Wendy’s Fresher Catch

An update, since I get about 2 dozen hits a day from people looking up Wendy’s fish sandwich. The last time I wrote about it, in 2003, it wasn’t that good. But they re-introduced it for this Lenten season (so of course, I write about it 5 days before Easter), with a big advertising push. So I tried it again, because they indicated that they put in a nice solid piece of fish.

Well, it’s pretty good this time around. It easily beat McDonald’s Filet o’Fish. The fish is a single piece of whitefish, flaky and moist, with no fishy aftertaste. The batter is crispy and tasty. They put a variant of tarter sauce on it, obviously made with garlic powder. Keep this in mind if you’re looking for something mild–you’ll probably want to hold the sauce.

I didn’t have mine with cheese. It really doesn’t need it. I don’t know if they just slap a cold slice of cheese on the top like they do with their burgers. That would be a shame, because it would take away from it. And Wendy’s is still using those buns which are a step down from their old potato-flour buns. They got rid of them shortly after my first review. I know. Four years is a long time to hold onto a fast-food ghost. But I really stopped going to Wendy’s after they got rid of the potato buns.

I don’t know if it’ll be around after Easter. But it was pretty good, and if they keep it on the menu, I won’t be so reluctant to eat there in the future.

I have seen the future, and it is…

I’ve always been interested in how issues are framed. Many political issues are framed in specific ways by their proponents, and eventually it becomes difficult to see the issue in anyway but how it’s been framed for so long. In the long-running abortion debate, abortion foes used “partial birth” as a way to frame the debate around the emotionally and mentally repugnant method of late period abortion. It is very difficult to argue with the image of a viable baby being killed by a doctor, just so a woman doesn’t have to have a child. It frames abortion-choice advocates as cold baby-killing monsters. It’s a very effective framing device that totally misses the core of the abortion issue, which is a patriarchal society that prevents women from making informed choices about sex and its myriad repercussions.

Framing, I thought, focused on a particularly narrow, and often anomalous, aspect of a larger issue, in order for its partisans or detractors to influence those who are not quite as informed or vested. But I’ve begun to change my view of framing. In very devious hands, framing can narrow a point of view in order to let thieves and scoundrels have their way with everything else that we’re no longer focusing on.

We have this in the “waterboarding” debate. It seems like a perfectly framed issue. Its defenders even coined “waterboarding,” since that sounds less like torture than, oh, let’s say, “water torture.” (As a less-PC child, I remember we called it “Chinese water torture.” Maybe kids in China are now calling it “American waterboarding” when they spray hoses and water guns at their friends during the summer.) People who are, rightfully, aghast at the thought of torture, argue that waterboarding should be banned, while defenders say it is barely a form of torture at all.

Meanwhile, we’ve lost sight of the greater issue, which is how America is conducting itself in matters of law and justice, both at home and abroad. This invariably happens when an issue is framed. Framing is not always a bad thing, because it helps people who are not totally vested to make some sense of a very large and complex issue. However, my argument here is that the defenders of waterboarding are not defending waterboarding at all; they are distracting and misdirecting us all specifically by framing the debate around waterboarding.

It’s simply this: Take an offensive, but not unthinkable, method of torture and put it into the public’s collective head. Sure, it simulates drowning, but no one actually drowns. We even subject our own military to it to train them against this effective interrogation technique. If it saves us from another terrorist attack like 9-11, it will be totally worth it.

But if America has actually waterboarded a dozen men, I would be surprised. Wait. Let me rephrase that. If America has actually waterboarded a dozen men to gather intelligence during an interrogation, I would be surprised. It is a non-issue to our government. However, by focusing on this, we continue to ignore the systematic destruction of laws that protect us from our own government. If the defenders of waterboarding succeed in convincing us as a nation that waterboarding is not torture and/or it is necessary for the security of our country, they have won a small victory, but the larger victory will be that the small, framed issue will be settled and obscured the real problem.

The active act in framing security and freedom in the time of terrorism into a debate on waterboarding was done solely to distract the public from the loss of habeas corpus and fourth-amendment rights, and the government hiring mercenary armies not subject to American or international law.

And thinking about this, I began to understand that framing isn’t specifically issue-centric. Because framing hyper-accentuates a point, it leaves everything else around it in shadow. Masters of framing can frame places and groups and people. They use framing as a test-bed to launch larger campaigns. And sometimes framing entails framing in another sense.

Tonight, CBS is “bravely” telling the story of disgraced Alabama governor, Don Siegelman. (Bravely, in quotes, because they are putting this story up against The Oscars, which means no one will see it until it repeats. If it repeats.) Siegelman was convicted of seven counts of public corruption in a trial that prompted Scott Horton to write in Harper’s:

… I have spent over a month looking at this case. I have spoken with a number of journalists who covered the trial, pulled out and read the transcripts, talked to figures involved in the case. And I have received tips and messages from Alabamians who are trying feverishly to spin the case one way or the other. My conclusion: I have no idea whether in the end of the day, Mr. Siegelman is guilty or innocent of corruption. But that the prosecution was corruptly conceived and pursued and that the court proceedings were corrupted, almost from the outset: that is already extremely clear. This is not a prosecution of a political figure for corruption. It is a political vendetta, conceived, developed and pursued for a corrupt purpose.

