Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Wall Street Journal

Brett and I got a free subscription to the Wall Street Journal through some sort of frequent-flyer thing. She really wanted to get a newspaper so she could keep up with the...uh...news. The thing is, we're really New York Times people when you get right down to it. We don't have enough money to really be interested in most of what the Journal writes about.

The other thing is that I really like reading opinion pages. Mostly, the Times opinion pages (most of which I can't read for free on the web anymore.) So...here, on day 4 of our subscription, I got too mad not to write a letter to the editor.

This is in response to a vehemently pro-Bush, pro-war piece by George Melloan called, "Yes, Virginia, the U.S. has a War Strategy," in the Global View column.

The text of my letter:
George Melloan's take on the Bush doctrine and the administration's recent retread of its policies seemed forced and shrill to me. I believe that all of us understand the "Bush doctrine," and, for a long time, a great many of us supported it. The problem with Iraq is that it never truly fit into the doctrine; Iraq, one of the most secular states in the Middle East, was never home to as many jihadists as Lebanon or the Palestinian settlements. Saddam Hussein himself was indeed a sponsor of terrorism, but almost exclusively against Israel, which was, until Iraq's destabilization at our nation's hands, the nexus of terrorism attacks in the Middle East.

To see matters most clearly, compare the campaign in Iraq with that in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, American and NATO forces intervened against a regime which had been criticized repeatedly by nations around the world, even Islamic states, and which had a direct connection to terrorism. Despite the problems inherent to regime change, the world (and the citizens of Afghanistan) are better off because of that invasion.

I believe that more and more people are finding it hard to make a similar statement about Iraq. The invasion has destroyed the world-unifying momentum created by September 11th, eroded our nation's moral authority, and worst of all, inflicted terrible costs on the people of the Iraqi nation.

But how does this affect our strategy for rebuilding Iraq? In a sense, not at all. But at the same time, how can Iraqis forget the horrible casualties of the "shock and awe" campaign, experiences of midnight raids against innocent citizens because of bad intelligence, and the images of Americans playing cruel games with prisoners in Abu Ghraib?

The Wall Street Journal's opinion pages should take into account that, at least in the case of Iraq, the administration's thinking may be so deeply flawed that whatever strategy they promote cannot provide a solution.

Ethan Hartman
Napa, CA

I think when you get down to it, there are two basic problems with Iraq. First off, George II should have picked a different country from George I, even if they did try to kill his dad. Secondly, the idea of invading another nation to stop terrorism is really a stretch, I think. In addition to the moral issues about removing another country's right to self-determination, it's hard to argue that it's effective. 9/11 was done by like 20 guys, mostly Saudi. We're not invading them. The British subway bombings were done by Brits. I forget who did the Madrid train attacks, but I can remember one thing about them: not Iraqi. What's more, none of these were the army or defense forces of any country.

Terrorists are criminals: they are individuals who participate in a spectacular category of crime, and should be treated as such. They should be apprehended by criminal authorities, and tried with all the rights due to the accused. Sometimes there may be sensitive information in these cases, and only then should the record be closed.

Another thing: in The Front, the 1976 movie about the 1950's blacklists starring Woody Allen, there's a line from the investigator that I couldn't help but notice:
We're in a war, Mr. Brown.
Against a ruthless and tricky enemy
who will stop at nothing...
...to destroy our way of life.
This is, more or less, Bush's line about the terrorists, and if the McCarthyists used the same one, it must be pretty facile. It got me thinking, though -- what if it isn't our way of life that they hate, but when our country takes ill-considered and arrogant actions like, say, invading their country?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

I return triumphant.

I must apologize to my faithful readers for my long absence. I have had a busy crush-time this year: soon after my last update, production started going full-steam, and I had very little time for anything but work. Things have cooled off now, however, and now the long off-season begins.

I have been thinking about the usual things: politics, espresso makers, etc. The big news around here is that I used some of my harvest money to invest in a new computer: Brett desperately needed something faster and with more storage for her digital photos, and I was happy to put the whirring beast out of commission. So I did some research and came up with this setup:

Asus A8N-E motherboard, based on the nForce4 chipset.

