Monday, January 31, 2011

A model

I'm not under the impression that any of what follows is some kind of revolution in thought. It's just useful to lay things out every once in a while. Suggestions for amendments also welcome.

At the start, people for the most part do what is needed for survival (obtaining and preparing food, finding and/or constructing shelter) themselves, individually or cooperatively as a community.

A point arrives where some minority, whether through luck or nasty genius or both, hits upon a way of getting other people to do these things for them--that is, a method of getting other people to use some of their time to provide necessities for them rather than for themselves and their actual community. This is great for the minority.

It does however create a problem in that such a system is naturally subject to a lot of resistance from the majority, who would rather use their time and labor for themselves and their communities than for a minority of people who don't do anything to help. The minority therefore have to devise methods to keep the majority working for them, whether through violent enforcement or the establishment of a system of beliefs, religious or otherwise, or the corruption of a pre-existing system, which will function to convince the majority to sacrifice portions of their own lives for the benefit of the minority.

The minority is no happier doing this work than they were doing the work of directly supporting their own lives, especially since by this point they've gotten used to not doing any work. So for their own convenience they create a new class, still a minority but a larger one than the now-ruling class, which will be responsible for managing the people who do the essential work: keeping up the belief system, performing violent enforcement, etc., in the service of keeping the necessities flowing from the class that still creates them.

Perhaps at first this intermediary class still spends some time producing necessities as well, but as their responsibilities grow more complex, this becomes increasingly impossible. So before long, there is a laboring majority, which does all of the actually necessary work, a ruling minority, which does none of the actual work itself, and a third group, intermediate in both size and power, which does all the work of keeping this situation viable but none of the genuinely essential work (in case it needs to be said, I and in all likelihood you are members of this class).

Of course, there is then a problem with keeping the intermediate group doing its job instead of rebelling, as it otherwise would tend to and indeed on occasion does. And so another intermediate class must be created. And so on, until, inevitably, the whole damn mess collapses, one way or another.

This pattern is observable on many different scales, from worldwide to a specific empire to a specific region to a specific town to a specific family.

For the taking

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Hillary Clinton on Meet the Press earlier:
I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people. We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society. And we believe that President Mubarak, his government, civil society, political activists, need to be part of a national dialogue to bring that about.
Via John Caruso at Distant Ocean.

It would be funny even if Mubarak weren't currently in exactly his thirtieth year in charge of Egypt, but man, that really pushes it over the top, right?

(Note please: a member of one of two families was president of the US for 20 consecutive years, and a member of one of those families is still currently in one of the most powerful positions in the government. I forget her name.)

I wanted to pair this with one of the many scenes from Caligula where Malcolm McDowell is very impressed with his own logic, but couldn't find any on youtube and didn't have the patience to put one up myself. Fortunately, this does almost as nicely.

Egypt catchup

Apparently at some point this morning (in my time zone, that is), Egypt shut down Al Jazeera's Egyptian bureau and revoked their licenses; their broadcasts in English and Arabic have been taken off the air within the country.

An hour ago my twitter stream lit up with people talking about low-flying fighter jets buzzing the protesters (150,000 according to some reports) gathered in Tahrir Square. No attacks as of yet. And the protesters didn't move an inch.

Should I keep using the word "protester" or should I switch to something more appropriate?

This AJE interview with PJ Crowley is near eight minutes long, but trust me, the time will fly by because it's one of the most entertaining things you'll ever see. The interviewer, Shihab Rattansi, is wonderful, and I want to send him a present. I would pick out a favorite moment ("That's interesting," perhaps), but really it's the momentum of it all, the blow after blow to Crowley's insipid metaphors and non-answers, that is so magical.


Yasmin Hamidi on Twitter (via a retweet from Aaron Bady) says "Think colonialism is dead? Turn on @CNN & watch white men in suits debate wat role US shud play in deciding the fate of Egyptians."

UPDATE: It is of course entirely possible--likely, even--that I'm missing some subtleties here, but AJE is pissing me off with its attempts to organize this. They keep saying that the protesters need a "figurehead" or a "leader" to make their demands, and it's clear they want it to be ElBaradei (who is about to speak, apparently)--but, hello, this is what people making their demands looks like:

And then they keep saying that the protesters "need" the Muslim Brotherhood. At one point one reporter said that the Brotherhood can "organize people on the streets, and no one else can." But, hello, this is what people organizing themselves on the streets looks like:

The Muslim Brotherhood didn't do that. ElBaradei didn't do that. People did that.

UPDATE II: I don't find Fox News any more or less propagandistic than any of the other American networks, nor do I think their propaganda is in favor of anything different. I do, however, admire their methods, particularly their regular habit of "accidentally" mislabeling things:

Things remind me of things

Apologies for the lengthy quotations and dearth of commentary, but I find these quite valuable and they speak for themselves. All emphasis is mine.

This is from James C. Scott's beyond excellent Seeing Like a State:
It goes without saying that the farmer was familiar with each of several varieties of any crop, when to plant it, how deeply to sow it, how to prepare the soil, and how to tend and harvest it. This knowledge was place specific in the sense that the successful growing of any variety required local knowledge about rainfall and soils, down to and including the peculiarities of each plot the farmer cultivated. It was also place specific in the sense that much of this knowledge was stored in the collective memory of the locality: an oral archive of the techniques, seed varieties, and ecological information.

Once the farmer was moved, often to a vastly different ecological setting, his local knowledge was all but useless. As Jason Clay emphasizes, "Thus, when a farmer from the highlands is transported to settlement camps in areas like Gambella, he is instantly transformed from an agricultural expert into an unskilled, ignorant laborer, completely dependent for his survival on the central government." Resettlement was far more than a change in scenery. It took people from a setting in which they had the skills and resources to produce many of their own basic needs and hence the means of a reasonably self-sufficient independence. It then transferred them to a setting where these skills were of little or no avail. Only in such circumstances was it possible for camp officials to reduce migrants to mendicants whose obedience and labor could be exacted for subsistence rations.

Although the drought that coincided with forced migration in Ethiopia was real enough, much of the famine to which international aid agencies responded was a product of the massive resettlement. The destruction of social ties was almost as productive of famine as were the crop failures induced by poor planning and ignorance of the new agricultural environment. Communal ties, relations with kin and affines, networks of reciprocity and cooperation, local charity and dependence had been the principal means by which villagers had managed to survive periods of food shortage in the past. Stripped of these social resources by indiscriminate deportations, often separated from their immediate family and forbidden to leave, the settlers in the camps were far more vulnerable to starvation than they had been in their home regions.
It reminded me of these passages, spread out over about ten pages in Derrick Jensen's beyond excellent Endgame vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization:
Civilization has only been on this continent a few hundred years. There are many parts of this continent, such as where I live, that became subject to civilization far more recently. Yet in this extremely short time this culture has committed us and the landscape to this technologized path, in so doing shredding the natural fabric of this continent, enslaving, terrorizing, and/or eradicating its nonhuman inhabitants, and giving its human residents the choice of civilization or death. Another way to say this is that prior to the arrival of civilization humans lived on this continent for at the very least ten thousand years, and probably much longer, and could drink with confidence from rivers and streams everywhere. After this culture's short time here, not only has it toxified streams and groundwater, but even mother's breast milk. That's an extraordinary and extraordinarily quick commitment to this technologized way of being (or rather non-being). ...

Dependency. One of the advantages of not having to import resources is that you need depend on neither the resources' owners nor on the violence necessary to eradicate these owners and take what's theirs. One of the advantages of not owning slaves is that you need not depend on them for either your "comforts or elegancies" or even the necessaries of life. We have at this point become dependent on oil, on dammed rivers, on this exploitative way of being (or, once again, non-being). Without it many of us would die, most all of us would lose our identities. ...

To mask our powerlessness in the face of this destruction, many of us fall into the same pattern as those abused children... we turn the focus inward. We are the problem. I use toilet paper, so I am responsible for deforestation. I drive a car, so I am responsible for global warming. Never mind that I did not create the systems that cause these. I did not create industrial forestry. I did not create an oil economy... [W]e did not create the system [and] our choices have been systematically eliminated (those in power kill the great runs of salmon, and then we feel guilty when we buy food at the grocery store? How dumb is that?).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt again

I can't sit in front of AJE all day and all night again. If you feel like it, keep me updated; if not, I'll catch up.

UPDATE: Via Jack, evidence:

RIP Gladys Horton

Friday, January 28, 2011


Al Jazeera English has live coverage streaming here.

Also might be interesting, when there's a chance to go through them (which I haven't had yet), wikileaks just released a whole bunch of Cairo cables, indexed here.

UPDATE: Hillary Clinton: "People in the Middle East, like people everywhere, want to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives." Meanwhile, the NDP headquarters are on fire.