Siegelman is a Democrat and was literally framed by Karl Rove. Framed, in the sense that Siegelman faced up to 30 years in jail for one count of bribery, one count of conspiracy to commit honest services mail fraud, four counts of honest services mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. (His sentence was 7+.) Framed, also, in the sense that Rove used this as an audacious test to see if his machinations were nimble enough to escape public scrutiny. It is, after all, just Alabama. Who would notice? It was a successful test of his power to eliminate political foes by any means. It was framed to seem innocuous. (What, another public official accused of bribery? Yawn.) But the larger issue was shaded underneath: Don’t mess with the Republicans.

Remember this when Democrats take the presidency in 2008. The machinery of Republican domination, started after Nixon, has been in place for a long time, and Clinton’s impeachment (another framed device–they knew they were going to lose, but it positioned many operatives) was just a test run, which succeeded in taking off impeachment for an extraordinarily corrupt administration.

Suckers

I’m an elitist populist. I believe democracy is the best form of government, but it’s insanely important to have checks in that government to protect (and even foster) minority opinions. This is because we are incredibly and eternally stupid, stupid people. We believe all sorts of very dumb things, no matter how smart and reasonable we are. I, for instance, believe that democracy is the best form of government despite it needing well-reasoned and intelligent people to make it work.

After a couple of hundred years, our leaders are doing their best to end our terrible experiment with democracy. The Senate passed an unnecessary bill granting the federal government ability to spy on us with no oversight. This bill also give telecom companies, like AT&T, immunity from prosecution for helping the federal government spy on us without oversight, while it was illegal. Kings are not ideal leaders for representative democracies, but a large portion of idiots in this country want one anyway. Currently, the House of Representatives is holding back the passage of this bill into law, but I’m sure it is just a matter of days until the King gets his bill passed and his 5 or 6 business buddies all sigh with relief.

It’s the cynic in me that sees commercials for products like the Kinoki footpad or the Riddex pest control system, and says, “we’re all doomed.” Kinoki is a pad soaked in vinegar that claims to rid the body of poisons and toxins. This makes sense as evolution has left the human body without a liver. Riddex keeps pests away through the miracle of digital-pulse technology. You plug it in, and it sends some sort of electric signal through your home’s electrical system. Apparently, bugs and rats are fine with 50-60 Hz, but send a digital pulse at some unknown frequency, and they go packing. It is all so reasonable. I’ve read reviews that said that the ultrasonic version of Riddex was crap, but the electric modulation one (that’s the less sci-fi term for digital-pulse) really works. Well, I’m convinced. Let me buy two, because, according to the ad, the pulses only work for about 2,000 sq ft, so each floor of your home should have one. How those digital-pulses can leap from circuit to circuit, but cannot go floor to floor, I can’t explain. Luckily, both Riddex and Kinoki will send me a second batch of their products ABSOLUTELY FREE. All I have to do is pay shipping and handling. Sounds like a deal.

But the parent company of Riddex made some $2 million last quarter selling their bunk. I’m sure Kinoki is experiencing similar success. It takes me a second or two to see the flaws in these ripoffs, but many people are taken in by them. Instead, I’m a sucker for sob-stories and emotional appeals. Luckily, all I have to do is shut off my compassion, and I won’t fall for scams based on them. That seems like a fair trade. I won’t care about my fellow men, so I don’t get taken, and my fellow men can continue to get suckered and feed my cynicism. It’s a great way to maintain the status quo, and eventually decay into ruin.

2008 Prime Cuts

Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani. What a meeting of the weasels. A lot of coverage of this points out that Robertson says that American gays and liberals caused the 9/11 attack, which goes against Giuliani’s message of “Terra Terra Terra! Muslims! Only I can protect you! Even though I didn’t before! Look over there! Brown people!” Missing from this coverage is what a dangerous, amoral, corrupt man Robertson is.

From Wikipedia:

Robertson repeatedly supported former President of Liberia Charles Taylor in various episodes of his 700 Club program during the United States’ involvement in the Liberian Civil War in June and July of 2003. Robertson accuses the U.S. State Department of giving President Bush bad advice in supporting Taylor’s ouster as president, and of trying “as hard as they can to destabilize Liberia.”

Robertson was criticized for failing to mention in his broadcasts his $8,000,000 (USD) investment in a Liberian gold mine. Taylor had been indicted by the United Nations for war crimes at the time of Robertson’s support. and: Robertson has also been accused of using his tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, Operation Blessing, as a front for his own financial gain, and then using his influence in the Republican Party to cover his tracks. After making emotional pleas in 1994 on The 700 Club for cash donations to Operation Blessing to support airlifts of refugees from Rwanda to Zaire, it was later discovered, by a reporter from The Virginian-Pilot, that Operation Blessing’s planes were transporting diamond-mining equipment for the Robertson-owned African Development Corporation, a venture Robertson had established in cooperation with Zaire’s dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, whom Robertson had befriended earlier in 1993. According to Operation Blessing documents, Robertson personally owned the planes used for Operation Blessing airlifts….

An investigation by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Office of Consumer Affairs determined that Robertson “willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements and other implications” and called for a criminal prosecution against Robertson in 1999. However, Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, a Republican whose largest campaign contributor two years earlier was Robertson himself, intervened, accepting that Robertson had made deceptive appeals but overruling the recommendation for his prosecution. No charges were ever brought against Robertson. “Two years earlier, while Virginia’s investigation was gathering steam, Robertson donated $35,000 to Earley’s campaign — Earley’s largest contribution.”

So Robertson went from supporting Charles Taylor to Mobutu Sese Seko to Rudy Giuliani. Hey, color me impressed by that endorsement.

But Giuliani is a Republican. That whole field is filled with crazy, amoral losers. The best there is Huckabee, who is a Dominionist. How’s the Democratic field then?

