Posted by mike in Film,Friends,Music,News at 4:54 pm on November 27, 2007

The Largo film that I previously wrote about is featured in an article in the current issue of Filter magazine, available now. Andy, my friend behind the film, had this to say about it:
Filter issue 28

Check out the new issue of Filter magazine (w/ David Byrne on the cover), at newsstands and bookstores now through February, for a great article on Largo and my upcoming concert movie. The article is called, “Exalting the Artistic Moment: The Meaning of a Place Called Largo.” For those of you who aren’t already familiar with the club it’s a good primer on its history and what makes it special.

The article also features a lot of stills from the movie, a great shot of Elliott Smith by photographer Autumn de Wilde, and interviews with myself, club owner & co-director Mark Flanagan, and performers Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, Mark Oliver Everett (E from Eels), Zach Galifianakis, Tom Brosseau, Grant-Lee Phillips, and Paul F. Tompkins.

The film sounds like it’s on track for its targeted February 2008 completion date. Hopefully I’ll be headed out to LA around that time to see the first screening of it there, followed by TriBeCa in late April/early May. Pretty exciting.

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Posted by mike in Entertainment at 10:43 pm on November 26, 2007

After getting my new TV several months ago, I was faced with the issue of deciding how best to get HD signals to it. I initially bought the lone HD DirecTiVo that was ever made, the Hughes HR10-250, but that proved to not be a very good solution: unable to receive the MPEG4 signals that DirecTV was moving towards, the HR10-250 could not tune in my local channels in HD. After struggling in vain with trying to get several different over-the-air antennas to reliably find a signal, I decided it wasn’t worth the headache, and I would need to make an equipment change. Things were compounded by the fact that DirecTV’s plans for their expanded HD channel lineup was going to be MPEG4-only, which along with their divorce from TiVo made the DirecTV Plus HD DVR the only option. This would have involved paying a $299 up-front “leasing fee,” buying (and installing, or having installed) a new $99 5-LNB satellite dish, and committing to a new 2-year service contract, not to mention having to live with inferior DVR software. Sitting on the phone with one of DirecTV’s famed “customer retention specialists,” the best offer I was given was $100 off the new receiver.

This was too much for me to stomach, and I wasn’t happy about it. Two pieces of information, however, conspired to provide some hope: The first was that my local cable company, Insight, was going to switch to Comcast as of January 1, 2008. The second was that Comcast was about to begin rolling out new TiVo software. I decided that I could stomach their horrible DVR software for a while, with the promise of an upgrade to TiVo down the line, and made the switch. The fact that I already get my home Internet through Insight meant that I would save some money on the digital cable service, too. And I certainly didn’t miss having the dish on my roof.

I’ll have a full write-up of my many gripes with the DVR software on my Motorola 6416 in the near future (along with a comparison to the experiences of CK, who recently went the other route). Aside from that, though, I’ve been very happy with the service I’ve received since making the switch from DirecTV to Insight… until last weekend.

On Sunday, the NFL schedule was as follows: at noon, Panthers at Packers on Fox and Chiefs at Colts on CBS, then Bears at Seahawks on Fox at 3:15. This is a great schedule for me, as I can flip back and forth between the two early games (not caring if I miss a bit of either one here and there), and then concentrate on the Bears game in the afternoon. Unfortunately, during the early games, I found that I was not able to tune to my Fox HD channel. When attempting to do so, the picture on my screen would simply freeze until I switched back to another channel. Trying the regular (non-HD) Fox channel and seeing that it wasn’t having any problems, I concluded that the problem was with Insight. Convincing them of this fact was another matter, though, requiring 3 phone calls over 2 days to even get them to admit to the actual source of the problem:

  • 11/18, 1:48pm: Wanting to get things resolved prior to the start of the Bears game, I called and patiently explained what I was seeing. I was told by the support person that the reason for this was that “they don’t have HD cameras there.” Knowing this to be untrue, I decided to humor her, and attempted to explain that if that were the case, the SD broadcast would be shown on my HD channel. The fact that the cable box would simply freeze when I attempted to turn to that channel (and only that channel) seemed to pretty obviously indicate where the problem was, but I was unable to convince the woman on the other end of the phone of this. Hoping that perhaps the problem was specific to this particular game broadcast, I hung up.
  • 11/18, 3:17pm:As soon as the Bears game started and I was still unable to turn to my Fox HD channel, I called back. At first, I was told to reset my box; once again, I decided to humor the support person (a different one this time) and did so. As I was expecting, this did not solve the problem. She then, in an apparent act of not believing me, reset my box remotely. This also didn’t work, of course, and now I was getting pretty annoyed. “How could my box have a problem in such a way that only affects this single channel?” I asked. At that point she put me on hold to try to see if she could find out any more. When she finally came back on the line, I was informed that there was, indeed, an equipment failure on their end that was preventing the Fox HD signal from being broadcast. When I asked how they were going to compensate me for this lack of service, I was told that since the problem was Fox’s fault, they wouldn’t be doing anything of the sort. I hung up on her out of frustration, and suffered through a non-HD Bears game (not to mention a bad loss).
  • 11/19, 7:31pm: Coming home from a long day at work, I decided to see if the problem had been fixed yet. I had been assuming that it was the type of thing that would have to wait for somebody to come in on Monday morning to take care of. This was obviously not the case, though, as the channel still did not work. I called back, and was finally given the real scoop: the faulty part had been ordered, but wouldn’t be in for another day or two. I commented that this sounded like their fault to me, and this time the customer service woman agreed with me, assuring me that I’d be given credit for the time I was without that channel. We’ll see what my bills says.

