FirewallNOVA is a state of mind

Someone once said to me: “You know, back in my day we didn’t have PHP, and we didn’t need databases behind the scenes. All we needed was a hammer, some flint, and a text editor.”

I said: “Tell me more, Grandpa.”

But those were the last words he ever spoke to me.

But I think if my old grandfather had ever deigned to speak to me again, he probably would have told me about long nights hunched over a keyboard, copying and pasting text and code, and spinning fresh ideas onto that spartan framework. Uploading each new page via FTP. Having to quickly revise and re-upload if he forgot to change a date from one copy-and-paste job to the next. And occasionally having to edit manually dozens or even hundreds of pages every time a new element needed to be propagated across the entire site.

Isn’t it sad, here in 2017, how we’ve lost that hands-on craftsmanship, that personal approach to the Web?

Well here at FirewallNOVA, we say “Enough.” Enough with the impersonal, automated publishing. Enough with the page design. Enough with all the “software.”

The Web is a place for writing. Why do we need software to publish? When a man goes fishing in his rowboat in the canal, does he need to bring the Army Corp of Engineers along for the ride? Hell, no.

So in that spirit, and with the added factor that we don’t see an immediate way forward for our erstwhile mission of covering certain segments of politics and culture yet are not quite ready to delete the entire WordPress thingmajig, we are going to quietly transition to a different format and a different mission.

It will be simpler, yes. It will be plainer. It may remind you of days spent sitting around the dinner table with no television or any other noise in the house at all.

And it will probably – nay, very likely – load FAST, even on your phone or your seven-year-old’s seven-year-old tablet.

I bet the page will load so fast you get whiplash just by visiting. Whoa.

In concluding this first new portal to the new-old FirewallNOVA, let us say as an old man of old-time radio used to say:

“Good day.”

Frank Zappa City Of Tiny Lights – Live

If you’ve paid much attention to web video over the years, you may notice its inventory is growing massively, and not only from people posting new videos of themselves. An immense amount of archival cultural video is being unearthed and uploaded, so what’s old truly does become new again.

Actually, often it really is new because back when the video/film was recorded, distribution options were primordial. For instance, a lot of great footage from the history of rock music was taken in Europe, either by filmmmakers or, primarily, on European television broadcasts. In the 1970s, you could not watch European television in the American suburbs.

To me it is fascinating that we have access to such a growing body of footage …. of the past. Probably like the state of archaeology 120 years ago.

One caveat is that what we are getting is by no means a uniform picture. It is very eclectic. Frank Zappa and Ry Cooder, for example, left a pretty decent trove of video from that era, while Happy the Man left almost nothing.

Here is Frank with Adrian Belew on vocals and a very young Terry Bozzio on drums.

Firesign Theatre, Don’t Crush That Dwarf …

Porgie Tirebiter, he’s a spy and a girl delighter
Porgie, firefighter, he’s a student like you.

If you grew up in the U.S. in the 1930s or 1940s, you probably got to experience radio theatre as a mind-expanding and, when done well, mind-infesting form of entertainment that tapped into the imagination in a way that television usually lacks. It has something to do with allowing our brains to do the extra work of creating the visual world – which is closer to dreams, in composition, than to the concrete reality depicted in TV shows and movies.

If like me you are too young to have experienced the age of radio, the very next best thing, which was as good and probably superior, was the Firesign Theatre of the 1960s and 1970s. The selection included here was my first introduction and I can remember it like it was yesterday.

The year was 1973 and Weasel was still on the midnight shift at WHFS FM (102.3 in Bethesda, MD). If you were in junior high school and prone to lying in bed awake way too late, Weasel was one of your best friends.

Anyway, one night Weasel played the entire first side of Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers. As usual, the selection came on without any introduction (he’d detail each playlist after the half hour or so). I’d never heard of Firesign Theatre and could not tell what I was listening to, whether it was a show or separate things or bunch of commercials or what – but because of the format, and the late hour, I was drawn in. My first introduction to “theater of the mind.”

