Friday, December 31, 2010


  • How to ring in the new year with apps
  • No pardon for Billy the Kid
  • Ticker: New Palin DVDs revealed
  • John Mellencamp splits with wife
  • Kathy Griffin: queen of dropping the ball
  • Hangover remedies: what works?
  • Town rings in new year with giant bug
  • Bring in the new year happy and single
  • Where the stars will be as 2011 dawns
  • Resolution no. 1: Lose weight
I know it's, like, a holiday, but this is all on the front page, simultaneously. And it's not every ridiculous thing that's on that front page. I mean, does this fool anyone?

(Thanks to the Baronette, who is masochisticbrave enough to look at CNN regularly, for pointing this ludicrousness out to me.)

Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks especially to everyone involved in the recent wave of ridiculously nice things being said about me, to me, in comments. I almost feel bad having people say such nice things while this blog lies semi-fallow in shitty music reviews and images of CNN's front page. The new year will bring with it a return to more of the hard-hitting analysis that has made me so famous, respected, and beloved.

And now, to get smashed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Albums of 2010, part two

(Over the next few days or, more likely, weeks--I'm not a timely person--I'm gonna be posting a paragraph or two, festooned with links, about all of the new albums I heard--and kept--this year, in alphabetical order, four or five at a time. I apologize for how shitty I am at writing about music. Most of these reviews will be very positive.)

Laurie Anderson, Homeland
Anderson's unlike-anyone-else musical style was already fully formed and perfect on her first (and, if only for that reason, best) album, Big Science, in 1982. And it hasn't particularly changed since. Because I love her deeply and always will, this isn't particularly a problem; however, it does mean that I rarely find a reason to put on any of her other albums instead of Big Science. The unfortunate effect is that extraordinary albums like this tend to get neglected. As usual, we get her melodically affectless spoken phrases, her oddly alternating quick-slow singing in bursts, her vocoder, her electronics, her violin, and her violin electronics, and as usual it just makes me love her in much the same way I imagine the crew of the Enterprise loves Data, with an intense affection seemingly unjustified by the almost-cold presence of the affection's object.

"Only an Expert" stands out as being obviously the single. It's perhaps a bit silly at times but nevertheless is an important song; one of the few works I think sincerely justify the use of the word "zeitgeist." "The Beginning of Memory" is a myth (possibly coming from Aristophones? I have no idea) of just that: a lark flying around before the world was created doesn't have a place to bury her dead father (there being no earth yet), so she buries him in her own head, creating memory. In "Another Day in America," over atmospherics intermittently interrupted by whistles and sub-bass and distant percussion, a pitch-shifted Anderson deeply intones an eleven and a half minute long stream of consciousness about American empire and the nature of time and reality, "and you know the reason why I really love the stars is that we cannot hurt them. We can't burn them or melt them or make them overflow. We can't flood them or blow them up or turn them out. But we are reaching for them. We are reaching for them."

Arandel, In D
I haven't yet had a chance to listen to this one much, but I think that's going to change, and quick. In D is minimal techno, with the addition of unsually large amounts of orchestration and wordless vocals. The atmosphere created, alternately pounding (#9 has blaring horn-like synths and squealing flute-like synths and military march-like live drumming) and peaceful (#6 sounds like something Eno would have done for one of his installations in the 90s, though the whispering towards the end is more unsettling than he normally chose to be at that point), is hard to describe but it sure does something to me. Aside from #8 and #3 (which come right at the end, basically) the Terry Riley influence evident in the title is more implicit than explicit; Arandel allows the title to influence our experience of the album, making our ears shape this sound into something in the tradition of Riley--a shape that is there in the music, but needs the title to be picked out.

Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Pt. 2: The Return of the Ankh
The moment just before I listened to The Return of the Ankh for the first time was probably the most exciting musical moment I had in 2010. New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) was, if you ask me, far and away the best album of 2008 and is one of the very best albums of the past decade: experimental, political, clearly inspired by past strains of Afrofuturism but not constrained by them, passionate, exciting. When it became clear that the "Part One" in the title meant that there was in fact going to be a "Part Two" I was thrilled, and when the excellent promotional (non-album) single "Jump Up in the Air (Stay There)" seemed to continue in the vein of the previous album without any retread I could barely restrain myself.

The first time I listened to this album I was slightly disappointed--I had been hoping for further experiments in the vein of the first part, but in comparison to these expectations this album sounded like a return to the sound of Baduizm all those years ago--which of course is not a bad sound; it just wasn't what I wanted. Further listens quickly dispelled this disappointment, however. I realized that, just as the fact that these songs are more personal doesn't make them any less political than the songs on Part One, the fact that they're more conventional on the surface level does not, in fact, mean that they're conventional at all. Rather than hitting us up front with a frenetic explosion and spending the rest of the album skittering around in its aftermath, as she did in 2008, Badu here unfolds her genius slowly. She's comfortable with the basic sound, having first appeared on record with it almost fifteen years ago now, and by taking her time with it she is able to fully explore its possibilities, many of them never before realized. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still hoping for another album picking up more directly where Part One left off, but I'd also be an idiot if I said this album didn't, in its own, unexpected way, do just that. Possibly the best album of the year, again.

Belle & Sebastian, Write About Love
Embarrassing as it is to recall, Belle & Sebastian were a huge comfort to me in high school. As a kind of wussy weirdo who subconsciously hated his snobby, dull friends but was too scared of everyone else to make new ones, well, it was lucky in a way that it was the late 90s, so I basically had a new Belle & Sebastian album to hang out with every year. I don't listen to them much anymore, but I still love those old albums, out of both habit and a genuine appreciation (they really are good albums, in their way). The later stuff, which I still always check out out of a lingering sense of obligation, is harder to deal with. The Life Pursuit had at least a few decent tracks in amongst the bland mass of trying-too-hard; this one only has one. Opening track "I Didn't See It Coming" is a lovely piece of hazy nostalgia with some nice electronic touches and production elements, and a pretty vocal melody delivered well by whoever the woman in the band is these days--which helps, because Stuart Murdoch has, at this point, become completely insufferable to me. The rest of the album is a soulless wreck, overproduced and unengaging, and it deserves the Norah Jones guest spot it gets.

Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Hip hop and R&B have been among the very few genres to be reliably vital in recent years (drone and ambient are the only others I can think of right now), and it's because of albums like this. I'm usually too white to know how to talk about them, but I do love to listen to them. While everyone continues to shit themselves over Kanye fucking West, I'm much happier with this.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Observation, obvious

Whenever a mainstream liberal argues for the greatness of a given political figure, the liberal's evidence will almost invariably be a speech given or statement made or article written by the political figure, and almost never an actual action taken by that figure.


George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, several excerpts

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

The educated man pictures a horde of submen, wanting only a day's liberty to loot his house, burn his books, and set him to work minding a machine or sweeping out a lavatory. "Anything," he thinks, "any injustice, sooner than let that mob loose." He does not see that since there is no difference between the mass of rich and poor, there is no question of setting the mob loose. The mob is in fact loose now, and--in the shape of rich men--is using its power to set up enormous treadmills of boredom...
-pages 120-1

Sometimes, he said, when sleeping on the Embankment, it had consoled him to look up at Mars or Jupiter and think that there were probably Embankment sleepers there. He had a curious theory about this. Life on earth, he said, is harsh because the planet is poor in the necessities of existence. Mars, with its cold climate and scanty water, must be far poorer, and life correspondingly harsher. Whereas on earth you are merely imprisoned for stealing sixpence, on Mars you are probably boiled alive. This thought cheered Bozo, I do not know why. He was a very exceptional man.
-page 168

It is taken for granted that a beggar does not "earn" his living, as a bricklayer or a literary critic "earns" his. He is a mere social excrescence, tolerated because we live in a humane age, but essentially despicable.

Yet if one looks closely one sees that there is no essential difference between a beggar's livelihood and that of numberless respectable people. Beggars do not work, it is said; but, then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course--but then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a high-purchase tout--in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideals, he pays for it over and over in suffering. I do not think there is anything about a beggar that sets him in a different class from other people, or gives most modern men the right to despise him.

Then the question arises, Why are beggars despised?--for they are despised, universally. I believe it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a decent living. In practice no one cares whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. In all the modern talk about energy, efficiency, social service and the rest of it, what meaning is there except "Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it?" Money has become the grand test of virtue. By this test beggars fail, and for this they are despised. If one could earn even ten pounds a week at begging, it would become a respectable profession immediately.
-pages 173-4

Another tramp told the story of Gilderoy, the Scottish robber. Gilderoy was the man who was condemned to be hanged, escaped, captured the judge who had sentenced him, and (splendid fellow!) hanged him.
-page 189

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Albums of 2010, part one

(Oddly, even though I've given up solid media for new music--with very few exceptions, pretty much all of my music, at this point, is on my computer or on non-new vinyl, CDs be damned--I've become more and more dedicated to the album format. I almost never listen to individual songs. So, my year review is going to be talking about albums. And 2010 was a really, really good year for albums, probably the best since 2006. I'm not going to bother putting these into order. So over the next few days or, more likely, weeks--I'm not a timely person--I'm gonna be posting a paragraph or two, festooned with links, about all of the new albums I heard this year, in alphabetical order, four or five at a time. I apologize in advance for how shitty I am at writing about music.)

Christina Aguilera, Bionic
After two songs where she for some reason thinks it's a good idea to imitate fucking Lady Gaga, Aguilera settles into some of the utterly in(s)ane pop she, starting way back with "Dirrty," helped pioneer: the third song starts with some very new agey synth bubbles before turning into a dancehall-ish piece of nonsense featuring a relentless sample from a Hungarian pop-prog song from the 70s and lyrics about how everyone wants to see and kiss and taste her woohoo, while the fourth song is called "Elastic Love," was co-written and produced by M.I.A., and sounds like a song called "Elastic Love" co-written and produced by M.I.A.

And so it goes. You probably already know if you're likely to enjoy a Christina Aguilera album, so I'll just say, first, that this is a good one, second, that the ballads don't drag this one down as much as they tend to do with albums like this (though I renew, for the billionth time, my plea to musicians everywhere to remember that not every album has to be an hour long), and third, that I continue to think Christina Aguilera is one of the best role-models for young girls available in mass culture.

Ellen Allien, Dust
It's not a masterpiece, but this one seems to be pretty severely underrated. I don't think I'll ever love an Ellen Allien album the way I love Berlinette, but really that's my problem, not hers. She's continuing with the stark, glitchy dance beats and beautifully cold vocals, but there's an odd sentimentality here in songs like "Sun the Rain" that works unexpectedly well. Allien holds the best tracks back until the end: "Dream" slowly builds layers of different types of atmospheres over one surprisingly effective rising synth line, "Huibuh" does things with electronica and swanky jazz that should not work but do, and "Schlumi" sounds like picking up where Urszula Dudziak's dancier music left off.

Alva Noto, For 2
Lovely music, right from the moment the wash of white noise resolves suddenly into a bass tone and resonant high pulse in the first few seconds of opening track "garment (for a garment)." The general strategy here is to build minimalist, slightly shifting atmospheres out of electronics and glitches and build upon them with similarly minimalist, similarly shifting, but somewhat more melodic live (though not by any means untreated) instruments. No one element leads; all are equally important.

For me the gimmick of dedicating the songs to other artists primarily creates a list of people and collectives to check out (The Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland, the dedicatee of "anthem berlin," seems particularly interesting), though the few I'm familiar with (like "stalker (for andrei tarkovsky)" and "early winter (for phill niblock)") are wonderfully appropriate.

anbb, Mimikry
A Rate Your Music reviewer referred to this collaboration as "Alva Neubauten"--perhaps a bit clever-clever but entirely accurate. The album Alva Noto made by himself this year, as I just mentioned, starts into its exploration of beauty the instant it begins. The album he made with Einstürzende Neubauten's Blixa Bargeld begins with a near-inhuman scream, first in one channel, then the other, joined soon by a near-human droning syllable. It cuts suddenly, then the same sound fades back in quieter, begins to glitch, and then Bargeld comes in, speaking quietly but threateningly into the noise. This album is not lovely. I don't know if the combination of industrial and glitch is new, but this is the first time I've heard it, and it works immediately, unsettlingly. Eight minutes into the opening track, the whole terrifying atmosphere vanishes and is replaced by something utterly different (a simple piano line, some verging on New Age chanting, Bargeld singing rather than speaking) for the last two minutes, as if to say that even consistent fear is too solid a ground for this album to rest on.