UPDATE II: The moment PZ Myers posts something about how stupid Egyptians are for praying in the middle of a riot, I'll let you know.

UPDATE III: The NDP headquarters are still on fire, and were extensively looted already. Protesters are setting up makeshift barricades on the streets and, according to Al Jazeera's reporters, seem to still be pretty much in control of central Cairo at least.

UPDATE IV: Speaking as an American the idea that the police and the military might not be serving the same interests is very difficult for me to grasp. In comments Jack points out that the military is "booted up with conscripts," which seems like it might be significant, but I don't know nearly enough to understand the situation.

Right now reports seem to conflict. There is some indication that there have been gunfights between military and police. AJE is reporting in turns that the military was greeted with cheers as they rode through saluting the protesters or that the military actually fired on crowds of protesters; AJE themselves seem to be confused about it. It may be that different things are happening in different places.

As I write various people on AJE are talking about how the military "has been shielded from politics for at least thirty years," which I'm not quite sure what that means; mentioning also that they are significantly smaller than the internal police forces; and speculating about military leaders taking over if Mubarak steps down or is deposed; they also point out that the military has issued no statement about whether they're backing the government or the people.

I don't know anything about this aspect of the situation, absolutely zip, and am kind of at a loss of where to look to learn more.

UPDATE V: There has been some fear for the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, which is, if I understand correctly, pretty much right across the street from the NDP headquarters. At this point, protesters are apparently forming a human shield around it to prevent looting and to try to keep the fire from spreading to it. Which is damned impressive if you ask me.

UPDATE VI: A reporter on the street is showing a handful of live ammo shells she's been given by protesters, who picked them up off the street, so that seems to be confirmation that live ammo has been fired. She also says many people have pointed out to her the "MADE IN THE USA" stamps on the tear gas canisters fired on protesters.

UPDATE VII: Robert Gibbs's favorite word is "monitoring." He uses it whenever he would otherwise be required to answer a question.

UPDATE VIII: No word from or sign of Mubarak, no one seems to know where he is. Do we feel like he's fleeing?

UPDATE IX: Prominent businessmen have been "boarding private jets and leaving."

UPDATE X: One thing AJE keeps emphasizing is that there is no real leader of the protests, that it's the people themselves making themselves heard.

UPDATE XI: Hah! AJE tells me Reuters just reported that Egypt is in "Mubarak's safe hands," and then says "If this is what we're seeing, what does that say about Mubarak's safe hands?"

UPDATE XII: Mubarak has given an address on television, saying basically that the protests have suppressed people's desires for more of his rule, or whatever it is that he means when he says "democracy." He doesn't seem to think he's lost power.

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Compare what these people are very excited about with what the guy in the red shirt in the post below is very excited about.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


So much snow the weather channel doesn't know what to do about it!

I've just been informed that what's happening now, which I would describe as "very much snow," is just the front of the storm that's not even supposed to really hit for real until sometime around 9:00.

I love it! I mean, even aside from how beautiful it is, it makes things, at least temporarily, to grind to a halt. As it should.

If you're in a similarly snowy clime, and you have the opportunity, allow it to force you to take some time to slow down. That's my advice.

Things I have not been following and, knowing me, will probably not start at this point

1. The fucking State of the Union. I'm more than OK with this. The rest of this list I need to remedy.

2. The Georgia prison strike. Have not seen anything about it in a while. I assume it's over by now, but what happened afterwards?

3. Tunisia and Egypt. Seems like people are being incredible, though!

4. The Palestine Papers.

5. Haiti. Some crazy-ass shit going down there.

And this is just one photogenic example

Despite my opinions on the urge to punish, I secretly want to make all politicians and CEOs make this same swim. If I was more old-fashioned, I'd say they would have to take their kids along, too, for the symmetry, but instead I say leave the kids in the care of someone who will raise them not to be sociopaths.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Masculine military, feminine art: or, Ethan thinks out loud, talks out of ass

(I've been poking at this essay, off and on, for the past five days now. If it's a mess, it's because I'm just kind of aggregating it as ideas come to me. If it's really misguided, it's because I'm just thinking out loud, and not very carefully at that. Please, let me know! I want to refine these ideas and get a better understanding of things, and since I realized that wasn't happening with me just writing to myself, I decided to post this one raw.)

UPDATE: Here's Justin's response.
UPDATE II: See bottom of post.

This feminism 101 post by Melissa McEwan is (genuinely) interesting, and I imagine for many people it could actually be quite useful. Given that it's by McEwan, and thus written from her usual mainstream liberal feminist perspective, I have many disagreements with it, but regardless: interesting, useful.

I would like to, more respectfully than my usual, disagree with this aspect of its analysis in particular:
All of which happens inside an environment which is coded masculine to begin with—which is why corporate work is considered serious and important, while the arts, which are coded feminine, are considered unserious and superfluous.

Which, in turn, is why the National Endowment for the Arts (feminine) is constantly in threat of being defunded, but solemn discussion about reducing the budget for the Defense Department (masculine) is considered a hilarious suggestion
McEwan then goes off of a tangent about Democrats and Republicans, my objection to which I'm sure I don't need to state. But regarding the quoted section: I agree that "the arts" are generally coded feminine, while the military is coded masculine. But the straightforward cause and effect McEwan imputes (i.e., the gender coding is the reason for the difference in funding/support) is, at best, oversimplified.

My immediate reaction on reading it was to say to myself, "No, that's exactly backwards," but it's not. If I were to say that McEwan had it backwards, I'd be saying that the military is coded masculine so that it could be funded better, etc. Which is not the case. Rather, it's an example of the evolution of social norms under the pressures of power, as I've written about before*. McEwan's pairing of the military with the arts is a wonderful opportunity to point this out.

*Re-reading that post, hah, I certainly know more about Naomi Wolf now than I did then, yugh.

There are many ways to determine or define or describe the lineage of our current society, but however you do it, military activities have been coded masculine at pretty much every point in that lineage. The same cannot be said of the feminine coding of the arts; in fact, that coding is extremely recent (think of warrior poets, the machoism of the Romantics, etc.), and even at this point I would suggest that it is not nearly so pervasive as the masculine coding of the military--drumming or electric guitar playing, say, is coded extremely masculine, and think about how many of the last 100 movies you saw were directed by women.

What is the reason for this difference in the vintage and strength of the gender coding of these two pursuits?

Military pursuits are perhaps the most important function of civilization; if not, they are certainly the main mechanism by which civilization maintains itself. For a detailed explanation of this, pick up anything with the name "Derrick Jensen" on it, but briefly: civilization, being the organization of people into cities, means that large numbers of people live on land that cannot itself provide the resources that those people need to live; therefore, civilization must import resources from outside, which requires a constant process of expansion, which inevitably leads to violent conflict. So, for as long as there has been civilization, military activities have been essential for that civilization's survival. As long as there has been civilization, the masculine has been privileged (the reasons for this are hazy, as far as I know, and I'm sure it's not so linear as I'm making it sound, but for now let's accept it as a first principle), and so we see why the masculine coding of the military has been so long-lived and pervasive. And, considering that all of this stuff continues to be true for contemporary society and in addition we've now got the immensely profitable military-industrial complex goin' on, it's easy to see that the selective pressures on the society will keep its evolution proceeding along those lines for the foreseeable future.

Art, though. What's the deal with that? I'm not going to pretend like I know a lot about the history of art's social role, because my understanding is much more of a vague outlines thing than any kind of expert knowledge. So, frankly, I'm going to gloss over the long-view historic thing a bit by saying that, in various ways, for most of civilization's history art has played at best a neutral role as regards the interests of power, but more often and in general has served those interests more than not. Court patronage, nation-building culture, that sort of thing. To a large extent the same is true today.

But things have been changing, and, keeping in mind the admitted vagueness of my knowledge on this subject, I would tentatively place the beginning of the change with (what else?) the industrial revolution, gradual at first but with, as with everything associated with the industrial revolution, a kind of bewildering acceleration in the past hundred years or so. Art, to a certain extent, resists the commodification, the mass-production that comes along with industrial capitalism. Of course, to a much greater extent, it is subsumed within it, I'm not naïve enough to not see that, but at least in concept, the idea of the artist is the idea of the individual, the idea of the art-object is the idea of the idiosyncratic.

Or maybe it's not the difference between concept (artist as individual) versus common reality (artist as producer, or content provider) so much as the idea that art contains within it the possibility of resisting industrial capitalism. As the Situationists would not put it but to use their terms, art, stripped of its official structures, has in it the possibility of détournement--subversion--and of the dérive--spontaneity of a type unusable by power.

