Wednesday, November 26, 2008

All around the world OF THE FUTURE you mean

I'm listening to Ghostface's Fishscale right now. I've had it for a while but never really listened to it much--I think it's pretty damn brilliant, but in all honesty I'm not in the mood for hip-hop very often.

Anyway. "Kilo" is among my favorite tracks on the album--that bassline is awesome, the horn samples somehow manage to sound both like they grew organically out of the song and like they were transported in from another universe. The ladies-sung chorus ("All around the world today/The kilo is the measure/A kilo is one thousand grams/Easy to remember") is kind of hilarious, and not in a way that is at odds with the tone of the song in general. What I just noticed is interesting is the opening of the song.

There's a little bit of dialogue at the beginning (the album is sadly ridden with those irritating "skits" that hip-hop and r&b people still sometimes think are a good idea even though I can't imagine anyone wanting to listen to them more than once), with some vague drug-preparing sound effects and the sound of "Kilo" being played on a radio in the background. Weird! In the...I'm not sure how to refer to it, I hope you'll understand what I'm getting at here. In the self-contained world of the album, the song "Kilo" doesn't exist yet. Hearing a snippet of it as if on the radio before the song actually appears on the album is like hearing a message from the future. Not far in the future, admittedly, because in one of the many moments on the album that for me approaches the sublime, the tinny radio-version of the song quickly transforms itself into the full-bodied album-version after only a few seconds of dialogue, but the future nonetheless.

I'm trying to think if there are any other similar time-play examples I can think of on other albums. The closest I can think of is the way Nelly Furtado's "Shit on the Radio" has always struck me as strange, in a good way. "You liked me til you heard my shit on the radio", she sings, in a song that as far as I can tell must have been written and recorded before anyone had ever heard her shit on the radio. Even weirder, she uses the phrase "Now that I've flown away" as a way of saying "Now that I've gotten famous"...but not only was "Shit on the Radio", as I already said, written and recorded before "I'm Like a Bird" (y'know, "I'll only fly away") was a hit, it appears before it on the album, so if we think of the tracklisting as a sort of narrative, she's predicting the future. Maybe she was listening to Ghostface's radio.

And with that, I'm away for Fagsgiving until Sunday night. After that, I'm jobless for probably about two weeks, so we'll see how this blob progresses from here. I promise the second part of Barock-Plastik will happen eventually. Happy Spanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barock-Plastik update

I have the second part mostly written but I want to wait to post it until I can upload a bunch of music for it, which due to several different considerations, chief among them that my computer's CD drive is broken and I'm too broke myself to get it fixed/get a new one, might be a while.

Although on second thought maybe I was wrong

and there aren't warring factions.

" July 2008, the McCain and Obama camps began to work secretly behind the scenes to assemble large rosters of potential personnel for the administration that only one of the candidates would lead."


Friday, November 21, 2008

Second post of the day and it's a doozy

I tend to think of the Democratic and Republican Parties* as intentional collaborators on pretty much every issue of importance (imperialism, militarism, upward redistribution of wealth, mass incarceration, and so forth), with the major media on the same side, helping maintain the appearance of difference--what Digby refers to as "kabuki", but on a larger scale than she's comfortable applying the term. It's a nice system: the Republican Party can pretend to be triumphant over an opposition, the Democratic Party can pretend to always be the underdog, never quite achieving its goals because of obstructionists, and the media can behave in a way that allows those snookered by this act to believe that they're biased against whichever side the snookered one believes in (witness the odd belief among faithful Democrats that the media was biased against Obama in this latest election cycle).

But then I read articles like this one**, and they don't really fit in with that narrative. Media Matters has an obvious partisan slant towards the (D)'s, but the evidence they compile there is pretty damned damning. It really does seem that the media sides with Republicans more often than not, and any of the usual explanations of their motives don't really fit in with the facts. It would appear that our ruling corporate elite, which runs the media and sets their message, genuinely prefers Republicans (again, in general--in this particular cycle it's pretty clear to me that so far they prefer the Democrats). There must be some real difference between the parties.