Two covers are notable: Nilsson's "One" and Greil Marcus's favorite nihilist folk song, "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground," both of which are not so much reinvented as just placed, whole, into a new context. The standout original track to me is "Ret Marut Handshake," a tribute (I think) to an anarchist actor and possibly writer who I honestly don't know anything about (again Alva Noto introduces me to people I need to look into) but whose name followed by the word "Handshake," repeated over and over, forms an amazingly powerful incantation.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Takin' a Christmassy break

In the meantime, some more music.

Satie, because everyone's been doing it recently:

Beefheart, because I miss him, and because incredible and indispensable as his harsher stuff is I think his pop is severely underrated:

Boards of Canada, because I'm always in the mood for Boards of Canada:

And John Lennon, because this is, utterly and completely sincerely, the most magical song I have ever heard:

Consider these my Christmas carols. Back soon.

Row Row Row

by The Bobbettes

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A sentence carefully constructed to communicate nothing

A Bank of America statement:
This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments.
(By the way, The Kansas City Star, what I said to The Denver Post applies to you, too.)

Friday, December 17, 2010


RIP, Captain Beefheart.

It's been a long time coming, but that doesn't make it any damn better.

I'll say this for the internet

Jody McIntyre and Emily Henochowicz. The apparatus of the state attacked them brutally, in Henochowicz's case damaging her permanently. The result? People know who they are now. Googling either of their names comes up with their personal sites as the first result. Anyone who sees the Israeli government and sympathetic media saying Henochowicz deserved to have her eye shot out* can, if they're so inclined, google up her gentle and whimsical art and her simple, but radical, view that humans should be treated like people. Anyone impressed with McIntyre's performance in front of the most hostile interviewer imaginable--or, more importantly, anyone seeking confirmation of the interviewer's terrifying claim that McIntyre self-describes as a revolutionary--can google him up and hear it from his own perspective--with all of his extraordinarily well thought out and explained reasons for describing himself thus. In other words, when presented with State organs' negative portrayals of these people, there is a whole body of their own work readily available contradicting it. I don't know how many people avail themselves of it, but at least some small number must. And there is a chance that some tiny number of people who would not otherwise have been exposed to this kind of thinking now have. That is a good fucking thing.

*Still the best (or at least my favorite) comment on that is hist's on a SMBIVA post: "If I wrote a fictional villain who put out a young art students eye and laughed about how she deserved it, I'd be accused of laying it on too thick."

More, different: Aaron Bady and Barnaby Raine. Neither of them are known now for violence done to them by the state (though Raine, at least, has had some experience of that; I don't know if the same can be said for Bady or not). Instead, they're known for putting opposition to what the state is doing into lucid, eloquent words. Bady's article on the philosophy behind wikileaks was linked to from all over the place, including The Atlantic and The New York Times. Even people who take what the fucking NYT says seriously have been given the easy opportunity to click around his site and see other recent writing like "when it suits the imperial hegemon to give a shit about death and suffering, they do so because it suits them to do so." Raine hasn't, to my knowledge, been quite so widely linked, but, hell, I came across him at Digby's blog of all places. And so again we see people with a body of thought out there available for reviewing getting eyes directed to that work.

The Baronette has alerted me to the fact that Gang of Four's "Natural's Not In It" (opening lyrics: "The problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure") is currently being used in commercials for some sort of XBox product; the commercial can be seen here. This is of course horrifying in many ways, and in other ways there is of course a kind of dark hilarity to it. The glimmer of possibility mixed in, though, is that someone, somewhere might see the commercial, think, "That guitar riff sounds great! I wonder what it's from," look it up, listen to Gang of Four, and learn something. Or maybe one or two of the 141,671 people who have watched the commercial on youtube as of this writing read some of the comments about how terrible it is that this song is in this commercial and looked into it a bit. Who knows. It seems unlikely to me that this hasn't happened at least once. And that's a hell of a lot better than nothing.

This is the kind of thing that makes me persist in seeing the internet, in the context of the shit civilization that is the only kind of foundation that could support such a thing as the internet, as a good thing, and why I think it's terrible that the internet as currently composed is surely about to come to an end while the civilization still marches on strong. I've got my eye on what The Pirate Bay is up to. It's not much, yet, but as I keep saying, it's something. And something is better than nothing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I propose to you that the desire to see another human being punished, even a person who has done the most despicable of all human desires. Even if one admits to the necessity of punishment, a necessity that I find categorically problematic to begin with, then the only decent attitude is regret.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More London protest footage

China Miéville's commentary (via) is worth a read:
The scene: a mass demonstration in Tehran/Harare/Rangoon/Pyongyang/&c. The police are filmed shoving a 20-yr-old demonstrator with cerebral palsy from her/his wheelchair & dragging her/him across the pavement, to the horror of onlookers. Footage of this event is sneaked out & publicised. Accordingly, Iranian/Zimbabwean/Burmese/North Korean/&c state broadcasters cannot ignore it. Forced to report it, they stress, however, that there ‘is a suggestion’ that said demonstrator was ‘rolling towards the police’.

The British & American media response can be imagined. Shock. Disgust at such overt & disgraceful victim-blaming. Sympathy for the young activist, who becomes an international hero. Revulsion at the outlet’s patently ridiculous claims of ‘objectivity’. Bitter humour, perhaps, at the sheer Leviathan absurdity of the implied justification.