So, as capitalism advances, increasingly colonizing all areas of life and the world, art increasingly has to either rebel against it, in which case it is opposed to the interests of power, or serve it, which does not require a recalibration of priorities but does require a huge recalibration of methods (serving the power of a king's court is very different from serving the power of CEOs and part owners). In particular, art that serves the phase of capitalism we currently find ourselves in has to be amenable either to mass production, to marketing, to fashion, to being chintzy, planned-obsolescent, and interchangeable, or to being a trophy for rich people, reflecting back to them their best conception of themselves (in which case it is basically serving the old-fashioned purpose of art, but this is a niche in an expanding market).

At this point I think we can see why a feminine coding of art has been becoming more and more prevalent. On the one hand, art that actually is opposed to power's interests can be dismissed as irrational and meaningless, or even dangerously hysterical. On the other hand, art that serves the needs of production can be treated as subservient and submissive.

To be continued....? You decide.

UPDATE II: Picador says in comments what I think I was trying to say all along, and is hilarious to boot:
...Power can redefine activities and groups as masculine/feminine, thereby modulating their social status, depending on whether they serve or oppose the interests of Power.

E.g.: if the Pentagon were to determine that US military supremacy could only be assured by deploying legions of pregnant women dressed in pink leotards quoting Andrea Dworkin and blowing soap bubbles, 1) the Pentagon would deploy such forces, and 2) our culture would immediately redefine pregnant women in pink leotards quoting Andrea Dworkin and blowing soap bubbles as supremely masculine and kick-ass.

[Hilarious case-in-point examples elided; see comments.] can be done deliberately, and selectively, by those who control the media discourse regardless of any inherent "masculine" or "feminine" traits of the target... It's not that Group A is demeaned because they are feminine; they are demeaned because they are a threat to power, and power demeans them by deliberately classifying them as feminine.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Barack Obama, recently:
From child labor laws to the Clean Air Act to our most recent strictures against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies, we have, from time to time, embraced common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.
It sure is a good thing that keeping (American) children out of factories didn't "unduly" hinder business, or else they'd still be right there fitting their little hands into the machines. Luckily, business could just get other children in other places.

His other examples are so ludicrous that I won't even mention them.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


This here is a screenshot of CNN's home page at one point on Friday afternoon. Clicking will give you the full-size image.

The big horrible wretched mess is of course that main article, about Ben Roethlisberger's "road to redemption," which is just as awful as it looks and really is about how winning the Superbowl would totally make up for his "bad behavior," aka raping lots of people. The awfulness of this is obvious enough, and unfunny enough, that I will leave it at that. (Though I will pause to note the second story listed on the "latest news" feed off to the left; apparently when it's a reason for deporting Mexicans, rape can be called rape.)

Currently one of my favorite features on the CNN homepage is the "popular on Facebook" sidebar on the right, mostly because of its regularly hilariously infelicitous phrasing. For example, here we see that "23,081 people recommended Singer-songwriter Teena Marie dies at 54." One wonders if, absent the unimaginable cruelty of those 23,081, Teena Marie might still be alive today. The last one on the list, though, is perhaps the very best of them all: "116,510 people recommended Funeral protests to be met by 'angels'" which I admit made me laugh for longer than it probably should have. Interestingly, when I clicked on the link it took me to an article about lawmakers making it illegal to protest at their funerals, featuring only a glancing mention of that whole Fred Phelps counter-protest trend of wearing twinky angel wings rather than doing the sensible thing and ignoring them until they run out of people to sue for assault (or battery? whatever) and starve to death.

Moving along, we come to the reason for the post title. Direct your eyes, if you will, to the item five from the bottom of the "latest news" list: "Will Earth have 2 suns by 2012?"

Being big nerds, the Baronette and I (we were reading together) already knew just from reading the headline that the article would be about the imminent supernova of the star Betelgeuse, which when it occurs will briefly be as bright to a (naked eye) observer here on Earth as a second sun. Considering that Betelgeuse could, according to our understanding, go supernova anytime between now and about a million years from now ("imminent" means different things in human and universe scales), the 2012 shoehorning is of course silly, stupid, pandering, and entirely predictable.

When we actually read the article, we discovered that while the pandering had reached approximately its zenith in the headline, the silliness and stupidity had only just begun, and would soon reach levels that just moments before we never would have predicted. In the interest of brevity (too late!), here's a list of things the article says or implies rather than a discussion of them:
1. George Lucas invented the idea of binary star systems, and it's actually a far-fetched notion
2. A supernova being sun-level bright temporarily would be the same as us being in a binary star system
3. The Mayan calendar really really predicts the end of the world in 2012
4. This is relevant to supernovas somehow
5. Betelgeuse's name has "strong associations with the devil"
6. Betelgeuse is the second biggest star in the universe
7. The supernova will launch neutrinos at Earth, and since neutrinos are the building blocks of heavy elements like gold and uranium this will be beneficial to us, as it will enrich the planet with more valuable elements
All in an article of about 350 words. Numbers six and seven (which are, together, wrong in more ways than there are letters in this post), by the way, were in the article when I first read it, but have since been removed without comment, the cowardly fuckers.

All this is delightfully demolished in the comments, which for once on a mainstream news article are an absolute joy to read. My favorite (it was hard to pick) was one that Echo's incredibly annoying comment management system won't let me get to at the moment, so I can't credit it or quote it directly, but it was something along the lines of "Just because Betelgeuse's name comes from Arabic doesn't mean that it has to do with the devil."

Anyway, after we read the article (which, I should point out, was featured on CNN's home page but was actually hosted on Time's site), the Baronette and I saw that the story came to the attention of the writer via the Huffington Post, and, curious, we followed the link to that article, which we discovered was about 2% less completely misguided and misleading, but featured most of the same claims (Huffy at least had the decency to issue corrections about the goofy neutrinogold claim rather than just pretending it never happened) and also featured a bizarrely unnecessary Star Wars reference. Not only that, but it was actually drawing on an article from So we followed the rabbit to that article, which, we discovered, was about 2% less stupid than the Huffer article, but featured many of the same claims, joked about 2012, and mentioned Tatooine by name in the headline.

OK, maybe you had to be there, but neither of us could breathe for like an hour because we were laughing too hard.

So, some innocent scientist guy (whether you think "innocent scientist" is an oxymoron or not, he's an innocent in this situation) gives an interview. The interviewer, misunderstanding a lot of what the scientist says, writes up a flawed article, makes a weird Star Wars comparison, and jokes about 2012. A Huffing Hack copies and pastes the article and shifts the words around enough to make it technically not plagiarism, in the process misunderstanding the joke and taking the 2012 stuff seriously, because it's the Huffington Post and their charter requires all articles to feature credulous references to the worst aspects of New Agery. A Time writer picks that article up, copies and pastes, rearranges to avoid plagiarism, misunderstands things and gets all confused, and passes along the 2012 claim unquestioned, adding in a whole lot of other some-people's-weird-ideas-presented-as-fact claims for good measure, because it's Time and they exist to not question things and turn weird ideas into fake facts. And then CNN, too lazy to even rearrange the words, just links to that article because it's also too lazy to pretend that Time and CNN are two different news sources. Each of these steps maintains the Star Wars reference, because god forbid information get distorted.

Your news media, everybody. And if they do this with sciencey fluff pieces, just imagine what they do with everything else!

MORAL OF THE STORY: You will always, always, always be better served by not reading, listening to, or watching major news services, even if you don't replace them with anything.

PS I know it's extraordinarily unlikely, but I would love it if Betelgeuse went supernova within my lifetime.
PPS One of the funniest things about the whole thing, at least for me, is that the Baronette and I had been looking at the cheesy Gawker sci-fi blog, io9, before she jokingly said "Now let's see what's going on in the real world" and clicked over to CNN. And we found this.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lee Hazlewood, "Pray Them Bars Away" on Cowboy in Sweden

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

I'm told I should be thankful
For everything I got
So thank you for rock walls
And the brave bulls, thanks a lot
And thank you for the good job
At twenty cents a day
And thank you for the break time
To pray them bars away

Vive le weekend

ms_xeno says my writing on work partially inspired this fucking virtuoso rant, and if that is true, I'm so simultaneously proud and humbled that I'm probably going to be ripped to pieces by my emotions. Read it, read it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stop it

Digby thinks that describing, first, a fraction of the US population who self-organize based on shared opinions and, second, the population of an entire country reduced to the actions of its government, in the same terms is hilariously clever.

I could have said that better, but I got tired of rewriting it.


The Baronette and I make music together (and with occasional friends, though not this time) under the name Fabrik. We've just uploaded two new (related) tracks, "Caved" and "Vexed," to our Bandcamp page. If you're interested, you can listen to them (and six others) here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hurrian Hymn No. 6

I'm working on a few larger posts, which hopefully I should have done in the next few days. In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful, beautiful music, reputedly the oldest known written melody, which was found on cuneiform in modern Syria, dating back to around 1400 BCE.

