clap clap blog: we have moved
Saturday, May 17, 2003
"Hey, why don't you post personal stuff on the blog?" Well, maybe this NYT article on the perils of friends and relatives reading personal details and/or insults in a public forum may illuminate things.
Being found out is no deterrent for 18-year-old Trisha Allen, a blogger from Kentucky. She has been blogging for roughly a month, and spends most of her time reporting candidly on her friends and on her relationship with her boyfriend.
A recent entry reveals that the couple are not quite ready for children — though "we have had two scares" — and that Ms. Allen's preferred form of birth control is the pill, even though, she wrote, "I am starting to hate it, because it has screwed up my menstrual cycle wickedly."
"There's not a lot I won't put on there," Ms. Allen said by telephone. Ms. Allen said her mother was aware she keeps an online journal, but does not know how to find it, and added that she relied on a doctrine of security by obscurity, hoping that in the vast universe of personal Web sites known as the blogosphere, she will be able to preserve her anonymity behind all those other blogs.
Ms. Allen said her motivation for posting personal details was simple: "I love to be the center of attention."
Indeed, for many bloggers being noticed seems to be the point. John M. Grohol, a psychologist in the Boston area who has written about bloggers, said they often offered intimate details of their lives as a ploy to build readership.
"It's like, `How do I get people to read this?' " he said. "Then you want them to keep reading it. It becomes a snowball rolling downhill that becomes very rewarding for the blogger because they're getting feedback from their friends and from random folks."
I'll just stick to being a wiseass, thanks. I'm not even going to say anything about "Nick Denton, the head of Gawker Media, a blog publisher." OK, maybe one thing--Liz, didja make them say "Gawker Media" or what?
I dunno. They put a lot of stuff in there compairing blogs to memoirs ('real-time memoirs!") and I guess I'd have the same problem with blogs as I'd have with all those creepy self-exploiting memoirs. Eh, whatever.
posted by Mike B. at 2:13 PM 0 comments Links to this post
A brief rundown of some of the Al-Qaeda members arrested for terrorism the past year:
• 28 Latinos charged with working illegally at the airport in Austin, Texas, most of them using phony Social Security numbers.
• Eight Puerto Ricans charged with trespassing on Navy property on the island of Vieques, long a site of civil protests of ordnance testing.
• A Middle Eastern man indicted in Detroit for allegedly passing bad checks who has the same name as a Hezbollah leader.
• A Middle Eastern college student charged in Trenton, N.J., with paying a stand-in to take his college English-proficiency tests. He received a one-month jail sentence after pleading guilty.
Oh, I'm sorry, did I say Al-Qaeda? I must've meant "illegal Mexican immigrants." As a matter of fact, the GAO said that about 3/4, or 41 out of 56, of terrorism charges filed last year have nothing to do with terrorism.
Oh well, I'm sure they'll sort that out soon enough.
posted by Mike B. at 2:00 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Friday, May 16, 2003
Jeremy Reff talks about conspiracy theories and why he finds himself drifting towards them, addressing the Drezner TNR article I discuss below. He also links to a good Josh Marshall article that we should all read. Here's a teaser from Reff's post:
Caveats, of course, abound. For example, politicians lie all the time about their motives—but there's a difference between rhetoric and material fabrication. Bush can say that his tax cuts benefit all Americans, but there's a difference between this sort of lie and forging documents. (And generally, I think people in power believe these minor lies: I think Bush actually believes in tax cuts. He certainly isn't trying to cover them up.)
After all, the lesson of American democracy has been that cover-ups don't work: from Teapot Dome to Watergate, eventually a muckraker or Deep Throat or Daniel Ellsberg steps up and blows the whistle. (Although unfortunately people generally assume that conspiracies do work, which is why many people don't draw substantive distinctions between Nixon, who committed massive acts of obstruction of justice, and was caught, and Clinton, who didn't, and was exonerated after years of fruitless digging).
