Here I am
Me
sbrenneis
Just thought I'd stop by and say hi.

Let's see. The economy still sucks, and politicians still think they can fix it. If they can figure out how to get that trillion dollars in bailouts back from the investment bankers and re-insert it into the private sector, they might just have something.

The republicrats are fronting their usual gaggle of dimwits and chuckle-heads. The news media is pretending that this election really is different from all the rest and that it actually matters. The two factions of the party are still pointing fingers at one another. I think they have started sticking out their tongues too. They assert that either keeping or repealing Obama care, depending on what color shirt they are wearing, will ruin the country. Looks like we're doomed either way we go.

The red shirt guys are keeping the tradition of their team's scandalous subject matter alive. They always seem to get caught in sex scandals, while the blue teams guys are always getting nabbed with their hands in the cookie jar. Entire freight trains full of irony in that, by the way. It seems that Mr. Cain, one of the red shirt dimwits, can't seem to keep his junk in his pants. The real question in all of this is, of course, who cares?

Anyway, it's like Kurt Vonnegut used to say: "And so it goes..."

Ok, I have to comment too.
Me
sbrenneis
It is inaccurate to say that the troops are fighting for our freedom. While I'm sure the list of those who want to deprive us of freedom is long, those who could actually accomplish it is infinitesimally small. In other words, for them to fight for our freedom, there would need to be a realistic threat.

The men and women humping it through the desert with a rifle aren't fighting for anything so abstract. They're fighting to prevent the murder of more of their friends and family. Simple as that.

It doesn't fit in a nice platitude that politicians and teevee talking heads can spoon feed a mindless public, but, in my opinion, it is a far more noble cause.

Curly
Me
sbrenneis
 When I grow my beard out, it looks ok for about two weeks. I have some bare patches, maybe I should try Rogaine. Once it starts to get long, it gets into tight little curls. It looks like pubic hair. The little curls accentuate the bare spots.

I wonder if there is a relaxer for white people's beard hair.

Random Observations
Me
sbrenneis
Spokespeople for cops are idiots. Cops themselves are no different than the civilian populace with respect to intelligence, but the people who speak for them are pinheads. Reference the case of the CEO of Medicis' girlfriend. Police say they responded to a 911 call and "she appeared to be in distress." She was pronounced dead "after a short time." The spokesperson said, "The condition of the victim and the scene showed suspicious circumstances." They also stated that they "had not ruled out suicide as a cause." The woman was found hanging naked from the balcony of her boyfriend's mansion with her hands and feet bound. If you arrived and found her like that, I think you would probably say that her distress was certainly beyond appearances. As for suspicious circumstances, ya think? Thanks, Captain Obvious. But the kicker is the potential suicide. With her hands and feet bound? Come on, you bunch of drooling retards. WTF?!

I passed a couple of guys who were installing a plastic culvert in front of a house. One of them had scraped the turf off the area with the bucket of his tractor's front-end loader. The other was digging the trench with a shovel. I passed by later and the culvert had been buried at about 3/4 of it's diameter and about three inches of dirt covered it. The whole thing made a hump in the proposed driveway. After a few passes of a car over that, someone's life is going to suck. A lot.

Obsession
Me
sbrenneis



I'm obsessed.

I'm obsessed with a woman.

I'm obsessed with a woman who doesn't exist. Or does she?

I had a dream this morning. I woke up at 7 am because I had to pee. Afterward I got back in bed and fell asleep.

I had a dream.

In the dream, I was some kind of technician. Apart from that, though, I had to take some kind of test. It seems like it was something similar to the SAT. The first part of the test was some kind of word association thing and some king of writing thing. I did very well.

Then she was in the dream.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to her. She was the proctor for the test. Or maybe she was some kind of teacher. I started the second part of the test and I got to the middle of it and was called away. I don't remember how, but I had to go fix some kind of device. I don't remember what it was, but it involved using a voltmeter. It was a box, about waist high. After I fixed it, I was chatting with another technician when I remembered the test. I ran back to the room, and I noticed that time was almost up. I sat down to finish the test, thinking I could do it in the amount of time left. I looked at the test and the questions made no sense. Then time ran out. I had answered less than half the questions.
 
