27 September 2006

Early Stones and Gimme Shelter

Fortunately, the new DVD The Rolling Stones: A Critical Review is not as dreary as its title might suggest. The first film in the series brought me up to date on how they gained their toehold into the music scene in England and in the U.S. in their first years playing together. The film looks at the Stones by way of the first dozen or so hit singles that launched the group into becoming the superstars they are today.

This "critical retrospective" features early TV appearance and dubbed videos alternated with talking heads, who are by turns the friendly, astute, cool, and even a bit doddering British journos, staff, or friends (and sometimes both) of the Rolling Stones. I'd love to chat up these guys at a party; in an hour and a half they do give plenty of good dish on the group and their special place in history. It’s all in good nerdy fun; if you’re a true trivia hound, you can even test your mettle on the tough quiz in the extras.

Yet the songs themselves rarely get a chance to take off with the constant interspersion of interviews peppered with facts about the band: That the "mass hysteria" atmosphere was so thick at the Stones' early U.S. appearances that the first four rows of seats in any given theater could be predicted to be drenched with teen pee. That Brian Jones felt he brought the Stones together but was feeling marginalized toward the end of his life. “He was a lonely man,” says one of his cohorts, solemnly. Yet before he died in his swimming pool it was Brian Jones who first introduced lots of the unusual instruments into their arrangements (don’t we tend to only think of Lennon and Harrison that way?).

It’s fun to watch the early videos because the band are unschooled enough to show something of themselves and clearly on to something good –- you can just tell that it’s better than anything else they could be doing by a long way. (And the chicks dig it, hey?)

But there’s something eerie about it, too: Jagger’s always watching. He’s watching you watch him. Maybe that’s why he is irresistible. Maybe that’s what makes a stripper good at what she does. Maybe that’s the secret Madonna and Barbra Streisand know that the rest of us don’t. Watching him watch us watch him I wonder whether holding people, holding their attention so that you know they’re watching you, becomes more and more compelling if you do it all the time. He's evidence for it. It can be a form of control, even aggression. From the beginning, those hips, those lips, and that Package have always been all about the danger, the aggressive male in the sex pyramid.

Here's where I digress...

And I love getting in bed every night with with my sweetie and know I'm happier than I would be with that prancing drama queen of a husband, I'm sure. (When I was about 9 or 10 I really felt I should marry Mick Jagger and I was terribly jealous when he married Bianca. She had everything I would want as far as I could see.)

As a kid, I chafed not only at being told I was unlikely to ever marry Mick Jagger (I'm too flat-chested, from what I hear) but also at being told I was too young to go to a Rolling Stones concert. But my parents knew what happened at the Altamont Speedway show, it turned out. (That was one thing I was protected from. I saw Easy Rider at 7 but didn’t until recently watch Gimme Shelter in all its terrible tragedy when rage- and alcohol-fueled Hell’s Angels knifed a man who shot another. It’s awful to watch Gimme Shelter, especially when you put yourself in the band’s shoes as they see for the first time the film of what happened during their concert. The crowd were hot, crowded, and drunk or high on a staggering variety of substances and getting twitchy. The band kept after “The show must go on” tactic to defuse the situation but it was clearly the wrong thing to do in retrospect.

Yet even in Gimme Shelter when they watch that film, Mick’s watching, knowing he's on camera, reacting to what he's just heard about. )

OK, time to rein myself back in, edit this, and send it off.

p.s. Added later: Here's the published version.

21 September 2006

HP's "Slimming" Bug -- or is that Feature?

I have just learned from a friend that HP has a “Slimming” feature in its new camera software. HP misguidedly has chosen healthy, fit women models for all the before pictures in their sample images, and shows each of these women shrunken down to Teri Hatcher proportions in the after images.

Is this all for the purpose of looking good in our match.com profiles? Or are we trying to experience seeing what our reflections would look like after losing more weight (or gaining it, in some cases) to motivate ourselves to try to do that? And it all begs the question: Do all of us healthy women really need to look like Twiggy or Kate Moss?

We've been coming up with all the other options you’d have to offer as well to legitimize adding just a the Slimming option. You’d really need a way to choose any body type, different proportions (maybe even with a fancy algorithm for adapting the shape and clothing and hair to different ages), add curving and straightening and "funhouse mirror," (where the mirror would let you adjust the shape of the curves however you like), or "weakening," as a software designer friend suggested, in which you make Arnold Schwartzenegger look like the 90-pound weakling at the beach who gets sand kicked in his face.