I love it. When we first listened to it, The Baronette pointed out that one of the best things about it is how much it shows that music, while always changing and always different, has in many ways always been the same. Or at least it has been for thirty-four centuries.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

News from the corporate world #7: What are you waiting for, women?

It's been a long time since I did one of these!

I don't recall where I came across this CNN article, but it's pretty funny, right? "8 ways women can get ahead in the workplace." The whole article is hilariously depressing, a list of shitty advice on how women can make their lives more shitty so that the Man in Charge will think they're almost as important as the men they work with. I say that the way women should get ahead in the workplace is by tearing the fucking workplace down and strangling the boss with his own tie, but that's, I suppose, where me and CNN are different.

Item number two, What are you waiting for?, is what I want to focus on, though. It quotes this Lois P. Frankel person, who they describe as a "psychologist," and who wrote a book called Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, which I'm just sure is a must-read. "Many women believe if they do what they are told, they will be noticed and rewarded," CNN tells us. And then this sentence
In fact, Frankel warns that "hard work typically begets more hard work."
is separated from this sentence
Asking for assignments that can help build your career is another way to get your manager's attention, Frankel says.
by two sentences. Frankel, and the CNN writer through whom her words are filtered, clearly realized that they had accidentally said something that could be interpreted in a way other than "You're lucky just to have a job so you better work your pretty little ass off to keep it, and make me some coffee while you're at it" and scrambled to fix that mistake.

I mean, really: even if some poor soul were to come across this article and take it at face value as an advice column, what advice is she supposed to take away from this? "Working hard won't get you noticed, it'll just make you have to work harder, so you'd better work harder!"

Fuck you. Tear it down.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

By the way

I didn't write anything about Martin Luther King, Jr., because a) what he stood for was more important than a state holiday, and b) all I could think of writing about was liberals predictably under- or mis-representing him, and what he stood for was more important than making fun of liberals, too, so since I couldn't come up with anything more worthy than that, I figured I would shut up and maybe link to Marisacat from back in August again.


Albums of 2010, part eight

Terry Riley, Autodreamographical Tales
Oh, Terry Riley, I wanted to love your new album so very much. But you made it so goofy, so gratingly whimsical, and so very exhaustingly draggingly long, that I can't even like it. I'm so sorry. There are parts I like! "See Them Out There" is pretty cool, with its whistling and weird singing and shuffling percussion. But then when you go back to the dinky sub-80s-kids-show music with your talk about mysterious dwarves and whimsical stories about Santa and Maurice Chevalier lookalikes, I just cannot take it.

Gil Scott-Heron, I'm New Here
When I first heard this album, I wrote: "My first, facile, thought about it is that it sounds like a Black William S. Burroughs doing Scott Walker's The Drift, but that sells it short by making it sound derivative (not to mention that it's calling it a Black version of white things, which is goddamn crappy of me). Scott-Heron sounds really old now, in the way that the older Burroughs or Walker or Johnny Cash sound old--sometimes to the point of sounding apocalyptic. It's also a startlingly short album; under half an hour, it feels far shorter--it just ended as I'm writing. And this is short in the good way--it gets in, does what it does, and leaves. Incredible music, and this is all without responding at all yet to his words. Words take a lot longer to sink in for me than sounds, and I may return to this album later to write about them." Of course, I never did; and now, ten months later, I have nothing useful to add. This album is dark, industrial, scary, and wonderful, and the lyrics speak for their damn selves.

So Percussion/Matmos, Treasure State
I've always had a great deal of respect for Matmos, especially considering that their found-sound aesthetic isn't far off from my own (though we do very different things with it). And I've always liked their albums, but for some reason I've never found myself able to love any of them. Until I heard this album, actually, the only work of theirs I could have said I truly loved was their collaboration with Björk on several tracks on her Vespertine. Treasure State, though, I really love. I'm not very familiar with So Percussion (though the Baronette once saw them live doing Steve Reich's Drumming, jealous!!!), but it's evident that they complement Matmos perfectly (and maybe for me Matmos just needs collaborators?). In a way this album in the context of today's America reminds me of Cluster's work in the context of early- mid-70s Germany: creating an absolutely good-natured world of pleasant sounds not to cover up the unbearable reality, but to present an alternative to it, something to fight for. Another year's best.

Omar Souleyman, Jazeera Nights
I really have no idea what Omar Souleyman's cultural role in Syria is, beyond a vague notion that he's hugely popular. Whether he's a bandwagon jumping copycat or a searingly brilliant pioneer or just another pop star or something else entirely, no idea. And, being a monolingual Murican, I have no idea what he's singing about, so, you know, love songs, nationalist state-promotion, working class anthems, subversive whatever, could be anything as far as I know. (I suppose I could look into it, but I have yet to feel the inclination.) You know, full disclosure. But good god damn, the sound is exciting. The music here isn't much different from what you'll find on the slightly-better Dabke 2020 comp that was released in the US last year: the form of dabke (which will be at least vaguely familiar to most Americans from a half century of exotification in movies), pushed to an extreme.

My immediate impression when first hearing him was that he was like M.I.A., but crazier and Syrian rather than Tamil British, but that is inaccurate and reductive (though you will note I mentioned it anyway, because I don't know how to write about music). Everything here is blasting, even on the ballads (a relative term): the drums are frenzied, but precise, and overwhelming; the winds are peaking and clipped at all times; Souleyman is singing, yes, but more so he is shouting, like a Tom Jones with a better idea of what he's doing. When all I had heard was individual songs, I had my doubts that the sound could be sustained listenably throughout an entire album, but now, having heard two albums, I can state with confidence that I was wrong.

Sun City Girls, Funeral Mariachi
And we go from real middle eastern music to fake middle eastern music. Funeral Mariachi is, if my understanding is correct, a memorial to Charles Gocher, the Sun City Girls' drummer, who died a few years back. And it's gorgeous music. I'm not hugely familiar with Sun City Girls--I am intermittently in obsessive love with their 1990 album Torch of the Mystics and find a few of Sir Richard Bishop's recent solo albums lightly diverting, and that's about it--but if they have more than one or two albums in their enormous and famously varied catalog that are superior to this, I would be very surprised. The sound is not at all what you would probably imagine if you were told that a middle eastern-influenced album was called Funeral Mariachi, but that nevertheless is what it sounds like, in its beautiful, mysterious way. I don't know if I'm running short on words because post after post of album reviews has worn me out, or because this album leaves me speechless, but I'm going to go with the latter and it sure feels like it fits. One of the year's best.

Yellow Swans, Going Places
The two other Yellow Swans albums I've heard, Psychic Secession and At All Ends, are two of the greatest albums I've heard from the past ten years. This, their last album, released two years after the announcement of their breakup, is just as good and at the same time somehow kind of a letdown. As always, this is improvisational noise that falls into none of the ruts that have become stereotypical of the noise genre. The overall structure here, unlike the other albums I know, seems based more in ambient music than in noise, though the fact that it is still noise makes it hard to imagine it being used as ambient music. It's an interesting album, but something I can't put my finger on makes me less excited about it than I want to be. It's possible that it just needs to grow on me; though I've listened to it quite a few times at this point, I'm still willing to wait and see.
And that, thank god, is the end. Remind me not to do this next year.

To summarize, the very very best albums of 2010, according to me, in alphabetical order, are:
1. Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Pt. 2: The Return of the Ankh
2. Brian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea
3. Fenn O'Berg, In Stereo
4. Four Tet, There Is Love in You
5. The Knife in Collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, Tomorrow, in a Year
6. Natural Snow Buildings, The Centauri Agent
7. omoo omoo, new fields
8. So Percussion/Matmos, Treasure State
9. Sun City Girls, Funeral Mariachi
Four albums I didn't hear until I was too far into this to include them are worth mentioning: Jim O'Rourke's lovely All Kinds of People ~Love Burt Bacharach~ has O'Rourke, in his pop mode, covering twelve Bacharach songs with an assortment of primarily Japanese guest singers (including Yoshimi from Boredoms!), and is excellent; M.I.A.'s Vicki Leekx mixtape is OK, but not as good as I hoped it would be--it may need to grow on me; Supersilent's 10 and 11 are characteristically excellent improvisational electronic kind-of-jazz, 10 being softer and 11 rougher.

