Thursday, November 30, 2006

ROOTS RADICS : "AT CHANNEL ONE KINGSTON JAMAICA" LP

Another notch in a long and seemingly endless line of first-rate dub discoveries for my ever-widening belt. This LP-only treasure from the ROOTS RADICS, one of the 1970s' and early 80s' most smoking backing groups and instrumental warriors in their own right, is exceptional tricked-out deep dub. These 1982 recordings are each dedicated to various island movers & shakers of the day, mostly toasters or DJs from what I can gather, and were recorded at both Channel One in Kingston and at King Tubby's not far away. There is a real mystical and hazy quality to the better half of these, with distant echoes from the Jamaican studio netherworld, and eerie, disembodied voices circling the bass. Maybe the best one is track #1, "Dedication To Dean Frazer & Nambo", which I can't seem to stop listening to. I guess most of the mixwork is being done to early 80s reggae 45s/12", but it's so spacy and streched-out it could be reworks of some ethereal roots music from nearly a decade before. Terrific stuff, very worthy of a CD reissue for sure.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

NOTHING PEOPLE : “PROBLEMS” 7”EP

A stellar example of genius existing where you least expect it, or perhaps a totem of how interconnected the world is now that a fantastic, well-informed trio such as the NOTHING PEOPLE could burst forth from the farming town of Orland, CA, miles from pretty much nowhere except their own imaginations. Hate to cop straight from the single’s liner notes, but they’re compared to both DEBRIS and THE TWINKEYS, two excellent exemplars of making do in smaller metropolitan or rural locales, and that’s just spot-on. I don’t know how old these gentlemen are but they’d have to be closing in on 50 to have such a killer & raw 1975-76 space punk sound this well-informed and –developed. Or maybe they’re in their twenties, and are what they call “naturals”- in which case this is only the opening salvo in what I hope will be a long career filled with riches for both performers and audience. “4 Miles High”, one of the four outstanding mind-erasers on this 7”, sounds lifted straight from CHROME’s “Half Machine Lip Moves”, and just sputters out & fades into nothingness like so many of that great record’s “songs”. These guys are a true heir to everything MONOSHOCK were at their best, and then some. I’d call it the best record this year not by the WOODEN SHJIPS, and I implore you to purchase it while they’re still around.

Monday, November 27, 2006

STRATE COATS : “THE STRATE COATS” 7”EP

This cat GREG ASHLEY is talked about in some circles like he’s got this killer psychedelic band or something, when everyone else knows it’s just THE GRIS GRIS – so what’s the big deal, right? But that’s okay, because eight years ago when he was a tot, he & his Texas pals had a pretty ripping teenage punker band called THE STRATE COATS, very much in the ultra-energy Supercharger/Teengenerate vein so popular w/ the punks of the day. The 8 songs on this 33rpm single, which are all “unearthed” demos, maybe took some lessons from the aforementioned, but puked them back up in a most pleasing manner. Super reckless but yet still real real tight (the way you like it), and every song’s a sub-2 minute scorcher. “Swingin Strate Coat” in particular is a panicked instrumental R&B rave-up that would’ve made sense as both the show opener and the closing room-clearer. I think it’s outstanding, and a good signpost for the whole excellent EP. And get this – the cover has them taking a pretend pee-pee! And the drummer wore goofy white sunglasses – indoors! File this next to THE BRIDES and the MOTARDS and then get on the good foot.

Friday, November 24, 2006

TROJAN MOD REGGAE BOX SET VOLUME 1

I've been getting schooled by these TROJAN BOX SETS for well over 6 years now, ever since I bought the dub & rocksteady ones and realized what a fertile representation of the whole of Jamaican music these sets are. I mean, there are very few Jamaican artists of the 60s-early 80s who are not covered on these cheapo ($15-$20) 3xCD boxes, so you really are getting the cream of the crop in ska, roots, dub, "rude boy" etc. when you snag one of these. I wasn't sure what I was in for by the title "MOD REGGAE", but I figured it would be faster, danceable, 60s ska with some righteous porkpie soul sprinkled in as well. Thankfully I wasn't far off - I've learned enough about the genre by now that when I saw JOHN HOLT s classic "Ali Baba" and THE SKATALITES' "Lucky Seven" both on Disc One that the tune selector had his nuts on straight.