AMD Athlon X2 4200 (2.2 ghz, 1mb level 2 cache).

2 GB Corsair Ram.

2 250mb Seagate hard drives, striped

MSI nVidia 6600gt video card.

It can pretty much do anything: the dual-core processor is mainly for multi-tasking, media-production stuff, but, yeah, the gaming is a big step up. I got to play the Doom3 demo like I'd wanted for awhile(although neverball might be my new favorite game.)

The other exciting thing about all this is that I think I'm going to install Linux on it. It's been quite some time since I had a linux install on a machine of mine. In fact, I think it's been since 2003 when I left my sysadmin job. I want to do it for the sound programs, especially ardour, the fine, full-featured DAW software that has been steadily progressing.

What else, dear reader? Well...last night I did a reading of my piece published in the last Pearl Necklace 'Zine and I must say it went pretty well -- I even kinda enjoyed it. I think that the last time I did anything like that was also in 2003 or even 2002, playing open mic's with Josh Levine. Maybe this time more will come of it.

Anyway I must leave you now so I can play video games while Brett is at work.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Crush is On

Hello dear readers. As you may know, I am currently employed in the practice of turning grapes into wine. As you may also know, grapes are a natural product, harvestable only once in a 365-day period, usually sometime between mid-August and the end of October.

That's right, it's that time. Over at the 'wood, we've been crushing grapes since the beginning of the month, and as of yesterday, we've got about a quarter of our total crop in the door. When we've got everything in, that's just the beginning for us in the lab: after that, we monitor all the fermentations until they go dry of sugar, then monitor malolactic fermentation in most lots. Then we get to work on "stuck" fermentations -- the ones where the yeast culture dies before consuming all the sugar, maybe because of high starting sugar which leads to high alcohol. Maybe because of something else. Whatever the case, zinfandel, the great grape of California (that's right, not Cab. Sauv, you Parkerites) is particularly at risk for stuck fermentations. It can have very high sugars (so far, not terribly many this cool year, though) but probably it's some other factor we haven't isolated yet.

Next point: run, do not walk, to your car; start driving north, to a spot outside the town of Sonoma, this sunday before 2pm. I'm talking about the brunch at Folini & Eichenbaum. It's incredible -- went last Sunday and stuffed myself on the wonderful selection of cheeses, meats (they make this spiral-cut baked ham that's incredible) eggs, (a sort of savory custard called strada is a standout, as are the made-to-order benedicts) salads, bagels and lox...mmmm...and don't get me started on the desserts. Cheesecake, carrot cake, truffles. The amazing thing is that everything is such a high caliber -- it was the best brunch, quality-wise, since I had the smorgasbord at Aquavit in New York several years ago. The quiches and eggs are incedibly delicate in texture, the meat intensely flavorful, the salads well-balanced. If you can't make it for Sunday brunch, then swing by for your lunch next time you're wine touring in Sonoma. Folini and Eichenbaum is on Arnold drive at Grove St, so go straight at the 76 Station with the flashing red light instead of turning right to follow the Carneros highway.

What else? I just tried to take a picture of the new place for this post, but it came out looking a bit more squalid than things actually are. Maybe later today I'll try again.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Flood, disaster, and death, closer to home than ever

I find myself tearing up again and again as I read accounts of this nation’s latest disaster. Although the dead from other recent tragedies probably still outnumber Katrina’s victims, somehow I find this more pitiable.

Last winter’s tsunami dwarfs this humanitarian disaster in terms of death toll, as does the war in Iraq, which also produced lawlessness and disorder on an even greater scale. (Keep in mind that when I speak of the death toll in Iraq, I also think of the Iraqi dead, numbered at around 25,000) Even the September 11 attacks probably killed more people.

I was in New York that day, however, and I did the same thing that most people in the city did: I walked back to my apartment, far away (in NYC terms) from ground zero. Then I went out to Mexican and drank a few beers with my friends, while we talked about politics and world war. Yes, there was terror and confusion that morning, and many telephone circuits were still down. However, we still had electricity, clean water, and the rule of law.