‘Rolling towards the police’ might become a media meme, this year’s Comical Ali, a shorthand for any self-evidently ridiculous & tasteless claim by the media apparatchik of a repressive regime. Hipsters begin to wear t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase & the face of the ‘journalist’ who spoke it.

Now relocate that attack.
If you haven't seen the BBC interview with Jody McIntyre, the man in (and then out of) the wheelchair, the video and an excellent transcript are here (note: I know nothing of that blog in general, but just having the transcript is a great resource). The interviewer is even more ludicrous than you might expect (even primed by Miéville's commentary), but McIntyre keeps his cool and says some really remarkable things that hopefully had some impact on at least a few people watching. McIntyre's blog, Life on Wheels, also seems like good reading.

With apologies to What The Tee Vee Taught...

...I don't want to encroach on your territory, but I figured Australia was out of your jurisdiction.

AS IF the full array of standard gay stereotypes weren't ridiculous enough (the "normal guy," the leather daddy, the bear, and the prissy twink, from left to right*), you're really going to shove disability, non-whiteness, slight fatness**, and femaleness onto one token character? This is hilarious. I wonder how many board meetings and focus groups went into constructing that set of characters.

(It is, by the way, a promo from an upcoming Australian sitcom about gay sci-fi nerds. As seen on io9.)

*Because it's certainly been my experience that every group of gay men includes one representative of each of these types.
**The bear doesn't count.

News from the corporate world #6: You don't need a raise to take on more work

Spotted on a coworker's desk:

I would say that I would take this book on once I finish the QBQ!, but a) who am I kidding, at the rate I'm going I'll never finish the QBQ! and b) I'm not likely to enter the "leadership program" (seriously) my coworker is reading this for, so I'd probably have to pay for the book to get my hands on it.

Unless--holy jesus, libraries stock this evil shit. Well, we'll see.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ask a Wal-Mart manager for assistance

(From Raw Story, via BDR.)

Similar messages are going to be going up in malls and hotels and, one presumes, eventually everywhere.

There's obviously a lot that can be said about this, but all I want to do is quickly point out that this message implicitly empowers store managers in a new--and nonspecific--way. I wonder if there's associated training, and, if there is, what it entails.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

A wonderful metaphor

This is Richard Wilson speaking about Paul Burwell, as quoted in a Wire article about the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, the music and performance group Burwell and Wilson founded with Anne Bean in 1983. Emphasis is mine.
He was acutely aware that a violin or a drum kit has a history. Someone might tell you that you aren't playing it properly. If you are playing an arc welder no one can tell you that you're doing it wrong. If you go to a scrapyard and find what is deemed detritus you can act freely with it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

News from the corporate world #5: It's the holiday season so whoop dee doo

As some of you may be aware, Christmas is fast approaching. I like Christmas. My parents and my brother and his wife and I get together, have some rituals, give each other presents. We try to detach the idea of giving from the idea of buying as much as possible, which isn't much, y'know, but it's at least something to try for. I'm a fan of the gift economy to begin with, so Christmas is a natural (even though in practice I'm usually terrible with gift ideas).

I'm interested here, though, in how Christmas functions in the workplace. In this context, I hate Christmas.

The workplace is where we go to create wealth for other people (through our labor), in return for which we are given permission to create wealth for still other people (by spending our wage or, failing that, saving it in a profitable way). Christmas, in this system, serves as a sort of guilty conscience urging us on to better participation. Sure, you've been working hard, but maybe you haven't been spending enough--isn't it time you go out and do that?

A few weeks ago one of my coworkers sent around an email asking for us all to chip in for a "nice present" for our managers. I would say I couldn't believe it, but unfortunately I could because this kind of thing is not at all uncommon. The best part is that if I don't give some of my money, my name won't go on the card that comes with the gift--an omission the managers are not likely to miss. Anyway, if I didn't give, my coworkers might start to suspect I'm not a team player! So now it's an obligation--which, incidentally, makes it by definition not a gift. Day in and day out, year round, I do what these people tell me to do in order to extract my wage, part of which I must now return to them.

My managers, being wage slaves themselves, are probably right now doing the same for their own managers.

Meanwhile, some of the more spirited of my coworkers went out and enriched the owners of chintzy crap producing companies by spending a portion of their wages on a whole bunch of utterly hideous Christmas decorations and spreading them all over the office. These decorations are, from the perspective of these companies, the gift that keeps on giving. They make money off of them at the point of sale, and from then on the decorations function as all-purpose advertisements. It's the holiday season, they declare. Only so many shopping days left until Christmas, you better go out and spend. The earlier they can convince us to buy their advertisements, the longer the holiday season is, and the more they can wring out of us. This year, the decorations went up in my office two weeks before Thanksgiving.

And the songs! Naturally, stores want to start playing Christmas songs as early as possible, so while you're in there your Pavlovian programming will kick in and remind you that you have to buy more than you were planning on. Many Christmas songs are traditional, and many more are decades old. This has the advantage of being cheap (no need to pay anybody for writing new lyrics or performing new songs, and often no need to even pay for rights). It does, however, have the disadvantage that many of these songs predate the establishment of current best practices for holiday consumption, and so while they function well enough as all-purpose advertisements, are not always as explicit as they could be. So, in case they are too subtle, every few years a new song with more direct lyrics will be introduced into the rotation, becoming one of the "classics" almost instantly.

So the stores are all playing Christmas music. The songs move into the workplace, too (obviously for those of us who work in stores this is the same thing, but for those of us who do not it is a separate phenomenon). There they serve as a helpful reminder of why we're working.

The wisdom of crowds

From Jerry Springer's Wikipedia page, via the always lovely [Citation Needed]:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wikileaks intermission

A few things.

First, the "cyberattacks" on companies and organizations that have done shitty things in regards to Wikileaks--Paypal, Mastercard, etc. I just want to say that these are wonderful and make me giddy. Boycotts are nice and all, if you can do it, but fucking taking that shit down, even briefly, is just delightful.