The Hour of the Wolf News came on, with the talking head noting “Adam, one threes and sebien negritude will come as a pleasant surprise to his honorary aquarium parents Ralph Bunch and Ida Lipino,” then the food was coming through the television, then Porgie and Mudhead, and though a voice in my head was saying “What the hell IS this?” they had me mesmerized.

The jokes were good enough, but it was the parallel reality that made the program so enrapturing. You often can’t tell what the joke is until your mind figures out the context …. and then you realize the context itself is part of the joke – riffing on tropes and expectations that leave you skimming along the edge between the separate reality and this one. I had never experience anything like it.

Unfortunately, I did not get to hear Weasel’s recap of what the hell that was, which meant although I tried to explain it to my friends, I couldn’t. If you were growing up in the American suburbs in 1973 reality had a fluid aspect to it anyway, so for many months afterwards all I was left with was the vague memory of another world.

Another DC station at the time used to play The National Lampoon Radio Hour every Sunday night before The King Biscuit Flower Hour. That very short-lived National Lampoon program was amazing – a couple years later sending several alumni to start Saturday Night Live – but even though I listened and listened I never heard anything like a reprise of that very weird late night episode.

Then, one night in 1974, again on WHFS, they played a selection from “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus” and I managed to hear the recap. And within a couple years I probably had bought every album the Firesign Theatre produced. I can still say, even after this many years, there has never been anything like them.

When you get a chance, and have 20 minutes or so of uninterrupted time, put on the headphones, close your eyes, and check out Don’t Crush That Dwarf. If you are in Colorado, you can probably even get the full 1973 experience.

Basketball Jones

“That basketball, was like a basketball to me.”

At the time it was just plain funny, and edgy in a Mad Magazine sort of way. It was the coming out moment for those early 1970s heroes of so many adolescents and teenagers: Cheech & Chong, previously relegated to clandestine record albums our parents really had no idea about. We’d crack up in our bedrooms after school and repeat the jokes ad nauseam during the various self-directed, youth-oriented activities that filled our days.

The song sung by “Tyrone Shoelaces” appeared on a 1973 LP and featured members of George Harrison’s cadre of musician friends at the time (including Billy Preston and Jim Keltner) and the Mamas and the Papas on backing vocals. This animated short film was made the same year but most widely seen as the featurette preceding the great, and now pretty much unavailable, 1976 comedy “Tunnelvision.”

I am pretty sure I saw it on television sometime in the 70s but am a bit hazy on the specifics.

What is remarkable about Basketball Jones, the film, is the extreme, err, political incorrectness that leaps off the screen today. In 1976, not so much. In fact, I thought of Basketball Jones as a tame, mainstream sort of introduction to Cheech and Chong since it wasn’t focused on the certain illicit substances that comprised the central concern of their oeuvre up to that point.

To get a sense of how our mores and rules have changed over the past 40 years, Basketball Jones is a good measuring stick: Tame at the time; outrageous today.

While some people still hold to the ridiculous idea that modern American, left-wing-driven culture is becoming more free, the reality is just the opposite. What we are becoming is more sensitive and restrictive. It’s possible the freest we have ever been was in the 1970s when our president was Richard Nixon and you could buy record albums with giant rolling papers included.

Virginia’s FOI Act Pretty Much Worthless

FOIA window
FOIA request study shows government agencies in VA often less than transparent.

A recent test by 13 Virginia newspapers showed that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are easily ignored by government officials. Newspaper representatives and the American Civil Liberties Union have found government agencies unwilling to respond to many FOIA requests.

Read the whole story at the Times-Dispatch.

SCV Opposes Recall of CSA License Tags

In the Deep South of Virginia, in bucolic Brunswick county, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are mounting a simulation of the end of the Civil War, by challenging Gov. McAuliffe’s order recalling Virginia license tags that bear the Sons’ symbol (which is largely the Confederate States of America’s unofficial “battle flag”). The simulation results from the fact that Leonard Tracy Clary (described as the Sons’ “Virginia division commander”) has no chance of winning.