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have been trapped in New Orleans. While this disaster raged, I made a flight across the country and went to work. I drank clean water, made gourmet dinners with local craft-made wine, fixed myself lattes in the morning. Not once did I have to worry about my survival, (except on the plane, for a minute, but that’s my own issue) my belongings, or the well-being of my loved ones. Nor have I ever had to worry about these things. For about three hours on the morning of September 11, 2001, I had the facade of civilization stripped away from my daily life. Other than that, like many people from the U.S. of my generation, I have never really wanted for anything, and enjoyed whatever luxury I desired, which is perhaps why this is so unimaginable.

It’s hard to believe the number of people left unevacuated in New Orleans, a city which for years has been in danger of flood. Was it because so many National Guards troops are deployed in Iraq? Perhaps; my guess, however, is that the disaster was simply unimaginable to most of the decision-makers. There has not been a hurricane disaster on this scale in my lifetime; nor in President Bush’s, or most of his generation. For most of our lifetimes, the hurricane cycle has been in a lull. I imagine that the young President’s experience of hurricanes was much like mine: make sure there’s some food and water in the house, don’t go out during the storm. Maybe the power or the cable goes out for awhile. Thus, if a few people are left behind in the city, it’s probably not a big deal; they’ll save themselves some gas money.

Of course, this isn’t what happened; the city flooded: thousands are dead. The experts who for years have been warning us of the dangers were ignored, just as they were before 9/11. Amazingly, the president has, sort of, apologized, saying his efforts were "unacceptable."
And yet, it would be nice to hear the words, "I’m sorry." I’ve personally been waiting for him to say that for four years now. Is it really so hard?

In California, life continues. We got our first grapes at Ravenswood August 30th, fairly late. By next week we’ll be in full swing. Brett and I moved at the beginning of that month, to a new location; since then I’ve developed an obsession with buying hand-knotted Persian rugs on Ebay. I bought the cat a collar and she managed to rid herself of it in five days; don’t get me started on how hard it was to get her into her carrier for the move. Once she got here, however, she seemed to like it. So do Brett and I.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The entertainer

News: I found a house.

News 2: My friends are here. I have no time to write this blog for you. Come back later and I swear I'll have pictures.

I have to link to rich's blog.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

They call me the hunter

The house-hunter, that is.

Brett and I are looking for a new place to call home. Our third party has taken a job in San Francisco, and no longer desires to live in Napa. Rather than allowing us to replace her, our land-lady would prefer that we leave her lovely little home to her and fuck off.

What's more, Brett has gone on vacation to New York. So, today, I braved the 90+ afternoon sun and met with "Mike" at 970 Harley St in Sonoma. Yes, it's right behind the plaza (oh, sorry, don't speak Californian? That means "strip mall") with the chinese restaurant. The houses on the street are probably about 15-20 feet apart. The front yard of 970 Harley eschews grass in favor of red stones; the backyard has several plants, but is quite decidedly dust-based. Washer and Dryer hook-ups, no washer and dryer. 2 bedrooms, one bath; wall-to-wall carpet, linoleum. All for a mere $1200.

I am getting a bit annoyed. We saw an amazing place in downtown Vallejo, a forgotten urban center, killed off years ago by the malls; these days, it has a few bars, a couple chinese restaurants, and some junk stores. And probably the most beautiful apartments I've ever seen. Light, airy places with original hardwood floors, impeccably resurfaced; custom cabinetry up to the 12' ceilings; new GE Profile appliances. Too bad the neighborhood is basically unlivable.

Still, I may get lucky yet. This weekend, I'll see another few places, including some sweet-ass apartment complexes. Can't wait!

I'm going to leave you with a picture of a jello mold I made for our 50's party. I hope you like it. It contains mayonnaise.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The devil's in the details.

Let’s get one thing clear right away: the new White Stripes album, Get Behind me Satan, is great. So much for my review.

I just listened to the NPR interview with Jack and Meg, which is kinda cool. I mean, Meg sits there quietly for pretty much the entire thing, and Jack talks about how he worked as an upholsterer in Detroit and played mandolin on the Cold Mountain sountrack. Another interesting point is that he married Karen Elson, a red-headed supermodel who certainly seems a good companion for a rock star.