So why am I worried? Because the one place these sort of under-the-carpet revelations seem to have a degree of success is foreign policy (it's less open to scrutiny for one thing, and less accessible to democratic oversight). And it seems there has been a lot of misinformation regarding our foreign policy lately disseminated by those in power...I am fearful not that some secret cabal is running things, but that the preponderance of forgeries (especially relating to WMD), the willing disregard for the actualities of the post-war situation in Iraq, the inattention to the material record—stems not from this administration's misapplication of emphasis in the face of legitimate belief in a mistaken reading of the world (as in Bush's faith in his absurd economics), but from some other less ingenuous place.
What is that place? I'm not sure. But if I'm right, the options aren't particularly appealing: either this administration doesn't believe in its own policies, or it has some other unstated agenda. So I hope I'm wrong.
Go check out the linkage.
posted by Mike B. at 3:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
why willie nelson is cooler than you #2,389
Willie Nelson has apparently greeting returning Texas Democrats with bourban and bandanas.
In Ardmore, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said the maverick Democrats spent part of Thursday "decompressing."
Asked if the decompression involved a case of whiskey sent to the legislators by Willie Nelson, Coleman replied: "No. We got rid of smoke-filled rooms and whiskey a long time ago."
Also, the gerrymandering bill is dead. And why isn't anyone saying "gerrymandering" anymore?
posted by Mike B. at 1:02 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Daily Kos points us to a great Guardian article entitled "Dire threat to minor concern in six easy stages" which uses quotes to show the way British officials have backed off from accusations of WMD in Iraq.
1: '[Saddam's] WMD programme is active, detailed and growing. It is up and running... Iraq has chemical and biological weapons. Saddam has continued to produce them, he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population; and he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability' Tony Blair, emergency Commons debate to discuss government dossier on Iraq's WMD programme, September 24 2002
6: 'It is not crucially important [that we have not found WMD]... 10,000 litres [of anthrax] is one third of one petrol tanker. Whether or not we are able to find one third of one petrol tanker in a country twice the size of France remains to be seen' Jack Straw, Today programme, May 14
posted by Mike B. at 12:56 PM 0 comments Links to this post
It's been discussed to death elsewhere, but if you're here for the politics, you really sould go read the actual DLC memo that seems to be basically trashing Dean (and, to a lesser extent, Gephardt), but which might be more accurately seen as a warning to activists to keep their eyes on the prize while voting in the primaries. It's weird--seen from that angle, I actually agree with a lot of their points, since they're coming at an issue I have a lot to say about (the apolitical politics of lefties) from a good angle. A brief sample (and, again, try to avoid seeing this as just an anti-Dean thing):
Roosevelt's 1932 platform called for "reciprocal trade agreements with other nations, and an international conference designed to restore international trade and facilitate exchange." At home, it promoted "an immediate and drastic reduction of governmental expenditures by abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagances to accomplish a savings of not less than 25 percent of the cost of the Federal Government." Roosevelt's last platform, in 1944, said that Democrats had "saved our system of free enterprise" and built "the best trained and equipped army in the world, the most powerful navy in the world, the greatest air force in the world, and the largest merchant marine in the world."
Kennedy's 1960 platform put national security first, and went on for 19 sections before even getting around to the domestic agenda. It accused the Republicans of losing America's position of military pre-eminence and pledged to restore it.
Not only is the activist wing out of line with Democratic tradition, but it is badly out of touch with the Democratic rank-and-file. In 1996, a survey by the Washington Post compared the views of delegates to the Democratic convention to those of registered Democratic voters. The delegates perfectly mirrored the Democratic electorate in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender. But they could not have been more different when it came to class and education. Democratic delegates were nearly five times more likely than Democratic rank-and-file to have incomes over $75,000, three times more likely to have a college degree, and over four times more likely to have done postgraduate work. No wonder that when the New Yorker recently asked Karl Rove to describe the Democratic base, he said, "somebody with a doctorate."
It's a good historical view, but that last paragraph is pretty willfully stupid--delegates of both parties are more affluent and extremist than the rank-and-file. It's the nature of political parties.
Clinton understood what too many others are prone to forget: most Democrats are doers, not ideologues. They don't vote to make a statement; they vote in hopes of getting things done. They want social progress, but they're not on a social crusade. Most Democrats aren't elitists who think they know better than everyone else; they are everyone else. They don't swoon when they hear a candidate say it's time for Democrats to dream again. What they want is the American Dream, where everybody who works hard and plays by the rules has the chance to get ahead.
