Sunday, June 28, 2009

Nandina in High Summer

Compare this pic of our Nandina with the ones taken September 27 last year and February 12 this year. It is bright green and shiny even with the recent series of 100+ degree heat index days we've had.

Lush and green despite the recent intense heat and lack of rain.

The nearby yarrow is doing splendidly.

Compare this shot of our spirea with the one I took April 23. The heat is already burning it up.

Friday, June 26, 2009

They always die in 3's, but hypocrites come by the dozen

My high school debate coach, who was a rather superstitious person, used to say "They always die in three's." Meaning that whenever a celebrity dies, usually two more quickly follow.

In this case we're talking about
Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson. McMahon and Fawcett were somewhat expected. Old age and a rare cancer, respectively, eventually get the best of anyone.

Jackson's death was a shock, of course. He was in
fairly good health as far as I know. (Except for an addiction to prescription pain medications.) He was also my age. For me this apparent, sudden rise through the years of individuals dying that are either as old as me or younger is always sobering.

I try to take care of myself but, as in the case of Jackson (and
Tim Russert last year) that often doesn't matter. You can improve your odds but it's still a crapshoot.

All three of these people are iconic from my youth. I used to watch Johnny Carson a lot. It was never quite the same when McMahon wasn't there to famously introduce the host with "heeeerrre's Johnny." The line was so famous
Kubrick used it with Jack Nicholson in one of my favorite films, The Shining.

Fawcett, of course, was
on my dorm room wall in college. There was this great debate back then as to whether or not that photo has the word "sex" written out in her hair. She was hot, even though I was more attracted to Kate Jackson ("the smart one") at the time. I was once lucky enough to have dated someone who looked a lot like Fawcett and who certainly sported her famous hairstyle.

Michael Jackson was someone who just towered over the music industry so much that it was impossible to avoid his music even if I wasn't that into him. I was always dating girls who were into him so that obviously made a difference. Jennifer has a copy of the original Thriller and Bad albums in our modest vinyl collection at home. We even got Thriller our a few years ago a played a bit of it on our turntable (yes, we have one of those), listening to the faint hiss and occasional pops of that come with playing an LP record. The fact that he was 50 makes his death a bit more personal for me.

It is worthy of note that Jackson's death created a major burden on the internet causing all kinds of slowdowns and some web site crashes.

Beyond the passing away of celebrities, life goes on. Politics certainly at center stage much of the time, what with
the recent Iranian elections and the doings of North Korea, the sweeping change that Obama brings, and the amazing, moral hypocrisy of the so many Republicans.

Of course,
it is not just Republicans, it is everyone. John Edwards. Marion Barry. Eliot Spitzer. Our culture is so ridden with affairs it seems that fidelity is more of a rare distinction than the accepted ethical norm of the day.

Still, Republicans have tended to distinguish themselves from the godless liberal Democrats with
claims of moral superiority. This is largely due to their close ties and, indeed, their dependence to some extent with the Christian right wingers that litter our society with their self-righteous bullshit. So many of these Christian Republicans have made it into office. The recent experience of South Carolina Governor Sanford is a case in point.

There is no moral high-ground. The stone throwers are sinners themselves. Attempts by the conservative Christians to infect politics with their personal religious perspectives always blow up when their own ilk prove to be just as morally "liberal" as Ted Kennedy or Bill Clinton.

"So it goes," as
Vonnegut used to say.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Still Watching Iran

The New York Times is giving outstanding coverage of the disputed elections in Iran on this blog, which I used extensively in my previous post.

Today, two interesting items were posted that relate to what I said earlier.

