a journalist’s responsibility in the age of covid-19

Like it or not, the world today is not the world of three months, three weeks or even three days ago. With the advent and advance of the novel coronavirus known as covid-19, everything is different. Everything. From now on.

For tweens, teens and 20-somethings, this is going to be a lot like 9-11 was for people in their 40s and 50s – a landmark event after which your entire world view changes and nothing is ever really the same.

It is imperative journalists take seriously their responsibilities in this time of global pandemic and the resulting worldwide humanitarian crisis.

Journalists owe it to the public and to themselves to only report actual facts, proven facts backed up by corroboration. In the context of pure news articles, they should never make their biases known.  That’s what editorials and opinion pieces are for.

Many of us feel like we cannot trust our governments. We need to be able to trust our journalists. Journalists need to rise to this challenge and make sure they are a beacon of honesty, hope and reliability in the weeks and months to come.

We are all in this together and we need to act like it. It may be apocryphal, but a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin coming to mind is “We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

This especially includes journalists. Step up. Be part of the solution.

2019: the year in movies

I think I said in my music post I wasn’t going to do one of these this year, but I had to look up some movies for something else, so why not!

jokerI only saw four first-run movies in a theater in 2019, and here they are in order of favorites:

  1. Joker
  2. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
  3. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  4. Men in Black: International

Joker was a dark, funny, thrilling, horrifying, dramatic movie and I really dug it. Men in Black: International sucked and I found it to be a waste of time and money. The Star Wars and Godzilla franchise entries had good and bad aspects to them but were overall enjoyable.

I saw some other new movies that came out in 2019, but went to streaming services quickly. Here they are in order of favorites:

  1. The Highwaymen (tie for 1st)
  2. Dolemite Is My Name (tie for 1st)
  3. The Report
  4. Captain Marvel
  5. The Irishman
  6. 6 Underground

The Highwaymen and Dolemite Is My Name are both comeback movies of a sort. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson star in Highwaymen as two of the police officers who take down Bonnie and Clyde. It was a well-made movie, a good story (even though you know how it ends) and just excellent all around. Costner is best when he’s not trying too hard, and Harrelson was a great foil for Costner’s character.

Dolemite is Eddie Murphy’s return to form, and he’s a far better dramatic actor than I think anybody gives him credit for. I had never really heard of Rudy Ray Moore before this film, and I really dug it.

I did not enjoy The Irishman, though it was a well-made movie. The de-aging effects they used on Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino were fantastic and hardly looked like effects at all.  The story was boring, the acting was great.  It was gratifying to experience the end of what one of my smart friends called Scorcese’s “mob-adjacent trilogy” – this film plus Goodfellas and Casino.

6 Underground was a typical Michael Bay movie. If you like his movies, you’ll like this one. The story is thin, but the action and explosions are amazing. The opening car chase is a lot of fun, and I watched the movie only because Ryan Reynolds is in it (playing, naturally, Ryan Reynolds), as is Melanie Laurent, who I first encountered in Now You See Me, which is a capable and fun caper movie in which she plays an Interpol officer.

There were a lot of new movies I wanted to see in theaters, but ultimately didn’t pony up the time or cash. They include Shazam!, Booksmart, Yesterday, Hobbs & Shaw, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Ad Astra, Jojo Rabbit, Knives Out, Terminator: Dark Fate, Ford v Ferrari, Uncut Gems, 1917, Tall Girl, John Wick 3, Late Night, Midsommar, Shaft, Rambo: Last Blood, and The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I figure I saved myself close to $350 by not going to the movies too often this year. I’m sure I’ll be able to catch most of them on a streaming service before too long.

As for 2020, we know about a lot of movies that will be coming out next year. Here’s the ones I think I’d like to see, just based on previews and descriptions: Bad Boys for Life, Birds of Prey, No Time To Die, Black Widow, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Greyhound, Wonder Woman 1984, Top Gun: Maverick, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Bob’s Burgers, Jungle Cruise, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Death on the Nile, Ron’s Gone Wrong, Red Notice, Godzilla vs. Kong, Coming 2 America, and Dune.

