Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Greatest Movie Poster of All-Time! (2019)

[WARNING: There is a spoiler or two if you keep scrolling & reading this post]

As everyone knows from the second trailer that was released, the REAL star of Marvel Studio's Captain Marvel film is Carol Danvers' orange tabby cat - Goose. This was confirmed when one of the 10 main character posters from the upcoming film revealed this week was of Goose:


It goes without saying (but I shall say it) that this is the greatest film poster of all time. The feline-dominated and controlled internet has spoken!

The Mighty Goose is a victim of a gender-switch and a name-switch.  While the cat is a female named Chewie in the comics, the feline swapped genders to male and is named Goose in the movie, trading a Star Wars reference for a nod to Top Gun.

Of course, Chewie in the comics is not your run-of-the-mill house cat.  She is eventually revealed to be a dangerous being from an alien race known as Flerken.  

From the Marvel Wiki:
"Flerken resemble Earth cats in appearance and behavior. They could lay up to 117 eggs and possessed a myriad of tentacles that could extend from their mouths. Their bodies also held pocket realities, bubbles of space and time that existed in other worlds."
On the one hand, we don't know if Goose is a Flerken in the Captain Marvel film - or if Goose is an ally or dangerous.  On the other hand, since Flerkens have longer lifespans than earth cats, Goose may likely still around in the modern-day Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That said, some images from the Hasbro Captain Marvel toy line have leaked, and the image of the Nick Fury Marvel Legends figure comes with a spoiler:

Well...even muzzled and in tiny cat-shackles, Goose looks Flerken AWESOME!

Captain Marvel will be released March 8, 2019. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The #SongToStartTheDay

It's been a year since I started to post a picture of the last song of my commute to work from my iPod Classic on my Instagram account.

Here's the first one, from January 3, 2018:

 Here's today's song:

I started to do it because I don't take many pictures so my Instagram account was looking weak. I started to just post whatever came up and keep it random, but after a while, I decided to make sure there were no duplicates, so I usually curate the last song in advance.

I use the hashtag #SongToStartTheDay to keep track of them. Anyone on Instagram can check it out as well as my Facebook friends, since I cross-post to my personal FB timeline.  On Instagram I post a YouTube link in the comments.  On Facebook I post the YouTube link as well as any other links about the song I can find.

Maybe I give people morning ear-worms, maybe I inspire someone to seek out the track. That would be cool. It's fun anyway. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

R. Kelly - WTF?

Lifetime's 6-part Surviving R Kelly documentary is getting the response one might expect to the charges:
- Various law-enforcement agencies announcing investigations
- Various politicians demanding action
- Every local & national news outlet is reporting the story

Surprising?  Yes. 
Not Surprising?  Not if you've been paying attention
Fucked up?  For sure.

What is known for sure is that R. Kelly has been accused of sexual relationships with minors going back to 1994, which leads me to the BIG question...

- Why has it taken law enforcement 25 years to respond?
- Why has it taken politicians 25 years to respond?
- Why has it taken news outlets 25 years to pick up the story?

First, let's acknowledge that Jim DeRogatis broke the R Kelly story and has stuck with the story ever since.  The initial story by DeRo and Abdon Pallash was reported in the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2000.  Eighteen years ago.

Eighteen years ago!
That's how many years it takes to age out of R. Kelly's dating preference!

...and NOW some stuff seems to be getting done, though even DeRo - rightly so - has his doubts much will happen:

Unsurprising to me is how the Chicago news media ignores a major story that a competitor broke / has an exclusive.  From 1999-2004 I published a weekly online column on the Chicago news media.  I started it because after being away from Chicago for 5 years, I was stunned at how the local news media had deteriorated.  Others have suggested that I didn't know how bad it was before I left, but regardless, I was a voracious news consumer sad that Chicago news was getting bad.  By the time I ended the column in 2004, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that Chicago journalism was weak (Overall - there were/are still some bright spots).

