretty hard to fight the darkness alone.

Related post:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Grimm characters - Sebastien, Wu, and why we care

Aside from the torture issue we covered yesterday, I have appreciated the storyline with the Royals. Based on message boards, I know it's not popular with everyone, but I find I care about it, because I care about the characters.

A lot of that is centered on Sebastien, as portrayed by Christian Lagadec. Several episodes ago, I realized that I am always worried about them. I pondered that, because we really know very little about him. We don't know why he keeps Renard informed, when it is very dangerous for him, and frankly, Renard does not seem to be that supportive.

However, Sebastien stays there, even though he seems to be the least qualified. Renard has Hexenbiest lineage and police training, and is a crack shot. Meisner is a skilled fighter. On the other side, they have money and Hundjäger.

I suppose it could be my natural sympathy for the underdog coming through, but also, I think Lagadec acts nervous, and that comes through. It's not anything really flashy, but the actor understands the character's vulnerability, and that infuses the performance, making everything more relatable and more real.

This is something "Grimm" has always done well. They create good characters, but trust the actors to add their own touches, and the cast delivers. This has been especially true with the March 7th episode, where the writers found a creature from actor Reggie Lee's upbringing and gave us an episode letting us get to know his character, Wu, better.

And it was great! There was emotion, but also humor, and while the episode is self-contained, what happened in it will continue to matter.

These are not the top-billed characters, but they matter. They build the world, and enrich it, and it lends importance to all of the developments.

Generally when the main cast is in peril, you know that things are going to work out somehow. I love Nick, and David Giuntoli does a great job, so I do care about what happens. He is not just going to be written off. Even if he were to decide to leave the show, which would be awful, there would probably be some advance warning.

Sebastien could totally die. There have been a couple of times when I was pretty sure he would.

(And yes, that would be a fictional death, but if we were going to get hung up on that, there would be no point in watching television at all.)

So there is real risk there, and yet there is real relief when he survives another day. Reggie Lee does other acting jobs, and does not appear in some episodes, but it is good to see him, and to learn things about Wu. Wu matters.

Some of this is just that on a basic level "Grimm" is a well-done show: good writing, good acting, and good continuity. I also think some of it is that in the mindset behind the show, individuals matter.

That can be hard to maintain for any police procedural, even without the supernatural element, because there is always a body count. Lately I find that there are some works that I can't enjoy, because at their roots they have too much contempt for humanity, and regardless of the many good reasons for that I can't get there.

I like that "Grimm", with literal monsters, finds a way to enjoy them, and we will build on that more tomorrow.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Torture, Television, and Social Responsibility

I have been meaning to write for a while about how much I love "Grimm". That will still happen, but something put me off Friday night, and I need to get that out of the way first.

At the end of the episode, Viktor and his henchmen were on the trail of Meisner, Adalind, and the baby, and they were there because they had tortured the proximate location out of Sebastien.

Oddly, torture had come up in "Person of Interest" too. My warning flags went up, actually, but they went back down because no information was acquired. I believe the reason that scene happened at all was to remind us that Stanton had no conscience or qualms about anything, and contrast with Reese, even before he meets Finch.

I get that a certain amount of contrivance happens in writing. You want to show certain things, and you find ways to make it work. If it requires too much contortion, the scene doesn't sit right. If demonstrating one person's character causes someone else to act out of character, it will not sit right. The contrivance becomes a problem if it makes the scene too false.

So, the problem that we have is that torture scenes can seem very reasonable and logical if people believe torture works. Since it doesn't, that makes scenes where people get the information they want, whether it involves good people or bad people, false. The problem is that a lot of viewers will not see an issue with the scene, because they also believe torture works, and these scenes reinforce it.

I will gladly agree that no one should be taking their political and ethical beliefs from television shows grounded in fantasy, but it does reinforce. The more you see torture as a viable way of getting information, even when you see the villains using it, the easier it is to justify it as a legitimate intelligence tactic.

Sebastien was water-boarded, just like the various US detainees who did NOT end up revealing the location of Bin Laden. Water-boarding techniques came out of training that was developed for resisting brainwashing. These are techniques that are designed to break people down so they say false things, not so you get the truth out of them. The most realistic outcome would have been Sebastien lying. (The reason the "Person of Interest" scene was not as problematic for me is that they did not get any information out of the prisoner.)

I know the scene is serving other purposes. I am hoping that getting Sebastien in the same vicinity as the other characters means that he has a shot of living. However, this is a show that has magic as a legitimate factor. They could have used some form of divination, or used magic on Sebastien. We saw Frau Pesch take on Adalind's form, they could have had Viktor take on Renard's form and asked Sebastien for help in locating them. There were other options.

