Someone recently asked me for advice on purchasing a refurbished laptops, a Lenovo t450s vs. a Lenovo T440.

That first one with the 12 GB of RAM and the i7 processor is a nice little powerhouse. For most of day-to-day computing needs, it’s overkill, but the two applications that love lots of memory and the SSD card are Photoshop and any video-editing software– and recording software. #1 also has a higher resolution screen, which, again, is useful for Photoshop and video. That said, #2 is also pretty good– 8 GB is generally the benchmark for Photoshop, and the SSD will help a lot. (memory is upgradable to 12 GB if desired). I’m not a fan of touchscreen, so I’d almost prefer #2 which doesn’t seem to have it. The i5 is slower than the i7 by today’s standards, but if you’re used to an i5 you probably won’t feel like it’s slow.

The i5 model actually does not have the fastest i5 processor– another factor, so the i7 model has a not insubstantial speed advantage. (You would notice it if you used an i5 for a few weeks and then moved to an i7). Both have bluetooth and wifi.

For recording, that might be a factor in latency– that lag between the music and what you hear back in your headphone or speakers. If you plan to do a fair bit of recording, using a DAW, Reaper, or whatever, that might be a factor.

Both have USB 3.0, but the i5 (T450s) has two ports while the i7 model as 3. Might be a factor if you are connecting a microphone, a keyboard, and a mouse, and who knows what else…

It’s kind of a 4 cylinder vs. a 6. Here’s a bit of my logic: the Lenovos are durable, reliable machines. The extra $250 now might buy you a laptop that will age a bit better, process video and audio faster, and maybe give you a few more years of viability– saving you $$ from upgrading sooner– while the i5 (T440) will be a solid, reliable machine. I’ve had Reaper (a DAW) running on the i5 for a while and it seems to handle it nicely, especially with 8GB of RAM and an SSD for storage.

I like the Lenovos– that’s our default machine in our office. Durable, reliable, and good features. I have an older T61 here that has been a rock for me. That’s quite a compliment actually– it’s quite “old” by laptop standards but I never sit there and think, “gee, it’s slow– I should replace it”.

One last left-field comment: I have Windows 7 on all my home machines– I’m not real fond of Windows 10. Microsoft really wants to shove updates down your throat now and it’s hard to prevent Windows 10 from suddenly going off to la-la land and downloading a massive patch without asking you. If they offered Windows 7 instead, I’d take it myself, but they probably won’t. And, unfortunately, everyone will eventually have to upgrade anyway to keep up with drivers and applications and such…


Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury was a very talented singer and performer.  He is ranked 18th on Rolling Stone’s roster of great rock singers.

Seriously: 18th.  Behind Bob Dylan.  Behind John Lennon.  Robert Plant?

(Ahead of Van Morrison???  Way ahead of Art Garfunkel and Tom Waits???  It’s a strange list.  I love Bob Dylan, but number 7 on this list?  And if Dylan is 7th, why is Bono 32nd and  Neil Young 37th?  What really is the criteria here?   It appears to be a mix-up and random blend of “greatest vocalist” and “greatest artist”.  Is Mick Jagger really a better singer than Janis Joplin or Nina Simone?)

All right– he did have a good voice.

A research team undertook a study in 2016 to understand the appeal behind Mercury’s voice.[39] Led by Professor Christian Herbst, the team identified his notably faster vibrato and use of subharmonics as unique characteristics of Mercury’s voice, particularly in comparison to opera singers, and confirmed a vocal range from F#2 to G5 (just over 3 octaves) but were unable to confirm claims of a 4-octave range.  (Wikipedia)

So it must be conceded that technically he had a terrific voice, a terrific instrument at his command.  What did he do with it?

So, quick, name one of his songs that really mattered.

Me neither.

Let’s be clear here: people who regard Queen as a great band will cite “We Are the Champions” as one of the greatest rock recordings of all time.  If you are in that camp, I am talking a foreign language to you.  How can “Bohemian Rhapsody” not be one of the great songs of all time?  It’s epic.  No, it’s not even a great song.  It’s not even in the same league as “Anchorage” by Michelle Shocked, or “Homeward Bound” or “The Boxer” or “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Tangled up in Blue” or “Thunder Road”.

Gosh, Elizabeth Taylor and Liza Minnelli both attended his 20th April 1992 tribute concert.  Both of them!

What he did do was kill several people by refusing to accept the diagnoses of AIDS, and refusing to disclose to his numerous sexual partners that he probably had it.

When asked whether he altered his behavior, Freddie responds, “Darling, fuck it, I’m doing everything with everybody.”  Poz

He also refused to “come out”.  Not that anyone has a duty of any sort to “come out”, but it would have been honorable for him to do it at the time of the AIDS epidemic, to do what he could to increase public awareness of the issue and help those lobbying for more funding for research and treatment.  Unfortunately, he appears to have been more concerned about selling records and tv appearances and not offending his family than about the lives of other gay men.