This CNN article talks about that briefly (and ineptly), and then goes on to some interesting quotes from goofy Kevin Rudd:
"I have been pretty consistent about where the core responsibility lies in this entire matter and that lies with the release of an unauthorized nature of this material by U.S. personnel," Rudd told Reuters.

"Mr. Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorized release of 250,000 documents from the U.S. diplomatic communications network," Rudd told the agency. "The Americans are responsible for that."
Which, you know, politicians say what they will say and they have reasons for what they say, but this cracks me up. Things seem to be going nicely. P.J. Crowley, spokesman for the U.S. of A.'s State Department, responded:
Foreign Minister Rudd is correct, in that the first responsibility rests with us. Someone in the U.S. government leaked these documents. That said, what Julian Assange is doing harms not just our interests, but has placed real lives at risk.
This I like because of that word real. Crowley is being pretty clear here, in his obtuse way. The lives that Wikileaks could possibly, kinda, sorta, maybe, be seen, if you squint, to potentially be placing at risk are real. The lives that the US government is definitively bringing to an end are, by contrast, fake.

Then there's this, from Joe Lieberman*:
“I certainly believe that WikiLleaks has violated the Espionage Act, but then what about the news organizations — including The Times — that accepted it and distributed it?” Mr. Lieberman said, adding: “To me, The New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship, and whether they have committed a crime, I think that bears a very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department.”
With all of this, I have to wonder how much of it is theater, and how much of it is actually the system eating itself. I'm having trouble thinking of a third option for what it could be.

At this point, I'm thinking I'm going to take a wikibreak. Barring any really startling developments I'm gonna write about other things until at least Friday.

*Quoted from the same article, by the way, that quotes Eric Holder using the word "misimpression," which I'm sure won't get the same response as Palin's "refudiate." And, OK, maybe there's an argument that "misimpression" can be considered a real word, but only in terms of weaselly politspeak. "Refudiate" at least has the advantage of being a) a funny play on an overused term, b) immediately clear, and c) not from the Handbook of Corporate Dehumanization in Language.

Wikileaks interlude: Two longer, very worthwhile pieces of writing for your perusal

Aaron continues to write very well on the subject. This time he's debunking arguments in favor of diplomatic secrecy, using for an example one guy's absurd claims about East Timor.

Justin's tour, if you will, de force provides some of the best analysis of workplace management I've ever seen. But even that is only background, as he then applies the lessons learned there to an even better analysis of Wikileaks.

Thirty years

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Not retreating, still mocking liberals

I have mixed feelings about a lot of different aspects of this, but there are two key points. One is that the leaker here (presumably Bradley Manning, but that’s not yet been proven in a court of law) has broken the law and needs to be punished.
Listen, you utter piece of shit: Bradley Manning has not been tried, and he doesn't need to be punished--he is being punished. Not just that--he is being tortured.

Even someone with the twisted, authoritarian point of view required to be an establishment liberal, even someone as painstakingly idiotic as fucking Matt Yglesias, should have a goddamn big problem with that.

Temporary retreat into liberal-mocking

Jacob Davies brings us some more of his patented brand of obfuscity.

Temporary retreat into music

There's a lot going on right now that I want to talk about, but for the moment I'm just blown away by the extent to which I was listening to all the wrong indie rock ten years ago.

Here's two songs from Blonde Redhead's 2000 EP, Mélodie citronique, which I've just picked up. The EP featured two reworkings of songs from their then-current album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, one of them translating the lyrics into French, the other into Italian. Both are fantastic. The Italian one, "Odiata per le sue virtù," in particular reminded me of how much I fucking love Italian as a language.

The first song I'm posting is "Chi è e non è" (which means "Who Is and Isn't"). I don't think it's just the Italian (which, again, what a great language) that's making me hear a Lucio Battisti influence here.

Then I was surprised to hear a cover of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin's "La chanson de slogan," here just titled "Slogan." As if it weren't delightful enough already, the last minute and a half transforms into a dub-by-way-of-krautrock duet for percussion and wordless vocals that blows me away before ending precipitously.

Wikileaks #3: A decrease in the ability of the conspiracy to think, act and adapt

[I wrote the bulk of this before I saw that Assange has been arrested. I don't think it changes anything I say here, but it's definitely worth mentioning.]

Towards the end of #2, I brought up the criticism that Wikileaks is useless, because no matter how shocking the information it reveals may be (in leaks that have already been released or any that may be in the future), the system can easily withstand these shocks with the ol' in one ear and out the other trick. I also briefly mentioned the "this is nothing new" argument (which is deployed at times in opposition to, and at times in support of, the "it doesn't matter anyway" argument*) against the specific, released leaks themselves. I'd like to expand on that a little.

*By which I am not cattily suggesting that the people who make these arguments are inconsistent. Each use on its own, and even a combination of both at the same time, makes perfect sense to me. Anyway, inconsistency is great. I'm inconsistent, you're inconsistent, we're all inconsistent.

I'm never a fan of the "this is nothing new" attitude. My reasons for this are primarily a combination of my sentiments expressed here and here (and I promise I won't keep linking to myself, because don't you hate that?). Briefly, a) what's old news to one is not necessarily old news to another, and b) those of us who reject the worship of "progress" that capitalism depends upon should not be so quick to dismiss anything just because it's not novel to us. In fact, as I mentioned in the last essay, I'm starting to think that continuous cynicism can only end up being another method by which the system absorbs these shocks: this is no big deal, we say, and in so saying we help make it true.

Regardless, though, this is all micro-level stuff: talking about the impact of just the contents of just one specific leak, rather than the endeavor as a whole.

At this point I doubt there are many people reading this who haven't read the wonderful essay Aaron of zunguzungu wrote a week or so ago examining the aims of Wikileaks as stated in a four-year-old essay written by Julian Assange. If you've somehow missed it, I urge you to read it. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that I read zunguzungu before it was cool.

A brief, brief, very brief summary would be something like this: because knowledge of its activities creates its own opposition, authoritarianism requires secrecy. It also requires communication between its secretive elements. The more secrecy, the harder it is for those elements to communicate. The more leaks in the secrecy, the more the authoritarians tighten their security, and hence the more difficult it is for them to communicate with one another. The more difficult it is for them to communicate with one another, the more difficult it is to hold on to authority.