Well, yes and no, but a good point there.
I dunno. There's a lot of good historical bits in the memo that are worth considering, and the stuff about caucuses v. primaries and independents voting in open primaries moderating the outcome are gold. They're right--a lot of the most vocal Democrats right now seem far more concerned with "fixing" the party than winning the election, with nominating the perfect candidate for them instead of nominating one who can capture broad enough support to get elected. And yeah, it matters. Nominating a centrist candidate when they can win is a compromise, but I think the lesson of the Bush administration so far is that it's pretty much always better to have a Democrat in office than a Republican, at least if you're a lefty. They just represent your interests better.
That said, we are talking about politics, and from a political point of view, this was a dumb, dumb, dumb move. It's the same arrogance that drove a lot of people away from the Gore campaign in 2000 and to the Greens. True, a decent bit of blame should be placed on the Greens for all that, but the reports of the way the Gore campaign treated Nader's reps seem not unlike the attitude this memo takes towards activists, who are, it's worth mentioning, some of the Democrats' strongest supporters. You don't want to alienate your base, and I think that's what this is going to do. Oh well.
posted by Mike B. at 12:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post
So I get my TNR newsletter as usual this week (which has gotten a lot less interesting since they put little "$" signs besides most of the articles) and I see something that looks kind of promising:
Et Tu, Kristol?
by Daniel W. Drezner
Why the latest foreign policy conspiracy theories don't add up.
So I figure it'll be pretty good--certainly I've been hearing a lot of questionable, wild-eyed conspiracy theories from the left as of late. And he starts off pretty good, quoting Hofstadter's seminal "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." So far, so good. I figure he's going to use this on the "no blood for oil" argument, or Chomskyites, or whatever. But then the targets he picks are just, well, weird:
And yet critics of neocon foreign policy embrace the rhetoric of conspiracy with an even greater vengeance. "Cabal" has become the word of the day. For Patrick Buchanan, neocons are a "cabal of intellectuals" luring President Bush into assuming that "what's good for Israel is good for America." Britain's longest-serving MP, Tam Dalyell, believes that Tony Blair was "being unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers." The Washington Post writes that many in Europe and the Middle East believe that the neocons have "hijacked U.S. foreign policy."
So wait--is simply using the term "hijacked" conspiracy-theoryish? (Obviously all the creepy pseudo-antisemitic stuff falls under that heading, and good catch there.) Because I think it's a decent description of what seems to have happened. The status quo policy apparatus, represented best by State and, to a lesser degree, the Pentagon, has been constantly at odds with the administration's foreign policy goals. To say that this represents an administration "conspiracy" is obviously going too far, but Drezner doesn't quote anyone doing that--they're just saying it's been hijacked, and seeing as how they took a razor-thin mandate and used it to overturn years of policy, I don't think that's an inaccurate description. I mean, that's politics, but it still sucks.
Interestingly, the conspiracy seems to narrow with the passage of time. First, it was neoconservatives in general who had taken over the American foreign policy apparatus. Now it's Straussian neoconservatives. Recently, the New York Times breathlessly revealed, "The Bush administration is rife with Straussians." Seymour Hersh wrote earlier this month in The New Yorker, "The Straussian movement has many adherents in and around the Bush Administration."
But these conspiracy theories about neoconservatives suffer from multiple logical flaws. First, the ideologies involved don't mix well together. Neoconservatives are fundamentally optimistic about the future--Straussians are not. Second, as evidenced by the fact that most of the Straussians mentioned by name in the Times article do not hold official government positions, the conspiracy theories tend to vastly overestimate the influence of adherents to these ideologies. If nothing else, it's worth remembering that many of these neocons preferred John McCain to George W. Bush in the 2000 election.
Huh? OK, re: "most of the Straussians mentioned by name in the Times article do not hold official government positions," I think it's been fairly well demonstrated that non-governmental officials can have a vast influence on government policy. Look at Richard Pearle, for instance--his fondest dreams have basically come true. This is not to say that he is calling President Bush and telling him what to do (well, at least not that Bush then does it), but that this ideology drives policy. Straussianism is a very questionable creed, and, like the neoconservatives themselves, is much further outside the mainstream than their public rhetoric would represent. Identifying members of the policy apparatus as such simply allows us to have a clearer view of their motivations.
