To the Police Department

December 23, 2006


Dear sirs,

Just a short note to thank you for your vigilance in protecting me but also to register a complaint regarding the installation of the surveillance camera at –– and –– Streets. Because of the impossible-to-ignore flashing blue light attached to it, this camera is extremely disruptive to everyone within a quarter-mile of it. Apparently these machines can zoom four blocks and swivel 360 degrees. Pretty impressive doodad, but I look at it more as a nuisance than an effective safety measure. My roommate had to fashion makeshift cardboard curtains to keep the light out of our living room.

I can only assume that you at the Police Department have heard plenty of reasons why the “pods” should be taken down, in spite of the reduced crime rates that surveillance advocates offer. I don’t plan on wasting your time outlining all of those reasons. After all, you should be plenty busy keeping an eye on the live feed from the 3000 cameras installed in our city. You’ve heard all the criticism already: privacy infringement, constitutional rights against search and seizure, the criminalization of every passerby, how dangerous it is to remove power from the police once it has been granted, etc. It’s probably also a waste of time to list all of the other ways that the $34 million from the feds could have been spent: Local public transit, which receives no federal funding. Or a sensible coal-free energy policy. Or a massive overhaul of the public school system. But I guess we can get cracking on these problems as soon as we rid the city of crime, and of the people who intend to commit crime.

Speaking of that $34 million, I am seeing here on the Internets that it came from the Department of Homeland Security. I guess the prevailing mood of fear in the United States is pretty conducive to permitting the police to monitor every entrance and exit from my home. It sounds kind of priggish to talk about how citizens these days are ceding their rights to privacy in order to have a false sense of security against fictional terrorist villains. But let me assure you anyway that I have not witnessed any terrorist activities on –– Street, or anywhere else in my neighborhood, for that matter. I take the credo of “If you see something, say something” pretty seriously. I’m not one to take enemy encroachment lightly—just look at the letter you’re holding in your hands!

No, I would say that the criminal activity in the neighborhood is pretty well limited to the spray-paint projects of local youths. It seems a little excessive to expose us to a never-ending blue lightning storm in order to prevent this essentially victimless crime. Sometimes people make the assumption that because these baggy pants lads are painting brick walls, they must also be carrying firearms and smoking marijuana. This may indeed be the case, but since some of your squad cars pay them a visit every hour or so, to accost the youngsters and give them a vigorous rub-down, I would think that the Force is already abreast of just what kind of recreational activities the kids are up to. So, why the camera?

Maybe its greater goal is to wrest power from the bad guys. I suppose if the camera chased away the kids then –– Street could start facilitating some serious commerce—something more lucrative than a mom and pop pizzeria or tiny Latino grocery. It’s clear that the real estate community has a lot to gain by cleaning up the area. My own landlord is desperately trying to sell his building. An exciting time for our block! But how can the neighborhood improve with an incessant reminder that it is a Bad Place, that the Police Panopticon is unblinking and all-knowing.

When the Mayor introduced the program of surveillance cameras, he claimed, “We own the streets.” I assume that he meant that the city government has asserted its preeminence over the citizens and even the private business that takes place in “his” city. Because by flagging big swaths of the city as danger zones, and by marking them with a flashing light that is impossible to ignore, the city is actively interfering with any and all activity happening near the pod. Almost as if it were true that the government “owns” the entire city. The result is that everybody and everything is guilty until proven innocent. It’s little wonder why the city government is so unpopular with small business owners: police omnipresence seems to a higher priority than anything else.

I feel unwelcome and ill-at-ease around the camera. How can I trust that the camera will not pan to a clear shot of my roommate’s bedroom? It’s also hard for me to gauge, for example, how long I can take to unlock my bike in front of my apartment building before the policeman staring at me from downtown decides that I am loitering, trying to buy drugs or sell myself as a prostitute. Can you let me know how to best signal to the camera that I don’t want any trouble, that I have no plans to engage in illicit activity, and that I consider myself a friend to all armed authority figures? Maybe I should raise my hands in the air after walking out my front door to show the camera that I am unarmed and am not planning any violent crimes. Would it be smart to throw out all pants that are a bit roomy in the crotch just to make sure that it’s clear that I have no gang affiliation? Really, I’m just trying to save you the trouble of stopping and searching me. You have your hands full with the real criminals. Not to mention all the white-collar criminals who must appear deceptively law-abiding on your cameras.