Well, I had high-hopes for Barack Obama, who, like Kerry and Gore before him, is showing us how not to run a campaign. Social Security crisis? Mining rights? Really? This is the best you’ve got, Obama? Hillary Clinton has all the baggage of a Clinton, and she’s a supporter of the status-quo in Iraq, a saber-rattler for Iran, and friend to the corporation. She would be immeasurably better at running the country than Bush, but it’s still a Hobson’s choice, Clinton or no-one. I’m hoping that Dodd or Edwards gets some momentum, but it is unlikely. My sincerest hope is that Clinton doesn’t pick someone like Joe Lieberman as her running-mate. 2008 looks like a fun year of bad choices.

Jinx and the Gauntlet of Claw Fury

My older, fatter cat, Jinx, likes to play this game where she gets under the bed-sheets and turns over onto her back, with all four paws sticking up, making a deadly tent of cat fury. She waits for a hand to “attack” her in this position, and she grabs it with her front paws, rakes with her back claws, and bites and growls and twists. Katherine cuts Jinx’s nails regularly, so she usually does very little damage to me or the sheets until she gets a little worked up. When she does, it’s usually her biting that threatens to injure.

She’s not really trying to hurt me; although, I doubt my cat-hostile friends, like Jim, would agree with me. Jim’s a dog person and would take Jinx’s actions as the just the typical thing a vicious nasty ol’ cat would do. I, however, think of it the same way as playing “tug-o’-war” with a dog. While the dog is holding on to the end of whatever, the dog will begin to growl and threaten and make those bug-eyes, snapping its jaw to get a better grip, and it gets more aggressive the longer its playing. It’s the nature of the particular beast.

Jinx the MightySo really, I usually don’t overreact when Jinx gets a good bite or scratch on me during the game. She hardly plays anymore, anyway, since she’s a bit more mature, and she lets the younger cat do all the dominating.

But a few weeks ago, she jumped up on the bed, got under the sheets, and flipped over. Her nails had just been cut a couple days before. I reached down into the cauldron of death, and Jinx swiped at just the right moment and… Bing! a single claw sunk into my right pinky. I yelped and pulled my hand away. Jinx flipped back over immediately, knowing something was wrong, and got out, back on top of the sheets. Her ears were back, and she walked a bit away from me, as if trying to convince me that she wasn’t the cat that just did that thing that made me react like that.

The shock of it, at first, was all I felt. It hurt, but no more than other lucky shots she’s given me. I looked at the puncture, and it was a slight blue mark right below the fleshy part of the fingertip. Then wave after wave of throbbing pain overloaded my senses. Suddenly, this motherfucker hurt! It was a pain I felt once before, when I got my blood-gasses checked and the pulmonary doctor stuck a needle into an artery in my wrist. He warned me that it would hurt, but I still wanted to punch the guy to get him off of me. If I hadn’t been watching him, I would have sworn he was stepping on my wrist with spiked boots. It was an intense pain.

Now, with this good hit from Jinx, the blood began to flow, seemingly more than should come from a wound that I could barely see. The blood was dark and steady. I’m pretty sure she nicked my vein. For about 10 minutes, I paced from the bedroom to the bathroom and back while holding my hand above my head, pressing a tissue into my pinky. It may have looked like I was trying to staunch the blood flow, and that was indeed what happened, but really, my hand was over my head because I was in a decent amount of blinding pain, and it was the only place that I could hold my hand where I couldn’t look at it. It felt better not to look at it. I kept saying, “Wow,” and “Whoa,” under my breath. I became clammy, sweaty and pale.

Eventually, I washed my finger off, and marveled again at the tiniest of wounds. I put a bandage on it, and it didn’t bleed much again during the night. The pain went away a day later. I thanked Jinx for withdrawing as soon as she hit me, because if she had stayed hooked as I pulled my hand away, there would have been stitches involved that night. Instead, there’s just the tiniest trace of smoothed skin on my finger, three weeks later. Jinx has long forgotten the incident, but we haven’t played the game since. Next time, gloves, for both me and the cat.

Run Like Hell

Last night, I heard “Run Like Hell,” by Pink Floyd, on the radio. This, sadly, is not an uncommon occurrence. Applying the pop-poseur rule, “Run Like Hell” is a poseur‘s song on The Wall. It is a step above the crowd-pleasing “Comfortably Numb,” but not quite at the true-fan level of “In the Flesh?” let’s say, or “The Trial.” What I find ironic, though, is that the song used to be a secret fan-favorite and never heard on the classic rock stations, but now is in heavy rotation, seemingly replacing the used-to-be-ubiquitous “Mother.” I remember my friend Joe and I discussing the song twenty years ago, perplexed at it’s absence from the airwaves, and calling our local rock station, requesting it played. Inevitably, they’d play “Mother” or “Comfortably Numb.”

At least it was from the same album. If we were feeling arrogant and punkish, which was quite often, we’d ask them to play “If” or “Free Four,” and they’d play “Mother; or “Comfortably Numb.”

On the radio: “This goes out to Deer Park for showing the world they love rock-and-roll.”

Music begins: “Hello, hello, hello, is there anybody IN there?…”

Me: “Wait, is that us? Are we Deer Park? We didn’t ask for [expletive-deleted] Comfortably [expletive-deleted] Numb! [Expletive-deleted]!!”

Joe and I were heavy Floyd-heads. In 1986, we saw Water’s Radio KAOS tour at the Garden. We were both way too young to do that unaccompanied, but we did we know? We spent the next four years acquiring the back-catalog, reading fanzines, debating the extent of Syd Barrett’s legacy. We drifted apart for various, awkward, teen-aged reasons, but then, when I was 22, we started hanging out again.