"Update 9:01 a.m. On The Guardian’s Web site, Matt Weaver addresses a problem that we discussed on The Lede on Wednesday night — that the Web is now flooded with video clips that have been given the wrong date by people uploading them to sites like YouTube and Facebook, and this is creating problems for journalists:
There are several Twitter messages urging citizens journalists in Iran to video copies of daily newspapers to help authenticate the date of what they film. That is easier said than done given how chaotic the scenes have been. But it highlights a growing problem on the coverage of this crisis. The media keeps being sent footage claiming to be recent when it turns out to have been filmed several days before.
Update 8:34 a.m. An Iranian-American reader of The Lede, who witnessed some of Wednesday’s opposition rally, wrote this morning in an e-mail message from Tehran that he has doubts about the account of yesterday’s events given to CNN in a telephone interview on Wednesday. According to our reader:
When I was over there at the quasi-rally I realized that the repression of protests have now mostly devolved into the standard Irish cop swinging his baton rhythmically and saying “nothing to see here folks.” That’s exactly what I saw. This stuff about shooting, tear gas, and even defenestration from a bridge that CNN reported … seems unlikely. Of course it could have happened but I don’t see the logic in it. These cops are tired — you can tell, and they’re not Lebanese either.
The reader adds: “The problem here is that, with the censorship, rumors become news fast,” and then, as they get passed on, “they get ‘telephoned’ into worse rumors.”


My guess is that much of this confused information is intentional by the diminishing opposition. Also, much of it reflects the lack of structure (and, therefore, the weakness) the opposition actually has. They are attempting to make the best case possible when, in fact, the oppressive regime in power has matters increasingly controlled via the Islamic state's media management and intimidation tactics.

Last night, on the PBS News Hour, Haleh Esfandiari of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars stated: "I think we will see the unrest continue, maybe diminished. But I think the face of Iran has changed. Something has broken in Iran. And I think the regime has to do something less drastic and more conciliatory."

I'm not sure the regime has to do anything less drastic. This is the theocratic state that, in fact, has a level of power beyond the reach of its "democratic" elements. That is the nature of any Islamic republic. Ultimately it is about the mullahs, not the people. The democracy is a myth.

But, if the fabric of Iranian society has been "changed" then perhaps we will see this matter re-emerge. Perhaps at the time of Ahmadinejad's second inauguration. Perhaps at the point the next election cycle starts - assuming, of course the "significant minority" that stole this election from the Iranian people allows another election.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Watching Iran

I have kept one eye peeled on the aftermath of the Iranian elections recently. Largely wondering if this was going to be a big deal or just a media event. I think I've figured it out today.

The recent turmoil over the presidential elections in Iran underscored several things. First of all, US intelligence in Iran is practically non-existent. We don't understand the situation at all over there so it more or less paralyzed us. Not only were we not proactive, the US wasn't even reactive. Obama's response to the situation was the political equivalent of saying "duh". Totally stumped. But, at least Joe Biden didn't say anything stupid. So that's something I suppose.

Secondly, while there were clearly massive rallies in support of Mir-Hussein Mousavi prior to the election and immediately following the election, as soon as the Ayatollah Khamenei proclaimed "enough is enough", the intensity of the opposition dwindled. Rallies of thousands of people became rallies of hundreds.

Blood was shed, but such violence represented a disproportionately severe crackdown by the Iranian state against what was a diminishing opposition - in an effort to prove a point. On the other hand, the worldwide media and some Iranians using portable video devices and the internet attempted to respond to Iran's media crackdown on the continuing election unrest by feeding what seems to me to be misinformation over the extent of the rallies and the degree of the bloodshed. This is basically a propagandist approach to make the rallies seem huge and the resulting violence and arrests much larger that they actually were.

In other words, it seems to me the opposition is now effectively squelched. It was squelched by the intimidating show of force by the Iranian security forces and by the simple fact that the supporters of Mousavi possessed neither the structure nor the numbers to continue to advance their position. Out of desperation it turned to sensationalizing events to make them seem bigger than they really were.

For now, the opposition in Iran is literally dying. Perhaps it can survive and grow in strength until the next elections are held. But, in this closed, Islamic society such "trouble-makers" will find the advancement of their position extremely difficult.

On the other hand, I think there has been a small shift in the dynamics of Iranian politics among the urban class, particularly among women and students. But, (and this is critical) we should not construe events in Iran as being a protest for change of the Islamic state - it clearly isn't about that at all.

