31 March, 2010

JOHN LENNON – Classic Albums: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (2008)

The brilliant Classic Albums series takes on Plastic Ono Band and it's every bit as good as we have come to expect from them. All the living participants are interviewed with the exception of Phil Spector. This doesn't leave as big a gap as you might think because we learn that although Spector has a co-producer's credit, he was hardly ever there. Ringo, Klaus Voorman, Richard Lush and John Leckie all agree that his involvement was minimal.

As with so many other docos, John speaks for himself by way of the many interviews he did on the subject and we also get insights from Jan Wenner, who conducted several of those interviews, and Arthur Janov, the creator of Primal Therapy which inspired many of the songs.

The real thrill comes when the engineers go back to the original multitracks and isolate parts so we can hear John screaming unaccompanied, studio chatter, out-takes and, inexplicably, an unused mouth harp part in Remember.

And fans of irony will get a kick out of Lennon confidante Elliot Mintz with fake gold hair, even faker tan, and generally looking like an animatronic waxwork, praising the album because it was "real."

The bonus material is in the form of seven parts not used in the television version, although it would have been nice if these had been cut back into the main program rather than tacked on the end. We also have the 1972 live performance of Mother and the film clip of Instant Karma, both of which are available on a multitude of other discs.

Highlight: The master tapes
Feature: * * * *  ½
Extras: * * * *
Audio: Dolby Stereo

Previously posted at Strawberry Fields

28 March, 2010

SWEET TORONTO – John Lennon (1969/1988)

Sometimes, whatever you imagine is better than the real thing. When I first heard the Live Peace in Toronto album, I was amazed by it. The film of the same show leaves me flat though.

The Plastic Ono Band (this time consisting of John and Yoko, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman and Alan White) made their debut at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival in 1969. Although the rock credentials of both Lennon and Clapton were well established by then, they were still an odd choice to close a festival that also had Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard on the bill. It's sobering to think that only a decade past their heyday, these legends were already on the nostalgia circuit.

For context, Sweet Toronto gives one song each from the other acts on the bill. The Plastic Ono Band's set keeps the spirit of the show in the beginning, with three old rockers before throwing in Yer Blues and the premiere of Cold Turkey. History records that Yoko's contribution was surprisingly well received by the rock and roll crowd but the film suggests that by then, half of them had gone home or were too stoned to care. John, Eric and Klaus do set up an impressive feedback chord, but by the time they get there, you've lost interest and there are times during Yoko's wailing that even John looks bored.

Although he did his best with what he had available to him, D.A Pennebaker's documentarian style is not flattering to a concert. Most of the footage is shot from the wings or the foot of the stage, giving a fan's eye view of the show. Sweet Toronto is interesting more as an historical document than as a concert film.

The film is 'introduced' with a short and barely relevant interview with Yoko at the opening of an exhibition of John's art in 1988. The audio is 5.1, upmixed from the original stereo.

Highlight: Yer Blues
Feature: * *  ½
Extras: *
Audio: Dolby 5.1

Also released as Live Peace in Toronto and Live in Toronto '69.

Previously posted at Strawberry Fields and at Fishpond.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE – John Lennon (1972/2005)

Despite having a cover photograph from 1967, this unimaginatively titled DVD is in fact the film record of the One to One charity concert that became the Live In New York City album.

Being one of Lennon's very few live appearances of the 70s, you'd think the DVD's producers might have put a bit of effort into it. Sadly, they haven't. The transfer is awful and looks like it's come direct from VHS. We know that better film from this show exists because we've seen it used in some of the Lennon Legend clips. To make matters worse, someone decided it would be a good idea to spend five minutes at the beginning of the program showing 20-second samples of every song. Ick!

The audio is 5.1 but it hasn't been remixed and sounds terribly thin. Note to producers: shoving some audience noise in the rear speakers does not amount to remixing for surround. If you're not going to do it properly, then just leave the stereo track because any Pro Logic processor could do better than this.

As for the concert itself, John was always a very nervous live performer outside the Beatles but he strikes a good balance of cheekiness, earnestness and energy here. He also reveals that he could sometimes match Paul for uncoolness. He back-announces Yoko's Sisters O Sisters by telling the crowd, “That's reggae.” No it isn't John! We hear him say several times, “It's just the rehearsal,” indicating that the film is taken from the afternoon show. If someone would properly remaster the film of the evening show, it would immediately be the essential Lennon live film. This disc is a cheap and nasty treatment of a show and an artist that deserve better.

The extras are a highly editorialised and factually dubious biography (Lennon was on a sabbatical from life in the late 70s?? Says who?) and a crap photo gallery.

Highlight: Come Together
Feature: * * 
Extras: *
Audio: Dolby 5.1

Previously posted at Strawberry Fields and Amazon.

22 March, 2010

How to Confuse a Scientologist

A couple of years ago, I went to a spirituality and wellbeing show.  I’m sure you’ve seen the kind of thing before – one of those expos where you can have your palm read while someone sticks a candle in your ear to restore your equilibrium or something.  As you can probably tell, I took it all with a grain of salt but it is always interesting to hear what some of the people there have to say.  I ended up having my aura read.  It seemed harmless enough.  A machine reads the colour and then the vendor interprets it for you.  It turns out that I’m witty and creative.  Who’d’ve thunk?