I remember, specifically, I was 22, despite my hazy memory, because that’s when I started my drinking career. I was the only one of my peers to start drinking after turning 21. Previously, I hated beer and I couldn’t abide by drug use. I was pretty uptight.

Joe, Erick (my best man), and I were in the City, at a place called The Slaughtered Lamb, which had gas lamps and unvarnished wood–very olde-English tavern-style. Joe, always the show-off, got himself a $12 bottle of Belgian beer. The stuff poured like maple syrup into his mug. I had to try it. It was, frankly and surprisingly, delicious. That was something I could get into. Luckily, I was poor, so I didn’t get myself a bottle. My love of beer would have to wait until that summer.

Where Joe and I went to some loud bar in Bay Shore. Did we know the band–was there some specific reason we went to that place? I don’t remember. Joe got himself a Sam Adams, and I was intrigued. I had never heard of it. It smelt like pine needles. I got myself a bottle. Oh, sweet nectar of the gods! What was this world that I was missing? To that point the only beers that I had tried were the watery, funky domestics and Heineken. No offense to the legion of Bud drinkers out there, but your beer sucks. And Heineken* is worse. My first beer was exceptional, and I haven’t been able to settle for less since then.

And Joe was there the next time my beer horizons expanded. That summer of Sam was packed full of amazing experiences, only some fueled by that amazing elixir known as alcohol, but that fall, Joe and I lose touch again for a couple years, I don’t remember why. But I do remember one cold winter’s night in Huntington. Joe and I walk into bar, mostly to get out of the cold. We were headed some place specific, and that wasn’t the place. But to take the chill off, we both order a beer.

Me: I’ll have a Sam Adams.

Bartender: Want a Winter Lager?

Me: Um. Sure?

Why anyone would deny anyone a Samuel Adams Winter Lager, I can’t imagine. That first sip was bliss from my chilled nose to my chilled toes. I warmed up immediately. I swear I have never taken a more pleasurable sip than that. When November comes around, I begin my perennial quest to find bars that have Winter Lager on tap. It helps, too, if they keep their screens clean. Winter Lager poured through a skunky screen turns into a bland brew. No one wants that. (Apparently, I’m still pretty arrogant. I’ve lost a bit of the punkiness, though.) So hearing “Run Like Hell” on the radio for the zillionth time still brings a smile to face. It reminds me of good beer, and great concerts, and Fourth-of-July fireworks from the rooftop of a restaurant at the marina. It reminds me of my friend Joe, and our crazy relationship. This next pints for you Joe–may you continue to run like hell.

*There is a story behind Heineken’s green bottles, which is marketing. In Holland, the bottles are brown. Why? Ever have it on tap? It tastes completely different. Green bottles don’t prevent skunk. Every bottle of Heinie that you’ve had has been skunky. Corona, too. That weird shaped neck on a Corona bottle? It prevents you from smelling the skunk. The lime? It’s to prevent you from tasting the skunk. Don’t drink beer from clear or green bottles. This has been a public service message from the Arrogant Beer Connoisseurs of America (ABC-USA).

Too Helpful

This isn’t a line drawn in the sand. I like when people are helpful, so the last thing I want to do is discourage helpfulness. But sometimes, being too helpful becomes a burden. Recently, I had a print job that I handed off to a company through an online uploader. The uploader had a preview feature that showed how the final print would look, but when I picked up the job, my prints were not correct. There was a big white square where an image should have been. I was very willing to admit the error was my fault, until I realized that the person who ran the job saw the same preview as I did. They ran all the prints, even though they were significantly different than the preview. So I went home and called the corporate headquarters, and they agreed to run the print job again. A very helpful representative made sure that the prints would go through this time with everything in place. Now I had set this print job up with crop marks, meaning that the final size of the job was less than the paper size it was printed on. This is fairly standard in printing. But what I did not do was ask for the prints to be cut down to the final size. I just wanted the prints; however, going above and beyond, the very helpful representative cut my job for me, I assume, to make up for the job not printing right in the first place. I’m willing to forgive, for an example, the fact that the job was cut incorrectly, because it amounted to about a ¼" difference, but I had to print on the back of this particular job, and this instance of helpfulness made me spend extra time on something that had a looming deadline. I was able to get the job out, but there was a sinking feeling when I pulled those cut prints out of the bag when I went to pick them up. Again, no names are mentioned here, because I don’t want to discourage helpfulness. The person who helped me with those prints really came through when I needed it. But going beyond what I needed created its own set of problems. Sometimes, acts of charity come from strange sources. Yesterday, I was working on a bit of web code for a job. I tested the code on Safari, the Apple browser, and everything was working well. I uploaded the job to the test server, and told my client to check it, and sure enough, it didn’t work for him. I checked it again, on the server, using Safari, and it worked fine. Now there are several browsers, and they all tend to display web pages slightly differently, but the code that I was writing had to do with a form, and that’s all server-side standards that shouldn’t be affected by what browser sends the data. And yet, when I tried the same form that was working fine in Safari, it failed in Firefox and Internet Explorer. I was mightily confused, and it took me about two hours to discover that I had made a spelling mistake. There is an attribute to the form called enctype, which stands for encoding type. It helps the browser send data to the server in the proper format. The enctype that I wanted to send was “multipart/form-data,” essentially meaning that I wanted it to send different types of data at once, text and files. Unfortunately, what I typed was “mutlipart/form-data.” I’m willing to bet that many people, at least at first glance, wouldn’t see the difference. It took me quite some time. But when I did find the dyslexic typo, the stress that was building up in me squeezed out like an undone balloon. And then I thought, Hey! Why did Safari allow the form to go through? Safari was being helpful. Very helpful. Too helpful. If the form didn’t work when I first typed it, I would have looked for a spelling mistake right away. It’s part of my workflow. I expect to have plenty of spelling errors in my documents, so I would have had to scrutinize my code. I would have caught it at the beginning of my scripting, and not sent it to the client, who’s wondering why I would deem a job finished when it’s throwing errors all over the place. There is a balance, then, but I guess I’m glad that there are people who err on the side of too helpful. The world would be a genuinely frustrating place if it were filled with those who are too helpful, because we’d all have to backtrack a bit before we could get on with what we were supposed to be doing, but it’d probably be a whole lot better than this selfish, do-unto-others-before-they-do-unto-you world.