For the short term, nothing will change and you can put a fork in this media event. Hey, if elections can be stolen in America why not anywhere else in the world. It's just politics, right?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ripping off the Blair Witch

Over the weekend my daughter introduced me to a film from 2008 that I had neither seen nor even known about. It is called Cloverfield and is basically a combination of Godzilla and War of the Worlds (the Spielberg version) and The Blair Witch Project. Cloverfield was produced by J.J. Abrams, the director of the recent Star Trek remake and the co-creator of the television series Alias, Lost and Fringe.

The most entertaining aspect of Cloverfield is that the film makes no attempt to explain what the giant and smaller monsters are that are attacking lower Manhattan. As in "real life" this disaster is "just happening" to the characters in the film, without them (or the viewer) understanding any details. Where did they come from? Why are they even attacking? We don't know anything.

It is all done in "shaky cam" - that hand-held style of film first made famous by Blair Witch. It attempts to achieve realism and suspension of disbelief by making the whole film seem like a home-made video. Most scenes are long, extended, shots with few edits. This adds to the "real feel" of the film.

The special effects are very good but not overly done. After all, this is supposed to be a home video, so the film can't show you too much. Indeed, part of the appeal is that you don't really get a good look at the large monster or the smaller creatures - until briefly at the very end of the film. Still, there's plenty of destruction, rubble, and burning buildings. The scene where the Statue of Liberty's head comes flying down the street like a thrown baseball looks pretty realistic.

After watching Cloverfield I told my daughter that it reminded me of Blair Witch. She was not aware of that film. So, last night I returned the favor and turned her on to the older movie.

To me, Blair Witch is a better film. Though aspects of it were done before, it was still a pioneering venture when it came out in 1999. Blair Witch is masterful at building up suspense over basically nothing. Hardly, anything actually happens in the film yet the entire movie is a slowly building, creepy roller coaster ride.

The "special effects" in Blair Witch are a bunch of sticks hanging from trees and some piles of rocks on the ground. Its very low budget (about $22,000) was dwarfed by Cloverfield's $30 million even though the latter film is comparatively low-budget by today's sci-fi / thriller standards. The effect of Blair Witch, however, is to establish a sense of realism and then exploit that comfort zone with the audience by placing the characters into increasingly bizarre circumstances.

They venture deep into the woods to make a documentary on an old witch legend. They become disoriented in the woods. During the nights they hear sounds in the distant. They eventually become lost. The night sounds get closer and now include voices. They keep stumbling across evidence of primitive witchcraft that is detailed with a sprinkling of background revealed in the first 20 minutes of the film.

Then everybody dies. And the "raw footage" of the documentary they were making is supposedly discovered about a year after the events.

Cloverfield is exactly like this, only with more special effects. It was a decent film but obviously influenced by Blair Witch which makes the latter film more original.

Blair Witch has the distinction of being the most profitable film ever made on a per capita basis. When it came out ten years ago it was a world-wide phenomenon. In contrast Cloverfield, while a good, entertaining picture, never reached this level of recognition.

At any rate, it is great to be engaging my daughter in conversations about films, that she can introduce new films to me that are at least moderately enjoyable and, in turn, I can show her films that are new for her. Once she got past her preconceptions of "I don't like old movies" (meaning anything made before her comprehension of film existed) she could appreciate how Blair Witch influenced Cloverfield.

Even though she insists that Cloverfield is a better movie, she was merely thrilled by it. On the other hand, Blair Witch went beyond thrilling her. As the tension builds, there were moments when my daughter literally could not watch the screen. So, it was a fear of another color. To my way of thinking this is better film making, especially given the fact there is far more action in Cloverfield than in Blair Witch. But, in the end, my daughter remained more entertained by the flash and effects than she was by the high level of sustained tension.

That's cool. To each their own as art goes.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pics for Father's Day

Everything's a Go.

My daughter gave me a collection of her photographs for Father's Day today. She sometimes takes the "teenage angst" mask off long enough to be thoughtful, conversant, and humorous. I'm proud of her.

A friend in the pool.