I respectfully ask that the camera be removed, or at least that the light be turned off. As a citizen whom the unit ostensibly protects, it is my judgment that the feeling that I am having a stroke is not worth the charade of security that the camera so conspicuously offers. I do not need to be reassured that the police are ready to zoom up to my doorstep at the first glimpse of something they consider suspicious. Believe me, I know how tireless the department is in patrolling –– Street. I hear you every night.


Hot Wings, Midwest Chapter


Yacht Rock Redux

December 23, 2006


Shortly after Channel 101* viewers voted to cancel Yacht Rock following a subpar episode where the Eagles terrorize Steely Dan, a screening of the entire Yacht Rock series packed the Empty Bottle. Writer/director JD Ryznar and four of his cohorts introduced the screening and promised that they would unveil Episode 11 not on the Internet but at Chicago’s own Dark Room in September.

Episode 11 never materialized, although Ryznar began to host events in cities all over the country, screening the shows to rapt audiences. In Austin, a local band called Captain Smooth even covered Yacht Rock tunes “flawlessly,” as Ryznar told me on the phone.

All this excitement for late ‘70s/early ‘80s soft rock seems to have been conjured out of nowhere by the show. Maybe Yacht Rock has catalyzed an Internet-based retro phenomenon, and that Ryznar is doing for Kenny Loggins et al. what Lawrence Kasdan did to Motown when The Big Chill sparked nostalgia for the ‘60s. But that seems unlikely. Tonight’s Empty Bottle event has tagged on glam-rocker Bobby Conn and noisy Fashion Dictator, a far cry from the smooth sounds of Toto or Christopher Cross.

No, what Yacht Rock offers is not mere tributes to artists already bedecked with gold records and Grammys, it’s genuine insight into the creative process and the mysteries by which a handful of hysterical personalities can produce works of genius. Now, if Ryznar and crew would finish basking in their success, get the sack of mustaches back out and get the camera rolling again!

*Channel 101 is an Internet television site that shares five-minute episodes of shows for free, mostly produced by L.A.-based artists. The most popular shows run “prime time,” while failures are “cancelled,” but any show that garners approval from the panel of judges is available for free download. The shows lack the polish of professional TV but make up for it with home-movie style enthusiasm and wacky premises.

Yacht Rock: The Legacy

December 23, 2006


Rampant are the personal mythologies about your favorite showbiz icons. It doesn’t stop at VH1 nostalgia trips—you even see whole feature films dedicated to aggrandizing stars by giving them important struggles to overcome on the road to vast material wealth, e.g. 8 Mile or Get Rich or Die Tryin’. How delicious to see so much rich historical detail in mythologies not about contemporary rappers but instead obsolete soft-rockers.

The Yacht Rock team had minimal wherewithal to make their Internet TV shows, but the no-budget style has plenty of appeal. In Los Angeles, it must not be hard to find the necessities for five-minute Internet TV programs: a camera, a crew of enthusiastic and underemployed actors, a brilliant editor (Lane Farnham), and a sackful of fake mustaches. Yacht Rock drops some zany storytelling while probing the pop music most often found in the dollar bin of record stores. Its heroes are Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Toto and Christopher Cross.

As cheeky as the program may be, it conveys realistic ideas about communities of artists and how they form a style. Competition within their ranks, like the spat between Loggins and McDonald, yields to better and more refined output, a honing of what it means to Yacht Rock. They are also pushed to heights by outside challenges, like Steve Porcaro’s attempt to woo Rosanna Arquette (Episode 3), and from Hall & Oates (a geographic/class-oriented rivalry), and Van Halen and the Eagles, whose antagonism derives from their clashing sounds. Hard rock is presented as the main challenge to smooth music, and the two camps define themselves in relation to one another, while constantly flirting with the barrier that divides the two genres. The artists connive and fret about their success, and in dizzying sequences of brilliant productivity, give birth to beautiful creations like Michael Jackson’s “Believe In It” and the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes.”

