Thursday, December 11, 2008

Zombies in the California capitol - and beyond

Two weeks ago, L.A. Times columnist George Skelton accused the California legislators of acting like zombies mired in a fog of unresponsiveness to our current fiscal crisis ($15 billion smackaroos in the hole).

I was glad to see the column, because he's absolutely right. The state needs money; too many people depend on state spending in their livelihoods for cuts to make sense; it's time for a tax increase.

But Republican lawmakers won't hear of it, and refuse to discuss new taxes until certain reforms (aka, slashed social services) have been put in place. They are literally making demands - demands - as if the budget debate were some sort of terrorist negotiation and the whole of California were hostage.

Political analyst Tony Quinn, speaking in this article in the Silicon Valley Mercury News, said Republicans could lose the power to stop new taxes for their hostage stunt.

"Republicans are reaching the point," he said, "where they will not be relevant to the political process."

That's because Democrats may have found a loophole in the law that requires an impossible 2/3rds majority vote to raise taxes. If the scheme works, Republican lawmakers will lose their bargaining power.

And rightfully so. The lawmakers haven't been playing fair; they haven't been sharing their toys. They think they can refuse to cooperate with each other and still be picked first when it's time to draw up teams. Yeah, right!

But lawmakers aren't the only ones not doing their jobs. We as citizens fell asleep at the wheel. Through ballot-box budgeting, we have tied our lawmakers' hands so tightly, they cannot do much to fix the crisis we're in.

Want to know just how hard it is? Try your hand at balancing the budget in this Flash game by Next 10. Can you keep California services up to snuff without raising taxes? I don't believe it can be done. Not if we want what's best for our children, Mother Earth, and the California job market.

We need to pressure our lawmakers to find real solutions; we need to stop passing laws that regulate the budget inflexibly. And we especially need to fight the rhetoric that says California can afford to go on without tax increases. When it comes time to put our vote in the ballot box, we need to shake off the zombie fog and do something good for California.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Concert Review: Apocalyptica drowns beneath drums at the Boardwalk

The chance to hear heavy metal classics played on acoustic cellos (and played by four beautiful Finnish men) doesn't come every day. And if you enjoy head banging and a great beat, you'll love the experience of seeing the band Apocalyptica live. But if you go to a concert to - oh, I don't know... hear the music - stay home when Apocalyptica comes to your town.

Playing some tunes from its newest CD, "Worlds Collide," at Sacramento's Boardwalk, the metal cello band Apocalyptica drowned beneath its own drummer Sunday night.

The draw of Apocalyptica for me has always been about listening to the breathtaking melodies that pour heartbreak and depth into songs previously made with the powerful, distorted mashup of notes and noise called heavy metal. Call me a biased string player, but the legendary rockers Metallica themselves could not play their own songs as passionately or beautifully as Apocalyptica plays them; the cellos of Apocalyptica breathe new warmth into cold ballads, even distorted and bepedaled and foisted about the stage with head banging as the instruments are.

But it occurs to me that in a heavy metal concert experience, warm and fuzzy ballads are not the optimal crowd-pleaser. The drums were there to infuse energy into the music, which they did, by taking it over.

The concert did have a beautiful moment, though: the standing-only crowd at the Boardwalk all chimed in for the chorus of "Nothing Else Matters" with a ghostly sort of fervor that made it clear the song had deep meaning for everyone there. In the dark room it was as if the cellos had woken the dead and given them a reason to sway in dance (and forgo head banging for the moment).

Can you head bang and play masterfully at the same time? I shudder to ask how often Apocalyptica members must re-string their bows, and how much weight they lift to be able to haul their wooden boxes acrobatically about on stage. There's no doubt the band is extremely talented and passionate about what they do. Seeing that gorgeous metal style and physical prowess on stage was glorious!

I only wish I could have heard them, too.