She came to collect my test sheet and I knew that she knew I hadn't done well. She didn't look angry or impatient. She looked sad and disappointed.
 
Everyone had left the classroom and so I followed. We all went down several flights of stairs and arrived at a balcony overlooking what seemed to be a playing field. We all lined up along the rail of the balcony. The school choir was going to sing. I saw her coming down the aisle toward me, but the choir started singing and I turned away.The choir was marvelous. We all applauded them. The choir director had come up to the balcony and we were clapping for him.
 
I noticed she was standing next to me. On my left.
 
Then the choir director said he had something special for us. He introduced three men who were famous choir trainers. The men jumped over the balcony railing and began running around, doing acrobatics. One of the men started break dancing on his head. Another on had one of the choir members in a head lock between his ankles. The choir scattered in all directions.
 
She started walking down the stairs, out of the balcony. I felt I needed to follow her.
 
One of the choir members accosted me. It was one of my co-workers in real life, Max Polk. He started to chit chat with me and I was trying to get away without being rude.
 
She had crossed the hall and was headed indoors.
 
I really needed to follow her. Max had grabbed my arm and was telling me something he felt was very important. I shook him off and went after her.
 
I didn't run, I walked. She was walking slowly ahead of me.
 
Then we were in a kitchen. She was cleaning up. Washing dishes. The dishes were done, and everyone else left.
 
We were alone.
 
She told me that she was very disappointed that I didn't do better on the test.
 
Then we were sitting on a bench. I mumbled something about having to fix something, and she said that my test score meant that I couldn't advance. To what, I don't know. I asked if I could take the test again. She said no, but don't worry, sometimes things that you want just slip away.
 
Then we were sitting on a couch. I had my arms around her. She didn't mind. She showed me her thumb. She said it was dead.
 
She started to cry.
 
She said she had wanted to be a concert pianist. She said it was all gone now. Something had happened to her thumb and now it was dead. She said a concert pianist couldn't have a dead thumb.
 
She lay back on the couch and I was facing her. She said no, I shouldn't do this. Then she just lay back and threw her arms aside, inviting me. I could tell she wanted me to kiss her, yet she knew it was a mistake. I started to kiss her.
 
I woke up.

Even now, I can remember her face. The dream is beginning to fade, she is beginning to fade. I would know her anywhere. She was beautiful. Ethereal.
 
So now I am obsessed. Obsessed with the idea that she is real, and somewhere out there. Maybe she's waiting for me to find her. Maybe she isn't. Maybe she's just getting on with her life, knowing nothing at all of my dream.
 
Then again...
 

Not even close
Me
sbrenneis
I watched Peter Jackson's abomination, also known as The Fellowship of the Ring, on Netflix Instant the other day. To be honest, Jackson is one of my favorite directors, and just as a piece of cinema, his version of Tolkien's trilogy is magnificent. What has me seriously pissed off at him (and his screenwriter) are the numerous departures from the story, as well as the major omissions. This is now especially irksome since HBO's Game of Thrones is following George R.R. Martin's novel of the same name nearly verbatim. That could be because Martin is one of the screenwriters, but Hollywood has ever been tough on novelists who write scripts.

But that's not what the title of this post is about. As I always do, being reminded of Tolkien's works, I end up reading them once again. I've read The Lord of the Rings trilogy at least a dozen times, probably more. I've read The Silmarillion half a dozen times (it being the most dense of all Tolkien's works). I've only read The Hobbit twice, but I intend to read it again this time through. I've just started The Silmarillion on my Kindle.

The trilogy was originally published in 1955, but it wasn't "discovered" until the late 1960s when tastes in escapist literature progressed from space operas to a taste for high fantasy. This was probably due to the larger number of kids between 18 and 22 taking on the arts as fields of college study. On a side note, don't even bother with the Wikipedia entry on the trilogy. Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien's son, executor of his estate, and literary successor, is not even mentioned. The entry is fraught with errors and omissions. If you are interested in the genesis of the writings, read Christopher Tolkien's many forwards to The Silmarillion and The Lost Tales. As well, J.R.R. Tolkien himself wrote much on how the stories evolved.

