The Thin Line Between Great and Sub-mediocre

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll at 2:14 pm by George Smith

The meat of DD’s rock music library consists primarily of the latter from the title.

Of course, you didn’t know this was the essence of your taste when you were a kid going to record storea through the Seventies and Eighties. You bought something on spec, took it home and invested time in getting to like it. And if it wasn’t horrendous and too far outside your taste, it found a home, even as the artist was summarily dropped from his or her label.

And if you’d told me then that my mother would eventually throw out all these old records in a revenge fit brought on by dementia, and that fifteen years later guys my age with the same taste in records (but who’s moms weren’t nuts) would commence to ripping their collections of nobodies and also-rans to a global network, where I could listen to them again one more time, I would have given you the stink eye.

But that’s how it worked out.

And today’s offerings fall into this category, my favorite genre of well past expiry hard rock.

They were all momentary pieces of lawn furniture in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, made by journeymen and women, often musos who thought they were going on to much greater things, as thought, too. But who — (insert flopping noise) — didn’t.

Take Karen Lawrence and 1994.

That’s the cover of Please Stand By — and it’s a great one. Just the cover, though. It was their second stab at it, after a tremendous debut, which had gone mostly ignored because it’s cover looked like this. (Scroll down.)

Record label and managements squandered Lawrence’s striking visual appeal — her hair, legs, ass and 1,000 buck lavender skin-tight leather duds for a cover that said “meh!” with great vigor, looking like the top of your stereo amp with a tiny polaroid of the band on it.

By the time the second record arrived, the pic was great, but the magic was gone. No more full-bore screaming hard rock and mystical eastern Led Zep steals. Instead, an embarrasingly un-wild cover of “Wild in the Streets,” something the listener can tell wasn’t 1994’s or Lawrence’s idea.

In DD’s old bedroom, you could hear the air whistling out of the punctured tire.

Please Stand By… is still a far cry from awful. The title cut is fair hard rock and pop. But the band doesn’t work up a lather until the album’s last two songs — “Nerves of Steel,” which digs up the ground using some slide with a blues stomp, and “Keep Ravin’ Up,” with the best lyric on the entire record: “You’re a real man, I can tell it by your shoe size.”

With Trigger, one could tell the label’s (Casablanca) art department wasn’t up to doing them any favors, either. It’s 1979 and the boys were wearing what looks like pink lipstick and rouge.

As you can guess, that went well. And it’s unfortunate, because Trigger sounded a lot like Slade. The band featured two singers — one for the ravers, who sounded like Noddy Holder, and one for the singles, who sounded a bit like Jackson Browne. There’s not a dud song on the LP and if one ignores the predictably stupid lyrics on “We’re Gonna Make It” and “Rockin’ Cross the USA,” the band delivered all the yobbishness one had come to love from Slade.

Now, instead of the lipstick and rouge, if Casablanca had delivered a group picture with mutton chops, some worn denim, and the name Trigger tattoo’d on their fists …

Anyway, Trigger furnished the goods live. DD stumbled upon them by accident at the Jersey shore in ’79 with his old Albright College girlfriend, a nineteen year-old med tech major whose small size belied a capacity for strong drink. She had recommended we stop before withdrawal made her bellicose. Playing in the basement of an old resort before an audience of about fifty, Trigger delivered their entire album with speed and great elan. At least half the crowd cheered.

Who’s that? Looks like Pat Benatar!

Another record company promotional idea gone wrong — posing
Laurie Beechman like Pat Benatar on the cover of Laurie and the Sighs in 1980. After Benatar already had “Heartbreaker” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” all over FM radio.

What were they thinking? That some fans’ hands would slip and they’d grab it by mistake on the way to the checkout counter?

Laurie and the Sighs didn’t sound much like Pat Benatar. First, and most obviously, there’s nothing like “Heartbreaker” here, no Michael Chapman steering the singer into covering Sweet’s “No You Don’t” or Johnny Cougar’s “I Need a Lover.”

On the other hand, the Sighs rocked a lot harder than Benatar’s backing band, and their relatively tuneless delivery in comparison with the songs and playing on Benatar’s first two albums, worked better in the context of what this LP achieved.