When the Sun-Times broke the R. Kelly story, EVERY Chicago news org, should have pounced and reported and kept the story going until the story ended.  But no.  It's much easier to use wire stories, PR releases and man-on-the-street opinions to fill the newshole.  It still happens today.  The TIF scam created by Richie Daley should have been killed years ago, but Ben Joravsky is apparently the only good journalist in town and the only one who can report the story in a clear and concise manner. Meantime, the R. Kelly story was here all along for the picking, but a cable TV channel known primarily for women-in-distress B-movies out scooped, out-reported and out-journo'd the Chicago news media.  Weak.

Here's a good summation of the story on Vox - a non-Chicago news site.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Today in RUSH History: Permanent Waves was released

39 years ago - On January 14, 1980, Rush released their seventh studio album, Permanent Waves.

The album peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 Charts and was certified gold (500k+ units) by the RIAA on March 17, 1980 and then Platinum (1mil+ units) on November 9, 1987. It was the 7th album released by the band in 7 years, and at 35:35 it clocks in as their shortest original album.

This was the album where the band started to move into a tighter direction - away from the single-side epics.  Geddy's use of synthesizers continued to slowly build, but the two hit songs from this album are hard rocking guitar anthems - The Spirit of Radio and Freewill
While a 6-song / 35 minute album these days would be considered an EP, keep in mind this album followed up the 4-song Hemispheres!

This was probably the 4th Rush album I got.  For a while I had The Spirit of Radio as my alarm in the morning - what an awesome song to wake up to!  The chorus to Freewill is damn good (Peart was definitely hitting his stride), I especially love  the suggestion that not making a choice is still making a choice:

"You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill"

Excerpt from
Permanent Waves was recorded at Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, and mixed at Trident Studios in London. The tracks were laid down just shy of four weeks, in part attributed to the idyllic working conditions of Morin Heights.

The album marks a transition from long, conceptual pieces, into a more accessible, radio-friendly style. “The Spirit Of Radio” is one of the most commercial songs Rush has ever produced, containing several different musical elements, even a touch of reggae. At the time, Alex recalled:
“We’ve always played around with reggae in the studio and we used to do a reggae intro to Working Man onstage, so when it came to doing Spirit Of Radio we just thought we’d do the reggae bit to make us smile and have a little fun.”
The waving man in the background of the album cover is actually Hugh Syme, the band’s long time design collaborator.

Merch at Rush Backstage Club
Rush Vault
Wikipedia entry
Prog Archives reviews
Ultimate Classic Rock
Metal Archives
Surprising good Rolling Stone review
Pop Matters review
The story behind the album cover
The story behind The Spirit of Radio
Rush Wiki
Apple Music

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Today in RUSH History: A Show Of Hands was released

30 years ago - On January 9, 1989, Rush released their third live album, A Show Of Hands.

The album peaked at #21 on the Billboard 200 Charts and was certified gold (500k+ units) by the RIAA on March 9, 1989.  It followed the usual Rush pattern of releasing a live album after 4 studio albums.  The majority of the performances on this album were from 1988's Hold Your Fire tour except for Witch Hunt, which was taken from a 1986 Power Windows tour show.

I love this live album. I thought All The World's A Stage was a bit too raw with some sound issues and Exit Stage Left was way too polished with the crowd barely audible. Rush did it right with A Show Of Hands.

Track Listing
The Big Money (Birmingham, England)
Subdivisions (Birmingham, England)
Marathon (Birmingham, England)
Turn the Page (New Orleans, LA)
Manhattan Project (Phoenix, AZ)
Mission (San Diego, CA)
Distant Early Warning (Birmingham, England)
Mystic Rhythms (Meadowlands, NJ)
Witch Hunt
Rhythm Method (drum solo)
Force Ten (Phoenix, AZ)
Time Stand Still (Birmingham, England)
Red Sector A (Birmingham, England)
Closer to the Heart (Birmingham, England)

Watch the concert video here:

Excerpt from
The band released a video of the same name, originally released on VHS and laserdisc, the same year. DVD versions were later released in 2006 and 2007.