Mod reggae, if you believe the liners, is 1960s reggae that was favored by the posing mods of London not in the 60s, no, in the eighties. What??!? For the British DJs who put this together, a movement of kids who came together to dance, not make music themselves, is powerful enough to warrant its own soundtrack - much like the bizarre "Northern Soul" phenomenon. I'm glad these kids picked mostly winners, though - the 50 songs on this set include some of the rawest, monophonic 45rpm ska I've ever heard, some killer instrumentals, various LEE PERRY solo and production efforts, and the odd soul ballad or two that you can quickly skip over. There are at least 5-6 tracks on the set that have zero reggae-ish sound to them, and could very well pass as British or American soul singles of the time (these Stax/Motown clones are the least interesting items on here). All told, the box is a lot like the "SKINHEAD REGGAE" and "RUDE BOY" sets - songs that coelesce around some made-up theme and yet work exceptionally well together anyway. I say buy one, why don't ya.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

ROBERT ALTMAN & WHAT HE LEFT US

ROBERT ALTMAN’s death this week comes right at the time that I was preparing to post a big thing on his “THREE WOMEN”, one of my all-time favorite films. In fact two of my Top 10 films ever are from Altman, with the other being “NASHVILLE” – and I’d make a case for “McCABE AND MRS. MILLER” being near the top as well. His 1970s work is absolutely peerless, and I say this as someone who still has yet to see some of his more acclaimed 70s films, like “M.A.S.H.”, “CALIFORNIA SPLIT” and “IMAGES”. The ones I have seen, though – including the creepy and hilarious “A WEDDING” – are as rich & complex and ground-breaking as film can be while still being a total blast of bizarro entertainment. What Altman was able to bring out of his casts – especially Shelly Duvall & Sissy Spacek in “Three Women”, or Warren Beatty in “McCabe” – were quirky & masterful performances that are so great they continue to be studied and written about to this day. He also was the first director that I know of to make a multi-dimensional, interlocking-story film with an ensemble cast like “Nashville”, a formula he repeated quite well in the early 90s with “THE PLAYER”. This formula is now copied many times over on TV shows like "The Wire" and "Six Feet Under", and by directors far & wide. I missed most of his films from the past 15 years because they were reviewed so poorly, but the aforementioned “The Player” and “GOSFORD PARK” had flashes of the early, 70s-style brilliance, and are definitely worth seeing on their own. I don’t typically write obituaries because they usually maudlin & full of fake “we will miss him so much”/”we have suffered such a loss” sentimentality, but Altman was truly one of the greats. I’ll write that thing on “THREE WOMEN” later, after I’ve watched the recent Criterion Collection DVD again.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

WHY I'D BACK GIULIANI

Last week RUDY GIULIANI started making the tentative first steps toward a presidential run by filing some papers and shaking some hands and whatever else is involved with such an undertaking. Taking into account the high social & coolness costs that will come from outing myself as someone who’d consider voting for, and at times actually has voted for, members of the Republican Party, let me tell you why this particular politician comes as close to my own limited-government, slaughter-all-sacred-cows politics as any other on the hustings, and why the Giuliani that I know & admire – the one whom I hope would keep the courage of his convictions even in a Republican primary - is my de facto pick no matter who else runs (Milton Friedman just died, unfortunately).