The scientologists were there too, although somewhat tellingly, they had their marquee set up outside the hall, not inside with the others.  On my way out, a young lady asked me if I’d like a free stress test.  Rather than blow them off completely, I went over to hear what they had to say.  Rather than being a questionnaire of some sort, I was presented with a set of aluminium electrodes roughly the dimensions of Red Bull cans, hooked up to a machine. 

“Oh, cool!” I said, “A multimeter!”
“Oh no,” she told me.  It’s a sophisticated system for measure the mass of your brainwaves.... or something.
“No, it’s a multimeter,” I replied.  But I played along.

She told me to hold the electrodes, on in each hand, and to first think about things that make me happy, and then when she asked me to, to think about things that make me angry.  I explained, trying not to be too condescending, that the machine obviously measures conductivity and that when I think of things that make me angry, that will cause me to tense up, tightening my grip on the electrodes, which will increase the area of contact with the electrodes and therefore make the meter go up.  She assured me that there was more to it than that.  I agreed to do the test her way if she let me do it my way afterwards.

In the interests of fairness, I tried my best to follow her instructions and I didn’t try to mess with the results by deliberately loosening my grip on the electrodes when she asked me to think angry thoughts.  Sure enough, the meter went up. No surprises there.

So then it was my turn.  The tubular electrodes were open-ended, so I balanced them on the first finger of each hand to ensure that I could not alter the conductivity either deliberately or involuntarily.  At this point, she started to make excuses.  She told me it would give an inaccurate reading since she would have to turn the gain right up on the machine to compensate for the reduced contact I had with the electrodes.  This suggests that she knew at least something about the physics of the process.  I granted her that point but insisted that she humour me, since I had humoured her method.  Just as predicted, it made no difference to the meter when I switched from thinking happy thoughts to angry thoughts.  She already had her excuse; it was all to do with having to turn up the gain, even though that would have amplified any minor reaction I might have had.  She tried to tell me that thoughts and brainwaves have mass, which the machine measured, but I was having none of it by that stage.  I don’t know if she genuinely believed what she was saying or not.

For measuring the mass of your thoughts, apparently
Also handy for testing batteries

Let me be clear that I am not here to shitcan anyone’s faith or religion.  I’m about as ecumenical as they come.  George Harrison once said that it doesn’t matter what you call God so long as you call Him.  I agree.  But you see, that’s the difference: God.   Every religion, from the most moderate, middle-of-the-road, non-denominational church, to the craziest of militant fundamentalists has one thing in common: they all refer to God.  That’s kind of the point.  There are disagreements – some valid, some insane – about how best to recognise and worship God and they all have their lunatic fringes. Frankly, if you’re the kind of person who tells people that God hates them, or if you think God wants you to strap bombs to yourself, then you have deeper problems than a poor choice of minister, but if nothing else, all forms or religion are settled on God.  Except one.

When have you ever heard a scientologist talk about God?  We hear them talk about L Ron Hubbard, about dianetics and of course, about how misunderstood and persecuted they are, but I have never heard any of them talk directly about God.  On the odd occasions when they do refer to God, it’s in a deeply wishy-washy way – not the centre of the faith, as most religions tend to have it.  You also never hear scientologists talk about prayer.  Those are two pretty big reasons why I say it’s not a church, and it’s not a religion.  I don’t deny them the right to believe whatever they want, but it’s not a church.  It’s whackos like that who give real churches and believers a bad name.

So if you’re ever accosted by a scientologist offering to guess the weight of your personality problems, and you have the time and inclination, try blowing their minds with a bit of actual science.  Or, if you’d rather do the test yourself, you can get the same results from a product that’s available for under $30 from any Tandy store.

17 March, 2010

The Rules: Ad Hominem Arguments

The other night, I was accused of attempting end a debate with ad hominems. We will leave aside the fact that my correspondent used an adjective as a noun. Let's take the rule against that as read.

Argumentum ad hominem means argument against the person. Very roughly, it's Latin for playing the man and not the ball.

If you freely admit that you are mocking me and say that I am not open to rational discussion, that's ad hominem.
If I respond to your mockery, non-sequiturs and general attitude of entitlement by finally telling you to fuck off, that's not ad hominem, that's simply what I should have done two hours earlier when I thought I would be having a discussion about ideas.

Here's another clue for you all: 
When I say "with respect," I mean it.
When I say "with all due respect," it's a euphemism.
Use this trick wisely.

10 March, 2010

Is this a new Work Choice?

Well, it must be an election year. It's vote-buying time, and Tony Abbott reached into the barrel of pork early this week with a proposal for up to six months parental leave on full pay.

This has thrown just about everyone for a loop. It's a reversal of the position Abbott has personally taken on the issue of parental leave and has employers siding with Labor since Abbott plans to fund it with a new business tax.