But yes, I think it is fair to say that Straussianism is here only important mainly because it's one of the few strong, named, ideological touchpoints that most conservatives have, and this is, if nothing else, a very ideologically-driven administration. Neoconservativism is a far better name for the ideology that's presently at the forefront of governmental policy. But as for the idea that the Bush administration can't be neoconservative because the neocons backed McCain--uh, what? You can line up and tick off neoconservative rhetoric against the policy choices of the Bush cabinet, and it all lines up pretty well. They successfully jumped on that boat.
The notion that such a conspiracy exists rests on the belief that the administration's foreign policy principals--Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, and Bush himself--have somehow been duped by the neoconservatives into acting in a manner contrary to their beliefs. But while critics have never lacked for accusations against these officials, being weak-willed is not among them. In the end, it's far more likely that Bush is exploiting the neoconservatives' ideological arsenal to advance his preferred set of policies than vice versa.
The problem here is the well-documented phenomenon of candidate Bush's views being wildly different from President Bush's views, especially as regards foreign policy, and it's hard to blame this switch on anything besides the neocons that ended up populating the administration. It is an excellent point that Bush does sometimes use neocon rhetoric for exploiting his policy choices, and props to Karl Rove for that, but I don't think it's fundamentally those choices that these sorts of complaints are aimed at. The tax cuts thing, for instance--leftists know that's stupid (pretty much everyone but Bush seems to know that's stupid), so we're not really worried because it'll end up helping him, we're worried that we'll lose our jobs because the economy's in the toilet, not to mention the troubling fact that they might be able to push through an unashamedly inaccurate policy. (We're also pretty mad at the Democrats for this.) But as regards foreign policy--yeah, it does seem like Bush is being pushed around. He's also...how to put this...OK, I know I shouldn't say this, and it hurts the cause, but lord help me, the guy just doesn't seem very bright. I mean, bright or not, he came from being the governor of Texas, a position that involves a lot less governance than almost any other Governorship in the nation, so I think it's obvious his foreign policy is going to be strongly (if not totally) influenced by his advisers, who are predominantly neo-conservative.
Colin Powell's authority has been constantly undermined by the neo-conservatives in the administration--it's not that he's been duped, he's been very consciously outmaneuvered. Condoleezza Rice is a sycophant and a hanger-on. Rumsfeld is mainly a thug interested in making the military cheaper, but his foreign policy colleagues are neo-con, so he is, too--as long as they give him a chance to fight, he's happy. Cheney's been a neo-con for many years now.
Finally, all the conspiracy rhetoric suggests that U.S. foreign policy has been hijacked in secret, behind closed doors. Of all the charges leveled against neocons, this is the most absurd. Neocons have been so prolific in their writings that critics would have a much easier time accusing them of anti-environmentalism--for having destroyed entire forests to advance their cause.
He's contradicting himself here. First he says that lib'ral conspiracy theories aren't valid because neocons aren't running the government, then he says that there's an open-door foreign policy because it's all being run according to neo-con rhetoric, which is all made public. Which is it? Because if neo-cons aren't influencing policy, then it really is fairly secretive. Regardless, I think he's (willfully?) misinterpreting "behind closed doors." It's not that they're making these decisions in private--I mean, they are, they're the executive branch, and that's fine--it's that their stated goals and motivations seem so willfully at odds with the ones, as he says, published elsewhere. And very few people are policy nerds like me and Professor Drezner--I just don't think they know about this stuff. So, basically, it's that the administration is lying, and critics (such as Alterman) are trying to at least get the facts out there. I'm all with him that this often goes too far, especially as regards the "Politician X used to work for Company Y which owns subsidiary Z which just got a contract to do Q in Iraq!" arguments, but I think it is true that a certain amount of evangelical fervor and personal greed is going into our collective foreign policy decisions, and it's important that this be visible, don't you think?
posted by Mike B. at 10:51 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Thursday, May 15, 2003
By the by, the Matrix article (which gets a bit too Spoiler-happy on the third page for my tastes) mentions an article entitled "Welcome to the Desert of the Real" written by the philosopher Slavoj Zizek after 9/11, and it's published here.