If I only go see four like I did in 2019, it will likely be No Time To Die (I’m a sucker for James Bond), Greyhound (WW2 naval combat with Tom Hanks? no-brainer), Ghostbusters: Afterlife (it looks awesome from the preview), and Bill & Ted Face the Music because, DUH! Bill & Ted!! Plus also Dune and probably Godzilla vs. Kong, so put me down for six theater movies in 2020. I keep up with my local $5 theater’s listings too, so there’s a good chance I’ll see more theater movies in 2020 than just those, but maybe some slightly older ones.

Enjoy your 2020 in the dark!

2019: The Year in Music

Well folks, it’s about that time again.

2019 kinda sucked music-wise. Yeah, I said it. The whole year I only got 10 new CDs. Compare this to periods in my life when I was bringing home 10 new CDs a month, or even a week. Crazy. I guess I’m just set in my ways.

The lack of new music in my life makes choosing the top albums super easy, though.

1. Dream Theater – Distance Over Time: I stumbled across a three-part documentary on how Dream Theater found their new drummer, Mike Mangini, after they booted Mike Portnoy (or he quit, it depends on who tells the story). I’ve been a Mike Mangini fan for a long time, so I was pretty excited when I found out he was DT’s new drummer. He was in Extreme for a hot minute during the Waiting for the Punchline era, but I mostly knew him from his stint in Steve Vai’s band, which encompassed two albums (Fire Garden and The Ultra Zone) and a couple of tours. He’s a fantastic drummer and frankly the perfect addition to Dream Theater.

Oh right – Distance Over Time. If you like DT, you’ll love this album. If you hate DT, nothing I say is going to change your mind. Best songs on the album are “Untethered Angel,” “Room 137” and “Pale Blue Dot.”

2. Galactic Cowboys – Long Way Back to the Moon: I had no idea GC put out a new album in 2017, so I kind of freaked out when I found out they did just that. It’s a great album, I love it, and it sounds a lot like their first two albums, Galactic Cowboys and Space in Your Face – mostly because they got their original guitarist back. This is fun, crunchy heavy metal that doesn’t really let up and is enjoyable from beginning to end. Standout tracks include “Zombies,” “Drama” and “Believing the Hype” as well as the title track.

3. I picked up two Wes Montgomery albums to expose myself to classic jazz guitar – Full House (which is fantastic) and Smokin’ at the Half Note (which has an annoying narrator poking in several times for some reason). The guy is a jazz legend for a reason.

4. I got Queen’s Queen on Air two-CD package because duh, Queen! I already had about a third of the material and had heard most of the rest, so it was mostly a case of completing the collection. The ultra standout track is the fast/live version of “We Will Rock You.”

5. The Jelly Jam – Profit: TJJ is a side project of Ty Tabor (guitar & vocals/King’s X), John Myung (bass/Dream Theater) and Rod Morgenstein (drums/Dixie Dregs & Winger) – put out an album called Profit. Like DT, if you already like progressive hard rock/metal, you’ll dig it. It’s more mature than their previous albums, but it’s not better than them. IMO TJJ peaked with their second album.

6. The Quill – Born From Fire: Here’s a Swedish heavy metal band I’ve mentioned before. Their last album, Tiger Blood, wasn’t great. This album is better than that one, almost as good as their best album, In Triumph. The lead track, “Stone Believer,” sounds like a cross between Led Zeppelin and The Cult. Cool track.

7. Roger Taylor – Fun in Space: I went on a Roger Taylor kick this year and listened to all his albums, including the stuff he did with The Cross. Discovered I didn’t have this album, so I needed to take care of that. It’s good. It’s not great. It’s not Queen.

8. Jason Kui – Absence of Words: Somebody told me about this heavy metal/hard rock instrumental album, so I picked it up. Worth the money. He’s no Steve Vai (super progressive & often weird) or Joe Satriani (melodic & accessible), but he’s pretty good. A fun album.

That’s it. I don’t even have a full top 10 for you this year because the last album I got – Larkin Poe’s Venom & Faith – is still in the shrink wrap. I passed on over a dozen albums I probably should have gotten, including two Weezer albums (I just can’t with them any more) and albums from Rival Sons, Queensryche, Megadeth, Sammy Hagar, Baroness, The Black Keys, Tool, KXM and Prong.