I don't know what else I can say about the album. I read the New Yorker's review; it was interesting, although I have to disagree strongly with one of the major points. The reviewer, Sasha Frere-Jones, takes issue with some strange things -- the record's sound, the lack of Christina Aguilera singing a bumpin' chorus on Blue Orchid -- her main point of contention is that Meg is a "lousy drummer and only a passable singer," and that she's holding Jack back.

First of all, she's got it the other way aroung -- Meg is a lousy singer and only a passable drummer. But more to the point, she's the right drummer for the band. Frere-Jones imagines Jack and Cindy Blackman (sometimes of Lenny Kravitz) playing on a perfectly-recorded Zeppelin-esque record. Although I don't disagree that Blackman is a better drummer, and that a project like that could be totally terrific, the rough edges are one of the most important ingredients of the White Stripes. Even with Meg as drummer, Jack could have made polished-sounding drum tracks, but he didn't -- and the albums are the more vital and soulful for it. In the NPR interview, Jack talks about his distaste for modern studios, arguing with engineers about computer automation and such. It's hard to disagree with him. I'm not saying there isn't an art to perfectly massaged confections like Lindsay Lohan's eighties retro power-pop tunes, or Britney, or Rob Thomas' stuff; it's just that for some things, you want some grit. You want to hear some fuckups, some off notes or beats -- you want to hear the artist working. That's what you get with Jack and Meg in a room with some ribbon mics.

That and some just great songs. I just can't get enough of My Doorbell, and Take, Take, Take actually makes me mad because the fact that the narrator is so despicable makes me resist the urge to sing along. The two country-style tunes, Little Ghost and I'm Lonely (But I ain't that Lonely Yet) are both brain-stickers too.

There's something else new about this album -- the lyrics are not printed in the liner notes. The reason, in typical Jack White fashion, is that they're better than on the previous records, and he wants us to listen to them. He's worked up some lyrical themes that run throughout the record -- the orchid, the nurse, Rita Hayworth, the birds and the bees, just doin' it -- and maybe, just maybe, Jack actually knows what he's talkin' about. Also, as he mentions in the interview, the songs really all have their own character. These days it seems that albums are getting more homogeneous internally: the fill is supposed to sound like the hit, so you don't offend people who like the single. Good business sense, I suppose, but it makes for boring albums. No one makes a more diverse or entertaining album than Jack & Meg do.

So I dunno, rush out and buy it, or do whatever you do to get your music. If you don't like it the first time, play it again -- it gets better, like a fine wine.

Like my cheeseball ending? Anyway next post, I'm going to put up some pictures of the food we made for our fifties party.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Drastic measures.

I'm afraid that a few days ago, while I was at work, I made a fairly lengthy post on the future of this blog. I mentioned plans for the future, that I was going to try working on longer pieces, based on the New Yorker's "Personal History" section. Anyway, my text disappeared, and I was upset.

I'm going to re-do this and I'm also going to write a small review of the new White Stripes album. They fixed up a picture solution which is integrated, and I'm going to try that out too.


Monday, June 20, 2005

My blog sucks.

I haven't posted in awhile, which is probably fine, because no one reads it. But man! I have done a lot since then. I bought a guitar and a mandolin. That's right, I'm going to teach myself mando.

But I just have to get some pictures up on this thing so there's a point to all of it...I'm sorry people.

Peace out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Sick and tired

I got sick. Nothing bad, just a cold, but it really knocked me out. Long time since I had a cold that bad. Anyway enough whining. I just want to throw a shoutout to the girls at pearl necklace. Last Friday they had a cool party in Vallejo for the release of their new issue "moms and music." They had some killer bands: Bad Kissers, who were really good, poppy stuff; and a few to break, who were just amazing musicians, Th'Losin' Streaks who had a cool vibe. I missed Amber Estrada, I'm sorry to say.

Also I was kinda beat since I'd been sick and had a busy day at work...plus they all made me kinda wish I was rockin' out more. Not kinda...they definitely made me wish that. And to think that my brother gets to rock out at home with Keith Polasko aka futureman and others at his birthday party this weekend.