Near as I can tell (some words are both capitalized and italicized, which I don't really understand), he's arguing that the destruction of the WTC caused Americans to become suddenly aware that they were living in an illusion (or "their own commercial," as Zizek evocatively puts it later), not unlike Neo's awakening to the past few centuries of human existence in The Matrix or Jim Carrey's gradual awareness that his whole life was being orchestrated in The Truman Show. I don't remember this getting a lot of play at the time it was written, i.e. immediately after 9/11 (which is maybe good, because I'm sure O'Reilly et al would be happy to scream about comparing the deaths of innocents to a Keanu Reeves movie, etc.--never understood that kind of willful inability to get the point), but now in light of both the foreign policy adventures that event engendered as well as the scattered details picked up about the new Matrix movie, it has some interesting backward resonances.
First off, one of the striking problems with Zizek's comparison regards the benefits of revelation. Generally speaking, revelation seems to be a good thing in these kind of paranoiac fantasies: in Dick's The Man in the High Castle, the main character discovers the existence of an alternate reality in which America is not occupied by the Nazis and Japanese; in The Matrix, Neo gains the ability to instantly learn martial arts styles, stop bullets, etc. In contrast, the fallout of 9/11 has been, I think, largely negative; the Taliban was toppled and Hussein deposed but the long-term health of their respective countries does not seem to be promising at present, and domestically every policy passed as a result of 9/11 (the airline bailout, PATRIOT, homeland security) has resulted in net losses for citizens, I think. Political opinions differ, of course, but it's hard to see an analogue to these fantasies of liberation here.
Of course, it's also a weird implication that 9/11 validated paranoid fantasies, which is basically what the movies he's talking about do. Is he trying to say that warning about terrorism before 9/11 was viewed as a paranoiac reaction and marginalized, and that we should give more credence to assumed paranoid warnings? But if so, isn't the right a whole lot more paranoid than the left at this point about that sort of "we're just not seeing it!" kind of thing? The left's paranoia seems to be mainly about the ill effects of encroachments on civil liberties and the secret power of economic elites, but should we pay these more heed because they could come back to bite us? I don't think so--I think it's actually more metaphorically linked to paranoid lit than 9/11 was. 9/11 was a provable thing; you could see that terrorism is a threat. The point of the Matrix (and even more so in Dick's fiction) is that it's nearly impossible to prove to anyone that your fears are justified. It's not Cassandra syndrome, where later people can look back and see you were right--the point of these kind of fears is that, if they do come to pass, no one will be able to tell you were right, even if you are. I think this is why we look to sci-fi for this kind of social commentary, since it's better at playing with metaphysics than accurately reflecting political realities.
Then again, the fake reality of the Matrix is actually pretty appealing; Tank ends up cutting a Faustian bargain to get back in. It's certainly a lot nicer than the slop and war of the real world, unless you can dodge bullets. And for many people, the scripted reality of the Truman Show is kind of nice--idyllic, even. Maybe to that degree it's a little creepy (and his inability to explore outside the confines of his town is certainly limiting) but I think we all like having someone control aspects of our lives so we don't have to deal with it, and having an entire cast and crew catering to you--well! Who wouldn't want to be the center of the universe, eh? So from this angle, it's not so much an issue of freedom--Neo and Truman both have high-level restrictions placed on them, but are remarkably free to do as they please--but as of the free will of thinking men. Neo is picked because he has a vague dissatisfaction with the way things are, even though they seem fine, and this understanding makes him able to see The Truth. But the point is that he does have the ability to choose, ultimately, as does Truman, despite the obstacles placed in their way, and it is this will to give up comfort for increased free will that supposedly marks them as noble.