Tolkien's newfound wave of popularity was cut short when he died in 1973. He left a mountain of unpublished works. After his death, a cadre of Tolkien pretenders crawled out of the woodwork. Dozens of new fantasy writers appeared. Existing writers of escapist literature switched styles. Most of it was just awful (offal?). It was like listening to Brad Pitt trying to do an Irish accent. The writer immediately hailed as Tolkien's real successor was Terry Goodkind. Not even close. Goodkind is categorized as an author of "epic" fantasy. I think epic probably means really, really long books. His writing is passable, but it doesn't have anything even resembling the depth of Tolkien's works.

The latest in the waves of Tolkien contenders is George R. R. Martin. He is called, by some, the American Tolkien. You know, upon hearing that, it is time to run away fast. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire is genuinely enjoyable, taken on its own. It has a huge number of characters, though most are not particularly well developed. But again, not even close.

Consider this: Tolkien's popular fantastic writing was his life's work. He began creating Valinor, Middle Earth and the Sundering Sea in 1917. It was an experiment in linguistics and an attempt to create a purely English mythology. Though The Lord of the Rings was indeed written and published as a sequel to The Hobbit, the fundamental basis for its story line had existed for forty years. Tolkien had requested that The Simarillion be published at the same time as Lord of the Rings. However, his publisher was of the opinion that it should wait until the viability of the trilogy had demonstrated itself. This was probably a wise move as it took the trilogy about 10 years to get its legs, and very few Tolkien enthusiasts have ever even read The Silmarillion, published in 1976. The depth of the stories of Middle Earth are due to Tolkien's unceasing creation of a very deep and detailed mythology. He spent his entire life creating Middle Earth and polishing it to a fine shine. I know of no other fantasy writer who has spent the time and effort to underpin their work with the kind of detailed back story that Tolkien did.
 
And that makes all the difference.

Just say no
Me
sbrenneis
I started reading Fox News again. The mistake wasn't reading Fox News in particular. It was reading the news at all. I chose Fox because its attitude toward the political left is more obvious and it seems to of a loud finger-pointing variety. The other news services, CNN and ABC in particular, rely more on smarmy innuendo in their attitude toward the right. Both are very annoying, it's just that Fox is slightly less annoying.

Mark Twain was right. A journalist is someone who has failed at everything else and has taken it up rather than standing on a street corner with a cardboard sign.

Journalists are the worst, save computer people, for creating gibberish. They fill time and space with unnecessary words. Instead of now, they say, "at this time." I saw one report that said, "...the victims were found in that state they were in." Ok, Einstein, what other state would we expect to find them? The state someone else was in? Or did you mean they were found in Vermont?

Journalists try to hide their intellectual deficiencies by creating their own saints. Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and others. Murrow became famous for his wartime broadcasts from Europe during the 1940s and then later, for his criticism of the House Unamerican Activities panel led by Joseph McCarthy. Murrow's war broadcasts were really no better than most, from the perspective of presenting information, but he presented them in a VERY DRAMATIC VOICE. Murrow was an entertainer. His See It Now, series, from which he criticized McCarthyism was the precursor of 60 Minutes. Ironically, Murrow is now hailed as an icon of unbiased journalism. Cronkite is much the same. His rise to fame began with his choked reporting of the assassination of John Kennedy. From there, he rose to be "The most trusted man in America." Americans are notorious for their gullibility, so this really amount to damning with faint praise. Cronkite was a unapologetically far left. Not only did that creep into his reporting of the news, his off-the-air opinions were never any secret. In fact, Cronkite owns much of the responsibility for normalization of biased reporting under the guise of fairness.

Come to think of it, there is really nothing to be gained by watching any of the regular news outlets.I think I'll go back to gleaning what interests me from the web.

More on the price of gas.
Me
sbrenneis
Petroleum product demand tends to be very price inelastic, to a point.

Petroleum companies know this (hello, Captain Obvious). They also know they need to keep the PED quotient close to unity, meaning the prices must creep up very slowly. They are also aware that consumers notice price increases more around the even dollar marks. That's why gas price increases slow to a trickle or even a halt when they approach the dollar multiples.