Was that his worst sin?  Or was inflicting “we will, we will, rock you” upon millions of sports fans even worse.  Or “we are the champions”.  Or– please– “Another One Bites the Dust”.  And another one.  And another one.  And another one.  Seriously, folks, it’s a insecticide commercial gone bad.  Really bad.

Or, worst of all, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, an absolute marvel of inane kitch which they never could perform live, because that would have really required musical gifts beyond Freddie Mercury’s grasp (they cheated with tapes of the choral and other parts).   I mean, obviously it could have been performed live, but it would have required a choir and more musicians and– here is the crucial part– that would have diluted the attention paid to Freddie.

NME rightly called it “a masterful, if ludicrous, six-minute suite of operatic cock-rock about a lad who’s killed someone, sold his soul to Beelzebub and wants to know if Scaramouche can do the Fandango”.  Well, I’m not sure about “masterful”.  It was really produced by a bunch of engineers in a studio.  It’s not hard, apparently, to convince people that there is something brilliant about that but surely a lot of those people were disappointed when they saw Queen live and they couldn’t do their most famous opera.

The Allure of Nostalgia

From a viewer of this video.

Seems like yesterday I was in my 20’s listening to this Goddess on the radio for the first time, driving around in my Toyota pick up to meet a date. The 90’s… it… life, was so simple. Life was just easier, I had the world at my fingertips, I could have done anything I set my mind to. I had it made, I just didn’t realize it then. What happened? College, career, marriage, loved ones passing on, kids… Divorce. Hair turned white, joints ache when it rains… LOL! Now, I’m looking at retirement in the next few years and relocating South, single again. Where the hell did the time go?? I wish I could start over, go back in time, go back in my old truck, hearing her on the radio for the first time. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the simple things in life or realize how good we have it. Life goes so fast. Appreciate the good moments and people in your life… as nothing lasts forever.

I thought it was a moving post.  Not especially eloquent but heart-felt, by someone who was obviously moved by this old video of Hope Sandoval performing this simmering, heated, intimate ballad, offering, in a sense, to “fade into you”, to commit everything she has to a man or woman who absorbs her.

It’s a fantasy, of course.  Here’s it’s evil twin, and a song that is truly one of the greatest pop songs of all time: Leslie Gore singing the scariest love song ever: “You Don’t Own Me”.  Listen to that thundering piano at the beginning: the sound of impending doom (to the boy she is singing to).  I don’t need you.  I am completely self-sufficient and autonomous.  If I hang out with you, it will be purely by my choice, and when I choose otherwise, I will walk away without a second thought.

Free Enterprise is For Suckers

I guess I need some basic economic lessons again. Not sure I understand “free enterprise”. When a single mother with five children gets a small amount of money from the government, it’s a handout and builds an unhealthy dependency. When a extremely profitable multi-billion dollar corporation gets $1.2 billion in government handouts, it’s an “investment”.  Bombardier and Chrysler accepted billions in government “investment”, money that went to wealthy shareholders and top executives.  Most, if not all, of that money will never be repaid.  In fact, Bombardier just completely torpedoed the one semi-legitimate argument for that investment by laying off 5,000 workers.

Amazon and Foxconn have received even more lavish deals from the U.S. government, as does every major sports franchise in America.   As does every major defense contractor– these are for-profit companies, you know– not state-owned enterprises.   They don’t just sell their weapons to the United States.

So that single mom should just incorporate herself and ask for an “investment”.  She just needs better pr. She should maybe hold a competition among cities: who wants to get my “headquarters”.

As Charlie Chaplin said in “Monsieur Verdoux”– truly one of the most non-conformist films ever made– , about serial killers vs. generals: “numbers sanctify”.

Why Not Run as a Democrat

I am always surprised when Democrats don’t make “working class” more of a centerpiece in their campaigns.

It’s simple: you, Mr. Voter,  work hard.  You get up early.  You go to your job.  You give your best: your sweat, your effort.  And for that, you get taken advantage of by the real elites: the banks, the corporations that get government grants and subsidies while you have to earn your pay, degree-mill universities that seduce students into taking on enormous debt while earning worthless degrees, the investor class, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, pay-day lenders, and so on.

Well, enough is enough.  We’re going to stand up for the working man.  We’re going to make sure you get your fair share: good pay, good benefits, and decent health care.

That’s your whole campaign.  Forget the details: hammer this point home– we stand for the working class, for people who actually produce, for people who pay their own way.  The real elites are getting government hand-outs at your expense.  The rich are not paying their fair share of the tax burden.  The government is wastefully spending your hard-eared tax collars on “incentives” to big business.