The two camps employ supernatural means to thwart each other, first when Michael Jackson has “the smooth spooked into him” in Episode 5, and then in Episode 9 when David Lee Roth hypnotizes Ted Templeman and shows him visions of a harpooned Koko Goldstein (Episode 9).

A powerful actor in the creation of smooth music is the producer. Ted Templeman is perceived to have committed a horrible betrayal when he agrees to produce hard-rocking Van Halen. The producer imbues raw music with qualities of hardness or smoothness, and thus catalyzes the greatness of authentic Yacht Rock.

Even the smallest taste of smoothness can fill the characters with appreciation, as when Michael McDonald hands Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of the Doobie Brothers the sheet music for his new song “What a Fool Believes” (Episode 1). Skunk takes one look at the music and nods with satisfaction.

It’s this relentless pacing and sharp editing that helps Yacht Rock tack into the wind. Narratives overlap, characters are fleshed out, feuds arise and get put to bed in episodes that only last five minutes. Yacht Rock moves at the pace of animated sitcoms like The Simpsons.

Outwit®, a board game I found.

December 23, 2006

The board game Outwit has entranced everyone in the Hot Wings house for a long time now. It’s a strategy game along the lines of Chinese Checkers where two adversaries try to outflank the other and be the first to assemble the gamepieces into a designated corner. Trademarked in 1978, it can’t be found at retail locations, although it’s as enthralling as its readily available cousins, Othello and Go.


Particularly beguiling is the photo on the box. A family of three is seated on one side of a gaming table, and each of them has brought their varying enthusiasms to the matchup. At left, Dad looks happy simply to relax with his wife and son, to don a cozy blue flannel, and begin to forget the stress that he dealt with all day long. He’s proud of his son, who is clearly absorbed in the challenges and unpredictabilities of Outwit. The boy’s mouth has stretched into a happy grin as he contemplates his next move, his delighted eyes fixed on his mother’s fingertip, which is poised to slide her gamepiece and drastically alter the complexion of the game. Father and son, apparently playing on the same team, impatiently await Mom’s gambit, and she relishes this moment of power over her family. Her look is fixed not on the gameboard but on her husband, and it’s clear from her expression that she fully appreciates the erotic possibilities of Outwit, the give and take, the improvisation and responsiveness that the game demands. As for the arrangement of the board, the boys are hunched defensively to block Mom’s progress, while her pieces are flayed about the field of play, evincing a Strategy Of No Strategy At All. The result is inconclusive. The potential is infinite. What better endorsement for the game!

A Craigslist Housing Post, 11/22/2006

November 23, 2006

The place will be available quite soon, it is in beginning of December that the Captain and I are seeking the new roommate. Captain says to be flexible with respect to monoliths which take occupancy in the apartment. One bedroom with seldom any windows. If you can appreciate the monoliths, take care to send along an email with information about you, the roommate, likes and dislikes, with the goal of soon reaching an arrangement. Thank you, craigs.

The Armistice, or Boxcar Follies

November 11, 2006

The United States used to celebrate the Armistice at 11 am today. Two minutes of silence every year hearkened back to 1918, and the end of the most horrible war in the history of the world. The Armistice seemed a pretty exciting development at the time. But some signatures in a boxcar on a freezing cold dawn in France couldn’t really solve the madness that has forever plagued civilization. 11 November should be remembered as the Day of Temporary Solutions.

The German officers met a French delegation at a secret spot in the Compiegne forest. They arrived on a train that carried them through the apocalyptic French landscape, which had been devastated by years of trench warfare. Once-proud industrial cities like Munich were on the brink of chaos and Kaiser Wilhelm would soon abdicate. The Germans prepared to give up the War to End All Wars. The terms of surrender were tough, though. The papers asked Germany to decommission more submarines than they had in their whole fleet.