For many decades, the price of gas was steady or even falling when adjusted for inflation. In the 1930s, gas cost about ten cents per gallon. In the 1960s, gas cost about thirty five cents per gallon. Adjusted for 2011 dollars, that is actually an overall decline in price. During that time, the supply was outstripping the growth in demand, so the market price behaved in a predictable fashion.

The Arab oil embargo only lasted from October 1973 to March 1974, but it caused an increase of nearly 300% in crude oil prices. Part of this was an understandable reaction to a large decrease in supply. However, most of it was an emotional response. There was a panic demand increase. There were two lessons learned from the embargo. First, that we were no longer independent with respect to petroleum products, and second, gamblers, euphemistically called speculators, could potentially make a lot of money by manipulating petroleum prices in the short term.

Here is where the meat of the matter is, though. Gas prices in real dollars rarely fall any more. The effect of speculators driving up prices with oil futures is only short term. However, because of the relative price inelasticity, prices ratchet. The petroleum companies take advantage of this, but the real culprit is the consumer. It has been shown, time and time again, that even with speculation and price ratcheting, supply and demand still rule the petroleum market. When prices get too high, demand tends to fall off drastically and the prices fall accordingly.

So, let the politicians blame the oil companies and the oil companies blame the speculators, but the real cause of high gas prices is you, the consumer.

Ding dong the witch is dead
Me
sbrenneis
They killed Osama Bin Laden yesterday. Or so they say. According to the government, they executed a raid they had been planning for a long time, killed Bin Laden, and gave him a burial at sea. Oh yeah, they made sure to collect some DNA. You know, just in case someone was skeptical.

Orly. Srsly?

So, what makes this well-planned raid any better than the previous dozen or so well-planned raids that missed him? Oh wait, I know, different President. As if whichever guy whose plump behind occupies that plushy chair in the Oval Office makes the difference between a successful military operation and an unsuccessful one.

I'll give you, for the moment, that the military may have done a better job of finding America's favorite bogeyman this time, but burial at sea? WTF? The government claims that a) they couldn't find anyone to take the body, and b) Islamic tradition requires a quick burial. Again, seriously? That is a new low in weak shit floated by the government. They claim that friends and relatives identified the body. I guess these would be the friends and relatives they had handily standing by to perform this identification, you know, right before they tied a cinder block to his ankle and dumped his body in the drink.

As for the DNA, oh please! That would be pretty convincing if it wasn't for the fact that we still have to take the government's word for it. They subpoenaed DNA from Bin Laden's sister, who had died in a Boston Hospital. Oops, it turns out she was just a half sister. The result of a DNA test is just a probability. Paternity and maternity tests always return a probability of 99.99% or higher. Tests between half-siblings aren't quite so accurate. In fact, most DNA labs don't advertise the accuracy of such tests.

But let's not go too far down the conspiracy theory rat hole.

I think Bin Laden has been dead for years. Back in 2001 all the experts and intelligence sources reported that he was diabetic and on kidney dialysis. The Bush Administration allowed as how that "could be an issue" for someone living in a cave in the Afghan desert. Ya think? As well, the man was an acknowledged egomaniac. Before 2001, he was everywhere claiming credit for everything. After that, he was conspicuously quiet. Occam's razor says he went to terrorist hell in December of 2001.

So where am I going with this? I'm glad you asked.

Every political entity needs a bogeyman. Orwell knew it. So did Voltaire. A bogeyman makes the small folk come begging for protection. They demand that their government do something. This makes power flow to the political entities. Politicians feed on power like vampires feed on blood. Bin Laden, as a bogeyman, had legs. He had taken on a life of his own in the minds of Americans. It didn't matter whether he was really alive or dead. He was a symbol of pure evil. Given that, why would the Obama Administration give up this perfectly good bogeyman? After all, Oceania was able to keep Eurasia around for decades. But that was fiction and exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis. In the real world, people get tired of the same bogeyman, especially those who are as toothless as Bin Laden has been for the last ten years.