Sadly, I'm pretty sure that the difference is not an ideological or policy one (though I do cling to the idea that the Democratic policies are very, very slightly better for the actual real people of this country and possibly of our imperial holdings, though that's debatable, and for the moment I am tentatively hopeful that Obama might surprise me by actually doing something about the environmental crises we're in the midst of). Rather, from their point of view I think the difference has more to do with which specific people are profiting from all of these sociopathic goings-on, because that does change depending on which party has power. In other words, when we voted for change, we voted for changing pretty much nothing at all except for which gaggle of obscenely wealthy conscienceless murderers we were giving a raise to. There's no actual difference of opinion on whether the whole system should run the way it does; there's only dispute about who gets to join the group at the top.

Relatedly, it seems to me that we have a four-branch system of government. The first, the Corporate branch, sets the agenda. The second and third, the Democratic and Republican branches, compete to enact the agenda in return for profit. The fourth, the Media branch, is under the direct control of the first and is in the business of selling the activities of all the other three to the public. Of course, the walls between these branches are far from solid; in fact this rarefied environment is the only area in which America has any significant social mobility. And the only two branches between which there's any conflict at all are the Democrats and the Republicans--which of course is good for the media, because they can sell the fight while making sure that their preferred side wins more often than not, and even better for the corporate elite, because competition drives down prices.

*If not all their members, then at least the leadership and majority of both.
**If you read a little bit of that article and think you get the gist, don't stop reading. There are so many convoluted reversals in it that it reminds me of the second season of Buffy--first you think the Big Bad's gonna be The Anointed One, and then it looks like it's going to be Spike, and then you're like, no, it's Drusilla, somewhere along the way you wonder if it's going to be Kendra's accent, and then it ends up actually being Angel.

By the way, I've been listening to Bach and Steve Reich all day long so hopefully sometime soon I'll get to writing about them.

Because I can't say this to the people I'm overhearing talking about it right now

If your employer only allows two sick days a year, and then you change jobs and your new employer allows a week, it doesn't mean your new employer is generous. It means your old employer was even more horrifically dehumanizing than your new one. You may be relatively lucky and better off, but you are neither in an absolute sense.

Also, while company policy may be that people using more than their allotted sick time will be fired, this does not mean that those using more than their allotted sick time, or their supervisors who try to circumvent policy and keep them working, are in the wrong. It means company policy is in the wrong.

Finally, referring to your previous job as your "former life" should be the only crime punishable by death.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some premature thoughts on Star Trek

I know it's really early to be doing this, but I'm a fan and this is what fans do.

First off, I hated the first batch of stills that were released. Hated them. The cast looked like it was made out of plastic and the bridge looked like the 90s (I see why people compare it to an Apple Store, but to me it looks far more like their precursors). Then came the still of the redesigned Enterprise, and I liked it a lot. Same with the pictures I've seen of USS Kelvin, which are very cool indeed. The trailer I was kind of iffy on--it looked way better than the stills did, but the content kind of turned me off. Then again, it was aimed more at non-fans than at people like me, so I probably shouldn't read too much into it.

More substantially, I've been somewhat disturbed by the script pages and reports of preview scenes where Kirk sees Uhura for the first time in a bar, tells her she's ordering a lot of drinks for a woman and then has to be the gallant man protecting her from a bunch of dudes harrassing her, because the future is the 1950s. My immediate reaction when I found out that Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who I then only knew from their screenplay for shitty Transformers, were writing the movie was to think, "Oh, great, they won't be updating the sexual politics at all then, will they." Because Transformers pretty much hates women. But then I started watching their Fringe, which is touch and go as far as quality (though I do have an irrational love of it) but which has a strong female in the lead role and which generally seems at least OK with the concept of feminism, if not actively feminist in itself, and I calmed down a bit. These new things I've heard about scenes with Uhura--not to mention the shot of her taking her shirt off in the trailer--have me anxious again.