In other words, by providing a mechanism by which it is extremely easy for any one member of an authoritarian conspiracy to make secrets public, Wikileaks hopes to change the environment in which those conspiracies work in order to make it more difficult for them to function effectively.

The moment where I have to change my pants is this, from Assange's original essay:
If total conspiratorial power is zero, then clearly there is no information flow between the conspirators and hence no conspiracy. A substantial increase or decrease in total conspiratorial power almost always means what we expect it to mean; an increase or decrease in the ability of the conspiracy to think, act and adapt…An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces.
This is what I meant when I said the other day that I'm more excited about Wikileaks than I have been about anything in a good long while. Despite my dislike of cynicism, I've grown accustomed to feeling like there is nothing that anyone can effectively do to fight Power. Any solution I'd ever been able to think of requires such a critical mass of people as to be effectively impossible.

But this? Call me naive, but I can almost believe it has a chance of working.

But before I get carried away with my excitement, allow me to circle back to my opening. We can see now that any objection to Wikileaks based on the actual information content of the leaks--either in specific, as with the "nothing new" argument, or in general, as with the "in one ear" argument--is essentially moot. The content of the leaks is important in some senses, but is irrelevant to the underlying strategy, which is only concerned with the existence of leaks. There is one other major objection I've seen that I considered valid, which goes along the lines of "these releases will just make Power dig in its heels even more--tighter security means we'll know even less of what's going on." When I first saw that objection being thrown around, my perspective was that it was a fair price to pay. Looking at it in light of this whole anti-conspiracy strategy, though, increased secrecy is a win.

I'm far from the smartest person in the world, but I have yet to think of a flaw in the logic. One of the very few counterarguments I've seen that strike me as anything close to damning comes from Doctor Science (another is BDR's, which I actually think is stronger and will try to discuss soon). Doctor Science points out, simply, that we don't have to look far to come across dozens of examples of authoritarian evil that didn't require secrecy at all. And it's true--a great portion of the horrifying things our ruling class does, it does out in the open.

However, it is trivially easy to show at least that the ruling class, in practice, relies very heavily on secrecy--just look at the leaked cables to see the crap they felt the need to classify! Greenwald pointed out that the very banality of a good portion of the cables is in itself a scandal--because what the fuck is a government that claims to be democracy doing making all this trivial nonsense secret? (Note, please, that this behavior does not come as a surprise to people with the perspective that I and most of you bring to things, but note also what I said about how not everything needs to be surprising to be important.)

So, yes, I do take Doctor Science's point, and I will admit that she did manage to temper my excitement slightly by pointing out the obvious (there's that word again) that hadn't occurred to me. But the fact remains that even if the ruling class doesn't actually require all that much secrecy to get away with its fucking of the world, it still currently relies on secrecy as a primary tool. At the very worst, Wikileaks is screwing with their ability to use one of their favorite tools.

And now I'm excited again, so I'm going to return to that quote that got me all hot and bothered. Specifically, to the money shot. Let's see it again, in slow motion:
An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces.
We know what that means, right?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikileaks #2: In one ear and out the other

The other day in the shower, don't ask me why, "The Banana Boat Song" popped into my head and I started singing it for my own entertainment. As I did, it struck me as it never had before how strange the cultural role this worker's lament ("Daylight come and me wan go home") has taken on, at least in U.S. society, is. It seems to me anyway that it's now part of that horrible "vacation" genre where you can find my two least favorite songs of all time, "Margaritaville" and "The Piña Colada Song" and a number of other abominations, simply (as far as I can tell) because it's "tropical." The horrifically solipsistic "Worst vacation ever?" at the end of the intro to this article, which at no point mentions that the island we bombed to shit just for fun had people who considered it home, is another example of this revolting habit. All this is, of course, what the Situationists and the Sex Pistols were describing when they talked about cheap holidays in other people's misery.

This tropical = vacation equation is just one example of a larger phenomenon by which our imperial consumer society transforms and absorbs contrary or potentially harmful data. It happens on every level, too; one of my favorite examples of it on a smaller scale is "Imagine" by John Lennon*, which plays frequently on Lite Rock format radio in spite of its lyrical content, which stands in firm opposition to everything Lite Rock radio exists to prop up. Most people's mouths know every word to the song, but very few allow it to reach their minds.

I experience it frequently in conversation, especially at work; people in general (and I'm sure I'm included in this at times as well despite my awareness of the mechanism) are very good at automatically agreeing with everything they hear--and not just mechanical agreement, I mean agreeing and actually discussing back--and then immediately disregarding it. I've talked endlessly with people at work about the nature of wage slavery, and even gotten good responses, but then five minutes later people who a moment ago were totally with me will be right back to identifying with the company rather than with one another.

I don't say this to be like, oh, people are so stupid; I say it to emphasize how good the system has gotten at insulating itself from shocks. It's even convinced us to do the work for it!

This is the background of one of the more common criticisms of Wikileaks I've been seeing from people who are coming from a position outside of the mainstream--people, in other words, whose criticism of Wikileaks does not arise out of loyalty to the State.

That criticism is, of course, that Wikileaks isn't so much bad as useless. Any damaging information released through them will simply be chewed up and swallowed by the system, just as easily as "Imagine no possessions" or the existence of human beings on atolls. And it's true, at least for now. I wish we wouldn't help it to be true so much by saying, over and over again, "This is pointless," "Everyone knows this stuff already," and so on (this is the role we play in the machinery, though we prefer to call it cynicism), but it's true anyway.

Luckily, however, that criticism is irrelevant. I'll be discussing why tomorrow. And no, I'm not being coy, I'm just tired of typing right now. If you want to know the perspective I'm going to be approaching it from, it's described in Aaron's famous post at zunguzungu, which you've probably already read.

*Or, to be more seasonally relevant, "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)," which functions similarly.

