Missing the point

Here’s the publisher’s description for one of the relatively recent Godzilla movies.

Mechagodzilla, the superior-armed, state-of-the-art, all-robot version of Godzilla, is undergoing repairs after his devastating battle against the world’s monsters. A pair of psychic fairies appear and warn scientists to stop rebuilding Mechagodzilla– but their warning goes unheeded. As the great robot nears completion, a series of mysterious incidents rock the world and awaken Godzilla, who unleashes a reign of terror against Tokyo. Mothra joins him and Japan’s desperate Prime Minister has no choice but to launch the unfinished Mechagodzilla against Mothra and Godzilla. But who will fight for whom? And in the end — will the survivor be monster, robot or man?

Are we clear here? Giant robot Mechagodzilla, Mothra and the big G. working together this time, and a pair of women not unlike the Mothra chicks. Tokyo’s in peril again. One of the commenters on the Amazon products page says “too often in the 90’s and 2000 series, classic set-pieces from the 60’s films are just re-worked into a different story and setting. This one uses the final epic battle from 1965’s Godzilla vs Mothera as its basis. Been there, done that – literally (like 50X). No surprises here.”

Godzilla and King Ghidorah fight it out

Godzilla and King Ghidorah fight it out

Well, yes. There are no surprises here. We don’t come to kaiju movies for surprises. We come to see men in rubber monster suits fight with professional wrestling moves. We watch for arch, superior aliens with bad motivations who get their comeuppance in the last reel. We want toy boats sucked into whirlpools, toy buildings smashed into rubble, toy planes swatted out of the sky. We come to see the brave men and women of the Japanese SDF waste billions of yen firing ineffectual rockets and shoot lasers out of a radar dish. We need to hate the annoying, spunky kids who alternately get themselves kidnapped, talk to the monsters, and figure out the strategy that saves the day.

Music quiz

Crossposted from Facebook, for anyone who’s interested and hasn’t seen it. By all means do one for your own site if you’re moved to.

1. What was the first album (cassette, vinyl, CD, 8 track) you owned?
This is tough. I remember some kids’ albums: Gene Autry, a Star Wars dialogue album, Monster Mash. The first album I remember consciously buying because I was aware of the music was “Kiss: Alive.”

2. Do you still listen to it?
Long lost to the ravages of time, but the music still rocks me.

3. Who is your favorite Beatle?
Don’t have one; I’ve always thought the band was much more than the sum of its members.

4. What was your first concert/live show? (artist and year)
Lou Rawls. It was at the Fort Polk army base in Leesville, must have been ’83 and ’84?

5. Favorite or most memorable live show?
the Pogues, summer of 1988 at Tipitina’s.

6. Favorite album cover?
don’t have one

7. Favorite Beatles album or song?
At this moment, favorite album is “Revolver” and song is “Paperback Writer”

8. What bands/artists did you like at one time but later come to dislike?
Oh god, the cheese metal. I used to listen to Motley Crue, W.A.S.P., Poison, Raven, et al.

9. Bands/artists you loved back in the day and still love now?
Peter Gabriel, Rush

10. Favorite guitarists?
Jimi Hendrix, Ani DiFranco, Leo Kottke, Kaki King, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Carrie Brownstein

11. Favorite songwriters?
So many. Fiona Apple, Cole Porter, Neko Case, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Suzanne Vega, David Eugene Edwards, Nellie McKay, Prince, Amanda Palmer, Bjork

12. Favorite male vocalists?
Jeff Buckley, Andy Bey, Oscar Brown Jr., Desmond Dekker, Chris Martin

13. Favorite female vocalists?
Eliza Carthy, Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, PJ Harvey

14. Favorite drummers?
Max Roach, Neil Peart, Evelyn Glenie, Art Blakey

15. Favorite bass players?
Les Claypool, Flea, Charles Mingus

16. Favorite keyboardists?
Jimmy McGriff, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, James Booker, Professor Longhair

17. Favorite albums of all time?
I know that I’m cheating with some greatest hits’ collections in here. I don’t care.
Stevie Wonder—Songs in the Key of Life
Tom Waits—Swordfishtrombones
Suzanne Vega—Nine Objects of Desire
They Might Be Giants—Then: The Earlier Years
Woven Hand–Woven Hand
Ani di Franco—Out of Range
Radiohead—OK Computer
R.E.M.—Life’s Rich Pageant
Sleater-Kinney—The Woods
Smiths—Louder Than Bombs
Pogues—If I Should Fall From Grace with God
Los Lobos—Kiko
Housemartins—Now That’s What I Call Quite Good
(English) Beat—I Just Can’t Stop It
Peter Gabriel—Peter Gabriel III
Dresden Dolls–Dresden Dolls
Nick Drake—Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake
Elvis Costello—The Very Best of Elvis Costello
Kate Bush—Hounds of Love
Jeff Buckley—Grace
Fiona Apple—Tidal