On the positive side, as my friend, bandmate, and soon-to-be-housemate Chris pointed out, the mysterious thing the villain Nero is doing on Vulcan could be really interesting. It is pretty cool that they're putting Vulcan in jeopardy--and that it's a Romulan doing it. Some kind of ancestral lands thing? Even if that turns out to be less interesting than it could be, I think between not focusing on Klingons, having a Romulan as the villain, and apparently making us worry about the fate of Vulcan, it sounds like they're putting the focus on some of the more interesting aspects of the Star Trek universe. I would prefer going in a more speculative, philosophical, first movie direction, but if they're going for a more Wrath of Kahn atmosphere*, it seems like this is the best possible direction they could go in.

One thing my friend Jon (who is also excited) said, though, which struck me as pretty smart and probably true, is that from what we've seen so far it's hard to imagine this movie inspiring a whole new generation of scientists and engineers the way the original series did, and that it seems more likely that it'll inspire a new generation of fanfic writers. I mean, obviously, Star Trek's cultural moment of inspiration is long over (both because it was of its time and because it changed things so much, and in such a long-term way, that the need for scientific inspiration isn't really there anymore), but it is sad that the creative forces behind the franchise no longer seem interested in the big concepts and the scifi sensawunda and nifty science stuff the way they used to. On the other hand, JJ Abrams IS definitely interested in that stuff, judging from Lost and Fringe, and if there's one thing he's good at, it's surprising me with how much I enjoy his work. So we'll have to wait and see, I guess.

Of course, since it's still far too early to even be engaging in this speculation, "We'll just have to wait and see" should have been the entirety of this blost.

*I'm one of like two people on Earth who thinks The Motion Picture was incredible and The Wrath of Khan was so-so.

PS Barock-Plastik part 2 has not been canceled. It's coming one of these days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Srsly, Marvin, it's obvious

I've heard it several times before, but I've just been hit, hard: Sly & the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On is an awesome album. And not just because there's a song on the second side ("Spaced Cowboy") that features both yodeling and Young Marble Giants drumming before there was Young Marble Giants drumming. And not just because of "Family Affair", although that's a big part of it. It's a collection of incredible songs, sleazy and disturbing and fun as all hell and politically conscious all at once, and the story behind the name of the album is wicked cool. I guess originally it was going to be called Africa Talks to You, as if that weren't cool enough, but five months before the album was scheduled to come out, Marvin Gaye released What's Going On, and Sly decided to answer him--there's a fucking riot goin' on is what's going on. Admittedly, the original title would have aged better, because it's awesome free of context, but coming so soon after Marvin Gaye's overrated mess it must have been mind-blowing.

In my benevolence I make this fantastic album available for download.

More Barock-Plastik to come, I swear.

Barock-Plastik, part 1

In general, the music I like is pop music*. Actually, I'd like to rephrase that into something that's on the one hand stronger and on the other less specific: I think pop music is the highest of all musical pursuits, and that the perfect pop song is the greatest of all possible musical achievements**. I say this is less specific because it says more about the way I listen to music than what music I actually listen to.

Because I also listen to and love a lot of classical music (particularly Baroque-era), and, more recently, a lot of jazz, experimental and avant-garde music. The music from these genres that I love, I love with a pure passion that equals my love of the greatest pop music. I get as much pleasure out of Terry Riley as I do out of The Ronettes, as much out of "Love Cry" as out of "Womanizer". But the way I listen to the non-pop music*** is different from the way I listen to pop music.

Pop music justifies itself; it is art for art's sake. Non-pop music, to me, is only justified if it is in some way applicable to pop music--if it teaches me something about how I relate to pop music, if it expands the vocabulary available to pop music, if it plays with pop convention in an interesting way. If I can't see a link to pop music, I don't like it. This is not to say that I discard it out of hand (I've listened to a bit of Nurse With Wound, for example, and not found anything I can learn about pop music in it, so I'm not a big Nurse With Wound fan--but I will revisit it eventually to see if I've managed to figure out something worth hearing there) but it does mean that I at least temporarily don't see the point of listening to it. I should mention that this doesn't immediately happen on a conscious level; somewhere in my brain, I recognize that I can learn about pop music from this other music, and that translates on the conscious level as "Hey, I like this!" Eventually, though, I always end up realizing that what I've described here is what's going on.