Her talents include: softball, tennis, photography, drawing, painting, and she's great with all sorts of technology. Her friends often phone her if they are stuck on how to do something in mySpace or with other computer software problems. She helps them out. I keep trying to tell her that, if she works at it, she can turn that knowledge and support ability into cash some day. I think she stops listening to me after the word "work".

Anyway, her gift was very much appreciated by me. She has a real eye for things. She is the best thing I ever did in my life.

Daisies in our front yard.

Friday, June 19, 2009

At the 200-Day Moving Average

Snapback. As I mentioned in my December 18, 2008 post, a basic rule of technical charting and of Dow Theory is that the greater the gap between the Dow and the 200-day moving average, the more pronounced the snapback will be to the 200-day MA.

Jennifer recently had a discussion with a financial manager who stated that we are in a "recovery" but it isn't a "typical V-shaped recovery." No shit. This is the Great Recession and it isn't over yet.
Eddie Bauer just went bankrupt. Unemployment will continue to rise. Though there is some positive news. The worst might be behind us. It’s hard to tell.

Regardless, the manager Jennifer spoke with, and all of his ilk, have mistaken the recent rise in the markets as the leading indicator of a recovery when, in fact, all that has really happened is that the markets have moved back toward the 200-day MA because they had fallen so far away from it.

For example, on October 10, 2008, the Dow closed at 8451.19 but the 200-day MA on that day was at roughly 12,000, a difference of about 3600 points. That is an outrageous gap and it simply could not remain. At the time of the March 9 lows, the Dow closed at 6547.05 while the 200-day MA was at roughly 9850, a difference of about 3300 points.

By comparison, during the last bull run, the Dow closed at 10737.70 on February 11, 2004. On that day the 200-day MA stood at roughly 9575, a difference of about 1150 points. When the Dow peaked at 14164.53 on October 9, 2007 the 200-day MA stood at roughly 13100, a difference of about 1000 points. These are extreme instances. Typically, the Dow and the 200-day MA are within less than 1000 points of one another.

But that hasn’t happened in many months.

The discrepancies between the distances of the bull market rally and the bear market crash are striking. In each of the cases I just mentioned, for both bull and bear markets, there was a snapback toward the 200-day MA. Each of those moves by the Dow did not stop until they actually touched the 200-day MA.

Given recent history, it is fairly safe to say that all that has happened since March is what has always happened. The markets have rallied or declined back to the 200-day MA with relative intensity matching how far they strayed from the moving average to begin with.

That doesn't make any such snapback a "recovery" or a "breakdown". It is simply what markets historically do when they stray too far from the 200-day MA. It is a technical reality of the markets and really has little to do with the economy itself.

So, for the past couple of weeks the Dow has been at the 200-day MA.

On June 4, the Dow closed above the 200-day moving average for the first time since May 2008 when the Dow was above 13,000. This has as much with the moving average consistently falling over the last year as does the Dow’s recent, rapid rise from the March 2009 lows.

According to Dow Theory, the 200-day moving average is more important than the 50-day moving average. Obviously, it takes much more market action into account and is much more resistant to advance or declines than the shorter term average.

What is of equal importance is that we are rapidly reaching a “crossover” point between the two moving averages. Recently
the S&P 50-day MA crossed above the 200-day MA. Many felt this was a positive sign. In the next few days the same thing will inevitably happen to the Dow. The momentum of the averages makes this a mathematical certainty. Then, the faster moving 50-day MA will tend to pull up or drag down the 200-day MA depending upon the strength of the markets.

Often what happens is the market meets resistance when rising into the 200-day MA or it will encounter support when falling down into the average. The market will pause, hover, and hesitate naturally at the point of the 200-day MA. That can be clearly seen in these stock charts I created using BigCharts.

Since near the bull market high last June through today. The "marks" are each day as a candelstick. The paralleling blue lines are Bollinger Bands. The thin tan decending line is the 200-day simple moving average.

The final approach to the 200-day MA in May and the recent stall of the Dow. The 50-day MA is nearing the crosspoint of the 200-day MA but it is not shown in this graph.

