July 29, 2012

Sorry Ladies . .

. . . I'm taken:

The wonderful and lovely K has agreed to spend the rest of her life with me. I am, understandably, a happy man.

July 23, 2012

Bloggus Interuptus

As you’ve no doubt realized, things have been a little slow ‘round these parts the past few weeks. In large part, that’s because I’m nearing the end of the second draft of The Water Road (which has sprouted several thousand more words in the process). I’m pushing to finish that and turn around to immediately begin a third draft, the hard red-pen-in-hand phase.

As a result, I’m going to step away from the blog for a few weeks, at least until that process is well underway. Plus, I’ve got some other business to focus my attention on in the next couple of weeks.

Be back soon!

July 20, 2012

Friday Review: The Long Division

We’re just on the cusp of another presidential election, that several month run to November when it will be impossible to avoid the whole mess. It’s either a brilliant time to release an album about the fractured nature of American politics or a sure fire bet to piss off a good hunk of the fan base. Jersey proggers 3rDegree figured out how to do both with The Long Division.

Which is to say that the political half of The Long Division isn’t really a polemic, in the “vote for this guy” sense of the word. It’s not even “bipartisan,” a word that gets thrown around too often to have much meaning anymore. It’s about the way we do politics in 21st-century, not the end result.

Take the lead-off track (mixed by Brett Kull of echolyn, who have their own fine and long awaited new album out) “You’re Fooling Yourself.” It throws around a lot of left v. right catchphrases you hear these days (especially if you read the political blogs), not in an effort to show that one side is right and the other’s wrong, but to show that by reducing our political opponents to caricatured cardboard cutouts we’re really talking past ourselves. Or there’s “The Socio-Economic Petri Dish” which captures the frustration of the modern political world in one line:
Don’t want the layoffs,
but I don’t want the pay-offs to the men in the suits
In other words, we’re so far gone that the solution to almost any problem is probably not particularly palatable.

But my particular favorite of the political hunk is “Incoherent Ramblings,” which takes aim at the talking head spouters of talking points that populate most cable news shows. I’m not talking about actual analysts who might have some incite into a particular incident. I’m talking about the kind of people who get brought on to argue whether the fact that the sky is blue will favor Romney or Obama come November. “Incoherent Ramblings” nails both the mercenary mentality of those flaks but also the fact that they never really say anything of substance.

It’s not all politics on The Long Division. The second half of the album dives into more personal territory from love (“A Work of Art”) to the nature of the universe (the absurdly catchy “Nihilist’s Love Song”), and the for some people to live their lives in public (“Televised,” which hearkens back to the title track from 1996’s Human Interest Story). As it happens, my favorite track on the album, “Memetic Pandemic,” is in the second half of the album. I don’t have a good handle on the lyrics just yet, but I love the slow stalking quality of the music.

Speaking of music, The Long Division sees 3rDegree refining their style as set forth on their previous two records. It rubs up against prog, ciphering off it’s intricacy and eclecticism, but is rooted firmly in catchy rock hooks. It’s no surprise that the band has never really gone full-on epic (although several tracks on this album stretch to the 6-7 minute mark). But there’s not reason they should, since they pack in so many layers of sound into each track that stretching things out just for the sake of it would be pointless.

2012 has already been a banner year for new albums in the prog world and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. When December comes and those damned lists start popping up, trying to sort the best of from the rest of, The Long Division should come out near the top. Which, in this of all years, is really saying something.

The Long Division, by 3rDegree
Released 2012

1. You're Fooling Yourselves (6:53)
2. Exit Strategy (5:46)
3. The Socio-Economic Petri Dish (6:51)
  i. Prelude to a Bailout
  ii. Give them What They Want
4. Incoherent Ramblings (7:46)
5. The Ones To Follow (3:15)
6. A Work Of Art (2:53)
7. Televised (6:54)
8. The Millions Of Last Moments (2:07)
9. Memetic Pandemic (7:29)
10. A Nihilist's Love Song (3:39)

George Dobbs (lead vocals, keyboards)
Robert James Pashman (bass, keyboards, backing vocals)
Patrick Kliesch (guitar, backing vocals)
Aaron Nobel (drums, percussion)
Eric Pseja (guitar, backing vocals)

Rob Durham (flute)
Bill Fox (sax)
Cara Brewer, Veronica Puelo (backing vocals)
Jed Levin (spoken word)

July 17, 2012

On the Stupidity of “Worst” Lists

Humans love lists. Or at least the modern American version of humans love lists. There are entire websites that exist only to make lists of largely irrelevant things. I wonder what it was in our ancestors’ history that made us evolve a love for lists.

Maybe it’s just that lists are good fun. They start heated arguments that are ultimately meaningless and wind up with everybody agreeing to disagree and having a beer. It’s a lot easier to bury the hatchet about whether Citizen Kane or The Godfather is the best movie ever made than it is about whether an extension of the Bush tax cuts are a good idea.

That being said, there’s a species of list that seems completely pointless to me – worst of lists. Particularly if you’re talking about art. Best of lists are at least aspirational and tend to be based on some shared idea of quality, even if the details get fuzzy. Worst of lists, on the other hand, tend to be a list of stuff the person making the list doesn’t like or, at best, stuff he thinks is overrated.

Case in point, this piece at Salon titled “Ten Bands I Will Be Forced to Listen to In Hell.” My first thought reading this was, “whoa, and I thought I was a music snob/asshole.” This guy really brings it and against some suspiciously mainstream targets. I’m not a huge fan of any of them (I’ve never gotten the appeal of The Beach Boys), but I have a hard time thinking that any of that stuff could be the grist of eternal torment. It is funny, though (of Sting he writes, “[i]f pretension were bullion, Sting would be the third Koch brother.”).

Because, honestly, anything that’s released in the mainstream culture, much less something that’s wildly popular, is at least competently produced. I don’t mean that it’s “good” in an ascetic sense, just that everything’s in tune and the end product sounds like some care was taken with it. Seriously, does this guy think that some kind of out of tune, obscenely loud, dissonant caterwauling* drilled directly into his ears at Disaster Area decibel levels would be better than anything Creed ever produced? I kind of doubt it.

I see the same thing while reading through the regular-person reviews at IMDB or Netflix after I watch a movie. Someone will breathlessly claim that a particular movie (in this case, it was Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) is the worst ever made. Not just the worst they’ve seen, mind you, but the worst film ever made. I can only assume that such people either haven’t watched a lot of movies or have never seen Mystery Science Theater 3000. There are movies out there where things are out of focus, the dialogue is barely audible, and you can see the boom mike in the shots.

Which makes the whole enterprise kind of pointless, right? It’s just a chance to vent about stuff that aggravates you. I got no problem with that – how could I? Just don’t think you’re making some kind of objective assessment. And think twice before you pop off like that. Like I said last week, hate isn’t really good for you and what does spouting off like that really accomplish, anyway?

At the very least, be funny about it.

* K would not doubt think that describes some of my favorite music, I’m sure!

July 10, 2012

Nancy Grace Claims Another Victim

I try not to hate people, I really do. It’s not good for the “soul,” whatever you mean by that, and it’s inherently irrational. But most of all, it doesn’t do any good. Your hate doesn’t reach out like some kind of apparition and stifle the good life of your enemies. So, really, what’s the point?

That being said, I really ha . . . I mean loathe Nancy Grace. To be fair, she started it. If I have a right to hate anybody, it’s people who compare me and my colleagues to concentration camp guards. Still, it’s better just to avoid her and her act, stay away from HLN, and get on with my life.

Alas, Grace tends to take others down with her. Over at TalkLeft, Jeralyn tells the sad story of Toni Medrano, a 29-year old mother who was charged with killing her infant son by accidentally smothering him. She had allegedly fallen asleep on him while drunk. Although Medrano was charged with manslaughter, that wasn’t enough for Grace, who dubbed her “Vodka Mom.” In a ludicrously over the top segment, she howled for murder one charges:

Now, one would assume that, given her past as a real live prosecutor, Grace knows that first degree murder requires something along the lines of malice and premeditation, neither of which would be easy to prove (if they could be proven at all) in the case of an accidental death where the defendant was passed out drunk. But that kind of analysis doesn’t make for good TV, so that’s not important. Much easier, and more psychological satisfying, to get all big eyed and rant and rail about a witch who needs burnt at the stake immediately.

Medrano was aware of Grace’s performance. Afterward, she killed herself by setting herself on fire. Now, obviously, Medrano had other issues in her life – from alcohol problems to the fact that she did kill her son, even if accidentally – but being pilloried on national TV surely didn’t help things.

And it’s not as if Grace doesn’t have a history with this sort of thing. In 2006, Grace was on the case of Melinda Duckett, whose son had been missing for two weeks. As I put it at the time:
Grace knew, with her innate sense of right and more right, that Duckett killed her son and proceeded to grill the bereaved mother.
But before the interview could air, Duckett shot and killed herself. If I remember correctly, Duckett was never even charged with anything in relation to her son’s disappearance, so Grace didn’t even have the smug satisfaction of thinking she hustled a killer off the planet as part of her TV show.

Oh, who the fuck am I kidding? Grace runs on smug satisfaction. I’m certain she’s pretty satisfied about this latest incident, since the guilty party was punished in Biblical fashion after Grace’s harangue. And part of me, try as I might, really hates her for it.

July 6, 2012

Friday Review: Redshirts

As the saying goes about film or TV, there are no small parts, only small actors. That is, of course, horseshit. Every story has its bit players, those characters who do little more than fill in the shot, offer a terse, short line of dialogue in response to one the main characters, and generally get used at all because the plot needs them. There’s no shame in this. After all, everybody’s a bit player in somebody else’s life, right?

In the sci-fi realm, there are no more popular bit players than the usually nameless, and certainly never before seen, schmucks who accompanied Kirk, Spock, and such on away missions on Star Trek. They died at an alarming rate, you see. Given that they were usually security personnel and dressed in red, they’ve given a name to the whole enterprise (so to speak) – redshirts.

If Redshirts was just a Trek-like tale told from the perspective of the small folk, it wouldn’t be much to write home about. It’s been done, after all, from the classics (think Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead) to sci-fi TV (Babylon 5’s “A View From the Gallery,” among others). What Scalzi does is both more fun and more interesting.

Yes, the main characters of Redshirts are the small folk, in this case new crew members on a starship called the Intrepid. And, yes, their lives sound suspiciously like what you’d imagine the lives of Trek’s small folk to be like. But here’s the twist – Scalzi’s characters are smart enough to figure out that something’s up. They notice the terminal stupidity of the command staff and how the more senior members of the crew avoid them at all cost. They notice that things happen conveniently and for no explainable reason (there’s even a magic box that helps solve problems).

What they realize is that they are slaves to the Narrative, which appears to literally seize control of the actions of those around them when it suits it. It all leads to only one conclusion – that they are, in fact, living in a sci-fi TV show. Worse, it’s a bad one. Put another way, the Narrative is like God and God is a hack. Armed with that knowledge, they try to do something about their inevitable fates as mission-of-the-week cannon fodder.

And then things get really interesting. Using a hoary sci-fi trope, time travel, the real crew returns to our time to interact with the creators of the show and the actors who play them. This shifts the story from one of simple parody/homage, to a deeper and more thoughtful meditation on the creative process and how it impacts people. In the end, Scalzi writes more about writing than about spaceships, pulse guns, and ice sharks.

In other hands, the lane change into meta discussions about creativity would leaden and die, but Scalzi’s breezy and direct style lets him cut to the quick, most of the time. It helps that the book is funny, too, and will have any sci-fi geek nodding her head (or shaking it in exasperation) as things move along.

This is not to say it’s perfect. In my opinion, Scalzi is at his best when he’s being light and snarky. I became a fan of his blog before I even read one of his novels and prefer the funnier stuff to the hard-core military sci-fi that’s made his reputation. There’s a point in the last third of Redshirts where Scalzi adds a serious thread to the proceedings that bogs things down a bit. He revisits this more maudlin side of things in two of the three codas (codae?) at the end of the book. I just don’t think they work as well as the rest of the book.

But speaking of codae, the first one kicks major league ass.

In the end, Redshirts is terrifically fun, entertaining, and goes just deep enough to provoke a little thought. What more can you ask for? If you’re any kind of sci-fi geek, go grab yourself a copy right the hell now. Or else the ice shark will get you!

The Details
Redshirts: A Novel With Three Codas
By John Sclazi
Published 2012

July 5, 2012

The Vestiges Remain (Redux)

Do you ever have one of those situations where you hear a word for the first time and then, all of a sudden, it seems like it pops up all over the place? It’s kind of like déjà vu, but not quite. I’m getting that a lot lately, not with a word but with history, specifically of the kind I’ve already talked about twice in discussing Slavery by Another Name, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner by Douglas Blackmon.

Last week I discussed an Alabama statute that gives an incentive to sheriffs to barely feed those in their custody by allowing them to pocket any funds left over. The profit motive of local law enforcement was a key part in Slavery by Another Name.

Today finds us back in Alabama, dealing with an even more central theme from Slavery by Another Name, the saddling of poor defendants with fines and other fees they have no hope of paying, leading to their imprisonment. But now there’s a modern twist to the whole situation – the collection of these fees and the incarceration of those who can’t pay them has been farmed out to private industry:
‘With so many towns economically strapped, there is growing pressure on the courts to bring in money rather than mete out justice,’ said Lisa W. Borden, a partner in Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, a large law firm in Birmingham, Ala., who has spent a great deal of time on the issue. ‘The companies they hire are aggressive. Those arrested are not told about the right to counsel or asked whether they are indigent or offered an alternative to fines and jail. There are real constitutional issues at stake.’
There are several problems with this kind of approach, two of which the article touches on.

The first is a theme I’ve gone back to again and again when I write about this kind of thing. Namely, that for-profit private enterprise has no legitimate role to play in one of the fundamental roles of government, locking people up. As one attorney explains:
‘These companies are bill collectors, but they are given the authority to say to someone that if he doesn’t pay, he is going to jail,’ said John B. Long, a lawyer in Augusta, Ga., who is taking the issue to a federal appeals court this fall. ‘There are things like garbage collection where private companies are O.K. No one’s liberty is affected. The closer you get to locking someone up, the closer you get to a constitutional issue.’
But even if that doesn’t sway you, consider the fact that putting people in prison, particularly for minor shit like traffic violations, produces negative practical results:
In a 2010 study, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law examined the fee structure in the 15 states — including California, Florida and Texas — with the largest prison populations. It asserted: ‘Many states are imposing new and often onerous ‘user fees’ on individuals with criminal convictions. Yet far from being easy money, these fees impose severe — and often hidden — costs on communities, taxpayers and indigent people convicted of crimes. They create new paths to prison for those unable to pay their debts and make it harder to find employment and housing as well as to meet child support obligations.’
Nobody thinks that sending someone to prison is likely to make them a better human being, given the nature of the modern prison system. So why would anyone think that throwing minor law breakers in the klink for not paying mushrooming fees they have no hope of paying is going to work out in the end?

One of the interesting things about the history of Eastern State Penitentiary I visited a couple weeks ago is how sadly familiar political concerns scuttled the original plan for the prison. It’s design had to be changed before it was even complete to hold twice as many inmates as intended. Overcrowding destroyed the one-man-to-a-cell plan.

The same is true today. We want a criminal justice system that works, but we don’t want to pay for it. So the system is overburdened with people and leads to things like this. At some point, we need to learn to think in more long term fashion, because the short term solutions never seem to pan out.

July 4, 2012

This Is Not a Playoff

While the nation was focused on the Supreme Court and the fate of health care reform last week, another long simmering conflict came to a sort of resolution. As Fletch would say, it’s a smaller story, but I’m sure you were following it.

I’m speaking, of course, about the death of the Bowl Championship Series and the announcement of a college football “playoff,” to kick off in 2014:
Conference commissioners met with an oversight committee of university presidents and chancellors here Tuesday to approve the four-team seeded playoff, consisting of two semifinal games in bowls and a national championship game that will be put up for bid.

* * *

And the presidents endorsed the idea of a selection committee for the playoff teams, which would end the combination of computer and human polls that have been lightening rods for criticism since the BCS began.

* * *

The committee will rank playoff teams based on won-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head and if a team is conference champion.
I put “playoff” in scare quotes because, whatever this four-team arrangement is (and “better than the BCS” is probably one of them), it is not a real playoff or even a facsimile of one. It’s a small invitational tournament, nothing more. Perhaps that’s why, at the end of the day, there still will not be a true NCAA-sanctioned champion in big time college football.

In my mind, a key feature of any playoff system are objective criteria for selection of at least some of the participants, arranged in such a way that everybody who starts the season has a path to participation. The NCAA college basketball tournaments do that, but setting aside automatic bids for teams that win conference championships. A selection committee rounds out the field, but every team starts the season with a way into the tournament. If they don’t make it, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.

That allows for smaller teams, underdogs and such, to have as much a chance to win the prize as anybody else. That’s the essence of a true playoff. This arrangement doesn’t do that, as Stewart Mandel admits:
Not to be condescending, but of all the reasons college football fans have clamored for a playoff, fairness to the little guy was generally pretty low on the list. I've never sensed the same love affair with Cinderella in football as there is with March Madness. If anything, it's quite the opposite, as evidenced by how Boise State unwittingly became a national villain two years ago when pundits had the audacity to consider the Broncos a national title contender. First and foremost, people want to see a more conclusive ending to the season, which they're going to get. They want to see at least two more exciting, high-stakes games between the nation's best teams. They want to see Ohio State play Alabama or Florida play Texas. They don't want to see USC play Louisiana Tech in the Southwest Regional semifinal.
In other words, it’s not about the best teams competing, it’s about the most popular very good teams that can draw fans and TV audiences playing. That’s a fine principle for arranging an invitational tournament – see all the early season basketball tournaments, for instance – but it’s not a playoff.

Mandel gives the game away in another column, in which he tries to look at the 2011 season and figure out who would have wound up in the big six bowls (the selection committee will select the 12 teams that participate, as well as the 4 “playoff” teams). That field includes ACC champion Clemson, but not Big East Champion WVU. Remember, friends, that WVU embarrassed Clemson in the Orange Bowl last year, 70-33. Heaven forbid Louisiana Tech had the chance to do that to LSU.

Look, I’m not wedded to the idea of a playoff in big time college football. The bowl apparatus and tradition of settling things by consensus makes it unique. And let’s face it, fans like nothing better than a good argument about which team is better, which college football fuels more than any other American sport.

Let’s just not fool anyone into thinking that this new four-team shindig actually changes anything. Come 2014, the national championship will still be mythical and still be the result of informed opinion about who’s better than who. It’ll just work a little different and have a different name. And it will still be unlike anything else in American sports.

July 3, 2012

Phun, Phun, Phun

A couple of weeks back, K (the girlfriend) and I headed off to Philadelphia for a few days (sans critters this time). The motivation for Philly was Marillion returning to the United States on tour for the first time since 2004. It was the third time I’ve seen them, each time a little further from home. At this rate, I’ll wind up in Bangor, Maine, just to go to a concert.

I should mention that K is not a particular fan of prog in general or Marillion specifically. But she is a very patient, loving girlfriend and didn’t blink at the thought of going to the concert with me. The long weekend and short vacation didn’t hurt, of course. She also took a lot of the pictures.* Thanks, honey!

As is typical when we breeze into town for a few days, we stayed downtown (for the most part), on Penn Square.

The night view right outside the hotel, looking up at the Ben Franklin statute on top of city hall, was really cool, but I couldn’t get a good picture.

First day we spent on foot, basically wandering around the neighborhood. The Reading Terminal Market, a huge collection of ethnic food places, was just down the block. It took more than an hour just to work through it, much less decide where to have lunch. We settled on a Cajun place serving gator sausage gumbo. Good stuff!

We also wandered through Chinatown, in which K bought strange, odd, spiky fruit. Yes, we are that kind of tourist.

That night, we dined high style at Morimoto, restaurant of perennial Iron Chef champ Masaharu.

It lives up to the hype. I had the world’s best ramen soup and a kobe beef rice bowl, while K worked through an 8-course tasting menu. Aside from one of the “pallet cleanser” courses (some kind of strawberry and vinegar soda), it was all excellent. So I was told. The restaurant itself has a cool vibe, with subdued neon lights of shifting colors underneath every table. Very conducive to conversation.

We went to Philly a few years ago and managed to avoid one of its more famous attractions – the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It’s a fabulous old building with lots of neat stuff, most of which is arranged in period appropriate rooms. In fact, some of the Asian artifacts are housed in rooms transported from Japan and China. And, of course, that’s where Rocky is.

I wanted to try and check out the relocated Barnes Foundation collection, but it apparently takes an act of Congress to get in. It was outside of the Museum of Art, waiting on a cab, that I spied this abomination.

I hope all the money they’ve made on SUV’s keep Porsche warm at night, since they sold their soul to get there.

That night, it was concert time! The venue, the Theater of the Living Arts, is on South Street, just down the street from Jim’s, one of Philly’s premier cheesesteak venues. So we planned to hit Jims for a bite, then head to the show.

When we arrived, the line at Jim’s was out the door and around the corner. And so we stood. This would be a recurring theme for the evening. To be fair, Jim’s has a system and it works pretty quickly, all things considered. As for the sandwich? To be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but not the revelation I expected.

The TLA is on the next block down from Jim’s, but there wasn’t anybody hanging around outside before the doors opened. Seemed odd, but then we found out why – they line formed down the block and around the corner (in front of another cheese steak place – they’re everywhere!). And so, with an hour before the doors opened, we were faced with this:

K was not particularly enthused about doing more line standing.

Neither was I, to be honest. The venue itself was mostly standing room only (the few seats in the balcony were reserved for VIPs), which meant we were going to spend the rest of the night on our feet. After about an hour, we were let out of the alley and into the venue. We quickly staked our ground at a post near the back of the main room, next to the sound guy’s station.

The TLA is an old movie theater, so the floor slopes down toward the stage, providing some vantage point from the back of the room. It was a good view, for me at least. K did her best to snap a few pictures (sans flash, due to TLA policy), though the conditions made it difficult. Some ended up interestingly abstract, tho'.

This one came out a bit better, H with his MIDI cricket bat. What? It's a cricket bat with MIDI technology for triggering samples and such. Doesn't everybody have one?

Technical problems were the theme of the night. One of H’s mics stopped working, Mark’s keyboards dropped out at the end of one track, and the aforementioned MIDI bat tanked. So no sax samples for “This Strange Engine.” But those roadblocks were easily overcome. The crowd was into it, the band was excellent, and the vibe was just what I’ve come to expect from a Marillion concert – the closest I ever get to a religious experience. I guess I’ll be due for another one in a decade or so.

There’s another Philly tourist attraction in the neighborhood up near the Museum of Art that K and I managed to miss last time we were there. This time, since we were uprooting from downtown a day early and had a car, I was compelled to check it out.

When most folks think of prisons today, the word “penitentiary” is synonymous. It was not always the case. The idea that a prison could be more than just a temporary warehouse for serious criminals (who were most likely to be executed, exiled, or heavily fined) started circulating in the late 18th-century. The first place it was tried was in Philly, at the Eastern State Penitentiary, opened in 1829. It is, truly, what one thinks of when “prison” pops into your head.

It was called a penitentiary because the core of its approach was to force prisoners to be penitent, or humble and regretful, about their sins . . . er, crimes, rather. To accomplish that task, prisoners were kept in isolation from one another at were required to remain silent at all times.

In the ceiling of each cell was a skylight. It was more than a simple way to get light into the cell. It was supposed to be a reminder of the omnipresent eye of God looking down upon them.

The system employed at Eastern State didn’t catch on in the United States very much (a similar system that emphasized work over penitence won out in Gilded Age America), but it was popular overseas. That being said, the general look and vibe of the place is similar to a lot of American prisons built not too long after, including the old West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville.

Eastern State was really a marvel of its age, architecturally speaking. It had a system of steam heat and running water (sort of – guards flushed the toilets twice a week, IIRC) long before most of the young United States did. The design itself, with its central control hub and cellblocks spiraling out from there. It allowed for maximum visibility with the fewest number of watchers. Thus, you get views like this.

At the time, it was a noble experiment. Looking back with hindsight and an increasing understanding of how solitary confinement turns people bugfuck crazy, to call it cruel would be an understatement. Thankfully, or maybe not, politics overwhelmed the experiment, as more and more people were sent to Eastern State (the cell block above is an example of one of the later two-tiered ones, built to house more people). It was closed in 1971.

After its closure, Eastern State sat a good long while as folks tried to figure out what do with it. Various plans came and went (including one for redevelopment as high-end condos, built behind the massive outer walls), but nothing materialized. As a result, by the time it became the tourist attraction it is today in 1994, a good bit of it had fallen into ruin. Most of it is maintained that way, and thus you have things like this:

That’s a tree growing down into one of the cells. As a result of the ruin, the place is plenty creepy. No surprise, then, that it’s often used as a set for films (including Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys), TV, and photo shoots.

As I said, we hit Eastern State on our way out of downtown Philly. We relocated because, in a completely happy coincidence, not only was there a Philadelphia Union game the night after the concert, but it was against DC United. I may never turn K into a prog fan, but she’s become quite a fan of the beautiful game.

My prior soccer experiences have all been at DC’s home stadium, RFK, which was built for the Redskins and (olde school) Nationals decades ago. To say it has “charm” is to oversell it a bit. It’s way too big for the average MLS game, but it does lend something to the atmosphere when Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles can make the stands shake with their drumming.

By contrast, the Union play in a fairly new soccer specific stadium in the Philly burb of Chester, right near New Jersey and Delaware (our hotel was actually in Delaware that night), PPL Park. It sits right on the river, next to a big ass bridge that (thanks to Mapquest) would have spirited us away into Jersey. It’s a much smaller, more comfortable, and enjoyable place to experience a game than RFK.

It also made for some interesting moments during the match. I decided not to buy tickets in the designated “away supporters section,” because I rightly thought it would be full with drum pounding, chanting DC fans and figured we wouldn’t want to spend another night on our feet. As a result, we were in the middle of a section full of Philly fans, many flying the Union colors (I strategically wore my US national team jersey, not a DC one). We blended pretty well, except the grin on my face as the Union impotently tried to score again and again played out over 90 minutes.

As it happened, DC snatched a late goal to win the match. I celebrated quietly to myself.

With that, our jaunt to Philly was over. We ate well, heard some great music, and watch DC United snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Can’t ask much more than that.

* For more pix and bigger versions, see here.