To revisit something I said in passing in the last paragraph, one thing non-pop music can do to justify itself to me is to add tools to the pop musician's repertoire, to expand the world of sound available to music in a way that can be used in pop. To keep using that pompous and non-specific word, "high", this to me is the highest purpose of the avant garde, and incorporating the lessons of the avant garde into pop music is one of the highest pursuits in the already high pursuit of pop music. This is why I consider, say, Terry Riley one of the greatest non-pop artists of all time, and The United States of America one of the greatest pop artists--listen to how Terry Riley provides ideas in compositions like "A Rainbow in Curved Air" and USA uses them to further their own in songs like "Coming Down". (This is not to say that I think either is superior to the other; rather, I think each is doing pretty much the absolute best work possible in their respective idioms.)

I'm not issuing a manifesto here, though it might sound like it. This is all background for a fairly minor observation I want to make about Baroque music and minimalism, particularly about J.S. Bach and Steve Reich, two of my absolute musical heroes. I'm so longwinded, though, that I think it's gonna have to be two parts, so I'll get to Bach and Reich (hopefully) tomorrow.

*Which I define very broadly--I'm not just talking about top 40 radio, though that is included, of course.
**I could try to justify this, and could probably come up with a pretty good argument, but when it comes down to it, it's a matter of taste. And since taste is entirely subjective, I'm just going to say that when I talk about music, "There is no greater pursuit than pop" should just be taken as a first principle. If anyone's getting tired of me saying that I could make some argument without actually making it, well, I'm sorry. In general when I say it I'm pretty sure it's true, and it's just not what I'm interested in getting at right now.
***And yes, where you draw that line is a very idiosyncratic and indefensible place. Where I draw it is where the shift I'm about to talk about happens.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I crack myself up

I don't post on Making Light, or read the comment threads for that matter, all that regularly these days, but I was just scanning some old threads looking for something in particular, and came across this comment about "Things I Learned from Law & Order: SVU", and one of them made me laugh pretty hard and then get embarrassed because I was laughing at myself and then stop being embarrassed because I'm alone and who cares and then start laughing again, and it was this: "Prison rape is the most hilarious form of justice."

Um, to clarify, it's not the prison rape that's making me laugh. It's the phrasing of the sentence.

OK, that's all.


I realized that I didn't get to the main point of my thought yesterday.

I understand that when people pull out the "I can't believe people could hate other people just because of the color of their skin" nonsense, they don't usually mean it literally. I'm sure there's some kind of literary term like synecdoche or apostrophe for what they're doing--trying to distill the concept to a very simple, clearly ridiculous form to belittle it as much as possible (reductio ad absurdum, maybe, but that doesn't seem quite right).

But the problem with that technique is that racism, though ridiculous, is not simple. It's a hell of a lot more complicated than superficially similar phenomena like misogyny and homophobia, for example*. And when we turn an oversimplified (not to mention inaccurate) description of it into the ritual utterance that the "color of their skin" statement has become, we run the risk of dumbing ourselves down and convincing ourselves that the simple version is accurate enough.

If you asked someone who made a "color of their skin" comment if they really thought that was all there was to racism, chances are they probably would say no (although I won't say this with certainty; probably some small but not insignificant portion would say yes). But if pressed to elaborate, how many could? In fact, I'd almost go so far as to say that when people say "I don't understand how anyone could hate someone just because of the color of their skin", it's shorthand for "I don't understand anything about racism--its history, its present expressions, its real-world impacts, nothing. But that's OK, because I myself don't actively hate Black people, so I'm not contributing and don't need to educate myself about it. Right?"