As I posted a few weeks ago, there are many pundits who believe we are in a new bull market. Jack Schannep is among them. The widely-read Kiplinger Letter recently proclaimed: "The Bear market in stocks is over. Indexes are unlikely to visit the lows of March." Richard Russell, however, has remained very skeptical and continues to believe this is a bear market rally that will ultimately head lower. Who’s right?

No one knows.

But the hesitation is undeniable. A break by the Dow below both averages would indicate there’s more of the bear market to come. Conversely, if we steamroll upward through both averages the bulls could well run for awhile.

So, the crossover means that we are really at a critical time for the markets.

Back to Dow Theory. On June 12, the Dow recorded its most recent highest high of 8799.26. But, the Transports refused to confirm the high. Their most recent highest high was back on May 6 at 3404.11. This non-confirmation, combined with the impending crossover of the moving averages creates a great deal of uncertainty in the current situation.

Russell points to the non-confirmation of the Transports and the declining volume. Comparatively, few shares are trading. Could we be headed back to where we were a few months ago and no one is willing to buy? The VIX is respectable, suggesting stability. Perhaps a lackadaisical trading range? I dunno. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of functional forces.

On a slightly different matter, I note that back when I proclaimed this recession as "The Great Recession" late last year you couldn’t find the term if you googled it. As of today you can google the phrase and you can find it at numerous places on the net.

Guess I should have copyrighted the idea.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Obama Fly Massacre

Although I consider myself a libertarian (and, therefore, liberal on a great many social issues) I must admit that few organizations seem more ridiculous to me than PETA. First of all, I grew up on a farm. I’ve probably killed hundreds of chickens in my lifetime. (My grandfather and uncle had five poultry houses that I used to work in growing up.)

During my youth I gutted deer and hogs. I herded cattle and forced them into pens to take all manor if pills and to endure all kinds of injections. I have even on occasion eaten veal with no trace of guilt.

Show me all the youtube videos you want of the horrific ways we process the animals we eat. I'll still eat them. That's what the top of the food chain does.

But, I am not a cold-hearted Neanderthal. I love all kinds of animals. To me, however, PETA people represent the quintessential neurotic development of the bourgeois, non-agrarian, intelligencia that has wreaked havoc with our justice system and our education system. They are people grown too soft, too whiny, so urbane that they have lost themselves in a twisted view of the natural world that more closely resembles a psychedelic bedtime story (to see some of PETAs demonstrations) than flesh and blood reality.

My opinion is that Human Being is animal Being. In spite of the illusion of ethics and morality (which are just fancy words for human preferences), animals treat each other rather viciously. It's genetic and it doesn't make us less "human" to Be our animal selves. OK?

Earlier this week President Obama, during an interview with CNBC, was irritated by a common fly buzzing around his head. At the first opportunity,
Obama coolly swatted and killed the fly. It is something I have done and just about everyone I know has done a thousand times. At some family events we empower some ADHA child with a fly swatter and allow the child to police the area while everyone else shares a meal.

PETA called the president’s action an “execution.” Further, PETA has sent Obama a special device to “humanely” capture and release the future flies so they don't share their compatriot’s fate.

I’m not making this shit up.

Look. This might seem like just a technicality but this is not an animal. This is (or was) AN INSECT. So, perhaps PETA should form a subsidiary 501c3 organization PETI for "insectual" sentient Beings. Pity they didn’t think of that. Get it?

Do I even need to point out how horribly disease-ridden and devastating to crops and other living things the insect realm is? Should we now start to “humanely” capture and deport to some African island all of our cockroaches? Where does the line actually stand here?

I suppose PETA would frown on the fact all my honeybees died during my seventh grade science project. Lori Buttrum's exhibit next to mine in the science fair featured dozens of butterflies she captured and helplessly crucified by pinning them to foam board. Grounds for life without parole I suppose.

I'm not a very religious person but it seems PETAists would make out just fine in Jainism. The Jainist principle to "cause no harm to any living being" often includes the wearing masks of so as not to accidentally breath in microscopic organisms thereby inadvertently killing them.