You’d also need to be able to reshape hair and even clothing style by decade. Hippie and Hawk, Jackie O, Joni Mitchell, Joan Jett, Joan Armatrading, Norah Jones, and so on.

Here's the letter my friend wrote to HP and copied to her friends. Forward it along if you are inspired!


Today I found out about a new feature of HP cameras: "Slimming". I am so appalled I am speechless. But never wordless! (thank goodness for keyboards) I hope you will forgive my mass email, but I'm making good on my promise to HP :-)

You can see for yourself here: http://www.hp.com/united-states/consumer/digital_photography/tours/slimming/index_f.html

I have written the CEO of HP ( http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/email/hurd/index.html) as well as provided feedback to the product team (I think, http://wwemail.support.hp.com/fd2/EmailForm?countrycode=us&langcode=en&sni=fd2-webfeedback2-ho

Here is what I said:

"Our culture has created enough body image issues for women without this offensive, sexist "feature". Perhaps you should review the Eating Disorder statistics to understand the far-reaching consequences of your "improvement": http://www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics.htm

As if the notion that photo subjects should "trim off pounds" wasn't bad enough, you seemed to have used only young, attractive, healthy women who have no need to be "slimmed". How many subjects of your software will become statistics (anorexia and bulimia are life-threatening diseases!)?

I have been a long-time customer of HP: virtually every printer I have ever owned was from HP; I never bother to shop - I always picked HP.

However, based on this product, I resolve to never purchase anything from HP ever again. Further, I plan to share this perspective with every person I know, so they can also make an informed decision about HP's ethics, exploitation of women, and blatant disregard for women's health."

I encourage you to let HP know how you feel about this new technology.


13 September 2006

Sudoku puzzler

It was seeing a book entitled Snakes on a Sudoku at the grocery store last week that got me thinking about this.

About a month ago, I finally started doing sudoku puzzles. My best friend had said she found them relaxing and thought they might help keep her brain sharp, my husband and in-laws do them, and I know I'm smart enough to tackle them even though I tended to be the person who would come up with the most convoluted path to the solutions in algebra class.

So I do a couple or three puzzles a week now, the easy ones (and I have botched several). True to form, I started doing them the hard way: by writing every possible number at the edge of every square and then going through and eliminating all of the wrong guesses. Eventually I realized that there were more clues than I saw at the beginning of my sudoku odyssey. Now I'm much faster at solving them and no longer have to write all the little numbers in the squares the way I once did. I have goofed up on a few but solved lots of them.

My friend is right when she says they are relaxing in a certain way. Like any math or logic problem, they all have a correct answer. She was also right when she said, "You never have to guess," meaning that the layout of the numbers always gives you the clues you need to solve the puzzle without any guesswork. I still don't know how that works with the really difficult ones, but when I've solved puzzles I have indeed not needed to guess.

Yet I remain puzzled about the sudoku craze because people are spending so much time doing them, yet they still don't take vacations. Just google "americans vacation time" and you'll find many, many stories about the fact that not only do people get less vacation time in the U.S. than in other countries but that people are not even using all of their allotted time.

Does that mean that sudoku puzzles have come to serve as our mini-vacations? I think web surfing serves that purpose for some folks, but perhaps because of the mind-sharpening qualities of working out a logic problem, we see sudoku puzzles as a more profitable activity.

I've always felt that the goal of my work is to bring me to the dinner table with the ones I love at the end of the day. I also believe in the power of art and music to restore and refresh the soul. As much as I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment after I've solved a puzzle, I believe that all our time spent on sudoku puzzles might be better invested in having dinner with our friends and family, going out to hear live music for an hour or two, or planning our next vacation. Sounds good, but first I'm going to finish that puzzle.

The real Hollaback women (no, not girls)

The web has not only given the average person new outlets for self-expression but also has provided people with an opportunity to do more than kvetch over the daily gripes and slights life dishes out in bitch sessions with friends. A fantastic example of this is http://www.hollabacknyc.blogspot.com/, where women can document the guys who harass or verbally abuse them.

I love http://bitterwaitress.com/, too, for the same reason. Real people venting about real grievances. I'm sure there are many sites in cyberspace for road rage, date rapes, and more. While I'd caution that we should make ourselves aware of slander and libel laws, I also believe this is what the web is all about.