As a side note, I feel that I should point out that yes, I am aware that Martin Luther King, Jr., is often quoted along these same lines. It was one of the things he dreamt about--"a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character"**. And I say that that one bit should not be quoted as often as it is, or at least not on its own. What gives it its power (aside from its brevity and its alliteration, which incidentally combine to explain why King limited this particular statement to skin color) is its inclusion in a long list of King's dreams--a list that includes equality for Jews and Italians, and which, on either side of this very familiar quote, hammers home the class-based critique of America that was King's primary concern, and which most of us are now unaware of. Because King knew that class is at the heart of American racism, that all these other things that people focus on--the color of people's skin, the more complicated matter of genealogy--are actually stand-ins for class, and signify the extent to which America's poor, and especially America's poor whites, have been successfully trained to blame everyone but the wealthy classes who are actually responsible for their own poverty.

(And it turns out, as is so often the case, that my "side note" ended up enabling me to finally get at my main point.)

*If someone actually reads this and actually comments and wants elaboration on that, I hopefully will be able to get around to providing it later. Otherwise I'm considering it self-evident.
**And by the way, how often do people quote the next bit? "(A) dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity." Or the part right before it? "A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few." If you're wondering why the man got shot, that's it right there***.
***That's another thing I can elaborate on if pressed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Liberal behavior that annoys me of the day

I really can't stand it when well-meaning people (usually liberals*) pooh-pooh racism by saying something along the lines of "I just can't understand how anyone can hate someone just because of the color of their skin." Don't get me wrong, I'm all for pooh-pooing racism, and yes, I don't understand how anyone can hate someone just because of the color of their skin. The problem is that that's not why anyone hates anyone. And when dealing with something as insidious and as important as racism, I think it's important to understand what's going on and to be scrupulously accurate.

Skin color is not what active racists** hate. It's simply the most obvious external indicator of what they hate, which, it seems to me, is really genealogy (not the concept of genealogy, but the genealogy of the targets of their hatred). Two examples from still-recent history (and, to a less visible extent, the present) should explain why I say that.

First, a hundred years ago, if you were, say, Irish or Italian, you weren't considered a member of the group called "white". This despite the fact that Irish and Italian skin tones don't tend to be all that different from those of the peoples who were considered "white" (and, in the case of the Irish, tend to be whiter).

Second, consider the phenomenon of "passing", where Black people with light enough skin attempted, often with success, to pass themselves off as white. Obviously, the presence of light skin color here complicates the issue, but think--if it was the skin color that people hated, it wouldn't have mattered if the people passing were revealed; there would be no "really Black" to worry about. They'd just be white. What these people were (and probably some still are) hiding is that they have members of their family tree who came from somewhere other than a few approved countries in Europe during the period of recorded history.

And that, right there, is the hatred-target of active racists: a genealogy that includes people from outside of certain specific European countries.

I'm not sure that I'm done with this thought. As usual, I'll say that there may or may not be more to come.

*Who in most, more sensible, countries are rightly considered to subscribe to a center-right ideology. It's only in wacky America that they're bizarrely considered to be anywhere on the left, let alone the far left.
**I specify active racists because we are all at best passive racists. Because in this society it's impossible to avoid both being influenced by one's own unconscious prejudice and taking one's place in the heirarchy of racial privilege. This is another reason I dislike the sentiment I'm discussing here--because reducing racism to "hatred" obscures a great deal of what racism actually is.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Last night I got to the third season episodes of Lost where Jack's doing surgery on Ben and he threatens to let him bleed to death if the Others don't let Sawyer and Kate go, and they were pretty awesome because I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen.

Then I was poking around the internet about them and I noticed that their original airdates were, first, November 8, 2006, and second, February 7, 2007. As broadcast, there was a three-month hiatus between the cliffhanger and the resolution.

I'm watching the show on DVD from Netflix, so my equivalent to hiatuses is the two or three days between when I watch one disc and mail it back and when the next disc arrives. I've thought about the difference in experience between watching a show as it airs and watching it more quickly on DVD before (as I've said many times, TV on DVD is, bar none, the best invention of the new millennium). The difference is vast, and I find that DVD viewing is almost always better--which is odd, considering that it's so entirely separated from the intended experience. What I've never thought about, though, is the entirely different structure DVD-through-Netflix viewing gives cliffhangers.