In the Band:
Eicca Toppinen – Cello
Paavo Lötjönen – Cello
Mikko Sirén – Drums

More about Apocalyptica:

Their MySpace

Apocalyptica on the Wikipedia

New Album on Amazon: "Worlds Collide"

When she's not writing, Lacey Waymire can be heard occasionally eking out tunes on her violin or singing for fun. The first song she practiced on her electric violin was Apocalyptica's arrangement of "Nothing Else Matters."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Musical Jokes: April 1, 2008

I mentioned in the last post that Regina Carter played "musical jokes" onstage. Well, yesterday brought on some fun music-themed April Fool's Day jokes:

  • NPR's Bryce Cobhab-Dowling reviews a new orchestral piece by sub-minimalist Simon Fluegel entitled "B Flat." Who knew one note could contain such stunning social commentary?

(If you enjoyed that, you should consider checking out "Wizard People, Dear Reader" - an alternate soundtrack to the original Harry Potter movie. Its crips, clear sound is "like a piano made of frozen Windex.")

  • All of YouTube's featured videos linked to this video by Rick Astley - thus, YouTube Rickroll'd everyone.

(The history behind rickrolling, if you don't know it, is here.)

  • Electronic Dance blogger Sase Antic, who writes DeeJay Blog, announced it was acquired by Google for $1.25 million.

  • World of Warcraft makers Blizzard announced a new playable hero class: The Bard, clearly modeled after the Guitar Hero game series. Check out the hilarious screen shots, including an action shot of a gamer shredding riffs on a QWERTY keyboard.

If you noticed any other musical jokes yesterday, please post a link!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Concert Review: Regina Carter Quintet tears it up at UC Davis

True innovation and musical passion onstage inspired and delighted this jazz fan Saturday night as the Regina Carter Quintet played tunes from its CD "I'll be Seeing You: a Sentimental Journey" at the Mondavi Center.

Regina Carter is a jazz violinist - yes, jazz violinist - from Detroit. She impressively melds the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach with Little Brown Jug or Ella Fitzgerald; her latest album features jazzed-up classical tunes, and classically-reinterpreted jazz favorites, all passionately and vivaciously improvised.

Though her CD has been out for nearly two years now, the quintet's performance of the songs on stage was not old news. The long solos, as innovative as the arrangements themselves, introduced fresh ideas to familiar themes and kept the listener enjoying each new turn.

A highlight in the evening was a stellar re-interpretation of "Little Brown Jug," a tune Carter said she learned when she was four years old. The simple child's melody morphed between Russian dance, German opera, New York swing, and more. For solo after solo, each member of the quintet took the simple tune through subtle, sophisticated changes, never once tiring the audience on a theme that should have quickly become repetitive.

Nearly as startling as that quick improvisation was the oh-so-tender "I'll Be Seeing You." The quintet pulled together seamlessly to draw out the ballad with warmth rarely heard from drums and piano.

The violinist herself seemed stage-shy. The introduction likely contained more words in it than she spoke into the mic herself, and she sometimes hid in a seat behind the piano or went offstage completely when her band mates took the spotlight. Despite that, she did not entirely abandon her hostess duties, as she sometimes told brief musical jokes with her violin by playing off key or silly, short licks. The humor was appreciated, and the tone of the concert quickly became clear: Regina Carter was onstage to play music and nothing else. Words were only a distraction and would not much be tolerated.

At the beginning of April, Regina Carter will be in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Fans of improvisation should definitely explore the rich surprises this quintet has to offer.

The Quintet:
Regina Carter, violin
Matthew Parrish, bass
Alvester Garnett, drums
Xavier Davis, piano and arrangements
Dr. Darryl Harper, clarinet

More About Regina Carter:
Her Official Site
Regina Carter on the Wikipedia
Hear or read her interview on KXJZ 90.9 Sacramento.

When she's not writing, Lacey Waymire can be heard occasionally eking out tunes on her violin or singing for fun. Her favorite types of music are jazz, Celtic, and folk.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Normalcy, hype, and sex offenders: Internet ban may be too handicapping

New Jersey has recently passed a law banning some sex offenders from using the internet.

Under the legislation, anyone who has been convicted of a committing a sexual offense and used a computer in that offense will not be allowed to use the internet.

The law makes exceptions for work use and job hunting.

Convicted sex offenders whose crime did not involve a computer may see their internet usage on home computers monitored by the government and find themselves subject to surprise checks of their computer equipment.

New rules created by NJ's state Parole Board follow in the same vein, according to the New York Times. They stop specific registered sex offenders who have been sentenced with "lifetime supervision" from accessing social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, whether or not their original crime involved computers.