Yeah, I still haven’t heard Tool’s first album in a decade, or however long it was. I’m just not sure I give a shit about Tool any more.

As far as what I listened to the most, here’s that list:

20. Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (down from #5 in 2018)
19. Wes Montgomery – Smokin’ at the Half Note
18. Scale the Summit – The Migration (instrumental prog metal)
17. Nobuki Takamen – The Nobuki Takamen Trio (live guitar-led jazz)
16. Ghost – Popestar (down from #3 in 2018)
15. Josh Fix – Free at Last
14. Booker T & the MGs – The Definitive Soul Collection
13. Black Label Society – Stronger Than Death (down from #4 in 2018)
12. George Thorogood – Baddest Hits
11. Pink Floyd – Animals (absent in 2018, top 10 in previous years)
10. Dead Can Dance – The Serpent’s Egg (up from #14 in 2018)
9. AC/DC – For Those About to Rock (up from #11 in 2018)
8. Sly & the Family Stone – Greatest Hits
7. Black Label Society – Grimmest Hits (not a greatest hits collection)
6. Gojira – From Mars to Sirius (down from #1 in 2018)
5. Galactic Cowboys – Long Way Back to the Moon
4. Muse – Simulation Theory
3. Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
2. John Williams – The Baroque Album (classical guitar)
1. Wes Montgomery – Full House

Millennials aren’t killing the manual transmission – car makers are

We keep throwing around this whole “Millennials are killing” this and that, gnashing teeth, tearing hair, etc. What is it that’s really going on? Is it a fear of losing what we are comfortable with? Or a fear of progress?

When it comes to cars, though, it’s not Millennials killing off the stick shift. It’s the car makers themselves, working hard to fill our passenger vehicles with infotainment systems, climate control systems, heated and air-conditioned seats, lane assist, smart cruise control, side curtain airbags and every other safety feature and creature comfort known to man.

There just isn’t room left for the manual transmission in our head.  If we have to steer, look at the touch screen, talk on the phone, turn on our seat, and manage the kids in the back, there’s just no brain power left to shift gears too.

blur car car interior chrome

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

We have brought this upon ourselves by insisting ever more stridently that cars become little mobile homes on wheels.  We want every accommodation known to man or woman in our car – and that’s what is killing off the manual transmission.

Give Millennials a break, or at least blame them for what they’re really killing off – the old ways.

why taylor swift is re-recording her first six albums

I have to admit I don’t pay the most attention to Taylor Swift. I’ve never cared for her music, even when it was country-ish. Now that it’s pop-ish, I like it even less. I always respected her for having a hand in writing many of her songs, though, because it means she’s not just some pretty little singer, belting out whatever her producers tell her to so they can all make money.

No, she makes her money the old-fashioned way – writing songs, making albums, touring, etc. Like a real musician.

taylor-swift

Earlier this summer, a man called Scooter Braun bought Big Machine Records, the home of Swift’s first six albums. She was not happy about that deal, because it gave Braun control over the majority of her back catalog and a huge number of her hits.

The Braun deal for Big Machine pissed Swift off, not just because Big Machine offered her an insulting deal if she re-signed with them that would have allowed her to recover her first six albums’ masters one at a time as she recorded new albums for Big Machine, but because Swift has accused of Braun of bullying, rude and even unethical actions towards her. Suffice it to say Swift is unhappy Braun is set to continue profiting off her work.

The solution? She’s going to re-record her first six albums for her new label, Universal Music Group. What happens after that is this:

  • UMG will issue new recordings of Swift’s greatest hits to radio stations across the country, and threaten to pull all UMG artists from the station unless they agree to only play the new versions.
  • UMG will only issue new licensing agreements to film and TV projects that agree to use the new versions.
  • Every re-recorded album release will be accompanied by much hue & cry in the marketing world, with UMG (and probably Swift, too) encouraging her fans to buy copies of the new albums, which will no doubt come with bonus material such as extra songs (previously unreleased demos, remixes, whatever) as incentive.