18. Favorite music biography or documentary?
American Hardcore, with great stuff about the Los Angeles and Washington D.C. hardcore scenes in the early 80s

19. Favorite debut album?
Jeff Buckley–Grace

20. Most overrated bands/artists in your opinion?
eh, I don’t wanna be a hater

21. Favorite new bands/artists?
Hmm, depends on how you define new. I sometimes think of Sleater-Kinney as new, and they’re logically an old band that’s broken up. I’ll set a rule for myself BEFORE I list: first album with widespread distribution released in the last three years.
Antony and the Johnsons, Arctic Monkeys, Lady Sovereign, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Amy Winehouse, MGMT

Lost, quiet

I haven’t felt much like writing lately. I’ve lost someone very dear to me: our cat Gwen. She was around 17 or 18 years old when we had her put to sleep last Monday. Gwen had developed health problems over the past couple of years, but we’d been managing OK with medication. But with the return of bad dental problems and her kidneys shutting down, we didn’t think there was anything good left for her in this life.

We got Gwen when I was around 21 or 22; when our friend Jeannette moved in with us back in Natchitoches, Gwen and another cat (fella named Arthur) moved in with us. Her presence is one of the best things Jeannette contributed to my life, and that’s quite a list. Gwen was well-behaved, usually sweet, and most of all SMART. She was far and away the smartest pet I’ve ever had, and would sometimes complain if whatever we were watching didn’t have enough animals. Gwen was with me for pretty much my entire adult life up to this point, and THAT’S the big sorrowful “gotcha” I wasn’t expecting. I’ve got to keep going on without her sweet kitty presence, and it’s turning out to be harder than I thought.

I write about it and it comes true . . .

So I happily participated in the Facebook “25 Things” trend a few weeks back. Unlike some newspaper commentators I could name, I love finding out random likes, fears, quirks, and miscellaneous facts about old classmates, best friends, even acquaintances. One thing I mentioned was how much I love barbecue and how I wish I could eat and meditate on barbecue. Well, it’s happening at Birmingham-Southern College now. This is definitely the first time in my life I’ve had an urge to live in Alabama.

The punishment instinct

Pretty much any crime news comes with website comments, forum threads, workplace discussions, letters to the editor, etc. calling for increasingly worse punishments. “Throw them under the jail!” “They need to make friends with a guy named Bubba.” “Can we just have them taken out and shot?” No matter your penal philosophy, we agree that some people are too dangerous to wander free in society. These calls for rough justice have always bothered me though, and a couple of years ago I started to figure out why.

First of all, we’ve tried that justice system before. 300 years ago, boys were hanged for stealing a handkerchief or an apple. Oscar Wilde was set to four years hard labor, a sentence that killed many men. We’ve moved away from that system for good reasons, not the least of which is to protect ourselves from its effects. Inflicting brutality on that scale is bad for us; we become coarser and more callous to human suffering in general. So we’ve adopted a system in which we incarcerate dangerous people for a while. As to why we incarcerate them–well, there are lots of different answers. To punish them, for one thing. (And prison sucks. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and if you think otherwise, post a comment and we’ll hash it out.) To teach people a trade so that they can “go straight” once they’re released. To put inmates through therapy and rehabilitation so that they don’t reoffend. And if nothing else, to at least take them out of the community for a while so they can’t be a threat.

Notice something about this list? Punishment, teaching programs, rehabilitation, sentences–eventually they end. Unless someone is given life without parole, someday those thugs, thieves, and perverts are coming back to live with the rest of us. That means we–as a society and as individuals–have a stake in reducing recidivism (people commiting a new crime after being released). Note that this doesn’t require ANY particular sympathy for the offenders, certainly not the cartoony bleeding-heart pity that mostly exists in the fantasies of Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Wanting to stop recidivism just needs that we want to not be robbed, raped, attacked, or swindled.

We’re used to the “scales of justice” metaphor; extend that to the forces acting on offenders after release. On one side there’s the factors that made them commit crimes in the first place: poverty, thug mentality, abuse, the hand of Lucifer, mental illness, Scorpio rising, plain old evil nature, whatever. We want to weigh down the other side of those scales with influences  that make them want to remain honest citizens. And we know what those influences are: a place to stay, a job that can pay the bills, family and friends to care about, community support to resist addiction, cognitive tools to keep from slipping into old habits.

Increasing calls for post-release monitoring and restriction sates our instinct to make people keep paying for their crime, but it could come back to bite us. The beginning of this post discussed the death penalty in old English justice. When you hang men for petty theft, a thief has every reason to kill the victim–no witness that way. That’s one reason hanging laws were reformed. Right now we’re passing more and more laws to restrict where ex-cons can live and work. If someone gets out of prison to find that they can’t go live with their family, can’t get a job because no one’s hiring felons, can’t even go to the library to do a job search, they have a lot less reason to settle in to a stable life.