Entrapment With The Stars

Between this story and this one, I'm wondering if maybe the U.S. government is going to start building bombs, talking celebrities into trying to blow them up, and then arresting them. It would be no more absurd, but plenty more entertaining!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blah blah blah voting

So, there's no election I know of coming up or anything (though I'm sure there's one somewhere), but my slow-processing brain has been filtering through some discussion that happened in the build up to the recent one in the U.S., both in the blogonoosphere and in real life.

Fans of voting talk about non-voters as if they are by definition unengaged. They're usually pretty disparaging about it in one way or another; they'll talk about how so many people "don't even bother to vote," or they'll say that if you don't even vote, then you have no right to "complain" about the way things are. There's always that "even" (or something equivalent) there, implying that voting is somehow a minimum threshold for involvement, that if you don't even vote, then surely you can't be doing anything else.

Which is of course nonsense. It is, shockingly, very easy to not vote while simultaneously working towards meaningful change. On the other hand, in my experience many people find it even easier to just vote and think that that takes care of their responsibility to "get involved." The reality is that voting is like going to church in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is this: you can do it or not do it, according to what makes you feel best, but either way it doesn't make much difference here in the physical world. It's everything else you do in your life that matters.

So, I've been thinking about this stuff, and in the midst of my thinking came a bunch of posts about Ralph Nader. And I have no particular fondness or, uh, disfondness for the man, but it occurred to me that most of the people who get all het up about voting are staunch Nader-hating Thanks Ralphers, and that a lot of these same people have a fetish for grudgingly allowing that they would have a lot more respect for the guy if he would do anything in between elections, that just running for office every four years and not doing a single other thing just makes him seem hungry for attention*. Which is a lot like that whole thing about "Well, you don't hear any Muslims denouncing 9/11 now do you?" in that what you know is limited by what the media is willing to tell you and by what you're willing to seek out beyond that, and also in that it's an observation really only very tangentially related to anything important. But aside from that it's just awfully goofy coming from this crowd of voting-is-a-holy-obligation sanctimony machines.

So, I have to vote, or else it means that I just can't be bothered to care or to get involved. But if anyone worth voting for** comes along, they need to stop presenting themselves to be voted for and do other things that really matter.

Moral of the story: shut up and endorse existing power.

*Unlike, for example, Obama.
**You know, in a hypothetical world where this is a possibility

It's a gender weekend!

Mel of Broadsnark just linked on twitter to this essay by Asher Bauer. It's probably the best introduction to radical thinking about gender you could hope for right now. Highly recommended for everyone, even if you think you're already knowledgeable on the subject (it's even made me a bit embarrassed about some of my phrasing in the last post), and especially if you think you're not interested, because you damn well should be.

Comments section is long and good.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Do you have a Y chromosome?

I swear I don't regularly read the xkcd blog, particularly not on Saturday mornings, but I ended up there due to a complicated series of links that I couldn't even begin to retrace, and while there I stumbled across this.

I guess he was conducting some sort of a survey about colors and how people name them, or something, and part of the data he was interested in collecting was respondents' chromosomal sex--because it relates to colorblindness.

I'm by-and-large cisgender, but I'm still always pissed off whenever a form or survey or anything asks a sex-or-gender related question and gives only the options M and F (not only, but definitely not least, because one of the people I care most about in the world is somewhere-or-other on the trans spectrum). It's a small thing, but, you know, small things suck, right?

So, from that perspective, I'm always interested in people who set it up differently, and in discussions about setting it up. So xkcd's discussion here is interesting to me.

The way he set up the question was this: he asked "Do you have a Y chromosome?" and allowed answers of "don't know," "yes," and "no." Underneath, a brief description says "If unsure, select 'Yes' if you are physically male and 'No' if you are physically female. If you have had SRS, please respond for your sex at birth. This question is relevant to the genetics of colorblindness."

It's not perfect (for example, if I were some form of intersex, I would probably answer "Don't know" but would feel a bit iffy about it), but it seems like a good start for how to phrase things when chromosomal (and therefore some aspects of phsyical) sex is what matters--which, frankly, is not that often, but does occur sometimes. I like especially that the note explains why the question is being asked; leaving the reason unstated, as most do, assumes and implies that the importance and reality of our binary gender distinction is unquestionable and far more broadly applicable than it actually is.

(The comments section is huge and honestly I didn't read any of it, assuming it would be all big nerds, you know? Nerdy webcomic fans? HATE THEM.)

UPDATE Commenter Melinda has made me aware of some additional information, in light of which I would like to point out that none of this means that Randall (the writer of xkcd) isn't kind of a douche on the issue at times. See comments.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Police have no leads on who put the robot there, or why they did it

Stories like this one are at this point depressingly and hilariously common:
A robot met its end near Coors Field tonight when the Denver Police Department Bomb Squad detonated the "suspicious object," bringing to an end the hours-long standoff between police and the approximately eight-inch tall figurine.

Denver Police Spokesman Matt Murray said that a citizen called police at 3:27 p.m. to report the presence of the plastic white toy robot cemented to the base of a pillar supporting a footbridge near the intersection of 20th and Wazee streets. Police closed 20th Street between Blake Street and Chestnut Place, but did let a few people past the police tape to retreive cars parked in nearby lots. Nobody was allowed within about 100 yards of the robot.*
We all have laughed, and we all know that it happens in order to keep us used to following orders.

But let's laugh again!
[Denver Police Spokesman Matt] Murray said that the bomb squad couldn't be sure if the robot was safe or not, and so remotely detonated it at about 5:30 p.m. to "render it safe." The robot exploded into several chunks.
Because isn't blowin' shit up to "render it safe" such a perfect metaphor for, well, everything?

Something else I'm finding funny, reading over the comments, is a general sense I get, even from the many who find the whole thing ludicrous, that whoever put the robot toy there put it there as some sort of a "prank," like, ha ha, I'll deliberately make them overreact to an imagined terrorist threat! Which, what? I can imagine many reasons why a robot toy I had in my possession might end up abandoned in a public place (even "cemented in" as this one apparently was), but I simply cannot imagine doing it with that thought in mind. Am I weird?