From there, UMG and Swift will be making more money off her re-recorded hits than Big Machine is off the original versions. UMG is bigger and more powerful than Big Machine could ever hope to be, and everybody will quickly fall in line behind UMG’s demands. Scooter Braun’s purchase of Big Machine will not end up being the windfall he thought it would be, and it will remain to be seen if he ever recoups the $320 million he spent on Swift’s former label.

Music is music, but music is also business. Crossing Swift in the music business world is probably not the smartest move anybody could make. She has enough influence in the music business that she was able to force UMG into agreeing to pay Spotify royalties to all its artists – not just her. Read that again. ALL OF THE ARTISTS ON UMG get Spotify royalties now thanks to Swift’s contract with UMG.

Swift is not the first and won’t be the last artist to re-record music after switching labels or booting key band members.  Styx did it, Suicidal Tendencies did it, Squeeze, Def Leppard, ELO (aka Jeff Lynne), Dave Mustaine (as MD.45), Ozzy Osbourne (with the specific intention of pushing out Bob Daisley & Lee Kerslake’s contributions so they wouldn’t get any more money from albums sales), and more. In the case of Styx and Squeeze, they re-recorded all their big hits, then forced radio stations to stop playing the original recordings in favor of the new ones.

Like I said – music is music, but music is also business.

car myths last forever, apparently

Between Facebook and a non-technical employee at my (formerly?) favorite auto mechanic’s shop, I encountered two myths related to car repair I feel MUST be busted right here and right now.

1) Changing your transmission fluid will break or damage your transmission.
2) Brake calipers must be replaced in pairs.

Let’s take that second one first.

Brake-caliper-sticking

Brake disc and caliper photo from CarTreatments.com.

This myth, like many of those which plague motorcycle riders, is based in a car repair truth made obsolete by modern technology. Back in the 1950s and ’60s and even in the 1970s and probably the ’80s to a large extent, yes, you did need to replace your brake calipers in pairs most of the time. If one went bad, chances are the other one wasn’t far behind it, but more importantly, the braking system internals worked at their absolute best when the calipers operated at the same level. When your safety in 1962 relies on the performance of your brake calipers, you replace them in pairs.

However.

People … it’s 2019.  Braking systems are so advanced now they could probably control a moon landing. ABS systems are incredibly technologically sophisticated, and they adapt to the condition of the calipers on the fly, making hundreds (if not thousands) of adjustments a second as you mash the brake pedal in a panic stop.

In other words, your modern car can handle mismatched caliper operation better than you can possibly imagine. Replace the one broken caliper and get on with your life. The caliper opposite the broken one should be inspected for smooth operation, cleaned and adjusted if necessary, and if you’re really concerned about how your brakes function, flush, fill and bleed the entire braking system from stem to stern. Frankly, if you’d done that once a year anyway, your one bad caliper probably wouldn’t have failed in the first place.

On to the transmission fluid myth.

transmission

Transmission illustration from mckaysauto.com.

I went to my auto mechanic for an oil change this morning, and while I was there I queried the clerk at the desk about having my transmission fluid changed at my next oil change interval.

“Oh, you shouldn’t do that,” they said. “That will break your transmission.”

I want to point out that the person who said this to me was not a mechanic, but an office worker. I’m sure they’ve been exposed to a lot of information in the time they’ve been working there, but this is one myth that needs busted immediately, if not sooner.

Replacing the oil in your transmission – and that’s what “transmission fluid” is, oil – DOES NOT BREAK OR DAMAGE YOUR TRANSMISSION IN ANY WAY. PERIOD.

What damages your automatic transmission is the tens of thousands of miles you’ve driven it without having the transmission serviced. Oil in any closed system is supposed to do two things: lubricate moving parts and cool those same moving parts. That’s it. That’s oil’s whole job in the context of your motor vehicle.

You change the oil (and filter) for your engine every 5,000 or 10,000 miles (PS stop changing it every 3,000 miles – that frequency is another old practice that was once necessary but is no longer and has become a widely propagated myth). You do this to ensure long life and peak performance from your engine.

Why wouldn’t you do the same thing for your transmission?

If your vehicle’s manufacturer doesn’t publish a recommended transmission oil change interval, take it upon yourself to have your transmission serviced every 15,000 or 20,000 miles. Just do it. Your transmission will thank you. For what it’s worth, I change the transmission oil in my dry-clutch BMW motorcycles every 10,000 miles.