1. He did the impossible. Anyone but the most hardened, contrarian New Yorker is still stunned by the turnabout in that city’s fortunes under Giuliani’s watch. I have spent lots of time in Manhattan the past half-decade, and to walk safely at 2am on streets where it was a sure bet I’d be mugged only 12 years ago is really something else. The entire city is just bursting with life and energy, as it always has, but now it’s a place where one can pursue normal life safely and sanely & with minimal fear of violence. Oh, Manhattan is too sanitized for you now? Hello, Brooklyn – even neighborhoods like Bushwick are sprouting pockets of new immigrant-led businesses that have a great chance of success in the new environment. Remember folks, “a rising tide lifts all boats”, and I’ve yet to meet a single New Yorker who’s actually left town because it was too safe or too boring – only too expensive. That’s because demand is back (for great reason), and supply is not. You remember that whole equation, right? I have no doubt the liberal and cranky citizenry of NY would elect Giuliani “El Commandante for Life” if given the chance, based on what his regime did for New York in 8 short years.

2. He’s a bulwark against religious-based, reactionary know-nothing social policy. Giuliani is aggressively pro-choice, pro-stem cell research (of all kinds), and pro-gay marriage. He moved in with a gay couple after his divorce, and made no apologies to his constituents or to the Republican party for having done so. Perhaps by force of personality alone, will he be the one to wipe the slate clean & significantly reduce the impact of religion and imposed morality in the United States? One can dream.

3. He understands why our childrens is not learning. Giuliani threw down the gauntlet against the professional educrats and the unionized interest-group lobbies in New York City that made that city’s schools among the worst in the country. The results were staggering, and his adversaries – who normally win every battle they fight in big cities like New York – were left with their tired 1970s ideas & little else. Meanwhile, public school in NY is actually an option for parents again, rather than moving away to the ‘burbs or Jersey, or never moving to New York City in the first place.. the way it was in the 70s when the town was losing population like crazy and barely gaining any.

4. He’s moderately libertarian – just enough to stay electable. Sure, I’d prefer a more smash-the-state type who’d legalize drugs and privatize just about everything, but almost no one else would, so let’s go with Giuliani. He’s as close to it as any major political figure as I’ve seen in a while, and yet he’ll demolish some libertarian sacred cows as well – like gun control ,which he’s in favor of (me, I’m not sure – I was, until crime dropped dramatically in the US without any major gun control legislation being enacted). He’s the sort of guy who might be able to get school vouchers passed and really give parents a decent choice and low-income children a true chance at a great education, no matter which neighborhood they live in.

5. He’ll make the goddamn trains run on time. I have no idea how Rudy G will stage-manage the Iraq disaster, but I can bet that no matter what his (or my) previous position on the necessity for a battle there, he won’t stand pat and let it wash over him like our current, supposedly “management-savvy” president. All the things the media loves about this guy – “he was such a beacon of hope during 9/11’s darkest days” blah blah blah – barely matter to me. What I care about is – are incompetents going to be fired? Will corrupt institutions be abolished and/or gutted? Will those in government who reflexively apologize for stupidity, sloth and ignorance be shown the door? The fella or the lass who answers yes to all of these questions is the fella or lass I’m voting for, and if you read Fred Siegel’s great “The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life”, you get an excellent (and page-turning) overview into why Rudy Giuliani is definitely that fella.

It’s a long way until November 2008, folks, and a lot will happen between now and then. Will Rudy keep his backbone - and his legendary temper? Odds are he will not. Will he win the primary and be the guy the country unites around? I highly doubt it. Until then, hopefully I’ve given you some excellent reasons to think about giving him your nod in 24 months. Let’s you and me check back in with each other then, OK?

Monday, November 20, 2006

NEIL YOUNG : "LIVE AT THE FILLMORE EAST"

Word among the community of Neilmaniacs, among whom I feel safe yet not a permanant part of, is that this brand new NEIL YOUNG live CD from 1970 is the first of several retro live offerings set to come out in coming years. For a guy who's kept so much of his legacy under defiant wraps for so long, Neil's obviously starting to soften a bit -which makes the kids (and the olde-timers) quite happy. This set is only a mere six songs from the post-"Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" era, which is sorta strange - I mean yeah, two are loooong, dirty, exceptionally loud Crazy Horse jams ("Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Down By The River"), but even so the whole thing only clocks in somewhere under 40 minutes. Guitarist Danny Whitten is on fire on the latter in particular, just an all-time scorcher to begin with, and in some stretched-out, near-improv parts it's better than on the album for sure. Another winner is the song "Wonderin'", which I've heard on bootlegs in acoustic form and on Neil's 1980-ish rockabilly record as a, well, rockabilly song, but never as a Crazy Horse-style jammer. Since I've already told you half of the 6-song lineup, there's no reason to hide the rest: "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" (marginal), "Winterlong" (OK) and "Come On Baby Let's Go Downtown" (fantastic). It's a cool document that sounds like a professional but raunchy live record, so if this one's been in circulation as a boot before (I honestly wouldn't know) then I can promise you this version's better. I could have totally used another 40 minutes, though.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