It’s a thirty minute pounding, a wall of Laurie’s blaring voice and Marshall stack guitar. At its center, Laurie and the Sighs is a heavy metal record way before women who were in metal bands all had to look something like Doro Pesch.

In fact, Laurie looked a lot like my old girlfriend, the one who liked inexpensive spirits. Maybe that’s why I bought it.

But DD still enjoys her record a lot, as the last two songs on this LP kill, their themes still resonant, even after the passage of decades.

“Stop Telling Me No!” Laurie yells. Plus, she’s “Burning Up!” in front of an “indecisive” wussy who needs “shaking up!” “Hot, hot, hot!” Shriek and roll! Watch out! She’ll strike your cock with a hammer!


Ricin Kook Eyes Long Sentence

Posted in Ricin Kooks at 7:06 am by George Smith

Traces of ricin were found in the urine of ricin kook Jeffrey Marble’s wife, reported the UPI.

“[The Washington State] man suspected of trying to poison his wife [also] had traces of the deadly toxin ricin in his home, authorities say.”

Oof. Along with everyone else in his platter, that’ll earn a couple decades of state and federal hospitality.


Numbingly Bad Guitar Video

Posted in Phlogiston, Rock 'n' Roll at 6:17 pm by George Smith

It’s a well-known fact that access to all the amateur homespun talent on YouTube has made the world a richer place. How, for instance, could one live without all the slideshow copyright-infringing home videos uploaded by ‘fans’ sampling from their record collections? Or all the duplicates of Cherie Currie of the Runaways singing “Cherry Bomb” in her underwear and nylons for the Japanese in 1977?

It would be difficult to top the latter in its actualized potential for sheer adult embarrassment.

But DD has found lots of music-oriented stuff even more teeth-grinding and capable of getting the cold sweat out on the back of your neck.

Home videos of guys trying out their new store-bought mini-amplifiers. Static videos of the camera looking at a guitar amp with an occasional hand entering the stage to twist a knob.

This is a select group, only done for and by guys.

DD couldn’t find any female contributors. And, like last week’s ‘battle bands’ collection, it’s a challenge to endure more than 30 seconds. Persevere! With the exception of the last one, they’re all guaranteed horrendous!

The first one DD calls simply: “The Cough Syrup Addict.” Turn on the lights, buddy! It’s in “Cloverfield” approved Shakey-Cam and the very definition of ‘excruciating’ from beginning to end, including the Hendrix and Guns ‘n’ Roses stuff. As unendurable as possible, watched over twelve thousand times.

This next one is tricky. The beginning makes you think the player actually might have done the good-sounding fragment. Patience! The real thing is about to begin — a bit of bedroom ‘Stairway to Heaven’, then born to be mild AC/DC and Ozzy. Seventy thousand watches. How long do you think it took his friends and family to rack that up?

Oops! So tone deaf, he can’t tell when the guitar is out of tune! 30,000 hits! Oh, f— me, not more Ozzy and AC/DC!

Another punishing version of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ “Awesome!” comments someone. Yeah, 71,000 instances of masochism is pretty awesome.

This next one is cheating. It’s the company’s sales rep in the firm’s pro video. Hang around, look at the annoying hairstyle. He’ll eventually get around to the patience-smashing bedroom shredding, knowing it’ll send a legion of guys like those above, to the store. And then to YouTube.

A computer nerd gives us a bird’s eye view of his very clean desk and a standard dose of bad thrash metal. Then, without even a hint of a sense of humor, some ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Freebird.’

“OK, so I’m doing another demo of this Orange Crush amp because my other one didn’t do it justice,” says ShortScaleGearDemos. After the harsh, crystalline tone along with the bursts of tuneless feedback and chaos, DD trembles at the thought of such a ‘bad’ video. Right about now, the CEO of the maker is wondering how to get this off YouTube. Only eight thousand views, though, so damage is limited.

The one worth your patience, a video of someone playing the guitar and singing in such a way to make you jump up and shout for the glory of rock ‘n’ roll and a good song. It’s a girl! Canada’s Kathleen Edwards, singing “Cheapest Key,” onstage in Europe.

A paltry five hundred and change views. Your YouTube global market, in action.