It was during this era that Jim Burgess of Saved By Technology convinced Geddy that the complexities of a Rush studio recording could be recreated live. Offstage, someone set up the samples for the songs, but Geddy would trigger them himself:
“It’s very important for me to do that, and not someone else. It’s a fine line, but I still have to be in the right place at the right time. If I hit a sequencer late, it’s my fault. That way, I’m still in control, and my organization and rhythm have to be impeccable.” – Geddy Lee, 1989
CD technology was also front-of-mind for the band during the time of this release. The double LP fit on a single CD, filling all but 12 seconds of the 74-minute physical restriction.

Merch at Rush Backstage Club
Rush Vault
Wikipedia entry
Prog Archives reviews
Ultimate Classic Rock
Metal Archives
Unsurprising shitty Rolling Stone review
Apple Music

Monday, January 7, 2019

Wow! Environmently-Friendly Plastic & Fuel Replacements

Last night's 60 Minutes started off with two newsworthy interviews - Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. But if you missed the final segment, you missed what could be a game-changing new technological advancement. Marshall Medoff's company, Xyleco, has invented a process to release sugar from non-edible plants.  It's pretty amazing what it can be applied to - hopefully it can be scaled up.

Check out the Transcript here and the Segment here

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Pittsburgh - Home of the Black and Gold

(Originally Published Nov 19, 2012)

Have you noticed that all three of Pittsburgh's major sports teams use the Black & Gold color scheme?  I was thinking about that after my last post explaining why I am a Steelers fan.  I think it is pretty cool that they use the same colors and it subconsciously ties Pittsburgh sports fandom together.

The Black & Gold coloring comes from the Pittsburgh city flag, which has an interesting origin story as well.

The first major team to adopt the colors was the NHL Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925.
The next team was the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers (originally known as the Pittsburgh Pirates) in 1933.
The MLB Pittsburgh Pirates switched from Black & Red to Black & Gold in 1948.
The NHL Pittsburgh Penguins changed their colors in the middle of the 1979-80 season to match the Steelers and Pirates.

The story behind the Steelers logo and the three hypocycloids is pretty cool too.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Everything You Know Is Wrong

I wonder how people react the first time they hear the phrase “Everything You Know is Wrong”.  I imagine it depends on where you are in life and how much thought you give to it.  I was high school-age when I first heard it, though I don’t remember where I was, I know it wasn’t in school.  I was reading a book or magazine or newspaper article that suggested the scariest thing in the world would be going on an Indiana Jones-like quest to find ultimate knowledge and after enduring excruciating physical and mental trials, you arrive at a pristine, gleaming, gold-covered room with a book at its center. The book contains all the knowledge of the world. Just as you are about to crack it open, you detect something out of the corner of your eye, turn and see that someone had already been there, and they spray painted ‘Everything You Know Is Wrong” on the wall.

I feel like the first 14 years of my life were about blindly learning without questioning, but slowly in high school I started to question just about everything then once I reached college, I can remember thinking that a lot of what I thought I knew was wrong. Having attended Catholic Elementary and High School, the first wall to come down was a lot of the stuff pushed by the Catholic Church. Once you start learning of the origins of Catholic doctrine vs. the actual teachings of Christ, things become clearer that the church is screwed up. The Crusades pretty much finalized it for me. On the historical side, once you start to examine the concept and consequences of “Manifest Destiny”, it’s easy to cast a wary eye on our country's “glorious” past.

It’s funny, but the reactions by older adults to me as I would question dogma and authority tended to be a suggestion that I was being cynical.  Whatever.  I knew I was being realistic.  The older I get and the more I question and really examine what’s going on in the world, the less optimistic I am.  The truth about how governments and huge organizations work is obscured and sugar-coated so that the masses will just accept what happens and go about their business with their heads in the sand. Unfortunately, if you keep watching and listening and digging, you can get some answers.  And you likely won’t like those answers.