The problem is that no one sees the need of other options. Apparently, torture is appearing more and more:

Entertainment has amazing power, and television reaches a lot of people. There have been some really beautiful points about human nature seen on "Grimm". Sebastien's torture is a low note for them. I know they can be better than that.

No one wants to watch straight out propaganda, but keeping an eye out for opportunities to do good should be happening. Reliance on torture shows something that is factually false and morally wrong, and that needs to be known.

Spread the word.

(I have written about this before, but it's been a while: )

Friday, March 14, 2014

Band Review: Scarling.

I found Scarling. via Jessicka Addams, whom I initially knew of more for non-musical art, though I had learned pretty early on that she had been in another band. I initially thought Scarling. was a new project, but they originally became active in the early 2000's, and are now coming back.

Their Facebook page lists a view different genres, but Wikipedia called it noise pop, which was new to me. (I can see the influence on shoegaze.)

Anyway, the way noise pop works is that not strictly musical sounds are combined. This could be something as simple as distorting the guitars, but there could also be elements of white noise or the ring of a telephone or power tools in the background. What I have found interesting with that is that it feels like it creates a distance. A filter is added. You do hear the melody. The normal musical elements are there, but there is something else too, and it changes how you experience the song.

Some of the songs feel more immediate - "Band Aid Covers The Bullet Hole" and "Baby Dracula" had rhythms that stuck out for me - but I felt a certain amount of detachment that made it more intellectual. On that level, having a song about Crispin Glover, or having twists on familiar phrases like "Alexander The Burn Victim" feels exactly as it should be.

That being said, I hear more life in the new songs. Maybe some of that is just a new energy at coming back. There is still that filter in place, but maybe it is thinner.

I did most of my listening via Spotify, which has two profiles. Both profiles have the two albums, Sweet Heart Dealer and So Long Scarecrow. However, one does not have the new songs, and one does not have the single releases, therefore does not have the B-sides.

At this point I only see the new songs on iTunes, thought the older material is available in a variety of places.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Band Review: Bash The Band

Bash The Band is a three man band from El Paso Texas. They have not followed me on Twitter, but singer and guitar player Sebastian Felix did, and that was enough to get them on the list.

Depending on where you are looking, I have seen them described as alternative rock or Texas metal. I tend to agree more with the rock side. They sound their most metal on a cover of the Cranberries' "Zombie", which seems odd, but I think the cover really works.

I like their original material a lot. There is a depth to it that seems beyond their years. I watched the video for "Broken Smile", and was thinking that the concept seemed more for older people, but then I thought "They have parents." You don't have to be at a certain age to know about the issues of that age, though perspective can certainly change. The videos overall are pretty well executed, though the concepts could be a little more sophisticated.

There is a lot that is admirable about the band. They have been consistently producing music, and working with the USO. Based on Facebook, they have made a strong effort to get their music into local retail stores, which a lot of bands neglect.

I do feel they could do a better job with the internet. They have their own site, but the link to the store didn't work. The most complete listings are at ReverbNation, but the links to Amazon and iTunes there did not work. They are playing with fuel tomorrow night, which is great, and it is on their Facebook timeline, but not in their events. I think that they are talented enough that it is worth making the effort to improve the web side. This is the digital age, so internet presence is a huge factor.

So, I actually cannot tell you where to purchase their music, but you can find the most songs at ReverbNation, and you can find the simplest listening experience at Soundcloud. You can also find some music and vote for them at ArtistSignal:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Barsotti Park

My family moved to Aloha in 1978, when I was six years old. Concerns about urban sprawl aside, I loved the suburban mix. We were close to theaters and stores, but there were trees and animals everywhere. On Farmington there was a flock of sheep, and across 160th there were horses, and right next to my cul de sac there were cows.

Most of that is apartments now. It's not horrible. There are still a lot of trees, and there are green spaces and some trails set aside. The inevitable changes and development could have been handled much worse, and I appreciate that. I am most grateful for what happened with the cow pasture, which is now a park.

I never really knew the Barsotti family. Every now and then I would see Mr. Barsotti and we'd exchange greetings, and I did run into one of the daughters while picking blackberries. That spot has always been important to me though. I loved having the cows there, and once they were gone I kind of missed them. Later on, I loved having that spot for picking blackberries. I guess it's not exactly nature, because these are things that we domesticate, but still, there was life and greenery and a feeling of connection.

Hearing that the family had decided to donate the land for a park was always something that I had thought was great, and seeing the plans that went out was something that looked good, but I had not anticipated how good it would be.

I walk by the park every day, so I was watching the construction's progress, but I was not the only one. The moment the fencing came down from around the play area, it was full of children. It was so popular, so fast.

