Saturday, July 28, 2007

I was a teenage headbanger…

… And now, I’m a middle-aged headbanger, because even a persistent and debilitating week-long battle with some weird hybrid food poisoning/flu wasn’t going to keep me away from Friday’s Slayer and Marilyn Manson concert at the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa. At the risk of oversharing some gross info, I would have worn a diaper and carried a handful of barf bags rather than miss the show. Luckily for everyone involved, I didn’t need to.

We arrived at the Amphitheater some 20 minutes before the scheduled starting time. Since I still wasn’t feeling too hot, I decided to improve my mindset by downing a few Jack & Cokes (yes, I’m a grown-up). I only mention this because while buying my drinks, an unbelievably kind bargirl actually carded me! The lesson: if you want to belie your age, develop some sort of brooding general malaise, drop twenty pounds in a few months so that you look emaciated and perennially exhausted, sleep an average of two hours a night so the bags under your eyes look like 35-gallon Hefties, and violà! Instant youthfulness. My only consolation is that since half of the audience was wasted, and the other half were freakish enough to look like extras in a John Waters film, I blended right in.

The opening act was Bleeding Through, a nondescript screamer band whose only noteworthy contributions were: an unbelievably hot keyboard girl, complete with S&M outfit; numerous references to how honoured they were to open for Slayer & Manson; and several unsuccessful attempts to fire up the mosh pit. Their set was mercifully over within half an hour, clearing the stage for the hardest-playing metal band that ever was, is, or will be: Slayer, motherf*uckers!!!

Oh, sure, Manowar may hold the Guiness World Record as the loudest metal band ever recorded, but no band rocks as hard as Slayer. It simply isn’t possible. From the furious opening number, “Flesh Storm,” through their killer encores, “Raining Blood” and the still-redoubtable “Angel of Death,” Slayer’s set was the most phenomenal, hard-core, cathartic blast o’metal that I have ever experienced. My knees were weak when it was over, and I don’t think this was caused by my illness or the booze. There wasn’t a lot of frill to their show – a few background graphics (mostly the cover artwork of whichever album contained the song they were playing at the time and some anti-religion or anti-war imagery), some moving around on the stage, and some headbanging. That’s it. Slayer know they kick ass, so they don’t bother putting on a crazy show. Instead, they just blow you away with their awesome skill, as you can see in the following clip of a seldom-heard little jewel – a thousand apologies for the lousy video/sound quality, my cheap little camera can only do so much:

Marilyn Manson, on the other hand, is not just a terrific musician, but also a consummate showman. My only complaints: his entrance was overly drawn out and theatrical, even for him, and for some reason (possibly to avoid being blown away by Slayer?), the volume was way too loud during his entire performance. I don’t mind loudness, but when it enters Spinal Tap’s “it goes up to 11” territory and the distorsion is so great that the instruments and vocals jumble into a messy cacophony, I can’t help but wish they’d take it easy on the volume and focus more on the music. Nonetheless, Manson’s set was phenomenal, and he really went all out to put on a killer show, cavorting, twisting, and crawling all over the stage, changing clothing between just about every song, making ample use of weird props (a giant chair, a platform that was raised some 40 feet above the stage, a makeshift pulpit, etc.), and whipping the crowd up into an hour-long, “you had to be there to believe it” frenzy. I managed to get a video recording of “Heart-Shaped Glasses” – again, please excuse the shoddy video/sound quality:

And now that you've had a chance to see both bands, please take the time to cast your vote in the "Who rocks harder?" poll in the right column of this page. (Man, I love Blogger gadgets.)

All in all, it was one of the best rock concerts I’ve ever attended, and it reminded me of my “glory days” as a teenage headbanger. Midlife crisis be damned, I think I’m going to scrounge up some money and continue the concert revival – Evanescence and Korn next month, baby!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It ends with a whimper

During the course of my graduate studies at FU, I have had the opportunity to teach several classes. I originally welcomed the opportunity to teach strictly as a means of enhancing my curriculum vitae, but in the process, I have found that I enjoy teaching immensely. Regrettably, I won’t have the privilege of teaching beyond this semester, so today marked the end of the Professor Jorge Era. I’m never good at predicting my feelings, and today was no exception. I expected to feel sadness owing to the fact that it was my last class, as well as bitterness owing to the fact that my teaching days should never have come to an end (that’s a story for another day… probably after I’ve graduated so I can excoriate the powers-that-be at FU without fear of reprisal – the bastards might steal my good pocket protector). What I ended up feeling instead was a jaded ambivalence.