What other policies can we offer?

The environment?  Well, obviously companies that profit by selling products that harm the environment should help pay the cost of cleaning it up.

Health care?  Every single person should be insured, bar none.  Medical care is not a disposable product that people can opt out of.  Companies should be able to make a profit, but not be able to charge whatever they like for life-saving drugs, especially since most of these drugs were developed by government-funded researchers.

Pensions: what makes more sense than taking a portion of everyone’s income into a fund to pay for when they retire?  And preventing politicians from using any of that money for any other purpose?

Democrats occasionally sound like this is what they want to do, but they rarely do anything as dramatic as the Republicans’ tax cuts for the rich for the working classes.  Be bold.  Be audacious.  Do it.

The Polarities

The heart of the gulf between political parties and constituencies in the U.S. is wonderfully rendered by this beauty, a conflict between Big Sugar and People Who Care About the Health of Your Children, usually embodied in evil incarnate: the government.

Big Sugar, deeply aware of what happened to Big Tobacco, are cleverly trying to pre-empt any attempts by progressives to raise the taxes on sugary drinks.

Let’s step back for a moment.  Several big corporations, represented by associations with anodyne titles, produce a product, sugary drinks (pop and juices) that are scientifically proven to cause major health problems to their consumers, namely, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.   The health care system will eventually have to provide expensive care for a predictable percentage of these consumers as a result of their consumption of these products.  There is no confusion here, no “alternative facts”: the over-consumption of sugary drinks leads to tooth decay, obesity,  heart disease, and diabetes, for a large number of people.  Big Sugar does not contribute one penny towards the medical care that will eventually be required by this population of consumers.  You and I will pay that cost, through our taxes and increased premiums for health insurance.  The health care required by an obese 30-year-old with diabetes is part of the real cost of the product.

You and I are subsidizing the sugar industry.   They don’t subsidize you.   The leaders of this industry pay themselves lavishly and their investors reliably.  There is good money to be made in selling poison.

They don’t need our additional help: they already receive massive government handouts aimed at the corn industry which provides the basic ingredients of these products.  The government does not provide anything like this subsidy to the growers of broccoli or kale or spinach or carrots or anything else that might be nutritious: there is not nearly as much profit at stake for shareholders and investors in those crops.  Vegetable growers need to study the lobbying skills of the Sugary Drinks Industry: the rewards can be monstrous.

So your government not only tolerates the production and sale of products that negatively affect your health: they actually sponsor them.  The same way the Trump Administration is now actually subsidizing polluting industries like coal mining and taking away subsidies from clean energy like wind and solar.

So Big Sugar has sponsored several ballot initiatives presented as legislation that will prevent city governments from adding taxes to any groceries purchased within the state.  They advertise these initiatives with anodyne phrases about stopping out-of-control governments from taxing poor people and adding to their grocery bills and inhibiting the pursuit of happiness and joy and pleasure.  This clever ruse appears to be working in some states.  When asked, voters are enthusiastic: stop the tax.  When it is explained that the soft drink makers are sponsoring the bill, they are surprised.  They didn’t know.  The soft drink makers are spending millions on advertising; their opponents have much, much less money.

The thing is, no city is contemplating adding taxes to groceries.  Just to soft drinks.  Like Philadelphia, which has seen a 40% decrease in consumption since they imposed a tax on sugary drinks, and Berkeley.

Conservatives believe in freedom.  Freedom!  That means tearing up the wilderness with your ATV, while shooting at aluminum beer cans with an A-15 semi-automatic rifle, drinking your Coca Cola and eating more fries, and being bankrupted when you finally do come down with diabetes or wipe out on your ATV or shoot yourself in the foot because you can’t afford health insurance.

Is this a caricature?  Some people deserve a caricature.  Like the Texas pastor who disbanded a football team because a couple of black players took a knee during the anthem.   Because he believes it disrespects the valiant warriors who gave their lives in Viet Nam because Lyndon Johnson couldn’t bring himself to admit that he had failed.   The Texas Pastor was absolutely well-meaning, even kind; he had had the black players overnight in his house.  One of them was a good friend of his son’s.  He was still ridiculously wrong.  Ridiculous because there is nothing inherently disrespectful about taking a knee during the anthem, and, arguably, it is more respectful of the anthem and the flag than anything those attentive white people standing up and looking at their smart phones have in them.

The Democrats, and progressives, think it might be wiser to discourage excessive consumption of sugary drinks, reduce the rate of diabetes and obesity, and encourage people to get more exercise and eat healthier foods.  They think it might be wise for everyone to have health insurance.

But I don’t want the government telling me what to do!