But I think Zizek is selling Americans short here:
For the last five centuries, the (relative) prosperity and peace of the "civilized" West was bought by the export of ruthless violence and destruction into the "barbarian" Outside: the long story from the conquest of America to the slaughter in Congo. Cruel and indifferent as it may sound, we should also, now more than ever, bear in mind that the actual effect of these bombings is much more symbolic than real. The U.S. just got the taste of what goes on around the world on a daily basis, from Sarajevo to Grozny, from Rwanda and Congo to Sierra Leone. If one adds to the situation in New York snipers and gang rapes, one gets an idea about what Sarajevo was a decade ago.
Come on now. It's not like Americans don't know Bad Things Happen, and I don't think it's like we didn't know Bad Things Happen To Us. (Nor was 9/11 necessary to demonstrate that.) Indeed, it's a testament to how aware we are that Bad Things Can Happen To Us that so few bad things have happened. I'm not saying that the way we've done this is the most moral, but we're clearly aware of the dangers and we're clearly going to extreme lengths to insulate ourselves from that. The Bad Things we visit on others are a different story, unfortunately. Truman doesn't leave because the producers are torturing small boys; Neo doesn't leave because humans are being farmed. They leave because bad stuff is happening to them. And the solutions they employ are either pointlessly personal (Truman) or revolutionary and not a little Leninist-vanguardy (Neo). But my mom's refusal to kill Iraqis won't do much, and like it or not, while revolution might work fine in the kind of totalitarian regime Neo lives under, it's just not going to be a viable avenue to pursue in a democracy which, yes, America still is. So what do we do? Just as irony didn't die, neither did America's desire to keep itself insulated from the outside world. How do we induce those who have the power to ratchet down the evils taking place in our name around the world?
Maybe we can't. The thing Zizek seems to be suggesting is that if we continue to pursue imperialism there will be more bombings and these will wake us up to the dangers and we will inevitably conclude that we need to pursue peace by other means. But I dunno--that hasn't been working so well so far. The fact is that half the country does not and probably will not ever believe that we can be safe by treating people nicely, because they think that those people will then just walk all over us. And maybe they're right, at least partially. I can't help but think that, as always, the political reality is more complicated than the sci-fi validation of a totalitarian paranoiac fantasy, and we're just going to have to keep going with compromises like we always do.
posted by Mike B. at 12:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Cornel West is in The Matrix Reloaded?!?!?!?
One of the most striking aspects of this film's depiction of Zion is its racial composition; more than half the population seems to be black or brown, and the community's leaders are predominantly black men. (Don't miss radical African-American scholar Cornel West, in a brief role as a member of the council! Or boxer Roy Jones Jr., as a hovercraft captain!)"
Not the best MC ever, but a nice man. OK, and he's kind of insane, but in a cute way.
posted by Mike B. at 11:27 AM 0 comments Links to this post
William Safire just makes it too damn easy for lefties sometimes:
Underneath that public rapprochement, however, will be a clear understanding in the White House that the U.S. and Russia are by no means allies. Though our two nations have some common interests, our differences are deepening: Russia is still a one-party oligarchy with dissent stifled by state-run television and has shown an affinity for murderous dictators from the Balkans to the Persian Gulf.
Uh, no comment there, Bill. Paging Michael Moore...
(which is not to say that I'd agree with the obvious "sounds like America hahahaahah!!!111" response necessarily, but it does kind of suggest itself, know what I mean?)
posted by Mike B. at 11:04 AM 0 comments Links to this post
From the Pitchfork newswire this morning:
So just when you were about to give up all hope for Belle & Sebastian, maybe you shouldn't. Or should you?
We have! After releasing the phantastical Tigermilk and If You're Feeling Sinister, the band began a rapid digression, all of which seemed to culminate in their soundtrack to Todd Solondz's cinematic disaster Storytelling. And then, when things seemed their bleakest, the group lost founding member Isobel Campbell during the second half of 2002. But according to a recent report from NME, the worst may be yet to come.
Belle & Sebastian have selected producer Trevor Horn to tackle the recording of their fifth studio album. Now, for the uninitiated, Horn has a pretty stellar history, having founded the legendary avant-garde sound experiment The Art of Noise, as well as new wave pop sensations The Buggles. But his choices as a producer-- aside from a bright spot here and there (Malcolm McLaren's hip-hop oddity Duck Rock, sort of)-- have been less prestigious, seeing him working with Spandau Ballet, 90s Rod Stewart, latter-day Yes (of which he is an erstwhile member), and Mike Oldfield (of "Tubular Bells" fame). These days, you can find Horn's fingerprint on albums by Leann Rimes, Faith Hill, Boyzone, and yes, even T.A.T.U.'s latest smash, "The Things She Said".