(PS There are two ways to change your transmission oil – a simple drain & fill and a more thorough flush & fill. The drain & fill only replaces about half of the oil, because the rest is inside the torque converter. If you do this, you’ll have to do two or three drain & fills to get most of the oil swapped for fresh. A flush & fill uses specialized tools mechanics have to force new fluid in and old fluid out of every nook and cranny, including the torque converter. Costs more as a one-time thing, but probably the same as doing 2-3 drain & fills, so you come out even if you’re doing it right.)

The reason the myth “changing your transmission oil breaks your transmission” persists is because people don’t change their transmission oil. They leave it in there for 100,000 miles, then panic and change it. The thing is … the transmission is already damaged, you just don’t know it yet.  Imagine what your engine would look like inside if you left the same oil in there for 100,000 miles, how damaged it would be.

Oils used in most passenger vehicles have detergents and other additives in it that, when fresh, will literally clean out the inside of your engine (or transmission). The filter catches much of those substances, and with regular changes, those contaminants are removed from the system. Only problem is you haven’t been changing your transmission oil – let alone the transmission oil filter.

That’s right – there’s a filter in there. It’s probably been clogged with goo for 30,000 miles or more, so the goo goes elsewhere in the transmission, sitting there all sludgy until you finally have your transmission serviced… which is when that sludge is broken loose and becomes free to clog or stick to parts of the transmission it’s not supposed to – and thus adversely affecting the performance of your transmission, which you then think is broken. The truth is, your transmission was going to break sooner or later. Changing the fluid just tipped the scale towards sooner – and it’s your fault, because you never had it changed!

(Here’s a skippable explanation of why: As the transmission fluid breaks down, it loses its lubrication capabilities. As that happens, the metal parts in the transmission wear, releasing bits of metal, which stay suspended in the fluid. The discs in the clutch pack will actually use those bits of metal to assist friction – so when you take away the contaminated fluid that’s been helping the clutch discs stick together and replace it with clean, fresh fluid that lubricates properly, yeah, your transmission will slip.)

2003-2006_Honda_Element_--_08-28-2011

Photo of Honda Element used under IFCAR [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

(I didn’t have time or the inclination, frankly, to tell the shop clerk my little van (Honda Element) has a manual transmission, which means it contains gear oil, not standard transmission fluid – and there’s no filter, either. Gear oil is different than transmission oil – has a different purpose, different composition, etc.)

If you don’t want your transmission to die simply because you have the fluid changed, then take care of your transmission just like you take care of your engine. For me, I change the engine oil every 5,000 miles. The automatic transmissions in my household get their oil changed every 20,000 miles, or every fourth oil change (unless the manufacturer has a specified interval). I do this primarily because I almost exclusively buy used cars, and chances are the previous owner didn’t have the transmission serviced regularly; it’s up to me to try to stave off failure by keeping the transmission running at peak efficiency.

(My manual transmissions get fresh fluid every 50,000 miles (Honda’s spec is 90,000 for “normal driving” and 30,000 for vehicles operated in harsh conditions or used for towing. I tow motorcycles on a somewhat regular basis and often sit in traffic, so I hedge towards the short end of their timeline.)

Don’t buy into the hype of the “sealed transmission” many manufacturers tout these days. “Lifetime fluid” is no such thing if you plan to drive a car for several hundred thousand miles. Sealed transmissions should have their fluid changed at 80,000 or 100,000 miles – granted, that is the lifetime of some vehicles.

Anyway, changing the fluid causing your transmission to break is a myth. Don’t believe it. Have your transmission serviced regularly and you won’t have any reason to buy into this particular myth.

(For a visual explanation – complete with a disassembled transmission – of this issue and a reinforcement of the mythological status of “changing the transmission fluid broke my transmission,” check out Chris Fix’s video “Can Changing your Transmission Fluid Cause Damage?” on the YouTube.)

Happy driving!

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy!

TL;DR version: Russia won the 2016 election, Trump is not going to be impeached, Rudy Giuliani is an idiot.