More summarizing: this was a very good year for albums, the best as far as my collection goes since 2006 (which was insane with all the classic albums--I count at least a dozen in my collection that in an ordinary year would easily be album of the year). A big chunk of the stuff I found really great was dramatically underrated. Lots of people made really, really long albums, with the shocking exception of Ghostface Killa, who made a reasonably-lengthed one for the first time in his life. I continue to love music without knowing how to write about it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

José de Acosta, Natural and Moral History of the Indies page 292

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

...they call it peace to live in so many and so terrible evils, such as sacrificing their own children or making other hidden sacrifices, or staying awake all night doing mad things; and so they neither maintain cleanliness in their lives or in their marriages, but one man takes the life of another out of envy, another takes a man's wife and he has no objection, and everything is confused: blood, deaths, thefts, deceits, corruption, unfaithfulness, riots, wrongs, mutinies, forgetfulness of God, contamination of souls, changing sexes and birth, changing of marriage partners, and disorder of adulteries and filthiness, for idolatry is an abyss of all the evils.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Albums of 2010, part seven

Noveller, Desert Fires
More of that fantastic ambient music that's been coming out. What with Noveller's guitars-and-pedals virtuosity, and the things she does with it, it would be easy to compare her music to the great Robert Fripp and Brian Eno collaborations, and I'm going to go ahead and do it. But the comparison, as with most such, conceals more than it reveals, particularly because Eno and Fripp were inventing ambient music and so fit into it perfectly, where Noveller is only partly contained by the genre: influenced by it, working with it, but neither defining it nor defined by it. The best guitarist in this mode this side of Michael Rother, a hugely exciting musician, and I'm excited to think that she's got more in her.

omoo omoo, Strands of Hands
omoo omoo, Mt.
omoo omoo, new fields

These are by a friend of mine, so it would be indecent to go on too long about them. But: they are amazing, amazing, amazing albums. I mean it. It can be hard to judge the quality of the work of your friends, but I have proof that these are fantastic. Once I had one of them on when the Baronette (who knows omoo omoo way better than I do) got home from work, and she said "Whoa! This is great, what is it?" And once she had another of the albums on when I got home, and I said "Is this Cluster? No, it doesn't quite sound like Cluster. It's so good! What is it?" If I was going to be utterly reductive about omoo omoo's sound, I would say something like John Fahey channeled through Krautrock, but that would be stupid. Instead, just listen to them. It's free!

Oneohtrix Point Never, Returnal
Returnal's opening track, "Nil Admirari," sounds like Lightning Bolt started playing and then, embarrassedly realizing they weren't supposed to be there, froze, hoping no one would notice. They're not very good at freezing, though, and it falls apart progressively until the end of the track, when they realize it's not working and slink away in shame. After that, the album moves seamlessly into what is its predominant mode, which is, like Emeralds, a development of the electronic ambient music of the late 70s and early 80s as if the intervening time had never happened. Which is not to say that this music is "like" Emeralds, any more than this is like this; nor is it to say that this music is unrelated to the present (for example, the title track, here unsullied by Antony's overacting, sounds much like the Knife). Fantastically varied music, especially considering how slow and patient most of it is.

Oni Ayhun, OAR004
When I said before that the Knife were never just dance music, I didn't mean to imply that it would be bad if they were. Dreamy Olof Dreijer, half of the Knife, has been releasing some EPs in recent years under the name Oni Ayhun, and they are pure techno. Traces of the Knife are easily identifiable, especially their fondness for slippery notes that slide around restlessly even if they only last a tiny fraction of a second. It's perhaps a bit too techno-techno for me to really love, but if it's your thing it's fantastic.

Oval, Oh
Oval, O

Oval didn't make the installation that is photographed on the cover of Oh, but it is appropriate for the music. In that installation, Celeste Boursier-Mougenot created an aviary, filled it with birds and electric guitars and let what happened, happen. It makes sense that on adding live instrumentation to his glitch sound, Markus Popp would use them in a way that sounds like they're being played unintentionally, or at least not as they were intended to. The electric guitars he uses on these two albums (Oh is technically considered an EP at 25 minutes long, while O is almost two hours; they have the same basic sound; guess which I listen to more?) are gorgeous, and they sound like they're being played by birds going about their business, or, at the very most conventional, by Derek Bailey. The drums (and there is something more startling to me about Oval using live drums than live guitars) are hardly more ordinary.

Where before Oval's music was often immersive and flowing, now it all seems to be about standing back and investigating tiny details. I don't think I will ever love an Oval album the way I love 94diskont (though there are few albums by anyone that I love the way I love 94diskont), but this is fascinating and, considering that together there is well over two hours of it, infinitely explorable.

Max Richter, Infra
Melancholic chamber music (string quartet and piano, I think) that goes in and out of being electronically processed. Not always present, but always nearby, is that mysterious sound of a radio trying to tune in to a distant signal, perhaps sometimes even finding it. Great music, terribly sad.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

José de Acosta, Natural and Moral History of the Indies page 134

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

Still more remarkable is the battle that the Indians have with whales, which is certainly a wonderful thing on the part of the Maker of all, to give people as weak as the Indians the skill and daring to attack the fiercest and most monstrous beast in the whole world and not only to battle him but to conquer and triumph so gallantly.


Three in a row in my blugfeed.

Jack: "Listen to the presbot give his 'Tuscon Tragedy' speech. Can't wait to get a hold of the transcript, to compare his moment seizing rhetoric to his murderous austerian actions."

Marisacat: "Could the thing have been more turgid – or a cheaper display to buy the huzzahs, the whistles, the screams? I’d be embarrassed to be in that hall. It’s embarrassing to be a citizen of this country."

Digby: "For my money it was the best speech he's given as president ---simple, human and uplifting in a difficult moment."

UPDATE: Tristero, determined as always to be even more embarrassing than Digby: "I really must go further than Digby and declare it was not only the best speech Obama has given since becoming president, but also one of the greatest speeches given by any sitting president. It was heartfelt, eloquent, beautifully written and paced, and deeply personal while calling all of us to realize a larger purpose: the national goal of establishing a discourse healthy for democracy."


Still working through a huge backlog of links I started accumulating before Christmas. This one came from Richard at some point, possibly not on his blog itself but I don't recall exactly.

Ladies, gentlemen, and otherwise, say hello to the Walled World.

Sometimes, all the knowledge you have about The Way Things Work in the world isn't enough to prepare you for a simple visual representation of that knowledge. This, for me, was one of those times. For me, and for most anyone who will follow the link from here, this map will not reveal much in the way of new information, but seeing it presented so starkly may still startle some as it did me.

(Obviously there are complexities the map does not cover; provoking thought about these complexities is one of the things the map is good for.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Albums of 2010, part six

M.I.A., /\/\/\Y/\
So this is the album people chose for the M.I.A. backlash. Well, OK. I can see why, I guess: the album title is basically a goofy stunt, the cover is real dumb (not that she ever had good album art), she decided to take her music in a more, rather than less, abrasive direction (for the most part), and, you know, icky normal people heard "Paper Planes" a few years ago. That last is, if you ask me, the big one, and it's also broader than that--she is in many ways no longer the hip hop star who can be interpreted as pandering to indie critics; despite the Suicide sample (excellent, by the way), she's no longer dropping helpful-hint references to the Pixies and Lou Reed, or at least not at as high a rate.

And perhaps her biggest sin is that she can, by definition, never be as new and exciting as she was originally. After the negative reaction the album got, I was surprised how much I ended up liking it, and the only reason that it hasn't been as big a sensation in my life as Arular and Kala were is simply because M.I.A.'s sound is, at this point, an establishment in my head. But come on, people! This stuff is great! "Arm-bone connects to the hand-bone, hand-bone connects to the internet, connected to the google, connected to the government"! The song that makes a dance beat out of a power drill is followed by the song that sounds like Girls Aloud! And, my favorite of all, "Tell Me Why" seems to be saying, "So, you were able to turn 'Paper Planes' into a pop hit? Yeah, try it with this."

(On New Year's Eve, M.I.A. released a mixtape called Vicki Leekx, but I haven't heard it yet. Also, at some point I could write a post about M.I.A.'s politics, but I don't feel like it right now.)

Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
I, like seemingly everyone else, love Janelle Monae, and I don't know what else to say. From her dystopian-but-joyous, seemingly Maya Deren-referencing video for "Tightrope" to her James Brown-referencing live performances to her wonderful face to her playful interpretations of everything from science fiction to the very roots and sounds of hip hop and r&b to race and gender roles, she's just a frickin' delight.

Her album this year was Suites II and III of her still-ongoing story; Suite I came out back in 2007 and was only 17 minutes long; as far as I can tell, I'm not the only one who didn't hear of it at the time. I wish the music industry was composed in such a way as to allow her to continue releasing the suites one at a time; if the current album could have been split up into the 37 minute Suite II and the 30 minute Suite III rather than cramming both together, the overall experience would I think have been greatly improved. Nevertheless, The ArchAndroid is a delight.

My Chemical Romance, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
OK, dirty laundry time. I considered, and continue to consider, My Chemical Romance's 2006 The Black Parade to be an absolutely magical album; back then, and still occasionally, listening to it once would lead to week-long orgies of listening to nothing else. I imagine the way I feel about it is similar to the way some of the more clear eyed but nevertheless fanatical fans feel about Star Wars, in that it is obvious that no element of the object of fanaticism is unique or original (in fact they could hardly be more derivative), but that there is something in the specific combination of those elements that is transformative, some sort of Philosopher's Stone that transmutes the leaden elements to gold. I fully understand that the fact that I feel this way about, of all things, a My Chemical Romance album, is terribly embarrassing.