Masons Have Ruined My Blog!

There’s a silly public access program that’s repeated often late night on cable. The title of the series is The (Not So) Hidden Agenda. I’ve watched snippets of two different episodes, but both the episodes are repeated over and over again, so I assume that this series is mad up entirely of two hour-long episodes. Both episodes are noted for their lack of clarity and confusing visuals. They take stock footage and overlay it with simplistic graphics or filters that turn everything negative or solarise images or whatever. Then there is narration and often a backtrack of heavy metal music. I’m not clear on why the producers of this series decided that heavy metal music was appropriate for the show. I guess to make everything more exciting. At any rate, the two episodes that I have seen both deal with the hidden connections of everything. I have a soft-spot in my logic center for holistic histories, so the episode that deals with the earth-goddess and phallic symbols and triple-headed gods is all fine and good, if too new-agey and trippy. That episode has plenty of conspiracy theories in it and assumes that we all hate the Freemasons, but the other episode I’ve seen is entirely about the Freemasons and their plot to control our lives. It’s very silly. There is a part where they go on about The Simpsons episode with the Stonecutters that is mind-bogglingly puerile, but that’s not important right now. What got me though, and still bothers me, weeks after I’ve seen it, was tortured logic and bad history about the founding of America. Yes, it’s true. America was founded by Freemasons, which is like saying that Corporate America is run by Ivy League graduates. It proves that elites run in small circles, but nothing more. Anyway, the fear-mongering about Masons running the government isn’t the really crazy part. It was this: The show talked about England being run by the Masons in Colonial times. France, however was not. The Masons in France were middle-class, but were not in the nobility, so their machinations were limited by their lack of power. So they set up the French Revolution, which pitted the poor against the rich. See? The Masons, who were in the middle, could just sit back and let the poor do their dirty work. Brilliant! And it worked really well, too. The king was beheaded, and France looked like it was going to fall in control of the Masons. But the Masons miscalculated. The show is not clear on how exactly. It really ignored the Reign of Terror, so it wasn’t that the poor got fed up with the autocratic and capricious rule of their new masters. Instead, the show says that the Masons screwed up by not counting on Napoleon taking over. Napoleon, the show assures us, was not a Mason. Of course not, since England (ruled by Masons, remember) worked so hard to defeat Napoleon. The Masons were determined to not make this same mistake in America. So the middle-class American Masons, who did not have power in Colonial America, overthrew the government, and installed themselves into power, thus preventing a Napoleon-like figure from taking over. The narration strained over this amazing bit of misinformation. The show had spent the last 10 minutes talking about how the Masons controlled England. So it was a teensy-tiny bit illogical to say that the Americans overthrew the English Masons to install American Masons. But, the show stressed, that’s how clever the Masons are. What they were really doing was preventing a Napoleon-type strong-arm from taking the Colonies away from their control. I was floored. Luckily, I was in bed, and my fiancée was asleep next to me. I wanted to yell out, “What the hell?” but instead whispered curses to myself. It’s bad enough that conspiracy theories screw with logic so badly that it can be difficult to cut through all the bullcrap. Most of us end up saying, “Huh, that could be true,” and let it seep into our subconscious, poisoning our reasoning. Once we accept that there are huge structures of control around us that we can’t even see, let alone access, we begin to assume that we are powerless to decide anything. Nothing means anything anymore. And it is a poison. Let’s ignore for a moment the idea that there is a shadow organization that means to enslave us by some crazy-assed means. Let’s ignore the idea that a single group, hellbent on world domination, would pit two nations, that were already under its control, against each other in order to further its agenda. Instead, let’s look at the dates: * The French Revolution: 1789–1799. * Napoleon stages the coup leading to his installation as emperor: 1799 * The American Revolution: 1775–1783 * George Washington, a Freemason, is elected first President of the United States: 1789 So the Masons were so sophisticated that they knew the revolution, which would not occur in France for 6 more years, would end in bad tidings for them, so they labored to get the very unpopular George Washington into office, which would prevent a Napoleon-like leader (Napoleon himself keeping busy, but out of history, for a further 10 years) from taking over America. Brilliant. To be fair, I realize that what the program was actually saying was that the writers and producers don’t know shit about history. I understand that their ignorance is the very thing that feeds their paranoia about Freemasons. It’s really easy to connect the dots when we don’t actually connect them in any particular order. No doubt, when we do, it always comes out shaped like a pentagon or pentagram or crescent moon, or whatever else we feel like being scared about. Freemasons. I snort in their general direction. They couldn’t rule a city block. But so what? The vast majority of Freemasons are just interested in having a beer with some buddies. They’re as powerful as volunteer fire departments and the Elk Lodge. Unless you’re Ed Brown, who convinced me that even idyllic New Hampshire can have it’s share of paranoid, militia-forming nutjobs. I have a huge amount of respect for New Hampshire’s motto, Live Free or Die. (I believe that to my core. In that way, I, too, am a nutjob.) But Ed Brown gives us patriots a bad name. See, he’s convinced that his taxes are going to pay for evil Freemason plots.