What I find most curious about it though, is that Abbott didn't mention it to some of his party colleagues until the day after he announced it. Didn't Abbott become leader of the party because the previous leader had tried to dictate policy without fully consulting the parliamentary party? Perhaps this is where Turnbull went wrong - he should have used Abbott's method of asking forgiveness rather than permission.  Perhaps Turnbull shouldn't have told the party anything about his environmental policy at all. Maybe if he'd just announced it on television, he'd still be leader and it would still be Liberal policy.

Regarding paid parental leave, I'm not sure it would ever happen under a potential Liberal government. There are credible rumours that they would want to bring Work Choices back. If they did, that might mean that any or all parental leave could be traded away under new AWAs.

08 March, 2010

Citizen Corporations? That’s so Gay!

I’ve never had a strong position either way on same-sex marriage.  To me, it’s just been a wedge issue that people like to bring up in election years.  The only side I take is that the arguments against it are a lot weaker than the arguments for it.  Spare me the talk of defending the definition of marriage.  Defining marriage as being between one man and one woman is a relatively recent thing.  From ancient history to modern day, there are many cultures that define marriage as being between one man and ten or more women - and some of them include American Christian sects.  And if you’re of the opinion that same-sex marriage is a slippery slope towards men marrying goats, women marrying horses and monkeys marrying cars, then you’re going to have to admit that it’s not the first step on that path but the second, and that the first step was interracial marriage.  Good luck defending that position.  Finally, if doing something like ensuring everyone has health insurance is an intolerable encroachment by government on everyone’s freedom, then surely any attempt by government to define what is an isn’t a marriage is tyranny.  We have dictionaries for that.  Where are the teabaggers and libertarians when you need them?

Having said that, I don’t believe that everyone has the right to everything that everyone else has.  With every door that opens, another one closes.  You can have anything, but you can’t have everything.  Just in case anyone interprets that as a subtle way of suggesting that homosexuality is a choice, I think nothing of the sort.  My point is that there are many other circumstances that prevent people from getting married that are not seen as discrimination.  For instance, there are thousands, if not millions of people who would love to get married but simply don’t have a partner.  They are single not through choice, but through all kinds of circumstances.  Who defends their right to marry?  Or is it enough to have the right, just not the opportunity?  Government has no business in deciding who has the right to marry whom, but equally, should not have to protect everyone from all the unfairnesses of life.  Otherwise, it ends up like that scene at the Colosseum in Life of Brian where they end up agreeing in principle to the physically impossible.  “I want to be a woman; it’s my right as a man.”  I don’t think society and people’s wellbeing are effected either way.

Then, the US Supreme Court declared that corporations have the same rights as individual citizens.  A lot of people chose to see this as a bad thing which makes corporations even more powerful than they already are, but I don’t think anyone has really thought through all the ramifications here.  There is alarmist talk of corporations running for office.  That would actually be better than the current system because if Monsanto actually had a seat in Congress, that would make them directly accountable to the people.  No, corporations are far better off under the current arrangement of bankrolling representatives.  That way the representatives are accountable to the people but beholden to their benefactors.  The people can throw the Congressman out, but the corporation will just have another one lined up and the board of directors will never have to look the people in the eye.

By rights though, it should become a lot harder for companies to merge, since a merger is basically a corporate marriage.  There are going to be all kinds of issues that they just haven’t thought through.  For instance, if Warner wanted to merge with AOL today, would they have to divorce Time first?  If so, could they get a no-fault divorce, or would they have to prove that Time had being seeing Walmart behind their backs?  Would they have to spend a year apart before Warner was free to remarry?  If Time-Warner as a couple were allowed to merge with AOL, wouldn’t that be an insult to the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman?

That’s before we even consider the gender issue.  Who is the man and who is the woman in this marriage?  Surely this is something we need to know before we allow it.  Warner came from Warner Brothers and the original AOL “You’ve got mail!” sound is as male voice, so I think they’re going to have problems there.  Which one is going to have to register for the draft?

While I have never had anything against same-sex marriage, I never previously saw it as something the law needed to take a stand on either way, especially when the issue most often appears to be used for the sake of being divisive.  But I do think the law should ensure that all people have the same rights as citizens who aren’t people at all.

05 March, 2010

What the Politico story didn’t mention

I’ve already updated the RNC begging letter post to include a link to Politico’s story about a leaked Republican fundraising strategy that is so shameless and insulting as to make the push-polls look positively quaint.

However, looking through the copy of the PowerPoint presentation, I noticed a huge clanger long before the juicy stuff.  See if you can pick what’s wrong here:

I dispute this number.  In fact, I will go as far as to say it is completely impossible for the Republicans to have raised $81,255,000 million in only one year.

$81,255,000 million is $81,255,000,000,000 or 81.255 trillion dollars!

I am not accusing the RNC of wilfully inflating their fundraising efforts by a factor of one million.  Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.  However, it’s not a good look from the party that claims to have a superior understanding of economics.

The Rules:
When quoting values over one million, use either numbers or words.  Don’t try to mix them – you’ll end up looking foolish.

Where’s Rick Santelli when you need him?  Or even Barnaby Joyce.