Here’s the thing I don’t like about Rudy Giuliani:  He says stupid shit and expects us to agree with him. Sometimes it’s not even the stupid shit he says, it’s the way he says it, like he’s sooooo smart and we’re sooooo stupid and if we’d just sit back and smile, we’d realize he’s sooooo smart and then everything will be all right.

What Rudy fails to grasp in this situation – and in case you’re just coming out from under your rock, I’m talking about his discussion with CNN’s Jake Tapper about the Mueller Report that went something like this, and I’m paraphrasing a bit:

There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians… Any candidate in the world would take information… Who says it’s even illegal to get dirt on political enemies from foreign powers? I probably wouldn’t have done it, and I would have advised against it, but it ain’t illegal. Next question.

I’d like to take a moment to remind you that Rudy is Donald Trump’s lawyer, and of course Donald is the president of the USA.

OK let’s look at what’s in the Mueller Report real quick.  Mueller determined that Russian hackers, in some kind of officially sanctioned action, broke into Hillary Clinton’s email server(s) and extracted thousands of emails.  Most were boring shit like who was donating money and which staffer was tasked with picking up Hillary’s dry cleaning, but some of them had juicy stuff in them – discussions about political rivals, campaign plans, etc.  Stuff any political opponent would cut off his remaining testicle to get ahold of.

Said Russians, working on behalf of said Russian government, then provided these emails to various third parties, including Wikileaks and, apparently, the Trump campaign.

You can tell Rudy either was never a criminal attorney or if he was, he sucked at that job. It’s black-letter law that accepting the proceeds of a crime makes you guilty of receiving stolen property, itself a felony almost anywhere in the country.

There is no magic place in the world where hacking somebody’s email server isn’t a crime, so possessing email data retrieved in a hack is an actual, tangible crime.  Possessing it AND lying about possessing it compounds that, and then trying to cover up that you possessed it and lied about it is some logarithmic pile-on shitheap felonization of the political process.

Let’s step back a second though and say … ok, it’s not a crime to possess something stolen from somebody else.  We’ll just snap our fingers, but instead of wiping out half the life in the universe, we’ll make possessing stolen property not a crime anywhere in the world.

It’s still heavily, dearly and absolutely fucking immoral.

Compound that by KNOWING the stolen data came from an avowed enemy of the American people and you have a massive moral failure on the part of the Trump campaign.

Rudy is therefore wrong.  There may be nothing illegal about taking dirt on Hillary dug up by Russian hackers at the behest of the Russian government, but it certainly, surely and absolutely is WRONG to do so.  We all know this. You know we all know this.  Apparently the only person who doesn’t know this is Rudy Giuliani, a fucking New York lawyer.

People – well, Democrats – are now saying they’re going to impeach Donald.  No, they’re not.  They may start impeachment proceedings – that is the prerogative of the House of Representatives – but a “super majority” (i.e. 2/3rds) of BOTH CHAMBERS OF CONGRESS have to vote to convict in an impeachment proceeding, and we all know the Senate, filled as it is with boot-licking Republicans, is never going to support impeachment proceedings against Donald. It’s just not going to happen.  The Democrats calling for impeachment are delusional, and the ones on the sidelines not telling them to shut the fuck up are just as bad as the Republicans who will vote against impeachment just because their party says they have to.

Donald Trump is not going to be impeached.  Get over it. Move on.

The thing most people are glossing over here is the actual outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  You probably think Donald won and Hillary lost. In actuality, Russia won and the citizens of the United States lost.

White houseRussia is our enemy, of that there should be no equivocation.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in sowing discord, chaos, disharmony, hatred and divisiveness deeply into our society and they are reaping the rewards.

This has nothing to do with Donald’s suitability for office.  Whether he’s good at the job or not is immaterial.  The fact is Russia wanted him in office because they knew he would be more disruptive to the US than anything they could have actively done themselves.  Russia basically gained four years of unfettered access to the globe with little possibility of repercussions.  Then they’ll enjoy at least another 10 to 20 years of heightened influence as the US tries (and I’ll bet largely fails) to rebuild its reputation around the world.

I think deep down we know it, too, and because we hate losers so much, we’re now stuck in a downward spiral of self-loathing.  No empire lasts forever, and it truly sucks when you come to the realization that you live in one that’s dying.