Brown, who asserts that the federal government has no jurisdiction in New Hampshire and no authority to charge him under a non-existent law, said the activity surrounding his properties in Plainfield and West Lebanon yesterday was a “Zionist, Illuminati, Free Mason movement.” Or maybe he just wants justification to not pay his taxes. Maybe that’s the real genesis of conspiracy theories. If we don’t like something or the man is keeping us down, why not just say that the Oogey-boogeys are zapping all of us with Depresso-rays (and I’m particularly sensitive to those damned rays). It’s a lot easier than admitting failure. Hell, maybe we could even get a book deal out if it. Or produce a really crappy public access show with a kick-ass metal track. Yeah! That’ll show them Oogey-boogeys.

Knee-jerk Reactions

Here’s logic I’ll never understand: When a horrific crime is reported, the media ask, “Are our laws tough enough?” This is one of those knee-jerk reactions that fall apart on any amount of scrutiny. In particular, I’m thinking of Karen Fisher who was arrested for killing Monsignor William Costello, last July, while driving drunk. There was a round of “Are our DWI laws tough enough?” with the easy, but unjustified, answer being, “No.” It was Karen Fisher’s third arrest for drunk driving, and, while this had been the first time she killed someone, her second arrest had been made while she was driving her two children. Obviously, this is a woman with a problem. And Newsday was filled with letters asking why she still had a license. That’s a fair question, but it doesn’t get to the root of the matter. The woman is a drunk. License or no, she’s got a problem. In the above linked article, after she made a plea agreement, which pivots on a successful alcohol treatment program, Fisher’s bail had been revoked because she was kicked out of the program for drinking. Shall we ask, “Are our alcohol treatment programs tough enough?” This is an inherent conundrum when it comes to the law: Those people who break it don’t care about it. They don’t care what the penalties are. They don’t care how it will ruin the lives of their loved ones. They don’t care. But those of us who are law abiding seem to gladly make stronger and stricter laws that will eventually swallow up people who make single mistakes or are wrongly accused or do things that were once socially acceptable. You’re next smokers. This isn’t to say that drunk driving shouldn’t be illegal. It should. It’s assault with a deadly weapon with intent to harm. But Karen Fisher wouldn’t be stopped by the severest laws on the books, because she is beyond alcoholic. She’s psychologically unable to not drink until she’s drunk. This doesn’t portend the break down of society. She’s got a problem that only she will be able to stop, no matter what the law says. Knee-jerk reactions to this are worse for our society, however. Shortly after Fisher’s crime, and not too long after an equally horrific case where a driver, going the wrong way on a major parkway, killed a man and a child in a limousine, Newsday had a letter that shocked the hell out of me. I’m paraphrasing, but this was really the message:

Drunk drivers, like the guy going the wrong way and careening into a limousine, are obviously drunk. Why bother with a trial? The police know someone is drunk right away. It costs money to try these people, and there is always a chance that some stupid jury or shark lawyer can get them off scott-free. Let the police decide, then and there, the severity of the crime. Now, if that doesn’t scare the fucking piss out of you, then you can stop reading anything else I ever write.