Also it's Brett's birthday this weekend.

Um...listen, I still think about Star Wars, but I'm trying not to, unless you want to help me get a California Ballot Initiative going to repeal the prequels and make less sucky ones. Yeah.

Friday, May 20, 2005

It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

That said, Episode III totally sucked less ass than the earlier prequels. It's sort of like George Lucas woke up and realized that he'd left a whole lot of work undone and tried to cram everything that should have been in the prequels into one movie. I mean there's still a lot of bad; there are new, extraneous characters, like "General Grievous," a robot general that coughs and uses lightsabers. There's a whole lot of terrible dialogue, especially in the wooden romance between Anakin and Padme...

But maybe it's not the movie itself that bothers me, but what it represents...the original movies were much more human films, with characters that had meaningful interaction. The prequels feel much more like an elaborate video game, or a series of feature-length advertisements for the franchise. Why is it that we never learned where the Jedi came from, or a real history of the Sith? Why is it that in the prequels, the Jedi are little more than spectacular martial artists. Where is the wisdom of Yoda? Maybe there was a reason why we never saw Yoda with a lightsaber in the original series: because he sought other ways to influence conflicts, that did not involve the use of outright force.

The original series made me want to believe in this world, where anybody could be transformed from a yahoo tuning his speeder on a backwater planet into someone with a grand purpose. The original movies were scary; we cared about these characters. And what happened to them felt important. Somehow, that's lacking in the prequels -- the bluescreened shots and obvious CG makes the whole thing seem fake, and no matter how horrible Vader's acts, it seems somehow facile and, ultimately meaningless. The fact that the plot makes no sense and there are what seem to be obvious contradictions puts the nail in it for me. No matter how it struts and frets during its hours on stage, it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

And it seems to have drained dry the joy that Star Wars once gave me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Why does it always rain on me?

I've got tickets to see the Red Sox and Athletics play tomorrow, May 18th, at 12:35 pm. The way I had imagined it, I would sit with my gal Brett and a couple friends, taking in the California sun and watching my favorite sports team in the world, the World Champion Boston Red Sox, play the local boys.

It's going to rain. As I just said to our roommate, I did not move to California for this shit. My boss assured me that by May, there would be no more rain -- I think that I've destabilized the weather pattern.

Sorry, Californians.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Star Crossed

I just started in on the prequels. The Star Wars prequels. Then, internet explorer crashed.

So I'm going to lay this out in bullet points.

1) The prequels have no coherent narrative. Episode One was rambling enough, but Ep. 2 lost the narratives from Ep. 1 completely. Elected Queen? Wtf.

2) The prequels don't make sense in the Star Wars universe. One Jedi was enough to tip the scales against the Empire in Return of the Jedi, but a bunch of robots thrown together by a "trade consortium" mowed down half of the entire Jedi population in Ep. 2? Did you check out their strategy? GET IN THE CENTER OF THE RING AND LET EVERYBODY SHOOT AT US????? Are Jedi just dumber than droids, is that it?

3) The prequels are little more than a vehicle for CG effects and design objects; the story doesn't matter, unfortunately, as long as there are shiny spaceships and lightsaber battles. And "pod races."

I, like many people, was totally into the idea of the prequels, having grown up on Star Wars. I was ecstatic in the theatre as the film began, and that continued until about the end of the first scene, when Obi-Wan, confronted with two droids said, "uh, I can't handle this." It all went downhill from there.

If I were George Lucas, I would do this, right now: Stop Distribution of Ep. 3. You're not fooling anybody, George; these prequels are not going to cut it. Make three new ones and we'll all go see them again, as long as they don't suck. And I'm going to tell you how to do it. (Once again, with bullet points.)

1) The prequels should be the story of Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Palpatine.

2) The first film should begin at the end of Anakin's apprenticeship with Obi-Wan. No mitochondrians, no messianic bullcrap or kiddie actors. The story that needs to be told is about choosing the quick and easy way to power -- and it's a story that needs to be told now.

