Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Library is Dying

I haven’t posted much here lately about libraries (or much of anything else, to be honest), but some major things have been happening due to the city’s budget being a black hole and services being chopped left and right. Though I’ve stayed fairly optimistic about the matter, I’ve heard that things have gotten to the point that a substantial number of full-time employees are going to get the axe, mainly due to their benefits and higher salaries. If my understanding of matters is correct, that means that part-timers such as myself will be able to keep our jobs, but will more than likely have to take on more responsibilities as resources continue to be stretched thin.

I have tried to be realistic about this instead of bitching about how unfair it is and how the city doesn’t care about the library. If the city doesn’t have money, then there’s really not a whole lot that can be done. At one point the library was a hair away from being outsourced to a private company, which would have meant everyone re-applying for their jobs, more than likely with massive pay cuts. As a city library, there was also the possibility of it being incorporated into the county system, which would definitely have meant people having to take pay cuts (I worked for the county at one point and know how much they pay). That was avoided as well, but the solution we ended up with, the library still being operated by the city but with huge numbers of people losing their jobs, is not really that much better than the other two options. Basically the library had their choice of three terrible options, and either one that they would have picked would have screwed people over.

This may have been avoided, though, if people either knew about it or cared. As employees we were told to keep our mouths shut, since telling patrons about our situation would have been “unethical” and grounds for termination. Thus, the people who in all likelihood could have prevented the library’s budget from getting hacked to shreds, the patrons, were left in the dark about it all, while the library went understaffed and staff members became overworked in the rare occasions that they were called in. They were left to wonder why service at the library got so bad so fast, why desk staff hardly ever got up to help them out, why they were told to do everything themselves, and why policy changes were never followed consistently by staff.

I have not worked at the library for over a month now. Other staff members have had to take on second jobs because they’re not getting the income they need to pay the bills. I even heard a rumor that my boss, the head of the current library that I work at, has also put in applications at other libraries. At my previous branch, we were frequently under the threat of libraries being closed due to budget issues, but at the last minute people like the Friends of the Library would swoop in and save the day. Right now, that’s not something likely to happen.

The people who know me personally know the situation I’m talking about. Anyone else who has come here, either from an outside link or from reading my book, is just as oblivious about my library as our patrons are. I’m writing this not to try to convince people to save my library, but to let people know that libraries as expendable now, and likely to lose funding when a crisis hits. If you use your library or care about libraries, support them. Check out some books, make some donations. With Netflix jacking up their prices, you can always find good new and old movies at your library, typically for free. If you like your local library, tell people and encourage them to go. Let your representatives know that the library is important to you and not easily disposed of. There are real people that will be affected by this, from my friends losing their jobs, to low budget and homeless patrons losing the chance to look for work via our internet service or just escape from reality for a few hours by reading a book for free, not to mention the kids who will no longer have a storytime program to go to. My library may be falling apart, but that doesn’t mean that yours has to as well.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Welcome to Thailand!

In a way that hasn’t happened since I first picked up a France Gall CD and discovered the world of French pop, I have fallen head over heels in love with a new style from another country, but one not as familiar and vastly more difficult to understand. I am officially in love with Thai pop music.

I don’t pretend to know anything about Thai music, only the rudimentary bits that I’ve picked up from online research and reading the liner notes of the CDs I’ve purchased. Unlike French pop, which should be immediately accessible to people who can get past the retarded notion of not wanting to listen to something sung in a foreign language, the Thai pop CDs I’ve purchased definitely have their own unique sound, and the singing does take some getting used to, as it includes yodeling and vocal inflections that you just don’t get in Western music.

As it is, I feel like an asshole referring to it all as “Thai pop,” which I mainly do as a convenient shorthand. Most of what I’ve been listening to is I believe called Luk Thung, and is a mixture of Thai country music styles with American soundtracks and country music. But then when I do further research, I also see some of this stuff referred to as Thai pop, so I don’t feel as bad anymore. Whatever it’s called, the hipper record labels like Sublime Frequencies and Soundway Records have released albums of this stuff, and it has an exotic beauty that’s both hard to describe and even harder for me to resist.

Because of how enthralled I am with this music, I plan on reviewing some of these albums in the future. But for reference, here’s a list of available collections of Thai pop/Luk Thung albums. You should be able to get some of them on Amazon or at your local hip record stores. Brief comments are provided for albums I’ve heard enough to have an opinion on:

Thai Pop Spectacular This is the first Thai pop album I purchased, and the opening track “Roob Lor Thom Pai” by Buppah Saichol is one of the sexiest fucking songs I’ve heard in recent memory. There’s a generous helping of comedy on this album, but songs like the opener, the Onuma Singsiri track that immediately follows, and Chailai Chaiyata’s “Kwuan Tai Duew Luk Puen” make this album an essential purchase.

Siamese Soul - Thai Pop Spectacular 2 A worthy sequel. It took me slightly more time to get into it, but it’s a fantastic album and leaves me hoping Sublime Frequencies puts out a third part sometime soon. The closing track by Ubon Pattana reminds me a lot of the Velvet Underground’s first album.

The Sounds of Siam, Leftfield Luk Thang, Jazz & Malam in Thailand Though I started off with Thai Pop Spectacular and still consider that an excellent disc to start with, this one is much more consistent, has less comedy, and is pretty much incredible the whole way through. Also, it spans more genres and gives you a broader view of Thai music, but with those Western influences we all know and love. You may want to start with this one. Like the poster for Citizen Kane says, “It’s Fantastic!”