Roger Waters Live at the Garden

Twenty years ago, my friend Joe and I went to see Roger Waters at Madison Square Garden for the Radio KAOS tour. We had horrible seats high up and at a ninety degree angle to the stage, but, being teenagers, we moved down as far as our bravery would take us. And that wasn’t too far–we positioned ourselves in front of the stage, but not at stage level. We were just up from that, first tier. It was the best view I’ve ever had of a concert, but I was nervous through the whole thing, shifting from seat to seat and row to row as ticket holders made their way into the concert. The whole section, minus two seats, filled up, and we managed to stay there for the entire show. “Radio KAOS” was set up as a live radio show, with Jim Ladd as a DJ, and a caller, Billy, whose synthesized voice would set up various pieces, including “Arnold Layne.” At the time, I wasn’t really immersed in Pink Floyd’s early work, but “Arnold Layne” transcended any ignorance on my part. It’s a brilliant piece of pop psychedelia, and when it played, entirely recorded–the band just watched the video along with the rest of the audience–I thought it was the most amazing thing I would ever see in a concert. This being in the days before the internets and YouTube. Now, I can see “Arnold Layne” on demand. It’s amazing really, and something I haven’t really explored. But, what is more relevant is how it changes the expectations of a Waters’s live show. The audience won’t be content with piped-in music while an old video plays. Pink Floyd, and by extension Roger Waters, are known for their amazing shows, with the lights and lasers and floating pigs. What would Waters do to make his show worthy for the Internet Generation? Last night, twenty years after the last concert I caught at the Garden, Katherine and I found out. To drop some suspense: There were no lasers. Lasers are so 1990s. Instead, the cohesive binder was an olde-tyme radio, a cigarette, and a bottle of scotch projected out from an LCD screen behind the stage, spanning its entire width. The visual was on the screen long before the lights went down, and occasionally, a hand would reach up and grab a glass of booze, the cigarette, or even change the station on the radio. I was particularly pleased when “Dancing Queen” was quickly changed for some smoky jazz. And, just before the band came on, Vera Lynn sang “We’ll Meet Again.” The images were super-sharp and vibrant. This concert was billed as “Roger Waters performs The Dark Side of the Moon,” which certainly would have been noteworthy enough, but with the death of Syd Barrett, whose madness informed much of the popular work of Pink Floyd, surely Waters would throw in a tribute to the founder of Floyd. And there’s a war on. Waters obsessed thematically on war on “The Final Cut,” “The Wall,” and “Amused to Death.” He couldn’t let this latest excursion in imperialism go without comment. When the lights came down, the energy was immediately pumped up with a pyrotechnic version of “In the Flesh” I’ve been to several Waters and Floyd shows, and this was the first that used a lot of pyrotechnics. Of course, I never saw “The Wall” in concert, where a wall is literally blown up in front of an audience, so it certainly wasn’t unheard of to see pyrotechnics in a Floyd show. Still, it was noteworthy, to me. “In the Flesh” was followed by “Mother,” also from “The Wall.” PP Arnold, a long time touring background-singer with Waters, sang the David Gilmore parts. Very nice. “Mother” ended, and where, on the album, a little boy normally said “Look, mummy, there’s an airplane up in the sky,” in the concert, it was replaced by a low-pitched throbbing noise. The screen behind the band turned black, and, on its lowest edge, the eclipsed corona of a darkened sun began to arise. There were so many disparate cues as to the next song that it took me a moment to recognize, “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” Katherine can probably confirm how ebulliently excited I was. There are certain songs that I just assume I will never see live. “Set the Controls…” is almost 40 years old and not that popular, even amongst fans of Floyd or Waters. When I heard it, I was breathless. It took me back to 1999, when I saw Waters at Jones Beach perform “Dogs,” from “Animals.” It took me back 20 years when Waters played “Arnold Layne,” and “If” from “Atom Heart Mother.” Waters has no problem pulling something from the back of his immense catalog. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” is an interesting song for Floyd fanatics. It was made on the cusp of Syd Barrett leaving the band. It is one of the few early songs sung and composed by Waters. The studio version actually has guitar work by David Gilmore, who came in to relieve some of the pressure from the ever-breaking Barrett. But, thank you YouTube, I came across this old gem, where Barrett is on lead guitar. This video is odd, because Waters stops playing bass to sing. Clearly, he’s singing live, and Nick Mason and Rick Wright are playing live, but the bass and guitar are coming from some ethereal plane, because Waters and Barrett aren’t strumming anything close to what is heard. Back to the concert. Was there anything after “Set the Controls…”? Maybe. I could have left happy after that. Oh, yes. “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” parts 2 through 4. Here was the start of the tribute to Barrett, with an excellent sax solo by Ian Ritchie. Then came “Have a Cigar” with some really nice visuals on screen. “…Cigar” was sung by Waters. He did a good job of it. On the album, “Wish You Were Here,” “Have a Cigar” was sung by Roy Harper, the same Roy Harper immortalized by Led Zepplin in “Hats Off to Roy Harper.” Some trivia. At any rate, according to Nick Mason in Inside Out Waters wasn’t too confident in his voice at the time of recording “Have a Cigar,” so they got someone else to do it. I doubt anyone in the audience last night, who didn’t know Waters didn’t sing it in the first place, thought anything less of the song. There’s a magical bit of sound effect at the end of “Have a Cigar” on the album, where, instead of a fadeout, the song transitions to the next by way of changing radio stations. Static and brief bits of music and dialog are heard, including a man and woman arguing: “Yes it is. No it isn’t! Well, I’m sure of it.” At the end of “…Cigar” in the concert, the visuals gave way to the olde-tyme radio again, and the hand turned the dial as one would imagine on the album. “…Cigar” transitions this way into “Wish You Were Here,” and so it did at the concert too. “Wish You Were Here” had some nice video of Barrett, often filtered in orange and yellow capturing his playfulness and madness all at once. But then, the video, and the concert, transitioned into something else. The video showed poppies floating down across a field, a Floydian visual clue if there ever was one. Poppies are all over the album, “The Final Cut,” the most reviled Floyd work ever. It’s a difficult Floyd album to get into, unless, like me, you’re a depressive sort, in which case the multiple layers of disillusionment and helplessness really speak to you. But for purposes of a Waters concert, the important aspects of “The Final Cut” are in its anti-war and anti-fascism songs. The poppies came down over “Southampton Dock,” and “The Fletcher Memorial Home” featured a black and white video of a desolate cell block where vaguely Castro-looking men shuffled about. Along the walls were portraits of Stalin, Reagan, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and Dubya Bush. “The Final Cut” was built around a distaste for dying empires grasping at glory, specifically The Falkland Islands Crisis in 1982. Sadly, Waters paranoia and fear of fascism is more relevant today, and he used his older music to capture his hope and frustration at our state of fear and war. The Mideast clearly fascinates him, inasmuch as Western Imperialism keeps bombing the shit out of the same few places where people–let’s not forget these are fellow human beings we’re bombing the shit out of–don’t really have much to begin with. “Amused to Death,” Waters last rock album, dealt with the disconnect between the luxury of Western civilization and the poverty of the rest of the world. After “The Fletcher Memorial Home,” Waters played “Perfect Sense, Part I” and “Perfect Sense, Part II,” with some outstanding singing by Katie Kissoon, who appeared on the original album, and an inflatable astronaut flew around the Garden. A repeated refrain in the second song is “Can’t you see?