The Armistice went into effect at 11 am, and the French felt confident. They erected a symbolic monument in the forest depicting a French saber stabbing through an imperial German eagle. Nearby lies the inscription HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN REICH, VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES THAT IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE. And then came the Twenties, when lots of people really believed that the Last War had been fought.

Allied Supreme Commander Marshal Foch wasn’t convinced. He called the Treaty of Versailles “a treason,” and wanted to stick it to the Germans with something harsher than a mere fifteen-year occupation. The mustachioed warrior/statesman prophetically quipped, “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”

Could the French Army’s supplest mind have known how right on he was? Maybe Marshal Foch really understood that war doesn’t just end when a convenient stopping point arises. Anyway, a bronze likeness of Foch on horseback was added to the forest where World Peace had ostensibly been born.

Twenty-two years later, just two short years behind schedule, Adolf Hitler chose this same boxcar in the Compiegne forest for a French surrender on 19 June 1940. Just as the French delegates started to speak, Hitler swaggered out of the car, mocking his enemies. The Nazis razed the forest, effectively beginning the French Occupation and annihilating what was left of the Armistice. The proud statue of Foch on horseback was left intact to honor a land that had been again laid to waste. And the boxcar was hauled away to Germany and burned by the S.S.

That war tapered off too. And then a replica of the original boxcar moved into the Compiegne forest, and it still sits there today. The Armistice is still a holiday in many countries. 11 November was the day that an optimistic timetable was set for sanity to finally take hold. We’re still waiting. The false boxcar is a monument to war waxing and waning, but, so far, not ending.

Citizen Vaclav Havel Goes on Vacation

November 11, 2006

Last Monday night the gang and I were treated to a provocative and entertaining DVD projection at our local Czech consulate. Jan Novak, bearded, soft-spoken and ingratiating, introduced the film that he made with his son Adam, Citizen Vaclav Havel Goes on Vacation. Czech beer was provided free of charge, and the consulate staff was pleasant and well-organized.

During Havel’s farcical car trip through East Bloc Czechoslovakia in 1985, the future president of the Czech Republic was ceaselessly harassed by the Czech secret police. It was just what Havel expected. During this time of intense repression in Czechoslovakia, Havel and the rest of the dissidents who signed Charter 77 made openness their watchword. They sought to provoke and enrage the totalitarian system that stomped on their liberty, and also to publicize their subversive actions to the international community, instead of meeting in secret or communicating in code. With this goal in mind, Havel set out on a summer vacation to purposefully goad the state into throwing him in jail again.

The film depicted Havel’s car trip through Middle European hills and vales in clever reenactments. The anti-drama of a Volkswagen Golf pursued by three cars of somber plainclothesmen brought the viewer into an absurd comedy instead of a harrowing docudrama. “I still remember [Havel’s] license number…” reminisced one cop.

The Czech old-timers who attended the screening knew well the absurdity of total-surveillance state-communism, and they particularly enjoyed the propagandistic Czech news broadcasts that highlighted the ups and downs of that year’s wheat harvest. From occupied France to Pinochet-era Chile, it’s clear that survivors of totalitarianism prefer to think back to the amusing ironies, rather than to the betrayals and the torture and the paranoia.


Another Czech TV sequence showed the Spartakiada, a compulsory gymnastics exhibition in the Strahov Stadium in Prague. It impressed me as a particularly fascistic extravaganza. The Soviets organized the most talented athletes from the Eastern Bloc who would converge in a grand shirtless display of Communist discipline and agility. These overtly nationalistic gymnastics demonstrations seem not to have not caught on in the West.

Hot Wings recommends Citizen Havel Goes on Vacation!

Fresh out the oven

November 7, 2006

Hot Wings ’bout to bring the tangy, special goodness unique unto itself. Feast your eyes and let your mouth water. Yum, that’s delicious. Can’t wait for more Hot Wings.