Presumed Ricin Kook Jailhouse Bound

Posted in Ricin Kooks at 2:04 pm by George Smith


It’s part of the mythology of the war on terror that jihadists and al Qaeda men are always waiting to strike with ricin. The reality is far more dull. The guys who are most interested in ricin have traditionally been white American kooks.

The definitive piece on American ricin kooks is here at el Reg. But every few months, one can add another eccentric to the list. The new candidate is a man in Washington state, written about in the news yesterday here.

“The FBI Thursday was investigating ‘a strong suspicion’ that an Everett man had the deadly poison ricin in his home office, and a specially trained hazardous-materials team — including experts flown in from Washington, D.C. — locked down the home,” reported the Seattle PI. (And see here in a later story where the man, Jeffrey Marble, is accused of trying to poison his wife with “eye drops and Ricinus communis and lye and rat bait.”)

The first story intimated that either a small number of castor seeds or a bit of castor powder was found, both enough to have the owner quickly sent over for a few years at the bighouse, regardless of intent or lack of one.

And despite the great amount of literature now on the Internet about the great foolishness in pounding castor seeds into a powder — there are pages and pages on DD blog here, here, here and here — American eccentrics and nutcases continue to show a fetish-like obsession with it.

Credit it to a peculiar mania associated with old white rural America — the whimsy that someone, or the government, is plotting to get you — and that it might be a good idea to have some exotic poison powder handy, just in case you need to defend yourself, assassinate an acquaintance … or rub out a family member.

All ricin poison recipes (now they come complete with Google Adsense), aren’t worth the electrons used to preserve them on the Internet. They stem from Americans: Kurt Saxon and his “Poor Man’s James Bond” series of pamphets and books, and Maxwell Hutchkinson, author of a similar piece of nuisance publishing, “The Poisoner’s Handbook,” and teenage copyists who put them on bulletin board systems in electronic form a couple decades ago.

Many men have been sent, and will be sent, to jail for being hypnotized by the trivial scribble of basically only two people. It’s quite the rich legacy.

The English ricin kook, similar to US counterpart.

“A father and son are being held under the Terrorism Act following the discovery of possible traces of the deadly poison ricin at the house of a suspected white supremacist,” reported Sky News.

“Police said the suspected ricin was found in a sealed jam jar kept in a kitchen cupboard, apparently for up to two years.”

“Ricin was used by the Aum cult on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 in an attack that left 12 people dead,” Sky adds.

Um, no. That was sarin, the nerve poison.

Ricin confirmed, kook eyes long sentence.

Over at Armchair Generalist. Don’t tell the newsmedia ricin kooks are from the far right, the GOP will protest it’s being persecuted.


FAS Removes Nuke List Doc After News Fit

Posted in War On Terror at 9:19 am by George Smith

This morning, Steven Aftergood’s Secrecy blog at FAS.ORG removed its copy of a .pdf compiled by the US government, a declaration of nuclear sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The action appears to be due to increasing pressure caused by mainstream media coverage of the subject, kicked off on Wednesday by William Broad at the New York Times and Eli Lake at the Washington Times. (See here and here respectively.)

As a result, throughout the day, Aftergood and the Federation of American Scientists were often portrayed as providing a ‘roadmap’ to terrorists.

One of the more extreme reactions, patently ridiculous on its face, is shown in an item from a Missouri newspaper.

“Senator Christopher ‘Kit’ Bond (R-MO) says this is the kind of thing that can only aid terrorists,” it read.

“That is unbelievable – that is a treasure map for terrorists,” said the politician “during his weekly radio conference call.” “Communities have a right to prevent terrorists from using government information to target and attack facilities in their backyard.”

“There’s a group called the Federation of American Scientists – a far Left-wing fringe group that wants to disclose all our vulnerabilities … I don’t know what their motives are but I think they are very dangerous to our security.”

Another expert called upon to comment inflamed matters by suggesting to the Washington Post that a crime had been committed.

“It is probably not that dangerous, but it is a violation of the law,” said David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

“You don’t want this information out there, any more than you would want a thief to know the location of a vault in your house.”

These were simplistic arguments, immediately deploying a fear card which has been seen many times since 9/11: Terrorists are everywhere, just waiting to get their hands on stuff telling them where dangerous things are in this country. (And where are the dangerous things? Everywhere, in this manner of speaking.)