From that perspective, PETA isn't trying to "advance" human consciousness, as they claim. They are merely trying to perpetuate a rather arcane, naive, and extreme religious perspective on us all. Like all religions really. Their faith is the faith, for everyone.

Somewhere between Auschwitz and the Obama Fly Massacre there lies sanity. Only PETA draws no such distinctions.

I wonder if PETA realizes that those teleprompters the president uses practically everywhere also act as bug zappers? Ooops. Better keep that on under wraps.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Religion of Rust: Part One

After well over 25 hours of plowing through them in limited spurts of free time, I'm now ready to post my first impressions of the recent release of the Neil Young Archives, Volume One. My long-time reader (singular intentional) will recall that I bought a PlayStation 3 right after Christmas with the expressed intent of experiencing the Archives in their Blu-ray format. At that time, the Archives were slated for a February release which was delayed, again.

The Archives have a storied history of never quite coming out. All that has now changed.

The only reason I considered a PS3 was because Neil Young himself recommended it as the best way to listen to and rummage through his Archives. So, I bought the PS3 on faith. Faith in Neil's rather infamous discriminating taste. Blind faith as a Rustee.

A Rustee is a self-proclaimed ascription to those who are the most devoted fans of Neil's career. The term refers to the huge phenomenon that surrounded Neil at the time of the release of his sensational folk-acoustic / grunge-rock album Rust Never Sleeps in 1979 and the equally terrific Live Rust album that followed.

As you know, I have not been disappointed with my PS3. I love the navigation and graphics capabilities of the system. From the beginning the better quality sound produced by the PS3 – even on MP3s through my exact same stereo setup - left a more than favorable impression on me.

Needless to say, the sound quality of the Archives in Blu-ray is astounding. Most of the 128 or so featured tracks sound as if they were recorded yesterday instead of between 1963 and 1972 - the period of Neil's career covered in volume one. To a true Rustee, this in and of itself justifies the rather hefty price tag for the release.

Remastered album tracks of The Loner, Southern Man, Down By The River, Cowgirl in the Sand, and Heart of Gold, all sound fresh and clear with much deeper bass and extended range at the upper end, as they were intended to be listened to by Neil. These are mixed with all sorts of previously unreleased alternate takes and live versions of Neil’s other work up to 1972. The 1971 live performance at Massey Hall was incredible on DVD. It is even better in Blu-ray.

I guess technically speaking the time period covered is pre-Rustee. You get Neil's progression from the early years with The Squires and Buffalo Springfield, through his initial solo period, to the beginning of things with Crazy Horse, with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and with the Stray Gators.

The navigation menu for the Blu-ray version of the Archives is basically on a three-tiered basis. The first tier is to "Play All" which gives you a variety of usually well thought out "collage stage sets" constructed for either a record player or a reel-to-reel tape recorder. On this "stage set" you get to watch the song in question being played while watching the original record or the tape. Only the sound is in the highest quality digital definition. Kinda cool in a retro-way.

The second tier, which I prefer, is actually a pull-out filing drawer filled with labeled file folders just like most of us keep somewhere. You can navigate from tab to tab back and forth along the file drawer and select the song you want to hear. From there you jump down into another menu level which is a hanging file folder containing various links that you can interact with while the music plays. You don't get this interactive ability on the DVD or CD releases of the Archives.

Usually, especially on the later material, there are a number of items to explore as the track plays in crystal clarity. There are photos, letters, Neil's original hand written sheets of lyrics, posters, ticket stubs, images of 45's, and often yellowed press clippings. There are links to "hidden" tracks - alternate versions of the same song - as well as various audio/video links featuring live performances of the tune along with associated radio interviews and other audio-only content.

You can get lost in here. Lost in a good kinda way.

In addition to all this there is massive "timeline" that includes a great deal of information. The timeline traces every major personal and world news-related event (such as the July 1969 landing on the moon) during Neil’s life from 1963 – 1972. The emphasis, of course, is on when albums were released, when groups were formed and broke-up, who Neil was touring with (if not solo), etc. There are push-pins scattered throughout the course of the timeline and if you select one you get another file-folder not accessible from the “regular” menus. These folders contain additional song tracks, videos, etc. related to whenever the push-pin happens to be on the timeline.