ROLLING STONES : LOVING CUP 1972 REHEARSAL

Hey, I'm not gonna get all "You Tube" on all y'all on this site, but now that I've figured out, 6 months after everyone else, how to embed a video, wow - check out this fantastic 1972 clip of the STONES doing my 3rd all-time favorite song of theirs, "Loving Cup".......fine stuff!


Friday, November 17, 2006

"SIX FEET UNDER" & THE SECOND GOLDEN AGE

There are some that will make the case that Americans are currently living in their second golden age of television, with the first being, I don’t know, the late 50s/early 60s? After years of sneering at prime-time television, I find that I’m in the same boat as many others in all of a sudden having at least 4 or 5 shows I’m watching either weekly (thank you TiVo) or on DVD. Leading the way, of course, are the HBO shows – many of which (“Deadwood”, “Extras”, “Big Love”, “Rome”) I’ve never even seen, since I don’t pay for HBO. A couple weeks ago my wife and I watched the final episode of the fifth (and final) season of HBO’s “SIX FEET UNDER” – and amazingly, I was able to steer clear of any and all spoilers this entire year, so everything that happened hit me like it hit those of you who watched it the night it aired many months ago.

I resisted admitting this for a couple years, but I’m ready to say that “SIX FEET UNDER” is/was my very favorite of all the HBO shows, including “THE SOPRANOS” (I’m only now working on Season 1 of “THE WIRE”, so verdict’s out on that one but leading indicators are excellent). It is probably the best friggin’ soap opera of all time, and it most certainly was a soap opera. When I watched the first episode of Season 1 long ago, 60-some-odd episodes ago, I was ready to stop the investment in time right then and there. Did you see this one? The one with the fake commercials for funeral products? Awful. But they rebounded so quickly, and enveloped me into the characters’ lives so fast, that by mid-season 1 I was totally hooked. We’d watch 3 hour-long episodes at a time fairly often, but it was more common to watch one at a time, and give each episode time to sink in after much discussion & speculation.

Initially the character that grabbed me the most was Claire, but she quickly became so annoyingly over-the-top & hateful to her whole family that five years later she was my least-favorite character. I don’t think it was the actress’s (Lauren Ambrose) fault; this is the character they wrote for her, and she played her lines really well and with “feeling”. But I don’t believe anyone could be so flippant and condescending ALL the time, with only momentary flashes of humility. So I gravitated to the Nate/Brenda story, and then when the character of Billy was introduced – the incestuous, bipolar, dangerous freak Billy woo hoo! I was stoked that so many of those early episodes included Billy freak-outs, and when he came back from the asylum as a kinder, gentler Billy, he was no less compelling. Great – and 100% believable – character.

At the end I wasn’t sure what they were going to do with everybody. Was Brenda going to die during childbirth? Would David flip out over the guy who kidnapped and almost killed him? Would Claire marry the Republican dude? Hey, I’m not gonna spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it. But “SIX FEET UNDER” was seriously one of the all-time high-water marks of American television, certainly movie-quality, week-in, week-out. And for once, proclamations about truly great American TV are something that are starting to not sound so ridiculous when spoken or typed, which is something that had never happened in my lifetime until right about now.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