The two episodes in question were the third and fourth of four episodes on the same disc. I watched the cliffhanger and immediately watched the resolution, and then went on hiatus. I'm now anxiously awaiting the moment I'll find out what direction the story will go in next, rather than the moment I'll find out how this segment of the story turns out. Which in some ways is more exciting.

Anyway, I don't have any conclusions to draw about this. I just always find it interesting to think about the ways different forms of storytelling force us to take in the story differently--all in one go or broken up, at a pace we set ourselves or at one enforced by the medium, and so forth. These to me are the greatest differences between different narrative media, more important than whether the story is printed on paper or viewed on a screen or is text only, image and sound only, image and text only, or whatever. Sometime I need to do a more thorough investigation of this.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Things in general

I'm surprised at how relieved I am that Obama won, since I don't think there are all that many substantive differences between him and McCain. Admittedly, those differences all affect my life and the lives of people I know rather than the lives of foreigners I've never met and never will because my tax money killed them, but still--I'm surprised. I think it has more to do with how his election is a sign that, while they're inconstant and unreliable, there are good impulses in a big chunk of the American populace.

The one time so far that I've actually dropped 100% of my cynicism for a moment (which I didn't think would happen at all) is when I came in to work this morning and the first thing the woman at the front desk said to me was "We won!" Yes, we did, Melissa, and you just gave me chills. Thank you.

In other news, Bernard Chazelle was smart the other day, as usual. I agree wholeheartedly. While Obama himself won't do all that much for America's Black and poor populations, he is an important symbol. It's like how...OK, this is complicated, so new paragraph.

Young men in the 1950s formulated a way to rebel against their repressive society, what with the beatniks and the Angry Young Men and the Rebels Without Causes and all that. It was almost entirely exclusive to men, though, and going into the 1960s women had no model for their own rebellion. So they started to rebel by attaching themselves to rebellious men. Take the girl groups--the ones who were supposed to be "bad girls" (The Ronettes, The Shangri-La's, and all those) were not in themselves "bad"--but they sang about being in love with bad boys. "Leader of the Pack", for example, is about a tragedy caused by the conflict between the narrator's desire to rebel (by being with a bad boy) and her inability to do so (by ignoring her parents when they tell her to break up with him). The Crystals' "He's a Rebel" is the ultimate example of this, naturally: "When he holds my hand I'm so proud/Cause he's not just one of the crowd"--he makes her stand out as different by being different himself--but finally, "He's not a rebel to me". (I wrote a paper on this years ago, so I know there are sources for lots of real-life examples, but I don't have the energy or resources to gather them together right now. Take my word for it that it's not just an entertainment phenomenon.) Anyway, by the end of the sixties, there was now an ad hoc but firmly established model for female rebellion, which the women of the 1970s built into what became the women's lib movement and finally the contemporary feminist movement. Obviously, there are a lot of steps missing here, it's not that direct, and there were lots of parallel developments (The Feminine Mystique, durr) going on at the same time that built synergistically towards contemporary feminism, but still--this progression was a big, important part of it.

From what I can tell, for Blacks in particular and for Americans in general, Obama is equivalent in that storyline to the men of the 1950s, or, if we're very lucky, the women of the early 1960s. He himself won't do jack for us*, but people will see him and be able to use him as a symbol and a model to build upon, and perhaps eventually what he has started will lead to something positive.

More to come, maybe. So far today all I'm doing is filing, so I've got plenty of free time, but who knows if that'll keep up.

*I'm having difficulty talking about this without sounding either overly inclusive or overly exclusive. Obviously this is something that applies primarily to Black Americans, which is a group I'm firmly not a member of, but any possible avenue out of the racism that has crippled America and the world for centuries is a boon to all of us, except for those who use racism to their benefit in the struggle to maintain financial dominance. And they are a people I have absolutely no problem excluding from my definition of humanity. So, the pronoun is "us".

OH AND: Charles Stross is smart, too.