Over the intervening period, use of this timorous illogic has spawned a host of control orders and policies, many of which have been vigorously opposed.

By example, at various times these have manifested in attempts to obfuscate the location of chemical plants and spills, inventory and strictly regulate most chemical reagents at research institutions, and the removal of cesium sources used in radiation therapy because they might potentially be used to make dirty bombs.

Using the reasoning of Kit Bond, and many others, Americans have no need to know about things like, say, Westinghouse research projects on Beulah Rd. in Pittsburgh for the “[for] the design of small break [loss of coolant accident facilities] that … also allow investigation of other accident scenarios.” (This is found near the top of the ‘nuke list’ doc.)

This is because the information is, as the meme goes, thought to be of aid to terrorists.

Employing this reasoning on a regular basis, one can rationalize the erasure of entire categories of information, anything deemed dangerous and potentially useful to terrorists (who are everywhere): hazardous waste sites, chemical spills, places where outbreaks of infectious disease have been reported, college science research facilities, mining facilities, the CDC, Fort Detrick, Three Mile Island, Hanford, Pantex and so on.

There is, literally, no end to it.

“The list details the existence of nuclear facilities at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and a Westinghouse research facility in Pittsburgh, among others,” reported the Wall Street Journal. Then it added: “Those facilities are internationally known.”

Some news agencies were egregious in their manipulation of the story. And CNN’s Lou Dobbs furnished a good example.

Dobbs, who regularly excoriates the US government for being stupid and sticking it to average Americans, predictably advertised the document as an aid to terrorism. (“[There] are concerns that the information would be of help to terrorists obtaining nuclear material,” he said.)

Dobbs and his producers also included brief comments from Steven Aftergood, comments which seemed to have been edited from a longer interview. The result was a seeming misrepresentation of Aftergood’s actual position yesterday, which was that the information in the document was not sensitive.

“I reviewed the document and did not find any sensitive technological information, or any sensitive security-related information,” wrote Aftergood in the comments section of the Secrecy blog yesterday. “Therefore I see no reason to remove the document.”

Aftergood also made this clear in comments to the Associated Press: “I regret that some people are painting it as a roadmap for terrorists, because that’s not what it is … This is not a disclosure of sensitive nuclear technologies or of facility security procedures. It is simply a listing of the numerous nuclear research sites and the programs that are underway.”

In any case, if you knew this, the Dobbs segment was confusing and contradictory as it did not explain why Aftergood and FAS would have posted the document in the first place. The obvious reason is that the posting of documents from the US government is one of its primary functions, which is to furnish transparency in our democracy, something which is often in short supply.

“The Federation of American Scientists was surprised to spot it, replete with detailed information, including floor plans, on the government printing office Web site as of May 22nd and moved on to post it on their own Web site,” said reporter Louis Schiavone to Dobbs. “Scientists familiar with the subject matter say information about the location of dozens of nuclear related sites is generally available with lots of research and in that sense it may not be catastrophic, but it does belie a worrisome sloppiness about nuclear security.”

Aftergood: “That is the one thing that is troubling about this whole episode. When the president says in early May that this is a sensitive document that should not be released and two weeks later it winds up on a government Web site, that’s a problem.”

All told, it has been another good example of how to provoke a crowd into a stampede with a story manufactured to play up fears of terrorism. Even though we’re no more at threat today than yesterday.

While FAS has removed its copy of the US government’s nuke list doc, every story failed to mention the omnipresence of such information on the web. And the fact that is had already been mirrored elsewhere. (See here and here at Cryptome.)

At Sitrep.


Al Qaeda Bonehead, Bioterror Dunce

Posted in Bioterrorism, War On Terror at 2:47 pm by George Smith

Al Qaeda men continue to show ignorance on even simple things while trying to scare us into believing they’re ready to launch bioterror strikes. The wishful thinking doesn’t fool people in the know. But it does give some news agencies material to keep their boogeyman stories fresh.

