Thursday, February 28, 2013

Honky Tonk Women

Brian Jones, the talented multi-instrumentalist, would have been 71 today. I only note that in passing, because I was six years old when he left the Stones, and I only know of him in retrospect.

There was a theory that Mick Jagger killed him; I remember hearing that one as a teenager. The police didn't agree, and it's more likely that his death was an accident. I have no reason to pass this along either, but there it is.

There's another, weirder urban myth around the Stones that I remembered for many years. I even recall believing it, and passing it along. Somewhere along the line, as a teenager, I was told (or read, or pulled out of my ass) the "fact" that the Rolling Stones song Honky Tonk Women was one of the few crossover hits that charted on both the country and rock charts. It was, as far as I was concerned, a fragment of Holy Writ, a little chunk of reality that you couldn't argue with.

It also happened to be complete crap. But why should I let that bother me?

To be honest, there was a germ of truth in there. If you took that germ, twisted it into a pretzel, inflated it to 165 psi, and looked at it in a funhouse mirror, through someone else’s glasses. While squinting.

See, if you owned a copy of the album Let It Bleed (1969), then halfway through side one (right after an old Robert Johnson song called "Love in Vain"), you had the original version of the song, called "Country Honk," with slightly different lyrics and a completely different (mostly acoustic) arrangement.

(Let It Bleed, incidentally, was the last album with Brian Jones, so it all ties together reasonably well. Of course, there’s no evidence that Jones played on this particular track, but let’s just ignore that and move on, shall we?)

The version we're all more familiar with was actually a re-recording, and had only been released on the 45 (back in those heady days of vinyl and magnetic tape, full-sized albums spun on the turntable at 33 rpm, and "singles," much smaller disks, had a higher fidelity because of the faster playback speed of 45 rpm).

It also appeared on Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2), which contained a number of other familiar songs which had originally been released only as singles (including "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday"). Through the Past, Darkly was also dedicated to the (by then quite dead) Brian Jones. So there you go.

Although singles have never really disappeared, they fell out of fashion in America sometime in the late eighties. Of course, now, with iTunes and other download sites, the music business is getting back to selling singles, without ever pressing a single 45 rpm disk. Which would be ironic if anybody actually cared that much.

The fiddle track, incidentally, was played by Byron Berline, one of America's preeminent fiddle players, and a member of the underrated "Flying Burrito Brothers."

A little more trivia: in 1971, Ricky Nelson played "Country Honk," to a moderately negative reception, at the Rock 'n Roll Revival concert at Madison Square Garden. He refers to that in his last hit, "Garden Party," which includes the line:
then I sang a song about a honky-tonk, and it was time to leave.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gun in 60 Seconds

As we slowly drag some of America's less-evolved citizens toward the reality that the Second Amendment is not Holy Writ, I've noticed a number of very specific bad debating tactics that the NRA likes to use.

There's all the usual suspects: attacking the messenger ("you liberals hate guns! And the Constitution!"), the slippery slope argument ("if they ban assault weapons, next they'll ban all guns!"), and on and on.

Most of them are pretty easy to combat, if you know what you're talking about. And let's be real: if you are required to accept "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" without any limitations, then the Second Amendment isn't restricted to guns, either. Nuclear weapons are "arms," and therefore all citizens should be allowed to own them.

Since even the most conservative member of the Supreme Court says that there can, in fact, be limitations on gun ownership, maybe it's time for somebody to put a muzzle on Wayne LaPierre and let the adults talk.

But on that subject -- knowing what you're talking about -- there is one little thing that bothers me. In blogs and on talk shows, I keep hearing people making obvious, blatant mistakes that occasionally get them in trouble. So let's put a little reality into our side of the argument. Here's some little facts relevant to the gun debate that you should probably know.

Guns aren't difficult to understand, nor are they difficult to use. Literally any idiot can learn to use one, and most of them can learn to use them very well. (Here's where I want to follow up with "...for example, look at the Marines," but my son is a Marine now, and I've promised to be good.) However, just like any other hobby enthusiast, there is a certain amount of specialized knowledge involved.

To put it another way, gun nuts are like LARPers or comic book geeks: they have specific terminology, and a knowledge of trivia that is unique to their hobby, and if you get any of it wrong, they'll scream like little bitches and try to say that you don't know anything about the subject.