It’s funny how even something you love doing can unknowingly become routine, but that’s exactly what’s happened to me with teaching. I gave the same farewell and good luck speech I’ve given the last day of the four previous semesters, watched a different but remarkably similar group of students struggle with my unbelievable easy exam, and my way of savouring the moment was to do typically mundane things like making a grading key for the exam, entering a few last-minute grades, and checking my e-mail and cell phone messages because one of my students didn’t show up for the exam. Before I knew it, the students were finishing up the exam and beginning to file out. Most of them made it a point to say farewell (I will forever insist I lucked into getting mostly really nice students every semester, especially after hearing the horror stories from other professors who teach the same classes I have taught), bust my chops about the myriad struggles of The Holy Quaternity, or laugh at/with me regarding my obsession with puns and anecdotes that deal with cheesy 80’s music, and that interaction made me feel kind of happy and sad at the same time. Be that as it may, the cynical ambivalence won out again thanks to a couple of whiny jewels.

Whiner 1, whom I’ll call Ditzy Queen, complained about how difficult the exam was, tried to convince me that I hadn’t covered the material in some of the questions, then tried to convince me to drop the lowest exam score, and then actually had the temerity to ask me whether there were going to be any extra credit opportunities. That’s right, Ditzy Queen – I scheduled various extra credit opportunities after the end of the semester! How some of these kids got into college, I’ll never know.

Whiner 2 earned the nickname “Sleeping Beauty” because I constantly had to wake him up throughout the semester. Apparently, Sleeping Beauty slept through every important set of instructions I gave for assignments, because he turned in a paper without reference citations after I spent approximately 30 minutes covering the importance of citing sources and how not doing so was plagiarism. It goes without saying that Sleeping Beauty earned an F for his paper, and he came up to me after the exam to whine about how hard he had worked on the paper, and how he didn’t understand why he got a bad grade. When I explained to him AGAIN about citing sources, he nodded vacantly, then asked about a particular paragraph I’d underlined. The paragraph in question had obviously been cut & pasted from an internet source, because the ink colour was grey instead of black. I pointed this out to him, and his answer was, “It’s grey because the printer was running out of ink.” (I swear to God this is true.) I answered that if this had been the case, the lines below the paragraph in question should also be grey, not black. His answer: “I guess the printer was acting funny.” At this point, I pulled out my wallet and made it a point to squint at my driver’s license until he asked me what I was doing. When I told him I was checking my license to make sure I wasn’t born yesterday, he finally gave up the ghost and left. Priceless.

And so endeth the Professor Jorge Era – not with a bang, but with a whiny whimper.

Friday, July 20, 2007

In honour of Shark Week

A couple of months ago I spoke with my friend Daniel from Connecticut who is, like myself, originally from Uruguay, South America. I called him to let him know that my mother would be traveling to Uruguay this month to visit her siblings. Daniel’s mother still lives in Uruguay, so whenever a member of our family travels there, I ask whether he would like to send his mother any letters, photos of the grandkids, etc., as the postal service to Uruguay is expensive, slow, and extremely unreliable. On this occasion, he asked whether I would mind sending his mom a bottle of shark cartilage pills, since they seemed to help with her arthritis. I had never heard of this product, but Daniel assured me that it could be found at any neighbourhood drugstore or supermarket.

Last month, I finally got around to buying the “shark pills” at Walgreen’s. I jokingly asked the pharmacist about the healing power of shark tissue, and to my shock and dismay, was told that the pills were actually made from shark cartilage – all along, I had naïvely assumed that the product’s name was not indicative of its true contents. When I got home, I did a little bit of research and found a few disturbing facts:

The shark cartilage pill manufacturing industry used to claim that their pills not only help with arthritic and muscular pains, but that they are also effective in treating cancer. These claims were not backed by scientific evidence of any form. Regardless, the industry mass-marketed the pills as cancer miracle cures, with a catchy but totally inaccurate slogan: “sharks don’t get cancer.” (Although cartilaginous fishes have a much lower incidence of disease than humans, sharks do, in fact, get cancer.) Eventually, the FTC stepped in and ordered the companies to stop selling shark cartilage products as cures for cancer. Once actual studies documented that shark cartilage does absolutely nothing to treat or cure cancer or any other ailment, the FDA required that a disclaimer be added to the packaging informing the consumer that the product is not intended to treat, cure or prevent any disease. In spite of these setbacks, the shark cartilage industry is still obscenely successful, totaling millions of dollars in yearly sales in the US alone.

The false claims made by the shark cartilage hucksters are appalling, but they are neither the first nor last enterprise to hoodwink the consumer for their own gain. One might even say that by supplying a harmless placebo for a great deal of people, the shark cartilage industry is actually providing a valuable service. This is true, at least to the extent that the pills cause those taking them no harm, and even this claim is debatable. Unfortunately, the shark pills are exacting a steep price – not from the consumers, but from the sharks and, by extension, the marine environment.