“U.S. counterterrorism officials have authenticated a video by an al Qaeda recruiter [named ‘Abdullah al-Nafisi’] threatening to smuggle a biological weapon into the United States via tunnels under the Mexico border, the latest sign of the terrorist group’s determination to stage another mass-casualty attack on the U.S. homeland,” reported the Washington Times today. (Caveat emptor: This is another website that tries to put your browser in a high bandwidth full nelson.)

The story continued to explain that al Qaeda is apparently interested in alliances with ‘white militia groups’ — which only shows the pitiful nature of the intelligence. The second thought that occurs: Why are anonymous US intelligence officials gossiping about this with a newspaper?

“The officials, who spoke only on the condition they not be named because of the sensitive nature of their work, stressed that there is no credible information that al Qaeda has acquired the capabilities to carry out a mass biological attack although its members have clearly sought the expertise,” continued the piece.

“Four pounds of anthrax — in a suitcase this big — carried by a fighter through tunnels from Mexico into the U.S. are guaranteed to kill 330,000 Americans within a single hour if it is properly spread in population centers there,” the al Qaeda recruiter is said to have said.

Three hundred thirty thousand in one hour, eh? DD guesses they’ve managed a revolution in weaponry and bypassed the normal disease process.

“Symptoms of [anthrax disease] vary depending on how the disease was contracted, but symptoms usually occur within 7 days,” states the CDC. Guess we’ll have to change that.

Bootnote: The al Qaeda man’s claim re anthrax does show that the US government’s hyping of the threat of bioterrorism has had effect: Al Qaeda takes its ‘statistics’ and wishful beliefs almost directly from our official utterances.

“Milton Leitenberg, a biological arms expert who has been regularly critical of the fear agenda, addressed two [Richard Danzig]-penned position papers in 1997 and 1999,” DD wrote for el Reg a number of months ago. “In these, a kilogram of anthrax was said to able to kill hundreds of thousands.”

“[100 kilograms] of weaponized anthrax dropped on D.C. under good weather conditions, is likely to cause about the same number of casualties as a one megaton bomb dropped on the city” — a quote from Tara O’Toole, the recent Obama nominee for head scientist at the Dept. of Homeland Security, delivered in congressional testimony in 2007.

These statements, and many others like them emitted by government officials or experts wishing to shape government policy, have indeed shaped and inspired al Qaeda perceptions about bioterrorism.


More Jaundice on Cybersecurity Policy

Posted in Cyberterrorism, War On Terror at 1:54 pm by George Smith

“Negative reactions are coming in to President Obama’s cybersecurity proposals,” writes a blog at PC Mag. “The reasons vary, but many are arguing that the proposals resemble earlier, less publicized efforts from the Bush administration, and that the proposed National Cybersecurity Coordinator will lack sufficient

DD makes an appearance, again calling the story about unnamed cities in other countries being blacked out by cyberattack an urban legend. It was delivered by President Obama on Friday, and he presumably read it in the Cyberspace Policy Review, were it merits a footnote — citing a p.r. sheet issued by a computer security vendor.

The rule of thumb for such claims needs to be this, particulary when an ‘item’ is to be delivered by the President: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary and substantial evidence to back them up.

And the regular circular slogan during the days of WMD’s in Iraq: “Absence of proof does not mean proof of absence,” just doesn’t cut it.

A stake needs to be driven through this type of thing as it’s part-and-parcel of the regular slew of ghost stories which come with news about menaces from cyberspace. Its use functionally puts the Obama administration at a disadvantage, making it no better than previous administrations. Therefore, those who wrote the report, or insisted upon the item’s inclusion, need to be taken aside and put on a very short leash.

I’ve made this part of the discussion with reporters in the past week because these fact-free rumors get around only because the viewpoints of extremists have become the common currency in the national debate on cybersecurity.

When including such things in policy reports, by nature, they hinder careful and deliberative thought. And they distract from a discussion in which security is discussed in a sophisticated and nuanced matter, conflating it into one big grab-bag issue with the forbidding, even numbing, theme: The nation is at risk.

And “[where did Obama’s] $1 trillion dollar guesstimate come from?” asked Rob Rosenberger over the weekend.

“It’s been estimated that last year alone cyber criminals stole intellectual property from businesses worldwide worth up to $1 trillion,” said the president last Friday.

Answer: It came from a McAfee Associates press release. Really.

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