Everything you were taught is wrong. 
Everything you were told is wrong.
Everything you know is wrong.
Keep your eyes and ears open, the truth is below the surface.


Thursday, January 3, 2019

How I became A Pittsbugh Steelers Fan

(Originally Published November 12, 2012)

I started watching NFL Football in 1978 when I was 9 years old.  At that age, my bedtime was 9pm.  We had two TVs in the house - the one in the front room (or as I always though it was called - "the French Room") that was connected to the antenna in the roof and a small TV on the back porch that was not connected and got bad reception.  My mom spent most of her time watching the TV on the back porch - usually ironing or sewing at the sewing machine or multitasking something else.  My dad, of course, was master of the front room TV. 

When dad watched football on Sundays, I generally was outside playing with friends.  But then there was Monday Night Football.  I distinctly remember lobbying my mom to stay up late on Mondays to watch the game.  Of course, I was usually doing something else during it - like sorting through baseball or football cards - but dad had my back and suggested I stay up way past 9.  So, I became a fan of football mostly as a way to stay up past my bedtime on Mondays.

A funny thing happened with the Superbowl that year - the Dallas Cowboys played the Pittsburgh Steelers, and my dad was rooting for the Steelers!  Rooting for a team other than the Bears was an odd concept to me at the time, but my dad talked about Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth and Mean Joe Greene and how great they were.

By the time the 1979 season rolled around, I started to watch the Steelers when they were on.  Oh, sure, I was still a Bears fan - who would not be a Bears fan with players like Mike Phipps, Rickey Watts, Brian Baschnagel and Len Walterscheid on the team!
Oh, and also Sweetness.
The Steelers made it to their 4th Superbowl that year and it was the first year that I was REALLY excited for the game.

Of course, the hiring of Mike Ditka as Bears Head Coach starting with the 1982 season revitalized the team and turned my attention primarily on the Bears.  The 1980's Mark Malone-Bubby Brister era was a tough one for Steeler fans anyway.  1992 was the last season for Mike Ditka as head coach of the Bears but also the first for Bill Cowher as head coach of the Steelers.  When the villainous Mike McCaskey made the bad decision to fire Mike Ditka and hire the personality-challenged Dave Wannstedt, I turned my back on the Bears.  They lost their heart and soul (no, not Ditka) and felt soft.

Meanwhile, Bill Cowher's Steelers dominated from 1992-1997 with a smash-mouth style that Chicagoans love.  Sure, they continually fell short of the Superbowl, but Neil O'Donnell and this exciting new guy Kordell Stewart were fun to watch.  I became such a big Kordell fan that starting in 1999 until 2003 I made sure he was always on my Fantasy Football team - the Montana Lizard-Men.  Unfortunately, Kordell was exciting but just not good enough to captain the Steelers to the 'Bowl.  In 1999 Dick Jauron replaced Dave Wannstedt as Bears head coach.  While Wanny had no personality, Jauron sucked the life out of the room.  It was like painting a beige room over with another, more horrible, shade of beige.   Thank you, no. 

A couple of great things for the Bears and Steelers happened during the 2004 season - first, the Bears finally got a good head coach in Lovie Smith.  Now I could start to enjoy the team again.  For the Steelers, their rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger came off the bench for an injured Tommy Maddox and ripped off 14 straight wins until losing in the AFC Championship game.  I couldn't get a Big Ben Steelers jersey fast enough.