3) The first film should give a history of the Jedi, and a history of the Sith, and should focus on two settings: Coruscant and Dagobah, with some deep-space travel in between. Here's a quick synopsis:
a) Anakin becomes a full-fledged Jedi; we get some pomp, circumstance and history. Jedi respect life above all else, and serve to protect the Republic's peace. It is a golden age, and a Jedi seldom needs to lay a hand on his saber. The heaviest decision a Jedi can make to take a life. They are more monks than policeman.
b) There is a disturbance: Darth Maul shows up, shattering the peaceful image of Coruscant. Kills somebody important or something. This necessitates a history of the Sith, and a space pursuit to Dagobah.
c) Obi-Wan and Anakin follow Darth Maul to Dagobah, where they discover evidence that Maul has been training for some time. They fight and Maul actually has some dialog -- he tells Obi-Wan and Anakin of the Dark Side's power. Anakin pursues him and finally strikes him down -- in the same place Luke killed his doppelganger in The Empire Strikes Back.
d) The romance should also be in this one. Most Jedi are probably ascetics, but many of them find love and have children -- Anakin should be married at the end of the film.

That's my $.02 anyway. Or, really, if you count up all the money I've spent on movies, books, video games, and merchandise, my, I dunno, hundred bucks?

Oh -- and the clone wars. They weren't cloning storm troopers -- they were impressing people into the army to get them. They were cloning Jedi, who of course can be fought off only by other Jedi, and since the cloned Jedi look like the good ones, Palpatine creates the stormtrooper army to hunt them all down. You get me? Bad Jedi show up, good ones fight them, Palpatine convinces the people that they're all bad, and recruits stream into the army. Palpatine declares martial law, which he never gives up. That's my episode two. Oh yeah -- Anakin is watching Palpatine in Ep. 2. The film ends as he finally realizes that Palpatine is the Sith Lord who trained Darth Maul, and Anakin takes up his light saber, fueled by the anger he feels. This is where he goes on his killing rampage, mowing down Palpatine's guards with no regard for their lives. As he does so, he is consumed by the power of the dark side. Anakin and Palpatine have a no-holds-barred, balls-out battle, which Anakin, at great length wins -- only by embracing the power of the Dark Side. Anakin spares Palpatine, who calls Anakin his "apprentice." The credits roll, with John William's triumphant music changed to a moodier minor.

Ep. Three is tough, but it has to show a bit of redemption. Yoda and Obi-Wan need to escape, as well as Leia and Luke. Mrs. Anakin needs to give up her life to save them. C3PO and R2D2 should probably be involved in saving them, and should be introduced here. Obi-Wan and Anakin/Darth need to have a showdown, which ends with Obi-Wan having the upper hand. The Star Destroyers, but not the Death Star, need to be introduced, and shown as the fascistic planet-dominating tools they are.

So there it is. If you want another $30 of my and everybody else's cash, make them like this or better, George. Enough with this kiddie crap -- in order to be effective sci-fi, they have to be darker than the original movies. Otherwise, the prequels will be swept aside by history and go into the pile with the animated Star Wars series and the Ewok Adventure, (which if memory serves, was better than either Ep. 1 or 2). In today's world, where there is good movie sci-fi, people can tell the difference.

Ethan in Wine Country

p.s. now that that's off my chest, I'll probaby talk more about food, wine and outdoorsy stuff and how much I miss New York.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Welcome to whine country.

What you heard is true. I live in California wine country suckin' up the sun, crushing grapes with my feet I Love Lucy style and generally living well in this idyllic, tiny, boring town.

There's a saying at this bar in Sonoma -- welcome to wine country, have a beer. That pretty much sums it up. Understand?

Well anyway, I'm going to mess with this blogger thing. I've got some plans to whine about the upcoming star wars film, in general how the town of Napa is way lamer than New York City, and how the lack of rain and sunshine just drives me nuts. (Actually I haven't been in California long enough for that to be true -- I hear it takes a couple of years.)

But for now, I have to go to Home Depot in the suburban sprawl strip mall and get some mulch and high-nitrogen fertilizer, then plant my tomatoes while there's still time.