Danger Days does not provoke the same strong response in me, but it is entertaining. It takes the emo-based pan-influenced utterly mainstream rock of their last album and adds in some of the homogenized dance music that pretty much all Top 40 music is dabbling in these days, and, well, it's bouncy, and the song titles are goofy, and it's stompy and shouty and enjoyable, and it's absolutely nothing special. I imagine I might put it on from time to time, but it'll never replace The Black Parade in my heart.

Natural Snow Buildings, The Centauri Agent
Remember what I was saying about drone/ambient music? Yeah, here's some more great new stuff. For all my complaints about overlong albums, sometimes it's OK to go on for an hour and forty-six minutes. Largely organic, with some electronic elements (I think), this is just absolutely killer, cosmic, psychedelic folk. The first disc is more superficially static (and, to my ears, a bit better) than the second: two long tracks that, for lack of a better word, just sparkle (i.e., they sound like they're sparkling, that's not just me running out of synonyms for "great" although I clearly am). One of my all-time favorite albums, Eliane Radigue's Kyema, is subtitled Intermediate States for the way the apparently still music is actually always in flux; like that album, this entire disc is a succession of intermediate states, always on its way somewhere else, but subtly, slowly, almost imperceptibly.

The second disc takes the basic sound established on the first and turns it into something that might almost be called songs (even with vocals, sometimes), and, while as I said I do prefer the first disc, well, that's a personal problem. The whole thing is just breathtaking, gorgeously creative work. I've been hearing about Natural Snow Buildings for a while now but only just got around to checking them out; in situations like these, a sizable back catalog is one of the most exciting things in the world. Another for the best list.

Joanna Newsom, Have One on Me
You will be shocked to learn what my objection to this triple album is. It's not the idea of transferring Newsom's on-and-on songwriting style from the realm of Vashti Bunyan weirdo folk to that of the 70s singer-songwriters; that was I think a very clever idea, and while at first one misses the old sound, interpreting it as a loss of some part of Newsom's idiosyncrasy, one quickly realizes that it is nothing of the sort, and that while we'll always have Ys we don't always need another one. In fact, Newsom here sounds if anything more singular, more wonderfully unusual than before; while one expects unconventional songwriting from a woman so consistently (and understandably) described as pixieish or elfin or faeaeaeaerielike or whatever, the same writing style emerging from stylistic elements we recognize more from such concretely ordinary people as Carly Simon or (post-Brill Building) Carole King is much more startling and every bit as satisfying.

So, all that sounds great. Unfortunately, this is a triple (!) album and over two hours long, which is quite the obstacle! I may be missing something, but I have yet to divine any reason for the great length beyond an inability on the part of the artist to part with any of her songs. Which, though entirely understandable from her point of view, is not particularly justifiable from mine. And as much as I love this sound and this songwriter and this singer, by the time we get to the end of the eighteen tracks (only three of which are under five minutes, most of which are well over) I am exhausted. My advice: listen to it in parts only, and it will reward you.

GOD I wish I'd been there

À propos

Derrick Jesen, in Endgame vol. 1, lays out the premises he will be exploring throughout the work. Premise Four (first articulated on page ix) is something we should keep in mind when thinking of recent events:
Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
Emphasis is mine, and that's all I have to say about that.

Monday, January 10, 2011


This is a Matt Yglesias post. It's interesting.

At first, it's pretty sensible!
I imagine in the wake of this Arizona shooting that there’ll be a move to deliver more security around members of congress as they travel in-state. I think that would be a real mistake. As horrible as what happened this weekend is, the fact of the matter is that political assassinations are extremely rare and it’s simply not the case that the country faces some kind of systematic assassination problem.
Yglesias and I, having different understandings of people in power's motives, use the word "mistake" differently, but other than that, yeah! Very sensible! To hear most mainstream liberals say it, you'd never know that we're not in the midst of an assassination epidemic. Smart, clear-headed guy, that Yglesias.
What’s [sic] we do have in the United States is an unusually high level of violent crime across the board, but pulling police resources off their day-to-day work and onto personal security for politicians is going to make that worse.
I...well. I wouldn't disagree that we have an "unusually high level of violen[ce]" in the United States. But "pulling police resources off their day-to-day work" would be an excellent way to combat that violence! In fact, Yglesias has made me realize that exactly what we should do is pull police "resources" (aka, human beings who are police officers, by the way) off their day-to-day work and onto personal security for politicians. Man, how awesome would it be if every single goddamn cop was off the streets and forming bristling armed circles around all the members of Congress instead? Get the army involved, too. That way, the politicians could make whatever laws they wanted, but there'd be no one left to enforce them, and we and the rest of the world could just get on with our lives. Throw in the prison guards while you're at it and it's the best idea I've heard all year.

UPDATE: I had originally intended to note here that, of course, in the real world the increase of security on the powerful will not result in the decrease of police harassing people on the streets; rather, it will lead, just like everything else the powerful do, to an expansion of the police state.

The change that we ought to be making, however, is an institutional one relating to the question of what happens if someone shoots a United States Senator.
Yglesias has a habit of using the first person plural in perplexing ways. Who is this we that ought to be making this change? Anyway, wow! Is Matt Yglesias really arguing for prison reform? Maybe he's even arguing for prison abolition!
I think it would sit poorly with all of us if assassinating a senator led to a change in partisan control of the senate via gubernatorial appointment, but many states’ laws leave the door open to that possibility. Senators ought to be replaced, in my view, either through a special election or else through an appointee pre-designated by the Senator as a legitimate proxy for his or her approach to politics.
Oh. Well, that's less exciting.

This use of "us" following after the "we" in the previous sentence has me even more confused. With whom would a change in partisan control sit poorly? Certainly not with me! Nothing in my life has ever changed due to a change in the partisan control of the Senate. Certainly my life is less good than it would otherwise be due in part to the existence of the Senate, but the composition of the body matters not a bit to me. Anyway, if I did care about the partisan balance of the Senate (and may I reiterate that I surely do not!), I don't think a system of powerful people appointing their own successors would make me feel better about it.
This is the kind of thing that we tend not to think about until after it’s happened, but by that time it’s too late. The political system itself needs to be made as resilient as possible to attempted violent interventions.
"Too late" for what? Has the political system itself crumbled as a result of this shooting?

And, finally: am I the only one who thinks that it's funny when Democracy True Believers argue for making the system itself as resilient as possible?

MEANWHILE: Sky robot murder, starvation austerity, war powers expansion, occupations and escalations, coups d'etat, wetwork, black ops and the militarization of public space continue apace. (Thanks to Jack for the excellently condensed list of horrors.)

Hack hack hack

Little Digby, spin and spin:
The intertubes are screeching with right wingers insisting that despite his obvious mental problems, anti-government rhetoric and Paulite goldbug obsessions, the fact that he cited "To Kill A Mockingbird" "The Communist Manifesto" and "Main Kampf" means that Jared Loughner is a left winger.

Let's just say that we don't really know much right now and anything's possible, but the fact that he shot a Democratic congresswoman in the head argues just a little bit against that interpretation. It's not as if there aren't any right wingers in Arizona.
(As always with semi-literate diggles, apply [sic]s as needed, because I didn't bother checking)

Digby is of course one of the most absolutely incompetent writers in the world, completely independent of her status as one of the most absolutely incompetent thinkers in the world, but I like how she implicitly poo-poohs, here, the suggestion that "despite his obvious mental problems...Jared Loughner is a left winger." Deliberate? Or the result of shit writing? Who can tell?

The idea that hating a democrat enough to try to kill her makes you a "right winger" is of course too ludicrous to even discuss. Barring unforeseen developments after the collapse of civilization, I will never kill a human being as long as I live, but the dems piss me off at least as much, often more than, the repubs. I don't think I'm exactly a left winger, but I am certainly not a right winger. However those useless terms happen to be defined at this moment.

As I've said before, being a partisan hack makes you completely unable to understand why anybody does anything, let alone anything else in the world. When everything has to fit into a demsaregood rethugsarevil mold, you have to do a lot of awkward shoving and cramming.

(As far as what she's responding to, I also love the definition of identity based on commodities--in this case books--consumed.)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Albums of 2010, part five

Four Tet, There Is Love in You
Four Tet's surprising, to me, collaboration with Burial on last year's* brilliant Moth/Wolf Cub single appears to have had lasting value. The Burial influence here is undeniable from the very beginning, with the twisted vocal samples in "Angel Echoes." What is interesting is that Kieran Hebden here has taken many elements of Burial's revolutionary style--utterly bleak and alien when Burial himself uses it--and applied it to his own characteristic, relatively lush and optimistic, sound without compromising anything.