Well, it’s pretty hard to argue with that.  Nobody likes being told what to do.   But government eventually got around to fighting Big Tobacco (though they largely sold out in the end, accepting a lot of money in exchange for not banning it altogether) and most people now accept the legislation that restricted their ability to enjoy tobacco products where-ever and whenever they pleased.

Government still largely restricts–severely– the consumption of marijuana, which, arguably, does less harm than Coca Cola because most people will not use it, and most users will not smoke more than a few joints a week.

The Government doesn’t allow builders to put asbestos in houses anymore.  Cars have to meet minimum safety requirements, as do cribs and pajamas.    A lot of lives are better because of government “telling you what to do”.

Eventually, enough people might come around to accepting the idea that sugary drinks should cost more to help cover the cost of the damage they do to public health.  In the meantime, progressive leaders will continue to be the target of ridicule and scorn by Republicans.  The “nanny” state.  Extremists.  Communists!  The “elites”.  (I don’t know what you call multi-billionaire stockholders and investors, if not “elites”).

Of course, sometimes it means that corporations get to tell you what to do instead.  Like pay 150% interest on “pay-day” loans, or $13,000 for a few stitches, or allow sugary cereals, candy and soft drinks to be marketed directly to your children on Saturday mornings and during Christmas movies.  Movies, like “A Christmas Carol”, about a heartless capitalist who inflicts misery on everyone he knows in order to increase his personal wealth.

America now has a serious problem with polarization of the electorate, meaning that the middle ground of acceptable political compromise is no longer available.  If I win, you lose, and vice versa.  And it’s not the fault of both sides.  To blame both sides would be to accept a false equivalency.  Just because some Democrats are just as polarizing as most Republicans does not make them the same.  Obama clearly offered to work with the Republicans in Congress; the Republicans clearly decided that, even if it hurt the nation, they would not cooperate with anything Obama wanted to do.  They placed their own political interest ahead of the country’s.

Two sides finding each other incomprehensible to each other, like those who believe that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the greatest pop song every recorded, and those who, like me, find it absolute rubbish.

I’m not pessimistic.  I believe that eventually the chickens will come home to roost and people will begin to realize just what a bad idea Donald Trump was.




You Don’t Have to Put out the Red Light

No matter how desperately you try to imbue the form with substance and meaning and importance, a musical is still just a musical: a ridiculously implausible, trivial, trite, and boring art form.

So with all the raves “Hamilton” received, I think I kind of thought Lin Manuel Miranda was different.  That, like the creators of “Cabaret”, he had found a way to integrate the form into a serious drama with real art to it.  Sadly, I now know that Miranda’s models, his ideals, include “The Little Mermaid”, and “Chicago” and “Moulin Rouge” and “The Bandwagon” and– god help us– Jim Henson’s “Labyrinth”, which I believe is one of the worst movies ever made.  Let me emphasize: it is extremely difficult to reconcile the acclaim given to “Hamilton” with it’s creator’s fondness for one of the worst fantasies, with the worst script, and the most inept direction, ever perpetrated on the screen.

I grew up ridiculing musicals, for obvious reasons: people sing to each other, accompanied by invisible orchestras and choirs, in the middle of what otherwise appears to be a realistic drama.  (The “Wizard of Oz” is different: it is a fantasy set in a fantasy world– it makes “sense” to establish ridiculousness as part of the fantasy landscape.)  But there is more to it than that: most musicals had plot lines that made situation comedies like “My Mother the Car” seem plausible and richly developed.  It seemed to me that the art form itself, the musical, was hospitable to the most heavy-handed, clumsy, contrived expression imaginable.

Just to confirm my views, both “Mary Poppins” and “West Side Story” dubbed the voices of the stars.  I mean, all musicals are dubbed anyway (the songs are recorded in the studio and then lip-synched in front of the cameras).  What kind of artist would use the body of one actress and the voice of another?  The same kind of artistic imagination that would use a drum machine (and today, believe me, they do and they are).

I do not anticipate great things from Miranda.  I think his current projects reveal that “Hamilton” was a bit of a fluke.


Decidedly Blue

A few years ago, I saw a movie called “Blue is the Warmest Color” about a lesbian relationship between a younger and (relatively) older woman, which disintegrated as the younger woman decided she was not sure of her sexuality.

It was a beautiful, incandescent film, full of startling sequences of physical intimacy.  It was a landmark.  It attracted favorable critical appreciation, and made it’s two stars famous.

And now we have this.

Why now?  Why not the minute you experienced this harassment?  Why didn’t you leave the set and go to the police?  Why did you wait until the film was released, until it was acclaimed?

And why is the author, Julie Maroh, more concerned about getting recognition for her source material than she is about making her own film, if she really believes she could make a better one?