Trust me: having carried one for 21 years, I'm reasonably familiar with the subject, and it isn't rocket science. So here's the least you need to know.

Always be sure that you're using the right terminology. We want an "assault weapons ban," not a ban on assault rifles.

There's are important reasons for this, and most of them have to do with the legal definitions of these two terms. See, an "assault weapon" is a generic term, and can be expanded or contracted to cover a multitude of sins.

An assault rifle, on the other hand, has a very specific definition (and yes, I'm using Wikipedia here - it's the most accessible source I found, and it is at least getting this part of the debate right):
An assault rifle is a selective fire (selective between automatic, semi-automatic, and burst fire) rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine....

Assault rifles are categorized in terms of using an intermediate cartridge power that is between light machine guns firing full power cartridges, which are intended more for sustained automatic fire in a light support role, and submachine guns, which fire a lower powered pistol cartridge rather than a rifle cartridge.

Fully automatic fire refers to an ability for a rifle to fire continuously until the magazine is empty and no rounds remain; "burst-capable" fire refers to an ability of a rifle to fire a small yet fixed multiple number of rounds with but one press of the trigger; in contrast, semi-automatic refers to an ability to fire one round per press of a trigger.
I could go on about the difference between the full-auto sear (a little metal piece on the inside of the M-16 that allows it to keep firing until you run out of ammo), and the burst-fire sear (which I thought was an awesome innovation when it came out), but all you really need to know is that replacing a sear isn't difficult.

More than that, though, there are conversion kits that make it even easier. So don't let anybody try to tell you that it takes some kind of mystic metalwork to convert a civilian AR-15, which is an assault weapon, into a functional assault rifle. A couple of pliers, a small punch (I usually ended up using a small screwdriver) - there are specialized tools that make working on an M-16 easier (like a barrel wrench), but damned few of them are required.

There are other terms that drive the gun hobbyists crazy: the bullet is the metal bit that flies out of the gun. The whole thing, including the casing, the powder and everything, is a shell, a round, or a cartridge. Never call it a bullet.
For some reason, this makes them crazy (or "crazier, maybe).

Also, don't say "clip," say "magazine." This is another of those stupid pedantic things that make spittle fly across the room. A clip can feed ammo into a magazine - a magazine feeds ammo into a weapon. If you really care enough to read about it, go here - but otherwise, just avoid it.

They also can get really cranky about the word "gun" - it's a very generic term that covers everything from handguns to Howitzers. Just so you know.

(Overall, I find the whole thing funny - it's like listening to comic nerds screaming "You don't even know the relationship between the Golden Age and Silver Age Superman! Why should we listen to you about anything?" But I find a lot of things funny, even when nobody else does.)


(If you want to get even farther into the argument, here's a piece I ran across in gathering links for this post. I tend to avoid DailyKos just out of habit, but the writer gets into a lot of the tactics and terminology that might come in handy for somebody.)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Jindal and Tonic

Bobby Jindal got some traction last week by telling the GOP that it was time to "stop being the stupid party." And, you know, it would be awesome if they could do that. But let's consider the source, shall we?

This is Bobby Jindal, after all. The man who claims to have exorcised a demon from his girlfriend in college. An act which apparently made him believe in an even stronger-than-average "War on Christianity," since he decided, a few years ago, that churches should be allowed to set up their own armed security forces. Because that's worked so well throughout history, like with the Inquisition, or the Crusades.

Of course, Bobby is also a big supporter of handing tax money to churches. Like giving them education funds. Even if they use biology textbooks that teach that the Loch Ness monster is real:
"Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in Scotland? 'Nessie' for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur."
Which goes to explain, in part, why Louisiana's education system ranks third worst in the nation.

Jindal also thinks it's a good idea to drastically cut Medicaid, which doesn't make much sense when there's only one state with more people below the poverty line (per capita) than yours.

(Mississipi, if you were wondering.)

But maybe it just makes sense. When your hellhole of a state also sports the highest infant mortality rate, the fifth-highest maternal mortality rate, the fourth-worst life expectancy rate, and the fifth-highest obesity rate in the country, all that medical care is just being wasted, isn't it?

It does lead you to wonder, though: how low do you have to go before Bobby Jindal can see that the GOP is being the stupid party?