HEARING AND ME

Sunday night I ventured across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland, CA’s BUDGET ROCK SHOWCASE at the intimate Stork Club. Whilst there, with earplugs thrust deeply into the nether regions of my ear canals, I contemplated the state of my hearing after roughly 23 years of extremely punishing rock shows. To be honest, 10-15 years ago, the thought of wearing earplugs at a show was quite possibly the lamest thing imaginable for me. I don’t quite know why I took such a hardline, keeping-your-hearing-is-for-wimps stance, but I must have been inoculated with a “if it’s too loud, you’re too old, motherfucker!!” stance early on in my rock fandom. So here I am livin' large with the plugs – and when I was at The Stork on Sunday, with even the between-band DJ music being played at ear-splitting volume, the plugs stayed in. Deep. Real deep. How did I get to this point? A few lowlights:

December 1985Fender’s Ballroom, Long Beach CA – My friend Tom and I drove nearly 3 hours to see THE DICKIES and THE WEIRDOS, along with awful melodic hardcore acts M.I.A. and THE ASEXUALS. Not only was Fender’s one of the most violent punk clubs in the history of the planet – a notorious hub for white-boy gang activity, much of which was on display this evening, even with this fairly tranquil bill, the show was so damagingly loud that on the long drive home I couldn’t even understand what Tom was saying, nor make out the songs on the tape deck. Until the next morning, I heard a terrible “crackle” sound in my ears every time he spoke or anyone spoke. My first clue that exposure to insanely loud rock music might be a problem.

Sometime in 1988Raji’s, Los Angeles, CA – I attended PUSSY GALORE’s first-ever west coast show. After openers TAD and THEE FORGIVEN, I inched up to the front of the stage, right by the monitors and amps and the three guitarists. You can guess what came next. A total, absolute maelstrom of sound, which literally pinned me to the back of the club – in the sense that I couldn’t take the noise in the main room, so I stood back by the kitchen, next to the cubbyhole where I earlier went to pick up my cheeseburger. My ears were a total mess afterward, even standing where I was for most of the show. The thought that Raji’s would have had a plastic jar of free brightly-colored earplugs sitting on the bar for patrons to take would have been laughable. No one worried about such trifles in the eighties!

Sometime in 1995The Purple Onion, San Francisco – This fairly short-lived glammy/garage act called DURA-DELINQUENT were playing at subhuman volumes when I decided that enough was enough. I espied an aforementioned jar of earplugs and shoved a pair in, and was profoundly pissed off at myself for having to do so & at the band for making it so. The muffled sounds & dimmed amplification just ruined a central piece of the clubgoing experience for me, which was most likely a masochistic urge to be pummeled by loud and aggressive music, an urge I no doubt share(d) with many.

Sometime in 2005The Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco – After dabbling with earplugs in & out of the years, I succumbed last year at an A-FRAMES show and made it a regular and normal part of every showgoing experience, at least those in which loud rock plays a role. I’ve taught myself how to position them just so, so that the precipice between enjoyment of loud music & out-and-out ear damage is not crossed, though at times I still have to adjust ‘em so the balance works to my advantage. If you spot some dork tinkering with yellow foam in his ears at an upcoming show, there’s a mighty good chance it’s me – or one of the many other late thirtysomethings who’ve heeded the obvious, and are acting to save themselves from that one final show that’ll tip them over into permanent tinnitus. And you whippersnappers out there, take advantage of the riches now offered at your shows that those of us in the trenches in the 80s never got – free earplugs and free cold water (!). Next they’ll be having the shows over & done by 11pm – sign me up!

Monday, November 13, 2006

"THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED"

This French film from earlier in the year was one that got some jaw-dropping critical notice & one that I'd had my eye on renting for a while. A remake of a great American underground 70s film called "Fingers" (which starred a young, intense and wild-eyed Harvey Keitel), "THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED" came off as decent enough but a little underwhelming. I think it might have something to do with smirking star Romain Duris, who is supposed to be this would-be thug who roughs up real-estate squatters in Paris, but comes off instead like an effete and arty nightlife hound. He's torn between two legacies - that of his concert-pianist mother, who provided him him some (not all) of her musical gift, and that of his hoodlum, lecherous Dad. Though there's some good tension between the two DNA-provided worlds, I don't think Duris pulls off the unbalance quite the way Keitel did. His choice to follow one instead of the other has some pretty tragic consequences, which frankly I didn't see coming at all.