Thai Funk Zudrangma Vol 1 & 2 Limited edition CDs that I’ve so far only heard a couple of tracks from, but goddamn are those tracks great. Looking forward to diving into this set soon.

Luk Thung! The Roots of Thai Funk From the same series as the above, this one’s pretty incredible...at least from what I’ve heard so far. I lucked out and got this for a measly $10 at Ameba. It was a used copy, so I guess the buyer wasn’t as impressed by Thai music as I am. I’m most anxious to hear this one next, as the songs I heard rocked my socks off. Too bad the bamboo packaging makes it impossible to put in any CD cabinet you may have.

Thai? Dai! The Heavier Side of the Luk Thung Underground I’ve only heard part of a track from this collection, and it was a riff from Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. Holy shit! If this is a heavy metal variant on Thai music it’s going to make for an interesting listening experience, to say the least.

Shadow Music of Thailand If I remember correctly, shadow music is a genre of Thai music that was heavily influenced by instrumental rock bands. I hope there’s some singing on this collection, but as long as the music’s good and it doesn’t sound too Western, I’ll be happy.

Thai Beat a Go-Go Vol 1-3 I heard these years ago, and while they were enjoyable, they did seem to lean heavily on cover versions of hit songs, and the sound was much more Western than either of the Thai Pop Spectacular CDs or The Sounds of Siam. I’m going to go through these again, and now that my ears are more refined, I’m hoping that they’re more Thai than I remember them being.

Molam: Thai Country Groove From Isan 1 & 2 I own vol. 2 and I had a hell of a time getting into it. Unlike the other CDs I’ve heard, I remember this one being VERY Thai and much more folk than the other volumes. Much like the Thai Pop a Go-Go series, I’m going to re-listen to it along with the first volume and see what I missed the first time around. I briefly listened to one of the tracks from it and it was a lot more rockin’ than I remembered.

Radio Thailand Transmissions from the Tropical Kingdom: I don’t know much about this series, but I believe this these “Radio” discs are put out by Sublime Frequencies and are recordings of actual radio broadcasts, complete with DJs and commercials. I’ll definitely be listening to this one, but my listening preferences for entire songs without filler put this one low on my priority list.

Friday, September 16, 2011

WTF, Roger Ebert?

When I was a teen, I loved the comic book Spawn. So, in 1997, I was excited as fuck to see the film. As I watched it, every ounce of enthusiasm and joy started falling away, and I was shocked at the horrendous piece of shit I just witnessed. The special effects were pretty neat at the time, but I was mainly angry at the obnoxious, unfunny performance of John Leguizamo as the Violator. But I was a teenager then. Maybe now I’ll be less-harsh on it, with lower expectations and coming to it without loving the comic as much as I did. After all, I read Roger Ebert’s review of it, and he gave it his famous “thumbs up.” He called it “an experimental art film.” He praised Leguizamo’s “brilliant comic timing.” He called Spawn “an extraordinary superhero.” So high is his praise, in fact, that this is how he ends his review:

“So the way to view the movie, I think, is to consider the story as the frame--necessary, but upstaged by what it contains, which in this case is some of the most impressive effects I've seen. The disciplines blend into one another: Animation, makeup, costuming, process shots, morphing. They create a place and a look as specific as the places evoked in such films as ``Metropolis'' and ``Blade Runner.'' As a visual experience, ``Spawn'' is unforgettable.”

Wow. That’s some pretty high praise right there. Could I have been wrong? I typically respect Ebert’s reviews, so I checked it out from my library and watched it again.

Nope. It still sucks, and not even in a “I can understand how someone could really like this” way. No, it sucks in a “this is a horrible fucking movie that is impossible to like” way. And the special effects look really fucking bad, though I guess in 97 they might have looked amazing. But seriously...comparing it to Metropolis and Blade Runner? What the fuck? I don’t understand at all why Ebert loved this movie so much, since the plot and acting are fucking terrible. And Leguizamo’s “comic timing” is being overbearing, obnoxious, in-your-face, and making fart jokes. Ebert typically WOULD NOT let this degree of plot and acting slide for any other film. I just don’t fucking get it.

Ebert gave Spawn *** 1/2. That’s half a star shy of PERFECT. To compare, the following films in similar genres are not as good as Spawn, going by Ebert’s rating system:

The Matrix ***
LOTR Fellowship of the Ring ***
LOTR The Two Towers ***
(Only LOTR Return of the King is as good as Spawn, with *** 1/2.)
District 9 ***
Captain America ***
Iron Man ***
Batman **
Batman Returns **
Batman Forever ** 1/2 (no fucking way is the worst Batman film the best one in the original series)
Batman & Robin **
Thor * 1/2
Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan ***
Star Trek (2009) ** 1/2
X-Men ** 1/2
X2: X-Men United ***
X-Men First Class **1/2
Blade ***
Spider-Man **1/2
Brazil ** (I had to include this because WHAT THE FUCK, EBERT??????)
Superman Returns **

All of these films, by any sane viewer, are better than Spawn. Yes, even the shitty Batman movies. In fact, The Matrix, the LOTR trilogy, Iron Man, Batman, Star Trek II, X2, Brazil, and Spider-Man are undeniable classics in this fantasy/adventure genre.

Ebert also gave Cars 2 a ***1/2 rating. I just don’t get it.