The reason he can’t win is a combination of two facts: first, the Supreme Court has ruled that states have no obligation under the First Amendment to issue tags with symbols on them that the state doesn’t want to issue; second, license tags are state property. In Walker v. Texas, the Supremes ruled that the state (in that case, Texas, but applicably to all states) is speaking when it issues a tag with a symbol on it, and that the state gets to decide what it says. Although all state action is limited by what the constitution (of the state and of the United States) permits, the Supremes observed that government function would be virtually impossible if one were to read the First Amendment in a way that meant the state could not choose to refrain from some speech. As license tags are made and issued by the state, it’s the state’s call as to what they look like and, to the extent that they say anything, it’s the state’s call as to what they say (or don’t say). In other words, your First Amendment right to put a CSA flag sticker on your bumper isn’t equal to a First Amendment right to make the state put a CSA flag symbol on its tags, or even on some of its tags. (I don’t believe the Walker case argued an Equal Protection claim, which would have said that, if Texas puts anyone else’s logo on its tags, it has to put everyone’s logo on some of its tags, but I suspect the outcome would be the same, as long as the Supremes continue to regard those symbols as state, not private, speech.)

Division commander Clary’s claim (from the press reports) appears to be slightly different from Walker’s. Walker argued that his application to have Texas make tags with the logo was denied unconstitutionally. Clary is claiming that, as he already has a tag, Virginia can’t make him give it up. I think this argument is doomed, however, as Clary’s tag is Virginia’s property. Any of us who possesses a Virginia tag can be asked by Virginia to give it back, regardless of the reason. So I don’t think Clary’s case will last very long, much less succeed. I believe one has to pay a small fee to get a tag with a logo on it, so Clary can expect to get his money back. After that, however, I think he’s still got a First Amendment option he can spend that money on, one that ought to have been the way to avoid all this fuss in the first place…

 

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More Powerful People Agree: Ryan’s Hypocrisy Good For Them

The utter inanity of suggesting that Paul Ryan’s insistence that he be allowed all the family time he wants, as a condition of being Speaker (when he has consistently opposed parental leave) is somehow good for working parents (particularly moms) is earning the criticism it deserves. See, when a very, very powerful person demands an accommodation like that, he (or she) can get it. Thus, when other very, very powerful people (like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg) say that a very, very powerful person’s ability to obtain an accommodation like that somehow strikes a blow for the rank-and-file working class, it proves they all live in an alternate universe, where the powerful believe their privileges were earned, and the powerless have only themselves to blame.

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg

If Paul Ryan wanted to use this moment to earn some valid praise, he should declare himself willing to reconsider his views on parental leave, now that he’s finally aware that asking for it is justified, but getting it isn’t as easy for the rest of us as it is for the Speaker of the House. He won’t, of course, but, oh, if he did!

A Moment of Sympathy for Boehner

When your enemy has reached the point where, for whatever reason, they can do you no more harm, any sympathy you might have for their travails emerges.

I’ve thought John Boehner was a posing, lying, self-serving jerk since I first saw him at work as speaker of the house. For four years, he has relentlessly trash-talked the president, worked against everything the Obama administration wanted to accomplish (regardless of whether or not it was a good idea), and devoted his utmost to making sure the rich got rich while the poor got nothing. He has been, for all that time, the perfect Republican.

Today, with his announced resignation–universally attributed to effective maneuvering by the minority fraction of his own party that is dominated by the professionally ignorant far right–we learn a bit about what it must have been like to be John Boehner for the last four years. In a word, I would guess what he feels is, “unappreciated.” Virginia’s Ken Cuccinelli, now president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, issued this jaw-dropping statement:

As Speaker of the House, John Boehner was hostile towards conservatives and our principles. Rather than fighting President Obama and his liberal policies, Speaker Boehner embraced them and betrayed his party’s own voters.

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One can only imagine Boehner reading this, and wondering if Cooch is smoking dope. “Embraced” the president’s policies? I missed those policies. Which ones were they?