The successful Cowher-era (Superbowl win in 2005) led right into the successful Mike Tomlin-era (Superbowl win in 2008) and even though Lovie Smith had the Bears playing "Bears football" again, it's the Steelers that have been #1 in my heart most of the time.  I could not sell my Big Ben jerseys fast enough a couple years ago after he failed to heed the phrase "No Means No", but just because I don't respect the QB doesn't mean I don't love the team.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What's In A Name: John Kuczaj

(Originally published Nov 5, 2012)
My last name is "Kuczaj".  It's Polish.  It's pronounced "KOOCH-eye".  It was the source of much grief when I was in High School.

One of the most celebrated traits of being an American is individuality.
One of the most lampooned traits of being an American is individuality.
Cynicism kicked in for me at a very young age once I started to realize that everyone is a hypocrite and most people just plain suck.

When I was a kid, going to St. Ferdinand grammar school on the Northwest side of Chicago, if there was a culture of teasing then I wasn't part of it.  By the time you were in the 8th grade, you'd spent 7-8 years growing up with your classmates, and by then it was as if we were a family or sorts - in it together.  I recall meeting some new kids in the neighborhood around 7th or 8th grade who thought my name to be funny and made fun of it.  My reaction was puzzlement and indifference.  I do recall thinking that they were strange and likely not too intelligent for thinking my name was a source of amusement.

Sadly, that entirely appropriate reaction and assessment would change over time.

High school for me was 4 years of agony.  I hated almost every minute of it from day 1.  At first I was excited to be going to St. Patrick High School - then the first day happened.  The first class I had was gym class, where one of the gym teachers / coaches proceeded to call out all the Freshmen and explain to them that they were no longer  "king of the hill" and were now at the bottom of the food chain.
No "Welcome to St. Pat's", instead we got "You are scum".

2nd thru 4th period wasn't any better for me as every teacher insisted on horribly mispronouncing my name to the amusement of everyone in the class and then they had trouble with it AFTER I told them how it was pronounced.  This was my lot for the next 4 years - constant ridicule of my name.  In the 4th period class I was so frustrated and bewildered by then that when I called out the correct pronunciation, I yelled the first part too loud.  The non-athlete bully of the Class of '87 seized upon that and decided that my name came from a Kung Fu movie sound effect.  For the next four years I would frequently be greeted by people who would over-pronounce my name and make karate chop moves.

Looking back on it, the verbal bullying was a defense mechanism and a way to curry favor with the majority of students.  While at St. Ferdinand there were Jocks and Brains and Popular people, none of the groups shunned the others (well...some of the popular kids preferred their own) and there was a mutual respect and sense of community.  At St. Pat's, the Freshman class was quickly beat down several pegs by the staff, so most felt the need to assert some kind of dominance over someone, hence the verbal bullying.

The afternoon classes had more of the same, hitting a crescendo in Pre-Honors English, where the teacher - Mr. Horan - joined in the ridicule.  It started out fine - when he got to my name he asked first.  Scott, the non-athlete bully piped in with his karate routine, much to everyone's amusement. When the laughter diminished, I piped in with "KOOCH-eye".  Horan then said "Oh, like, Koochy Kooch Eye?"
The class roared with laughter and began repeating it so much that the room sounded like the monkey cage at Lincoln Park Zoo.  Horan, to my disdain, looked fairly pleased with his brilliant quip and half-halfheartedly got the class to calm down. It was my sincere hope that Mr. Horan would suffer a very painful, slow death.

My lot was set for 4 years at St. Patrick. Constant put-down based on whatever new name variation anyone can come up with. Any adult looking at it now might say - so what?  It's stupid.  Ignore it.  Indeed, that was my original reaction a couple years prior. However, it was impossible to ignore because it was ubiquitous and it didn't REALLY matter WHAT was being ridiculed, did it?   The message was "I am picking on you because you are weak / different / inferior".  That message was received loud & clear.

I never experienced ridicule at Columbia College Chicago - not once.  The message going into the school was clear to everyone: you are an adult now, act like one.  Meantime, my goal was to break into the TV business and at Columbia that meant either doing technical things (editing, camera, control room) or being a reporter.  I  opted to try the reporting side. No instructor (most of them TV news professionals themselves) ever suggested I come up with a "viewer-friendly" name, but it was a thought I had for a few seconds.