/It all makes perfect sense/expressed in dollars and cents/pounds, shillings, and pence.” It’s even part of our “global anthem.” Written after the first Gulf War, but before our latest excursion into quagmire, “Amused to Death” decries war-boosters who will never, themselves, feel the bloody waste and horror that war really is. But, then, after all these songs and themes, Waters tells the audience that we’re now in “the controversial part.” He explained that the next song, “Leaving Beirut” was about a personal experience he had while hitchhiking through Lebanon as a teenager. The recorded version has a narration by Waters, but in the concert, the narration was on screen as if from a comic book, with sound effects, word balloons, and all. When Waters and the background singers sang their parts, they too were accompanied by word balloons. Very clever. I admit I was surprised by the small, but boisterous, negative reaction by some in the audience. We’re not at war with Lebanon. The message of the song was that there was a kind family in Beirut, and Waters hopes they’re okay despite the 20 years of civil war (and more recently, Israeli bombing). Why boo at this song? Could it be this line, “Oh, George, oh, George, That Texas education must have fucked you up when you were very small”? Whatever. In a brilliant, absolutely brilliant move, Waters immediately followed up “Leaving Beirut” with “Sheep,” from “Animals.” That was another dissociative moment for me–another song I never thought I’d hear live. During “Sheep,” the obligatory Floyd pig flew around, with remote control box and two directional fans strategically placed to give the pig his testicles. But this pig had graffiti. “New Yorkers/Don’t be led to the slaughter/Vote November 7.” And “Fear Builds Walls.” And “Impeach Bush Now” on the pig’s ass. Huh. A bobble-head behind me, who booed during “Leaving Beirut,” tapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s fucked up,” when he saw the pig’s good-bye message. I shrugged and continued to enjoy an old psychedelic hippy getting out his message to some people who refuse to understand. After the show, there were people on the train home who were talking about the best concert they’d ever seen, but what the fuck was with the stupid Beirut song? I’m getting ahead of myself here, but… good. If you didn’t expect a message like that, then you don’t know anything about Waters, and you don’t know anything about compassion. Wait, wait. We’re at intermission, but there was so much more to this concert. The lights went up, and the screen behind the stage had a teeny-tiny moon on it, which grew over 15 minutes, until it was the classic circled-screen size for many Waters and Floyd concerts. For the entirety of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” all the visuals were placed in that circle. But before we began, Waters introduced “a dear personal friend,” Nick Mason. Well, color me surprised. The rest of his band were familiar to those who’ve seen his shows in the past. Snowy White, on guitar, and Graham Broad, on drums, toured with Waters since at least 1984. Dave Kilminster, on guitar, and Jon Carin, on keyboard, were with him last time ’round. Jon Carin played with Floyd the last time they were around, too. Some kid named Harry Waters played the Hammond organ. Never heard of him. “The Dark Side of the Moon” was played, in its entirety. “On the Run,” had a new video to it and some new sound effects, but other than that, the songs were played fairly close to the released version. There was no 20 minute guitar solo during “Money,” thank God (Dave, I’m looking at you). Carol Kenyon knocked “The Great Gig in the Sky” out of the arena. And I got to hear my favorite track (because I never hear it), “Any Colour You Like,” which has my single favorite transition of any song, segueing into “Brain Damage/Eclipse.” And 40 minutes after it began, the heartbeat softly pulses out to “There is no dark side of the moon really…,” and it’s over. A very tight set. Water thanked all of us. The stage went dark, and the audience went wild. I am always impressed at how the audience before the encore is so enthused and eager and loud, but they’ll still manage to ratchet up the energy when the band comes back out. So it was. I looked at Katherine and said, “Here comes ‘Comfortably Numb,'” but Waters said, “We’re going to do something a little different.” He introduced a boy-choir from New York, about twenty kids in all ranging from age 7 to mid-teens. They wore jackets that obscured their t-shirts, which they would later reveal to say “Fear Builds Walls.” And, sure enough, the band broke out into “Happiest Days of Their Lives” and “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” with the helicopter sound effects and all. Waters celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall with a concert at the site in 1990. The Berlin Wall obviously informed “The Wall,” but after the fall, “The Wall” resonated more with the memory of it. The wall in “The Wall” is destroyed by madness, but the Berlin Wall fell by the will of Berliners. That the wall was not rebuilt, I think, gave hope to Waters. Until, of course, it was rebuilt, this time by Israel, between it and the West Bank of Palestine. The video, during “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” contrasted images of the Berlin Wall, and it’s fall, with the building of, and separation caused by, the Israeli wall. Fear builds walls, indeed, and I was reminded of our own considerations to build a wall between us and Mexico. To me, it’s ironic that Waters got inspired to write about incidences that were happening on a global or personal scale, but were moments, nonetheless. And yet, years or decades after the fact, the music and the messages find more resonance, are more apt, then ever. I went to the show assuming I’d be watching a sixty year old burnt out and disillusioned beyond belief. Instead, Waters himself seems revitalized by the strange confluence of circumstance that makes his songs about the Falkland War prescient to the Iraq mess. What he has in abundance is hope. And it makes for a good show. Bringing this point home, Waters closed the show with “Vera,” a song of longing for Vera Lynn and the nostalgia of a “good war.” This followed into “Bring the Boys Back Home,” both from “The Wall.” A clearer message of hope and hopelessness that is bound into war couldn’t be found in a one-and-a-half minute song. The pyrotechnics ablaze, the band and audience singing at the top of their lungs, in a full-fledged plea to stop the fighting. What a way to close the show. Oh, right. Then they played “Comfortably Numb.” Maybe you can’t fight the man, after all.