*Or, I guess, the year before last at this point, because I'm tardy--2009 is what I'm saying.

There are highlights, of a kind, or perhaps just moments I can say things about: "Sing," with its oddly incomplete sounding beat (achieved with some very simple reversed sounds), requires the listener to fill in the gaps in much the same way as the aforementioned vocals in "Angel Echoes" do, by the end filling it in itself as if to revel in the differences between what one imagined and what one ends up hearing; "Plastic People," in addition to everything else it does, features a brilliant, subtle, and completely non-showy sample from the Chiffons' early psychedelic experiment "Nobody Knows What's Goin' On (In My Mind But Me)" that gives me chills (it begins, if you want to know, around 4:10, but do listen to the entirety to get the full impact). But every moment on this album is gorgeous, and the effect is cumulative: any given second is not necessarily any more breathtaking than any other, but each successive one, by virtue of following upon such beauty, feels as if it is exponentially more so than the one before. I'm not by any means a Hebdenatic, but to my ears this blows all of his previous work out of the water, with the exception of the very different Burial collaboration, and is a fifth album of the year contender. It's certainly tied with Badu's as my most listened-to album of the year.

Ghostface Killah, Apollo Kids
This one only came out at the end of December, so I've only had a chance to listen to it twice so far. My early impression is that it's damn good. I didn't hate Ghostdini's experiments in weirdo balladry the way most people did, but this still feels like a very welcome return to form. And, best of all: Ghostface has somehow managed to make an album with only twelve tracks, that only lasts 41 minutes. Praise the lord! It still doesn't feel real.

Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
Damon Albarn, on the other hand, has not yet learned the value of brevity. 63 minutes is a bit more than it can comfortably sustain, but Plastic Beach is a much better album than anything of that length featuring Albarn, members of The Clash, Sinfonia ViVA, Snoop Dogg, Bashy, Mos Def, the National Orchestra for Arabic Music, Bobby Womack (!), Gruff Rhys, De La Soul, Mark E. Smith, Lou Reed, and trillions of others seems like it could possibly be--not that any of those people are bad, quite the contrary, but my god there are just so damn many of them that it seems like it should be an unlistenable mess of mishmashery. Instead, it is frequently brilliant, and, with its transnational cast and subject matter (environmentalism, consumption, etc.), very relevant. I can't say I listen to it much, but really that's only because of its length.

The Knife in Collaboration with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock, Tomorrow, in a Year
I think the most accurate things I've seen written about this album can be found in two adjacent Rate Your Music user reviews. First, mcummings gave it 4.5 stars and said "This will be one of those nobody-liked-it-when-it-came-out records sometime in the future," and then MrMeanDove gave it 5 stars and said "Don't act like you didn't know what you were getting into."

This album is getting a seriously bad rap, and I love it so much (the first time I listened to it, I planned to take a break between the first and second discs, but at the end of the first I was so excited that I went right into the second; then I listened to the whole thing again) that I wish I was able to speak more usefully about it to counter all of that negativity. Unfortunately, for at least two reasons I'm not able to do that. First, I haven't lived with it nearly long enough to figure out how to talk about it. Second, I don't know shit about opera, and while this isn't really opera per se I think a working knowledge of it would be required to talk about the ways that this works so well. All I can do is reiterate what mcummings and MrMeanDove said. What mystifies me, I think, is that people who already like The Knife can react to this by saying "What the hell? I wanted dance music!" For one thing, The Knife were never just pop, never just dance. For another thing, sure, this album is perhaps more abstract than their prior work, but, I don't know, it's no Metal Machine Music*, you know? How fans of The Knife can listen to gorgeous, gorgeous tracks like "Ebb Tide Explorer" and not hear the beauty I hear is a mystery to me. But I guess I'm just a weirdo. Another best of the year.

*I should make clear that I fucking love that album, too.

LA Vampires meets Zola Jesus, LA Vampires meets Zola Jesus
The Wire profile of LA Vampires that convinced me to check this album out mentions that she was introduced to dub music by Pete Swanson of Yellow Swans. Turns out, this album sounds like the music someone who was introduced to dub music by a member of Yellow Swans would make and, if you know what that means, it's just as good as that sounds. Imagine the echoey delay that everything in dub is coated in, then coat that in so much reverb and noise as to make it almost undistinguishable, and you've got an idea. The sound is extremely homogeneous; listen to one song and you've basically heard the whole thing (this is of course an exaggeration and it sells the great vocal melodies short, but otherwise it's not entirely inaccurate). Whether this is a problem depends on your taste and your mood; for me, the sound as it plays out over the album's short length (24 minutes) is perfect.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Maya Deren, "Notes on Ritual and Ordeal"

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

Originally in Film Culture no. 39; I saw it quoted in the special features of a DVD of her movies.

A ritual is characterized by the de-personalization of the individual. In some cases it is even marked by the use of masks and voluminous garments, so that the performer is virtually anonymous; and it is marked also by the participation of the a homogeneous entity in which the inner patterns of relationship between the elements create, together, a larger movement of the body as a whole. The intent of such a de-personalization is not the destruction of the individual; on the contrary, it enlarges him beyond the personal dimension.

Tasteless, perhaps

but it's what I thought of.

From what I can gather, it's not really known yet how serious Rep. Giffords' injuries are, but the various news outlets are reporting that she's "in surgery."

What I imagine won't ever be reported on is whether, and to what extent, her treatment was prioritized over that of the others injured and killed at the same time.

Stanislaw Lem, "Non Serviam" in A Perfect Vacuum page 172

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

A man may interpret the real world in a variety of ways. He may devote particular attention--intense scientific investigation--to certain facets of that world, and the knowledge he acquires then casts its own special light on the remaining portions of the world, those not considered in his priority-setting research. If first he diligently takes up mechanics, he will fashion for himself a mechanical model of the world and will see the Universe as a gigantic and perfect clock that in its inexorable movement proceeds from the past to a precisely determined future. This model is not an accurate representation of reality, and yet one can make use of it for a period of time historically long, and with it can even achieve many practical successes--the building of machines, implements, etc.

Happy birthday, David Bowie!

Today's my favorite human-I've-never-met's 64th birthday. Happy birthday! In celebration, I present some of his best songs that you may not have heard or noticed:

"Janine" from the 1969 album now most often referred to as Space Oddity. "If you take an axe to me you've killed another man/Not me at all."

"Tired of My Life," a very rough demo from 1970 that was later worked into "It's No Game" (parts one and two) from 1980's Scary Monsters.

"Alternative Candidate." The "Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing" suite on Diamond Dogs is one of the best things Bowie ever did, but this, a completely different song from the same time called "Candidate," is almost as amazing. Originally written for a planned 1984 stage musical that Bowie was ultimately unable to get the rights for.

"Abdulmajid." Originally untitled, recorded in 1976 or 1977 in sessions for the Berlin albums (either Low or "Heroes", probably), not released until a 1991 reissue of "Heroes" at which point Bowie decided to name it after Iman.

"I Have Not Been to Oxford Town," from 1995's 1.Outside. I wanted to post the album version, but I couldn't find it on Youtube. Luckily, this performance features him doing some seamless improvisation with a scarf someone throws up out of the audience after around 2:30. Impressive!

And a live 2003 version of "Loving the Alien," a song originally released in very cheesy form on 1984's Tonight. This version is still pretty cheesy, I will admit, but it's also beautiful. Being there for one of its performances (which, my god, was eight years and one day ago today) is one of my favorite memories.

Friday, January 7, 2011

All is well

Another one I got via Mel at some point:
...the Wisconsin Supreme Court [has] upheld an order for a 17-year-old to register as as sex offender, even though he committed no sex crime. The youth forced another 17-year-old to accompany him to collect a debt. This was enough to convict him of falsely imprisoning a minor, which the Wisconsin legislature has defined as a sex crime.
Isn't this wonderful! Wasn't I foolish to be concerned about the Supreme Court (the Big One that time) ruling that people can be held indefinitely, even after their sentences end, if they're determined to be sexually dangerous?

The Wisconsin legislature defines "falsely imprisoning a minor" as a sex crime. What else is defined that way? What else will be?

A bit jauntier than the subject matter calls for...


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stanislaw Lem, "Die Kultur als Fehler" in A Perfect Vacuum page 133

(Cross-posted from Commonplace)

Animals, Klopper observes, make no distinction between feces and carrion: they steer clear of both the one and the other as the evacuations of life. For a consistent materialist the equating of a corpse with excrement ought to be just as valid; but the latter we dispose of furtively, and the former with pomp, loftily, equipping the remains with a number of costly and complicated wrappings. This is required by culture, as a system of appearances that help us reconcile ourselves to the despicable facts.