The following day, a Tuesday, Fox HD once again worked. If it weren’t for the fact that Insight was only going to be my cable provider for another month and change, I’d probably think about switching for the second time this year over this. The situation with the Big Ten Network makes it tempting already, but I don’t think I’d be able to go back to DirecTV at this point, and Dish Network isn’t very appealing. I guess I’m waiting for TiVo to save me, and Comcast to get their head out of their ass, too. That’s starting to sound like a long shot.

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Posted by mike in Sports at 6:24 pm on November 10, 2007

During last year’s BCS National Championship game, as it became increasingly clear that Ohio State was simply no match for Florida, the announcers continually commented on how there was just too much speed on the Gators’ defense for the Buckeyes to contend with. At the time, even though I was annoyed by Florida’s dominance in college sports (they became the first school to be reigning national champs in both basketball and football, on their way to also becoming the first school to win both titles in the same calendar year as well), the one aspect of the game that I enjoyed was reminding myself (and anybody else who’d listen) that our own Ron Zook, now the coach of the Fighting Illini, was responsible for recruiting almost all of the starters on that Florida team. I told myself that even though it’d been a rough few years while he attempted to build a new program here in Champaign, the talent being displayed by his former team as they routed the consensus favorite to become national champions was something that we’d soon see take shape here as well.

It came as a sort of fulfilled prophecy, then, when the announcers began talking about the unbeatable defensive speed of the 2007 Fighting Illini during today’s upset of the once-again #1-ranked Buckeyes. A team that was expected to make the transition this season from the bottom-feeders of the conference in recent years to a serious contender in the near future proved that they were ready to make the jump sooner rather than later. There were a few stumbles along the way this year, but they’ve obviously still managed to more than exceed all expectations. We’ll have a fairly big bowl game to look forward to this year, and a Rose Bowl berth to battle for next year. Nice to see that things have finally turned around.

Although unbeaten seasons in college football are far less rare than they are in college basketball, I suppose we can take this as repayment for when they spoiled our perfect season a few years back.

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Posted by mike in News,Religion at 10:31 pm on November 1, 2007

Yesterday, the Westboro Baptist Church was found liable of invading the privacy of a grieving family and inflicting undue emotional stress upon them, to the tune of $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages. This is, of course, everybody’s favorite church, with their always-popular website (note: the site doesn’t always load; apparently God hates reliable web hosting, too). To say I have some thoughts on these people is probably an understatement.

First of all, let’s assume that we believe in a God, and we give a shit about what he thinks (I consider this premise itself to be quite ridiculous, but bear with me here anyway). So based on this belief, we probably also think that he created the universe and everything in it. Suppose, for some reason, that he creates some things that he likes and some things that he doesn’t like; some of his own creations, like “fags,” he even goes so far as to hate. And I guess even after realizing that he hates them, he’s stubborn enough to continue creating them anyway. (One can only imagine the types of self-hatred issues this might cause.) So then we’ll further assume that some of his children on earth, particularly in the great progressive state of Kansas, are actually enough in tune with this god that they are not only aware of his existence, but they actually know which of his creations he loves and which ones he hates (whether or not he is only indifferent about some creations is still up in the air, I suppose). They furthermore know that, armed with this insight, it is up to them to educate the rest of the world about which of this dude’s own creations he hates (they figure you don’t care too much about learning about those that he loves, since those aren’t nearly as interesting). So they take it upon themselves to spread this word, that of God’s hatred of fags. Naturally the most logical way to go about this would be to protest at the funerals of heterosexual soldiers who died serving their country, right?

Okay, so people are free to believe whatever they choose in this country. And they’re free to express themselves, too. But I think these people got off way too easily with only a civil lawsuit. Personally, if I’ve recently lost a loved one and am attempting to grieve that loss in the form of an archaic mourning ritual, and somebody decides to not only interrupt that ritual, but to do so in the form of actually celebrating the very death that I am mourning, that person isn’t going to be walking away from said engagement, and they’re going to be missing at least a few key organs on their way out, too.

Now, of course not many people take the parishioners from Westboro too seriously. But I don’t think enough people are questioning their motives thoroughly enough. The church is led by a man named Fred Phelps, and the parish consists primarily of members of his extended family. So it’s safe to say that what Fred believes, the Westboro Baptist Church believes. And I submit to you that there is nothing in this world that causes a man to have so much hatred for another group of people as the conflict that arises from repressed feelings clashing with indoctrinated religion. And just as the string of closeted Republicans, or the never-ending series of gay priests, are typically the most outspoken anti-gay activists there are, so too does Fred appear to fit the mold of one whose bigotry seems like it could only be the result of his own repressed feelings and his inability to deal with them.

Fred Phelps, cocksucker

Just look at ol’ Fred there, and ask yourself this: how much does he love the thought of sex with men? Do you think he fantasizes about fucking other men every hour of the day, or only on the even-numbered ones? Is there anybody in the world who would be more satisfied by a cock unloading in his mouth than good old God-fearing Fred there? I sure don’t think so.

And if you look at it in that light–as a guy who’s inherently homosexual, but so simple-minded that he can’t accept it, even in himself–then it sort of becomes a sad tale, doesn’t it? And yet, he’s so over-the-top with his vitriol that it makes it hard not to hate him whether you feel sorry for him or not (and remember, hatred is apparently a godly sentiment, so you can feel virtuous in expressing it). Not that the man deserves any sympathy; just that it’ll be sadly satisfying when his own inevitable child-raping stories finally surface. It ends up making me wish that I believed in a silly childish nightmare world called Hell, just so I could picture poor old conflicted fag Fred burning in it.

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