Despite having a hard-to-pronounce and hard-to-spell last name, it was mine.  It was my identity.  To give a fake name would be whoring myself out, and to operate as a journalist with a made-up stage name would undermine my credibility and worst of all - it would be a lie.
So, John Kuczaj it was.  Unique.  Weird.  Difficult to pronounce.  Me.

So, when I started to record songs that I had written with the ultimate goal of releasing the final recordings, I had a decision to make.  Would I release them as solo artist John Kuczaj, or with another name?  Well, since my ultimate goal was to be in a band rather than be a solo artist, I decided that a catchy band name would be the best option - perhaps at some point I could recruit some band members and play live shows under the moniker.  Also, it would be much easier for people to search the internet for info on a catchy band name than my name.  My choice of band name was never in doubt.  It was a name I had in the back of my mind for almost 20 years - but that is a story for another time.  Until then:

John Kuczaj IS Atomic Shop
Atomic Shop IS John Kuczaj

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

In Search of Empathy and Compassion

On an atomic level, every human being is made up of at least 60 of the 94 naturally occurring chemical elements.
Eleven of those elements (oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium) are necessary for life. The remaining 49 (or more) elements are trace elements.

On a molecular level, every human being is made up of water, proteins, fats (lipids), carbohydrates, DNA, RNA, dissolved inorganic ions, gases, many other small molecules (such as amino acids, fatty acids, nucleobases, nucleosides, nucleotides, vitamins, cofactors) and free radicals.

On a body composition level, every human being is made up of muscle, fat, bone and teeth, nervous tissue (Brain and nerves), hormones, connective tissue, fluids (blood, lymph, urine), gases (including intestinal gas, air in lungs), and Epithelial tissue.

Okay, so we’re all made up of the same material.  How are we different?  There’s the differences perceived by our three of our senses such as Visual (body shape, size, hue, hair), Auditory (voice), and Olfactory (you stink, not me).

Yet the ultimate way we are different has to do with the development and use of our brains. Our intelligence and personality. Lessons learned or ignored. Our use of logic and emotion.  Decisions made and actions taken. Compassion and empathy.

I’ve met celebrities and famous athletes.  I’ve met Corporate CEOs and executives.  I’ve met poor people and rich people.  Once you meet and interact with people, it is difficult to not conclude that the concept of anyone being “special” or better” than anyone else is complete bullshit. The differences between people for the most part have no intrinsic value except within a given social construct.  Is a person who has deftly navigated their way up the corporate ladder to middle management a better person than a sheepherder? That business person may be considered “better” or more valuable within a free-market economic social construct, but that same corporate hotshot is useless in rural Mongolia, where the sheepherder is valued.

Having value and usefulness within a given social construct is something we all attempt to attain, but what about having value and usefulness for all of humanity?  The more I thought about the concept of someone being “better” than another, the more I kept coming back to one universal trait that impacts in only positive ways for all humans, yet is not valued highly among most social constructs on the planet:


As much as I’d like to say that more people need to be more compassionate, the realist in me knows that first, more people need to show SOME compassion. It’s sad to see the lack of compassion in our society today – stunningly so.  I see a good amount of empathy, which is fine, but empathy is a way of relating – it’s understanding how someone feels, and trying to imagine how that might feel for you.  Compassion is the next step - it’s being empathic, and taking some kind of action.  Oh, I suppose there are some cases where there appears to be compassion without empathy, but empathy is essential for true compassion.

Don’t get me wrong - there’s a lack of empathy in our society too – I think we, as a society, need to make the full move to Empathy and compassion in order to grow and better ourselves.  I’m not sure how to achieve that goal, though…and the idea that compassion is slipping away scares me.

Compassionate people are the best people.  Period.