Boehner’s departure has implications. First, it has already set off a fight over who will replace him. Imagine Dave LaRock as the next speaker and you’re probably picturing what the fight is all about as of today. Second, it means Boehner must have realized his “cut it in reconciliation” trick for defunding Planned Parenthood wasn’t going to work. That means there will be a government shut-down (something Cooch’s crew helped bring about last time, and will probably eagerly encourage again). Third, it means the Tea Party faction has (by the luck of numbers small enough to be a minority, but big enough to be necessary to outvoting the Democratic caucus) taken control of the United States congress. Ted Cruz loves the Senate Conservatives Fund, and is probably already looking around to see whom in his part of the legislature, this is going to spill over onto next

With all this vitriol, schadenfreude, and blood-lust in the air, I have to admit I do feel, just a teeny, tiny bit, some sympathy for John Boehner. He tried his best to ruin every effort made by Barack Obama. He couldn’t do it, but he tried his best. And now, when he’s being forced from power largely because of that failure, his critics claim he didn’t even try. That he “embraced” what he tried his best to destroy. Man, that’s gotta hurt.

John, I’ll never vote for you, nor send you a donation. But, if you’re in town, let me know. First round’s on me.

 

Pink Floyd Got It Right

China proposes, according to CNN, to land a probe on the “‘dark side'” of the moon. Yes, if you think I nested the quotation marks there, you’re right. No less than three times in their story do CNN refer to some part of the moon with those two words, always in quotation marks. That might be fine, if anyone were being quoted. But no source is given for that phrase, and no explanation of what it means is really offered either. From the text, one can infer that what the Chinese are planning to do is land a probe on the far side of the moon, the “back” half that we can’t see from Earth (actually, owing to the inclination of the moon’s orbit, and the fact that it sort of rocks this way and that, we can see rather more than half of it from Earth, but you get what I mean, I’m sure).

Astronomers have long found this enduring misnomer to be painful, as it ought easily to be the case that everyone can see (literally see) that the side facing the Earth changes from being wholly illuminated, to partially illuminated, to unilluminated (well, except for the faint glow of reflected Earthlight, which is pretty cool, when you look at it), back to partially illuminated, and repeat. What this means is that, in a way, there is a dark side to the moon, but it’s not the side that faces away from the Earth: it’s the side that faces away from the Sun. While the moon keeps one face towards Earth all the time, it shows its entire globe to the Sun, once every complete lunar orbit (it really takes a little longer than that, because the Earth-moon system also orbits the Sun, which I can make plain on the back of a paper napkin at the bar in Clyde’s, but not on this blog). This means that while, yes, there is a dark side to the moon, that side is constantly changing. Which is not true of the far side, which is the side the Chinese plan to explore.

No, that wasn’t important, but it irks astronomers and I once wanted to be an astronomer, so, on their behalf, I have groused about it here.

(Of course, there is still another view on this, starting at 1:35, here.)

“Do The Right Thing.”

Everyone is crowing about what they are discovering in the leaked Ashley Madison database and, to some extent, it’s worth crowing about. A local elected official, a former local elected official’s spouse, and a local elected official’s son are all in there, at least apparently. But I am amused in particular by a blogger who seems to have direct access to a live copy of the stolen data, and who says that it contains evidence of criminal misconduct. Not to upset the readership unduly, that blogger is apparently ignoring the fact that, in Virginia, attempted adultery is a crime. No, the schadenfreude here is the political tyro’s favorite kind: that arising from proof that an elected official has violated a campaign finance law. In this case, Black Velvet Bruce Li claims to have mined proof from the stolen data that a candidate for the Virginia state senate is misusing campaign resources by devoting them to activity on Ashley Madison. With a table apparently culled directly from the Ashley Madison data, he suggests that law enforcement authorities can start with that as evidence, “if they’re inclined to do the right thing.”

Well…

FirewallNoVa has the skills needed to obtain our own copy of that data too, and to search it for similarly hilarious records. But, we’re not doing that. Why not? Because, you see, in Virginia, taking receipt of stolen property is a crime. Others made this point first, and we think it’s valid. Just because the stolen property reveals a lot of people to be bums isn’t a defense. Law enforcement authorities might want to investigate. They can start with this, if they’re inclined to do the right thing…