Evil as the sincere non-ironic attachment to a belief

I'm still sorting through stuff that accumulated in the past few weeks. Back before Christmas, Aaron linked to this comment on Metafilter*. The poster, AlsoMike, responding to that silly Bruce Sterling piece about Julian Assange, makes some very good points about Wikileaks' actually stated goals (boiled down: justice), rather than the ones people state (in this case: transparency for transparency's sake), though I wish he wouldn't conflate Wikileaks with Assange, since that's almost as serious a misconception as the ones he's debunking.

*Which is one of those very internetty sites that I never look at because I don't understand them** so I'm glad of the link. I also admit I haven't bothered to read any of the rest of the thread. If you do and it's worth reading, point me at it.
**And, probably, vice versa.

Anyway, right now I'm more interested in this part (disregarding the embarrassingly worshipful opening), which comes after:
Assange sticks his head above this bland crowd of empty slogan-chanters and dares to stand for something, and this cannot stand, liberals and progressives shout him down because they've accepted Hollywood's ideological framing of evil as the sincere non-ironic attachment to a belief. Every movie villain believes in a cause, the good ordinary people ultimately defeat him, but not in the name some other true belief, but simply to preserve the status quo, so that the neoliberal capitalist system should continue unmolested.
Hah! Wonderful bit of cultural criticism! I'd like to meet that man, shake his hand.

I don't know, maybe it's not that big a deal to anybody else, but I love it when I read something like this. When I do, it's like there's almost an audible click of things falling into place.

For further reading on related matters, an excellent addition to my favorite of Justin's modes: the multi-subject, stream of consciousness, lucidly discursive essay. This one is about New Years, drugs, identity based in consumption, hipsters, irony, judgmentalism, conformity, nonconformity, not taking other people's abstentions personally, sincerity, and much much more.

Albums of 2010, part four

Dirty Projectors + Björk, Mount Wittenberg Orca
I wanted very much to like this, though I suspected from the beginning I might not. I've never been a fan of Dirty Projectors: the things people say about them and some of the interesting ideas they've had make them seem like something I should love, but whenever I actually listen to them they just come off empty and bland. So, regardless of how wonderful I should find a concept album about whales and environmentalism, made in collaboration with Björk, I just don't like this. It strikes me as being about evenly split between good elements and dull ones, but all at the same time, and not meshed well with one another. Listen to a song like "On and Ever Onward": it's a good song, with, well, one good vocalist. As always, the main singer of Dirty Projectors (whichever one she is) has the type of grating voice that could be used interestingly if only she would realize it was grating; instead, she seems to think it is alternately beautiful and powerful, when in fact it is neither.

Emeralds, Does It Look Like I'm Here
I mentioned before that, along with hip-hop and R&B, drone and ambient is the other pair of genres which, these days, seems able to consistently create music with a great deal of vitality. Emeralds is a big part of that vitality. Much of their music might seem on its face to be "mere" revivalism, a derivative return to strains of electronic minimalism that had exhausted themselves by the beginning of the 1980s. This is, to me, incorrect for at least two reasons: first, as I have discussed elsewhere, there is a distinction between being derivative and radically rejecting the consumer capitalist need for constant novelty; while the location of the line between the two is always going to be subjective, I would argue that Emeralds is firmly on the right side of it. Second, while this music is in many ways a return to earlier modes of minimalist electronics, it is not by any means solely a return to fields already fully explored by Brian Eno, by Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Rodelius, by Mother Mallard, by Michael Stearns, and so on. Rather, tracks like "Science Center" or "Now You See Me" or really the whole album feel to me as though Emeralds are going back to where these musics left off, somewhere in the early 80s, and developing them from there in a different direction than they actually developed at the time--almost a sort of alternate history of music, one in many ways more exciting and fulfilling than the one that actually occurred.

Brian Eno, Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Speaking of Eno... If it seemed before that I was implying his period of vitality is long over, I'm deeply sorry to have given that impression. While he has released some near-stinkers, they are so relatively few (and disputable; I may soon learn to love even Nerve Net for all I know) as to be utterly unsignificant, and his genius (yeah, genius) continues unabated to this day. Small Craft begins with a piece of unassuming beauty, the piano-oriented "Emerald and Lime," which at times verges on the cheesiness of new age (a genre, incidentally, which I am glad to say seems to be in the midst of a positive reappraisal--when I say "cheesiness" I am not putting it down). Eno stays hushed for the next few tracks, but cycles through different moods--the quiet peace of the opener gives way to the quiet foreboding of "Complex Heaven" and the title track, the latter of which features some rhythmic elements reminiscent of Eno's work with David Byrne on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. These hints of movement then burst, shockingly, into violence on "Flint March," a short track which sounds just like its title but more so, and after that explosion the album takes what feels like ages to recover its equilibrium.

If Eno's reintroduction of lyrics, absent from his work for decades, on 2005's Another Day on Earth did not quite signal a break from ambient music, as many suggested, their reabandonment here likewise does not signal a return to it. The middle section of this album is loud, it insists on your attention, and it is not even beautiful according to the standard use of the word. It shouts, it skitters, it is at times fearful, at times frightful. "2 Forms of Anger" even features guitar and drums that wouldn't be out of place in Wire's later, louder, compressed work. Eventually things quiet down a bit, but it isn't until later on that anything approaching peace returns--interestingly enough, it comes at the point where the song titles, already thematically linked across multiple axes, begin explicitly echoing one another--where "Complex Heaven" marked the beginning of the album's departure from peacefulness, "Lesser Heaven" (an intriguing contrast, complex versus lesser) marks the beginning of its return. Of course, with the intervening violence, the peace is not as blissful as it was originally; it is trying, but it is uneasy. Thus, where "Emerald and Lime" felt as though nothing could ever go wrong, its twin "Emerald and Stone," superficially very similar, has an atmosphere of wariness and disturbed noises clattering under the surface. The album ends in the "Late Anthropocene," a title which feels perhaps autobiographical, though mysteriously so, considering that it is the track that most strongly resembles Eno's sound toward the end of his purely ambient phase. Along with Return of the Ankh, a contender for album of the year status.

Faust, Faust Is Last
This is a huge, sprawling, discursive, wonderful, atrocious album, and, appropriately, I can't think of anything coherent to say about it. Fascinating but tiring, excellent but silly, unprecedented but dated. "Hit Me." "I Don't Buy Your Shit No More." "Karneval." A few things I said (in gchat) to the Baronette when I first listened to it: "At first it kind of struck me as Pet Sounds redone as industrial music, but it sounds different now." "It's possible to listen to it in a way that makes a lot of it sound kind of silly and embarrassing, but I listen to it in a way that makes it really great." Much of it sounds like 90s goth industrial metal done by people who understand things differently than people who actually made 90s goth industrial metal. Not Faust's best album by a long shot, but considering what they've given us already (they are easily among the five best artists ever recorded, ever, and as late as 1999 they gave us an album that is seriously every bit as good as anything they did in the 70s) that's not a problem; I can't exactly recommend this album, but I wouldn't warn you away from it, either.

Perhaps the funniest thing about it is that it is clearly presented as a farewell: the title, the cover which parallels the cover of their first album, the retrospective quotes from admirers (members of the Monks and Kraftwerk, among others)...and yet as soon as the end of this month, they've got another album coming out. And I'm going to listen to it.

Fenn O'Berg, In Stereo
Bizarrely underrated, perhaps because it is such an utter change in direction for this collaboration. Which is to say that it is not a huge departure for any of its individual members--these sounds coming just from Christian Fennesz, or just from Jim O'Rourke, or just from Peter Rehberg, would still certainly be something new, but nothing beyond all expectation. But where their previous two albums sounded like a collage, or perhaps like the three members' methods mashed together (wonderfully, I should take care to point out), this one sounds like a synthesis. A look at the covers of the three albums--one, two, three--is revealing.

Even more bizarre, to me, than the fact of this album's relatively poor reception is the specific way I see it being criticized: Pitchfork, never the sharpest tack in the box, speaks of its "aura of predictability that never quite lifts, producing something that's hard to dislike but even harder to get lost in." Dusted, not quite as negative, still calls the album "sullen" and "dour." Coke Machine Glow, who I'm not familiar with but who I bring up because their criticism is perfectly representative, claims that, compared with the previous two albums, In Stereo "takes less risks, and so when it misses, it feels less earned." This is all utterly, utterly mystifying to me. In Stereo is a thrilling album, slow-moving perhaps, but no more predictable, sullen, or safe than, to reach for something similarly slow, a Tarkovsky movie. This music, which I realize I have only barely touched on directly, for which I apologize but recommend you remedy by listening to it yourself, feels new to me. Not in the problematic sense of novelty that I've discussed endlessly before, but truly exciting. In Stereo joins The Return of the Ankh and Small Craft on a Milk Sea as being one of the very best of the year.