Within this vast construct of menus you will find all sorts of things. There is extended footage featuring the elderly guy Neil wrote the song Old Man about. Louie Avilla was the Portuguese overseer of the ranch Neil bought in Topanga Canyon. Avilla actually is involved in a conversation that lasts about 5 - 6 minutes.

In another extended video, Neil steals a bootleg LP of one of his live performances from a used record store. He gets into an argument with the employee who insists he pay and ends up on the phone with the store owner explaining to him that he shouldn’t have to pay for music that was “stolen” from him to begin with. It’s quite funny.

There’s a video of CSNY performing an all acoustical version of Ohio as well as one with them playing Neil’s classic Down by the River on television.

In another video we see Neil stoned at his ranch listening to early versions of Words blaring from his barn out into an open field so that he can hear the echo of certain notes off the distant ridge line, then Neil waxes poetic about the creative process between giggles and the apparent mantra of the moment: “I don’t know, man.”

There are numerous videos of Neil and archivist Joel Bernstein discussing the Archives in February 1997. Of particular note in these discussions is Joel bringing the 1970 Fillmore East performance with Crazy Horse to Neil's attention. He had completely forgotten about it. This performance not only is featured as a disc on the Archives but was the first release of anything pertaining to the Archives as the inaugural release of the special Performance Series Archives.

At one point on the disc of his previously unreleased live performance in 1969 at The Riverboat coffee house in Toronto, Neil talks about how important the audience is to the performance of the musician. The more attentive the audience, according to Neil at the time, the better the performance. 28 years later in 1997 there is a video of him complaining that now that he has 40 albums worth of material no one comes to his concerts wanting to hear the new stuff. “Fuck the audience,” he off-handedly exclaims. “If I’m going to survive they’re going to have to eat it.” Meaning his new material.

When you cover decades worth of an artistic career you’re going to run in to some contradictions. Especially with Neil.

The discs are almost decadently packaged in a large flip top box along with a six-foot foldout of the file drawer view of the menu system. A 230-plus page leather bound book features more photos, letters, hand-written lyric sheets, lists of show sets, etc. for anyone who might want a more traditional way of thumbing through some of the materials available.

The final disc in the 10 Blu-ray set features Neil’s midnight stoner film Journey Through the Past. As a film it is pretty crappy and will challenge even the most dedicated Rustee but it features a couple of interesting CSNY tour video clips (they perform Find the Cost of Freedom and Ohio) and is a rather fitting way to end this first volume of the collection, which is, after all, all about the past.

This set is an extravagance to some degree for even a die-hard Neil Young fan. It is pricey and some of the previously unreleased material was never released for good reason – it is garbage. Still, Neil has always believed that you can take him or leave him, warts and all. He’s never tried to hide anything and has been, above all else, honest and straightforward with his abundant talent.

There has never been anything like this released by any artist. You take the good, the bad, and the mediocre. If you go with the Blu-ray version what you ultimately get, however, is the reward of discovery of a truly vast scale, the enjoyment of some of the best rock music ever written in the highest possible sound quality. You get to explore everything in a manner that is truly unique and really sets the standard not for just how musical art should be presented and explored but how history in general should be made available. Go where you want. Read want you want. See what you want. Hear what you want. Draw your own conclusions.

It was more than worth the wait.

One of the featured tracks in the Archives is the classic I Believe in You. And that pretty much sums up my relationship to Neil as an artist and, now, as an innovative curator for the museum of himself. I believed in Neil when he said play it on a PS3. I believed in Neil when he said get it on Blu-ray or you’ll miss out. I believed in Neil when he said it will all be out there for you to explore. And it is. More than I expected.

Not everyone agrees, of course. There's always dissent in Neil's world. But most Rustees seem to dig it and that's all that matters. As of yesterday they are sold out.