Megan's Law is a federal law that requires anyone who has been convicted of a sex offense to register their address in a publicly available database. Included under that umbrella of sex offenses are the big crimes, like rape and molestation, but also smaller ones, such as indecent exposure, misdemeanors, and charges relating to pornography, according to the Fresno County Sheriff's Web site.

Clearly, the New Jersey legislation is aimed at keeping offenders from circumventing the community awareness Megan's Law promotes in a local neighborhood by anonymously chatting with unsuspecting victims online.

Taking away access to social networking sites may eliminate or at least seriously reduce that risk. But how does taking away access to the entire internet, or entire computers, help? It seems rather like taking away an entire dictionary from someone because they might look up a bad word and use that to hurt someone.

I've never been an advocate for censorship. But in this case, it seems that carefully-selected online activities and Web sites can be banned or censored in such a way as to keep people safe... without seriously handicapping someone.

And really... though the internet is a virtual place... it does nothing if not provide just another tool to interact with the world. It would be nearly impossible for me to function normally without the internet in today's world.

When you hammer your finger instead of a nail, you don't blame the tool; you blame the operator. It would be a serious handicap to someone if, because of their crime, they weren't allowed to touch tools of any kind.

If New Jersey is really willing to handicap sex offenders so much... why let them out of jail at all?

"Let the punishment fit the crime." Lawmakers, the Parole Board, and community members need to be careful about punishing crimes in a big way. Let's hope they can step back from the hype surrounding sex offenders and give them a fair chance at normalcy.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Beacon may violate 1988 privacy law

According to this story by Computerworld, the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 bans rental companies from releasing personal records of movie rentals unless a customer gives them permission to do so in writing. It may mean Facebook's privacy harangle with Beacon is solved by the opt-out they added. In fact, it likely means the opt-out they've already installed becomes legally necessary.

A blogger broke this story first. It seems Blockbuster has for sure violated the law via Beacon, but the question remains whether or not Facebook can also be held liable.

Given that Facebook is not a movie rental company - only the format via which the information was published - I'd guess the law doesn't apply to them. The law does not ban publishing movie rental information... it only bans rental places from releasing such information.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Facebook privacy debacle is repeat headline

I'd like to say the news that has been heavily splashed everywhere about Facebook's most recent privacy-invading application is... well... news.

But it's just a repeat headline for the social networking site to invade user privacy via a new feature and then to back peddle a little after public outcry.

The News Feed was an application introduced in 2006, a few days before the site was opened to the public. It was supposed to conveniently share your information in bite-sized headlines to your friends, such as "Lacey Waymire and Dan Brown are no longer friends" and "Lacey posted more pictures." (It's just an example: Dan and I are still friends.) Trouble was, the feed would record and broadcast every move a user made on Facebook, and there was no way to turn it off.

The backlash then was immediate. More than 500,000 signatures protesting its use were collected on petitions within the first three days after the news feed was introduced. Today, the news feed has changeable options that let each user control how much information, if any, they want to share with their friends... the option is the product of two days of "nonstop coding," according to the developers who had to develop an emergency response to such a huge backlash.

Still, apparently, Facebook didn't learn... and it backed itself into nearly the same corner as before.

Beacon, an application that worked with partner sites such as to publish news about who was buying what product, was introduced last month. It was designed as a sort of automated word-of-mouth advertising form. One man bought a diamond ring - a Christmas gift for his wife. She saw the news feed on her Facebook and the surprise was ruined. Many others were alarmed to see their purchasing habits posted across their friend's pages.

What I can't understand is this. Given their previous trouble with meddlesome applications that invade privacy, why didn't Facebook build in an opt-out option to this new application? It seems that Facebook, after its '06 debacle with privacy regarding the news feed, should be bending over backwards to fix its reputation.

Unfortunately, the privacy policy clearly specifies Facebook can share information about customers with affiliated companies connected to the applications you install. And Facebook is reluctant to give over privacy control to its customers when there is so much money to be made from connecting consumer to advertiser.

I guess they've got to pay the bills somehow.

Money seems a bad reason to stop listening to customer concerns about privacy again.

They say the third time is the charm. How next will the site try to capitalize on connections to friends?