I like that the story's core is the same as in "Fingers", but so much of it has changed, including the addition of a "two years later" postscript. Emmanuelle Devos, who was so great in "Read My Lips", was barely present in this one, which is too bad because when I read about this film I got the sense that she was one of the two stars. That must've been some other movie. I guess I'd recommend "The Beat That my Heart Skipped" as a rental only, and then one only if you've seen everything else that's halfway decent. Then you might wanna consider watching this, OK?

Friday, November 10, 2006

THOSE EXTRA STOOGES DISCS YOU WERE WONDERING ABOUT

How excited were you to see "deluxe edition" reissues of the first two STOOGES records last year, with completely new add-on material/outakes from each of those two legendary records? I was pretty psyched. Sure, I've heard a bunch of that 7xCD (!) "FUNHOUSE SESSIONS" box set that Rhino put out a while back, and I always felt that someone with some patience ought to sit down and cull the wheat from the chaff and create the definitive "alternate versions" CD of the thing. Well, someone did. Moreover, they also pulled out a bunch of alternate versions from the first album and wow - they are fantastic (and revealing). Let's talk about it some.

The second disc in the 2-CD pack for "The Stooges" has got some what-might-have-been versions that are truly paint-peeling. I'm smitten primarily with a version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with a more subdued Iggy vocal that could have easily been the one they chose for track #2 on the album - but hey, I'm glad they didn't, even though this one's fantastic. There's also a nearly 8 minute version of "Ann" that takes that killer riff that closes the song and pummels it into the mud for five extra glorious minutes (!), and a great "No Fun" that's almost seven minutes, full of absolute ear-shredding Ron Ashton guitar damage. Most of these 10 tracks that weren't chosen for prime time were axed with fairly good reason, but on this two-disc set in particular this extra material is totally balls-out & wonderful, to a song. Still looking for takes 7 and 12 of "We Will Fall"? Well, you'll have to keep looking, because thank god they did not fill the need to include that one, the nadir of the band's early career, on this CD.

The "Funhouse" stuff is also wild and whooping, particularly the long & rambunctious two takes on "Funhouse" itself toward the end of the bonus stuff. Iggy experiments with differently-timed screams and cro-magnon hollers throughout, and what's great about this stuff is just how improvised so much of what became the final product was. I mean, I've heard these two albums as many times as any records in my entire life - they are aural bibles to me and to so many others - but a lot of the timing of each solo or drum pattern or war whoop was obviously left to the spirit of the moment at the end of the day, something that becomes apparant when listening to the different takes. The 2 tracks on this that didn't make "Funhouse" - "Slidin' The Blues" and "Lost in the Future" - are total throwaways. If one of these replaced, say, "1970" or "LA Blues" - my my, what a different and less-fulfilling world we would be living in today.

Anyway, I'm giving these things my unequivocal endorsement, for what it's worth. All three Stooges records have now been given the gold standard treatment, and I guess that means it's time to close the books on 'em, unless there's another set of "Iguana Chronicles" set to come forth - hey, some good ones this time!

Monday, November 06, 2006

SKYGREEN LEOPARDS - "DISCIPLES OF CALIFORNIA"

This brand new CD from these San Franciscan wandering minstrels is easily one of my favorite left-field music picks of 2006. I'd only heard the SKYGREEN LEOPARDS once before, on a great single track called "Julie-Anne, Patron of Thieves" available on some mp3 blog. Big-textured folk-pop sounds, and an approach that paralleled a strange country-folk cross between BIG STAR and THE CLEAN - well, that's for me, partner. And this new one's even better. Some folks will probably get some yuks out of comparing this to the GRATEFUL DEAD, but not me. Surely the band would take it as a compliment of sorts, since "Disciples of California" is mining late 60s San Francisco in much the same way as THE SADIES' "Favorite Colours" record does, except the Leopards make prettier sounds. Very pretty. You know "Morpha Too" and "I'm In Love With A Girl" by Big Star? Picture a more uptempo album of that, crossed with very jangly California country/folk sounds and just a general sense of wanderin' and driftin'. I could certainly do without all the jesus talk, but I suppose that's getting to be de rigeur for a certain type of musician, whether he's religious or not. It's a really fine record, and I hope you go buy one on my say-so.