The shark cartilage harvesting industry accounts for millions of killed sharks every year in US waters alone. Because sharks are at the apex of the predatory chain, sharp fluctuations in their numbers unfailingly reverb through the entire ocean ecosystem. For the general public, however, ignoring the senseless slaughter of millions of sharks is probably not difficult – sharks are not charismatic, and are portrayed by the popular media as dangerous and consciously evil. In reality, shark attacks claim less than 15 human lives per year, worldwide. Chances are that one is much more likely to die in a traffic accident while driving to and from the beach than from a shark attack. Chances also are that if sharks were warm, cuddly and fuzzy creatures, their needless butchery would be met with outrage, and not the current ambivalence/tacit approval.

By the same token, simply eliminating a placebo for which there is a huge public demand seems unfair. One possible solution to this conundrum is replacing shark cartilage and other ineffective homeopathic remedies with surrogate substances. What better candidates for this than invasive exotics? If the alternative medicine industry were to undertake the harvest of, say, Brazilian pepper with the same zeal that it slaughters sharks, it would not only provide a valuable service to forest ecology, but it would also mitigate the considerable expense of removing these pests – in the US, the removal of invasive exotics is estimated to cost taxpayers well over $1 billion a year.

Here in Southwest Florida, we have myriad invasive exotics. I can think of no better way to conclude this diatribe than with a few local contenders:

  • Melaleuca has easily resisted just about every plague visited upon it in an effort to eradicate it from our forests. Its remarkable resiliency can be extrapolated as a shark cartilage-like panacea.
  • The water lettuce can also be used as a generic cure-all. Potential slogan: “Water is good for you. Lettuce is good for you. Water lettuce is doubly good for you!”
  • The water hyacinth can double its population in as little as 6 days. As such, it is an obvious candidate for a fertility drug. Potential slogan: “Faster than a randy rabbit!”
  • The Japanese climbing fern can be used to treat acrophobia. Potential slogan: “Sayonara, vertigo!”
  • The Cuban tree frog’s noxious skin secretions make it unpalatable to most native predaceous birds and snakes. The paradox of treating venom with venom can be similarly applied to treat bad taste (in clothing, in behaviour, etc.) with, well, bad taste.

Viability of this tongue-in-cheek solution notwithstanding, one thing is for certain: the world’s shark populations are being devastated at an alarming pace. This trend must be reversed, and pronto.

In sharks we trust.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Life in Florida

Although I still really miss my beloved Cleveland, I’ve got to grudgingly admit that living in Florida definitely has its advantages. Today, for instance, I spent the whole day at the beach, doing a little bit of incompetent snorkeling (visibility: less than a foot), collecting seashells, finding money underwater (a whole buck! I’ll try not to spend it all in one place), and getting roasted like a Kenny Rogers chicken. Beautiful beaches aside, the Florida life can be fascinating, even at its most apparently mundane. Here are a few photographic high/lowlights from the past week (click to enlarge).

On my way to FGCU (new abbreviation: FU) last weekend, I drove past this doozy of a brushfire. I almost caused several accidents by whipping out the camera and taking a few photos while careening down I-75, thereby adding to the “shitty driver” local flavour:

While mowing my lawn a couple of days ago, I came across this beautiful wild lily buried in The Corner From Hell among the palmetto and air-potatoes (a filthy, pesky exotic invasive – kind of like me!):

On my way to FU yesterday, I had to slam on the brakes, get out of the car, and record the apparently simultaneous demise of two huge toads just outside my driveway. I wasn’t dorky enough to place a quarter on the street next to the squished toads for scale (they really stank), but these bad boys were at least eighteen inches long:

While returning from the beach today, we were treated to a spectacular rainbow. Having learned from last week’s brushfire photo near-accidents, I waited until reaching the Coastal Village parking lot to snap a few pics. Here's my favourite:

What, oh what will the next week hold for us? Hopefully a lightning strike sighting…

Monday, July 9, 2007

New socks

My new socks are labeled and ready. OCD? Maybe... but discipline and control make the man, damn it!

Monday, July 2, 2007

How do I love Korn?

How do I love Korn? Let me count the ways.
I love the subtle and creepy synthesizer
That serves, as background, for most of their songs
And gives their music a distinctively ominous ring.
I love Jonathan Davis and his nasal raspiness
That makes him sound like a higher-pitched Pee-Wee Herman.
I love the sneaky melodic beauty of their songs;
I love their obsession with minor keys.
I love their weird progressions where they tend
To focus on dissonance without disregarding harmony.
I love the fact that Brian Welch left the band
Because he found God! -- I love that the band
Never skipped a beat, pun intended! -- and, to this day,
Continues to put out music bettered only by death.

(With deepest apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

Their new song, Evolution: