Saturday, January 24, 2004


by Wayne Robins

Spirit, the Mars rover, has been sending back weird messages the last few days, and NASA's experts say they are confused.

"For two days it transmitted only gibberish or sporadic beeps to acknowledge commands from Earth," according to the Associated Press. On Friday controllers said they had begun to hear from it again, but it still wasn't working properly. Project manager Pete Theisinger at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory worried that "the chances that it will be perfect again are not good and the chances that it will not work again are also low."

The consensus here at Wayne's Words is that Spirit, the first of two $820 million rovers sent to Mars, is working just fine.

The rover has been seized by Martian dudes. The signals sent by Spirit aren't gibberish; they are in Martian, which no one at NASA, apparently, knows how to speak.

This is standard procedure for U.S. ventures to faraway lands. When we sent troops to Vietnam, none of our soldiers, spies, diplomats or politicians could speak Vietnamese. The single greatest hazard faced by our troops currently in Iraq is that they are unable to communicate with the Iraqis, since almost no American soldiers even know the proper hand gestures or facial expressions for communicating in the Middle East, much less speak even a smidgen of Arabic.

Why the U.S. would send nearly a billion dollars worth of sophisticated paramilitary equipment and cameras and stuff to Mars without sufficient military power to maintain their safety is shocking, and totally not awesome. Would you take your new digital camera/cell phone and just leave it on a street corner, or on the floor in a mall, or in a booth in a diner? Duh! Of course you wouldn't. Someone would take it. With so much of our military tied up in Iraq, there weren't enough troops to send to Mars to take care of our valuable and cool rover, and protect it from the very people we sent it to free, the Martians.

Martian dudes no doubt spotted the rover, said, "cool!," and are no doubt attempting to download "Spongebob and Squarepants" episodes from the same communications satellites that bring us so many of our TV shows. The messages they are sending to mission control in Pasadena go something like: "What channel is Nick At Nite?" But our rocket scientists, unschooled in Martian lingo, just don't understand.

The rover, according to AP, "began to malfunction on Wednesday, nearly three weeks after landing on the planet's Gusev Crater." Gusev (or Gus, to those who knew him) is the Martian translation of "Joseph". Joseph (Gusev) Crater was better known as Judge Crater, the New York City judge who disappeared on August 6, 1930. He told people he was going to the theater, and hasn't been seen since. So maybe the Martians aren't using the rover to watch TV. We believe that Judge Crater has been the supreme ruler of Mars since October 31, 1930. He has sent his minions to capture the rover, and has silenced it in order to continue to protect his privacy.

(c) 2004. Wayne Robins. All interplanetary rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004



by Wayne Robins

I still enjoy The Onion, the satirical weekly that so adroitly mocks the conventions of daily newspapers. And yet there's a disconnect between the stupefied hilarity of its news pages and the pedantic dullness of the writing in its (non-satirical) arts pages, known as the The Onion A.V. Club.

In the latest issue, the hot British rapper Dizzee Rascal is described, in painfully serious prose, as "a refraction of hip-hop's psychogeographical shadow." Whassup with that? Pick almost any CD review and you'll find the writing stuck in the diligent stiltedness of a rock crit 101 term paper. So the band Camera Obscura "delves into the realm of retro pastiche," which tells the reader absolutely nothing about what the band's approach might be. I suspect I might like them because I'm a fan of Belle & Sebastian, and B&S's Stuart Murdoch is the producer. But describing a song as "Belle and Sebastianesque" is the kind of reference The Onion would make fun of in the front of the paper. And while we're at it, young pundits, any time you are faced with the opportunity to use the word "Glaswegian," try to rethink the sentence so that you can use "from Glasgow" instead.

Then there's a review of the new Mekons CD, "Punk Rock" on which the writer asserts "Mekons would have earned points simply for recording country music when it was the anathema of hip."

Which was when?

When Bob Dylan released "Nashville Skyline" in the 1969? When Willie Nelson got out of Nashville on a fast train in the early 1970's and headed back to Austin to convene the "outlaws," whose music was played on the Austin radio station so self-consciously hip its call letters were KOKE-FM?
When Asleep At the Wheel rediscovered western swing, when Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen played psychedelic rockabilly?
When the Grateful Dead made "Workingman's Dead"?
When Janis Joplin sang "Me and Bobby McGee"?

Or was it when Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe were recording for Stiff Records, George Jones in their heads, or when Elvis Costello recorded "Almost Blue," George Jones in his head, or when Wilco recorded "No Depression"?

Or when Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton recorded "Trio," or when Loretta Lynn stood up for birth control in "The Pill," or when the Dixie Chicks stood against the war. (Both got banned from country radio for doing so).

Or when Gram Parsons OD'd, or when the Diesel Only label started up in Brooklyn? When Steve Earle cleaned up and continued creating the most underrated body of work of the last 20 years? When Johnny Cash spent his dying months, at the top of his game in the depths of his soul, recording with Rick Rubin?
I mean, when exactly was this cultural moment as, The Onion A.V. club says, “when country music was the anathema of hip?”

(c) 2004. Wayne Robins. All rights reserved.

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