Friday, November 03, 2006

8 SIMPLE RULES FOR THE POLLING PLACE

Sure, everyone's got a wiseacre opinion on politics & is probably willing to tell you all about it. Me included. Instead of hectoring my wife with how-you-should-vote-this-year lectures, which she loves and follows to a T every chance she gets, I figured I'd thrown down my 8 simple rules for you to take to the polling place next week - that is, if you're an American and if you plan to vote. I've only missed one election in the 21 years I've been allowed to cast a ballot - for Goleta Water Board in 1987 - and I'm still pretty pissed at myself for skipping that one.

These are the standards I use to manage & guide my epic decisions every year, and if I had my way, you would too. Take a look and let me know if I missed any!

1. WHEN IN DOUBT, VOTE NO. - This is perhaps my most fundamental rule. If I can't be convinced in fairly short order that an initiative is worth supporting, it probably has been obfuscated to death, and I know I'll ultimately regret the eventual price tag or societal costs. Better the status quo in most cases, and maybe next time the man will think a little harder about what he needs to win you & me over.

2. IF IT SOUNDS TOO EXPENSIVE, IT PROBABLY IS. - Particularly with bond measures, and anything that purports to be "for the children". Almost always a "no" - which is not to say all bond measures, just the ones that get really fuzzy on true costs and benefits, which is pretty much all of them.

3. SPEND A HALF-HOUR WITH THAT BOOK THEY SEND YOU. - And not in the parking lot next to the polling place on the day-of. It's not fun nor pretty, but if you know where you stand on most core principles, you're probably already able to make these yes/no decisions pretty quickly, right?

4. LOOK AT WHO'S ENDORSING IF YOU'RE ON THE FENCE. - I don't know, that's sort of the final tie-breaker for me. Try not to get fooled by bogus "taxpayer" groups, because they're often neither your protector nor your friend. And if a giant union is behind it, watch your wallet (nothing against big unions, of course - if we were in 1935).

5. DON'T BE AFRAID OF A THIRD-PARTY CANDIDATE - BUT DON'T BE FOOLISH, EITHER. - I tend to vote Libertarian a lot of the time, knowing full well they'll never come close and would probably be total moonbats if they ever actually made it into office, but as many of Ralph Nader's 2000 election voters will tell you, there's a time and a place for the protest vote, and a time to take your lumps & go lesser-of-two-evils.

6. ALWAYS VOTE NO ON SYMBOLIC MEASURES. - Like "it is the resolution of the people of San Francisco that the city stands opposed to global warming". The amount of money and effort spent to get meaningless feel-good crap on the ballot is preposterous, and I always vote no on these even if I'm behind the sentiment. Apparently next week the people of San Francisco are planning on impeaching Bush and Cheney - how about that?

7. THROW AWAY ALL MAILINGS, AND TUNE OUT THE TV. - Because their commercials lie and distort. The aforementioned book will tell you all you truly need to know, and when it doesn't, vote "no".

8. DON'T OVERREACT TO CLAIMS AGAINST YOUR PRIVACY - NO ONE REALLY CARES. - The fetish over privacy in a lot of ballot initiatives is staggering to me, in an age where the generation behind me puts their entire lives & interests online. I think increasingly, the amount of people that truly have a legitimate claim on their privacy are a mile wide and an inch deep. I joined the ACLU at one point in my life and left soon thereafter, because the paranoia of the people in the meetings bordered on the absurd. Twenty years from now these debates about privacy rights will look archaic, because increasingly - we don't have any, and people without something to hide honestly don't care all that much.

Hopefully I've given you something to make your blood boil, or better yet, a list of maxims to cut out and put on the fridge! Thanks for reading!