*Incidentally, Denver Post, fuck you and your shitty crap you append to copy-and-pastes. I'm not going to include your link-with-tracker to your site, I'm going to use my non-monetized one; and I'm not going to fill my space with your shitty "read more" text, and I'm sure as hell not going to read your goddamn terms of use on your "content," because fair use is goddamn fair use. Go shit. I know how to backspace.

Wikileaks #1: Warm-up

There's a lot to say about Wikileaks, so I thought I'd start gently and easily, by making fun of liberals.

A lot of the more radical blogoëlements recently have been talking about how many liberals are frothing mad about Wikileaks, revealing yet again their basic fealty to Power. And it's true--many liberals are reacting that way.

What's more surprising to me is the number of otherwise deeply bland liberals who are all for it. Take PZ Myers, who, the day before the start of the recent round of releases, was thrilled. He doesn't even equivocate about how governments must be allowed to keep some secrets, like even some of his commenters do, and when he says that "we're about to discover the degree of skullduggery that's been going on" he doesn't bother to specify "during the Bush administration," like he and most of his ilk normally would reflexively. For this, and for the present perfect progressive construction of the verb in the last clause of that sentence, he deserves a (teensy) little bit of credit.*

The last part of his post, though, is a pretty hilarious return to form:
It is to be hoped that every major newspaper with some respect for its job has got people going over these documents carefully. The description above is correct: if we're to deserve the title of democracy, we must have an informed citizenry.
Leaving aside the deliciously meaningless cliché salad in the second sentence, do you see how, even when given a huge cache of primary resources, the scientist and the liberal prefers to "hope" (and I've written--or, more accurately, juxtaposed quotes--about that kind of hope before) that he can trust newspapers to sort through it for him and tell him what parts are important?

*Incidentally, I don't mean to imply here that viewing Wikileaks entirely positively is the only stance on the issue I am willing to accept. I do view them very positively--in fact, I'm more excited about them than I have been about pretty much anything in a good long time--but I can definitely understand some types of objections. I should be discussing all of this soon, but it's more complicated; hence this warm-up.

TANGENT linked only by liberal-mocking: it appears that digby has finally figured out that the Democrats actually want to do the terrible things they do. But don't worry: the understanding doesn't go even a centimeter deeper than that, and anyway I'm sure she'll forget by tomorrow. You'd think that the motives of a bunch of millionaires deciding not to raise taxes on millionaires would be pretty easy to figure out, but apparently not!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

News from the corporate world #4: Giving back!

The day before Americans Give Thanks By Killing All Of You Sponsored By Macy's Day, everyone at my job got an email from corporate. An extremely redacted-for-reasons-of-my-job-"security" version of its opening paragraph follows.
Dear [euphemism for the worker],

This Thanksgiving, [transnational corporation] will continue its rich tradition of giving back to the communities where our [euphemisms] work and live. For the third consecutive year, the company will donate [an enormous to me, chump change to them amount] to [megacharity], the largest charitable [particular type of charity] organization in the United States.
Can we see the humor here? I mean, let's get the background radiation hilarity out of the way first. Obviously, there's the fact that transnational corporations are currently one of the major mechanisms by which the need for charities is created. Then there's the redacted dollar amount of the gift, which is, just for comparison, about a fifth of the amount by which profits from one particular product were over projections in just the regional subdivision I work in for just one quarter of the year, at least according to the figures we were given at the last rah-rah meeting. Or, for more comparison, it's about one sixteenth the amount the CEO of the company made in above-board earnings in the last year I could find a figure for. And, you know, if you genuinely cared about "giving back," you wouldn't have to wait until a holiday to do it. All this is the kind of "rich tradition" we're talking about.

With that out of the way, there is still the huge, blatant hilarity of the wording of the email. You're giving back to the community where we work and live by giving to the largest charity of its type in the country? Fact: The United States is not a community. If you were really interested in giving back to our communities, you would give back to them. Or at the very least to charities located in them, working for them, which are smaller and, hey!, could probably use the money more.

Corporate acts like this one serve an enormous array of purposes simultaneously and are very efficient.

They perpetuate the symbiosis of Big Business and Big Charity--a symbiotic relationship between parties that are collectively a parasite on ordinary people and ordinary life. Business creates a mass of people who desperately need outside assistance to live, and so Big Charity fills (part of) that niche--and knows very well that it depends on that niche for its own continued existence. It is in big-C Charity's best interest to maintain the status quo. I saw this at work back when I was a bank teller at Citizens, the Royal Bank of Scotland's northeastern US tentacle. At one point we were forced to attend a United Way rally, where we were buffeted by endless presentations on why we should give to the United Way, and how Citizens is wonderful because it matches its workers' donations to the United Way. The whole thing touched briefly upon honesty when a United Way presenter, earnestly, devoid of irony, said that together we could help poor children grow up a little less poor so they could open bank accounts. And, naturally, be reimpoverished for the bank's profit, though she didn't mention that.

At the same time as it achieves these concrete goals, Corporate is of course engaging in PR; it is angling to make the communities it leeches off of feel proud to have it, and the workers whose lives it colonizes feel proud to work for its benefit. It also helps to make people in general feel that there is a mechanism in place to care for those who need it, which of course is not true, because such a mechanism would not serve Corporate's interests.

Another benefit they reap comes specifically from the phrasing of the email. By presenting things the way they do ("We want to give back to your community, so we're giving to a huge, nationwide, anonymous organization") and by doing it so casually and matter-of-factly that it can easily be taken as sensible if you don't pay close attention, they subtly reinforce the message that we are all given over and over, in thousands of different ways: local distinction and local autonomy are bad. All communities can be served by the same enormous charity, just as they can all be served by the same businesses.


I have a few posts in the works about Wikileaks, because not enough has been written about that yet, and some other topics. But if NASA's actually about to announce that they've found life on another planet, those posts may get preempted by me freaking out. If they're announcing anything else, those posts may get preempted by me writing about how annoying NASA is. Either way, they may get preempted by my laziness.