The amorphous terror, with which we have been at war for a decade, is a guerrilla war and not easy for Joe Sixpack to grip. It needs a face, and Bin Laden has been that face. But people are beginning to notice. The face has been absent for a while, and our lives are still being heavily inconvenienced. TSA perverts are looking at our naked daughters as they pass through the scanners at the airport. Homeland Security unashamedly performs completely unconstitutional surveillance on us. Our military is off in some African desert fighting and dying while we're being invaded from Mexico. The WAR ON TERROR just isn't as exciting as it once was.

Now add in the fact that Mr. Obama's popularity has been flagging of late. He took a serious beating last month when he advocated raising the debt ceiling, something he portrayed as a failure of government when the Bush Administration did it. His bright and shiny campaign promises about fixing the economy have gone seriously awry. The recession continues unabated, unemployment continues to rise, real wages continue to fall, and more people find themselves under water with their mortgages every day. He has done nothing about the civil rights abuses of the Bush Administration. In fact, he has happily participated in them since he took office. He has to have noticed what happened to George Bush's ratings after 9/11.

Giving up one decrepit old bogeyman seems like a helluva deal. A new bogeyman will pop up soon, long before the public works up the momentum to demand that Homeland Security and the TSA back off. It's perfectly timed, too. Remember that reelection campaigning will kick off this Summer. Politicians are nothing, if not predictable.

However, let's give the government the benefit of the doubt. They have beheaded Al Qa'eda and its influence over the Taliban is greatly reduced, if not eliminated. Egyptians and Libyans are demanding democracy. I'm not sure why people think that Sharia and democracy are incompatible, but I digress... With two of the major Islamic terrorist organizations in disarray, shouldn't we see a reduced threat of terror? Shouldn't we be able to concern ourselves a bit less with what some crazy Arab is doing in some Somali shit hole? Maybe we can deal with some serious domestic issues. Insane government debt. An unstoppable horde still flooding over the Mexican border.

Hide and watch. Nothing will change. Bin Laden just wasn't a useful bogeyman any more. As Kurt Vonnegut said, and so it goes.

Hip Deep in the Blues
Me
sbrenneis
 I went to a local coffee house this weekend to watch a blues duo perform. Their name is Cup o' Blues. They were quite good. The bass player is the strong man in the duo. He only had to listen to a small piece of a riff to know what they were playing. I suspect he was ad libbing quit a bit too. The guitar player had some skill, though he tended to slip from style to style in a sloppy manner. He was also trying to play some slide without a slide. That didn't work out well.

Their style of blues is called Piedmont Blues. It's a softer version, without the raw grit and emotion of Delta or Chicago blues. It is occasionally called Parlor Blues.  Cup o' Blues played Roy Hawkins' The Thrill is Gone in a Piedmont Blues style. Nope. Didn't work. Even the soft cover B.B. King did had more guts. Technically, Piedmont Blues is differentiated by it's finger picking style, as opposed to the chording and slide of Delta Blues.

Delta Blues is my preferred style. I can sit and listen to Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Bessie Smith, Son House, and, of course, Robert Johnson for hours. Delta Blues is, like Latin, a dead language. With John Lee Hooker's passing, almost all of the bluesmen of the 1920s and 1930s are gone. They left no secrets to their style, but no one has taken up where they left off. A few, like John Hammond and Roy Rogers have used Delta Blues as the basis for some of their own music, but the original is still untouched.

I say they left no secrets, but that only applies to stylistic secrets. There are technical secrets that are still not completely understood. No one, except perhaps Roy Rogers has been able to completely match the technical ability of Robert Johnson. His reputation for technical brilliance was largely responsible for the legend of the sale of his soul to the devil. As good as Eric Clapton is (or was), his cover of Crossroad Blues (renamed Crossroads by Clapton and Cream) is a poor imitation. As far as I know, Roy Rogers is the only person living who can faithfully recreate the back-chording and incorporation of slide heard on songs like Terraplane Blues and Last Fair Deal Gone Down.

Anyway, I'll be going to a blues festival put on by the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society here in Greensboro next weekend. I am told there is a Delta Blues artist playing. I look forward to it.

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