I hadn't understood the need. When I was a kid, everyone had yards, which is no longer the case. Even so, we had yards we could play in, but we would often go to the play structure that the nearby school had, because sometimes you need to swing and slide and climb.

It is not just for kids. When my mother's knees got bad, her doctor recommended not walking the dogs anymore, because the road shoulders were so uneven. Now there is a walking path that she can do. When we explored it for the first time we found small children from our block, and older kids from our church, and a former coworker who is excited because she has a nearby park where she can bring her grandchildren.

It's not even completely done. The tennis nets are not up yet, and they were doing something with the picnic tables yesterday. It is still already filling a huge need, and I am probably not the only one who had not realized how much the need was there.

It appears that my role in this may be applying for one of the community garden plots, and seeing how that goes. Mainly, I'm just glad it's there. I'm grateful for the family's generosity. I'm glad that this field I was so fond of did not become another plot of apartments or tract housing. I'm glad that the children in all of the other apartments and tract housing have a nice place to play.

It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I have written twice about the new dog, and that she was shy, but those were both within her first month. At the one month mark something opened up. I promised I would write about some sweet and beautiful things, and this will be one - the blossoming of a dog. Let me tell you about Adele.

The first thing I will tell you is that we don't really call her that. With greyhounds, they always come already named. There is a racing name and a kennel name. Sometimes they are similar, like Geno was Oxbow Geno. Adele was Jstrollinthedeep, so yes, it was connected to that Adele, and we don't like her. We nonetheless love this Adele. We are mainly calling her Dellie (I guess that's how it would be spelled). It works.

She was straight from the kennel, had never raced, and was shy and scared of men. Our contact thought we would be a good fit, because it is an all-female household and Geno (the lone male) is a confident dog and she could learn from him.

Dellie came on December 14th. Part of kennel life is that the dogs are usually crated. They get let out to run, and maybe to eat, and things like that, but they spend a lot of time in the crate, and sometimes the new freedom was uncomfortable.

That first day, which was a Saturday, Dellie decided that the bathroom was her crate. It would be a little big, but about the right shape. She parked herself there, and we would lead her out to eat and go in the yard, but otherwise she did not budge. That included Sunday morning, when four women were getting ready for church. This may be why she found a new location.

Her new spot was a dog bed in my bedroom. It is bordered by my desk, bookcase, closet, and dresser, so it does feel a little enclosed, and it is not as high traffic. We would still lead her away for meals and walks and the yard, but she would always run back to this bed. She would make herself fit there, even if Geno was already on it.

I'll admit there was some frustration, especially with getting her housebroken. She was so scared of the yard, and actually so scared to go anywhere, that for a while she would only pee once a day, despite us giving her multiple opportunities. We had to put her on a leash to get her into the yard, and to get her to her food, and to get her to come into the living room.

Still, I could see some progress. It did not take long for her to get to the point where she was happy and content while she was on that dog bed and I was working on the computer next to her. I would see her stick her head into the hall, and know that she wanted to be around us when we were in the living room, even though she could not bring herself to come out on her own yet. I believed she would eventually feel comfortable at any spot in the house, and it would be okay.

There were two ways in which I was completely off base. One is that I thought it would take longer and progress more slowly. Also, mistook shy for quiet. Dellie is a spirited little dog. It started at about the one month mark, and it really started with the toys.

I'm not sure how she first got the idea to put one in her mouth. Geno doesn't play with the toys a lot, but he will sometimes so maybe she saw him. They often have toys in the kennels, so maybe she suddenly remembered. Suddenly she was playing all the time, and making them squeak, and carrying them around all over the house where she was now roaming freely.

The yard no longer terrified her, and she started running. I suspect the reason that she didn't race is that with her shyness, it seemed unlikely that she could do well, but she's a fast little thing. Sometimes she is more into trying to get someone to chase her than running laps, and sometimes she uses this weird prancing type of motion, so maybe she would have been too goofy, but I have seen her do laps and she does okay.

She has also found her voice. She barks a lot. Teaching her to be okay with visitors is taking a while. She is not attacking, but she will stay just at the exit of the room and bark these low throaty barks, like a German Shepherd. So now we will bring her to the person, and have them pet her, and then either let her go, or hold her and pet her while we visit, depending on whether the initial petting stops the barking. She does not love this process, but she did not love it when we made her spend time in the living room or in the back yard, and those worked out.

I suppose there are differences that are not completely positive. My shoes move around a lot, but I can usually find them. I can't get in and out of my room without a few squeaks now. We will periodically gather the stash of toys out of my room and the other depository in the family room, and return them to the toy basket. They come right back, but it gives her something to do. But it's fun. Our pets cheer us up. They make us laugh. In her case, much more than would ever have seemed possible.

She has learned to love home life, and we have found an eagerness there that was completely hidden. We're all lucky.