See, I think that sounds awesome. B&S with the europop-happy stylings of that awesome TATU song? Awesome. I also think that people who say that B&S have "gone downhill" since Tigermilk should join the people who say "REM never did anything as good as Murmur, man" in the "Merzbow's complete works played at maximum volume" listening booth.
In happier news, I finally picked up the music issue of the Oxford American, and William Bowers' article is, indeed, awesome.
UPDATE: Christ, I sure said "awesome" a lot in this post, didn't I? Sorry about that.
posted by Mike B. at 10:27 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Kurt Vonnegut kicks ass and takes names. Metaphorically.
And it is almost always a mistake to mention Abraham Lincoln in a speech about something or somebody else. He always steals the show. I am about to quote him.
Lincoln was only a Congressman when he said in 1848 what I am about to echo. He was heartbroken and humiliated by our war on Mexico, which had never attacked us.
We were making California our own, and a lot of other people and properties, and doing it as though butchering Mexican soldiers who were only defending their homeland against invaders wasn’t murder.
What other stuff besides California? Well, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
The person congressman Lincoln had in mind when he said what he said was James Polk, our president at the time. Abraham Lincoln said of Polk, his president, our armed forces’ commander-in-chief: “Trusting to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood —that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy, he plunged into war.”
Holy smokes! I almost said, “Holy shit!” And I thought I was a writer!
Do you know we actually captured Mexico City during the Mexican War? Why isn’t that a national holiday? And why isn’t the face of James Polk up on Mount Rushmore, along with Ronald Reagan’s?
What made Mexico so evil back in the 1840s, well before our Civil War, is that slavery was illegal there. Remember the Alamo?
No, but I do remember the Holiday Inn Ardmore! Thank heavens for the department of homeland security and their Democrat-trackin' superpowers!
posted by Mike B. at 12:29 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Wednesday, May 14, 2003
Dude! Oberlin gets a mention on The Daily Show. (This be a direct link to a RealPlayer file, you can also try the "March Madness" link from the Daily Show homepage.)
Apparently Mike Farrell beat the Oberlin senior class (hi, George and Rachel!) in the Dove bracket. He's gonna pay next year!
posted by Mike B. at 1:36 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Tuesday, May 13, 2003
posted by Mike B. at 7:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post
OK, one more thing on the Jayson Blair fiasco.
The plagiarism and deceit of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair is an affront to journalism. He disgraced an honorable profession that already suffers a credibility problem. His actions have distressed the great many journalists who go to pains every day to uphold the lofty ideals of their chosen craft. Make no mistake: Blair’s editors fell asleep at the switch, allowing him to abuse his authority and responsibility.
But why can’t Blair just be one severely troubled guy who did outrageous things? Why are some people using him as an example of the evils of commitment to diversity? Why is it that when white reporters commit similar acts of outrageous fraud, no one in the establishment media launches breathy social commentaries about the continued existence of white privilege and entitlement in the newsroom?
Because these commentators are almost all white, of course, and they had to fight for their jobs, so there's no such thing as white privilege. Whereas black people just get given cushy jobs. Howard Raines himself is well known for his regular trips to Harlem, where he will wander the streets, stopping random young black people wearing glasses and saying, "Hey, you look black--would you like to work for the New York Times?"
Let's do a quick index.
Number of white journalists listed who have been caught in big lies in recent years: 5 (Ruth Shalit, Stephen Glass, Mike Barnicle, Raad Cawthon, Michael Finkel)
Number of their employers who were accused of lax fact-checking because they were white: 0
Number of black journalists caught in big lies in recent years: 3 (Jayson Blair, Patricia Smith, Janet Cooke)
Number of their employers who were accused of lax fact-checking because they were black: 2
Where Mike Barnicle (white) is working now: MSNBC
What Stephen Glass (white) just got paid for movie rights to his book: an obscene amount
What Janet Cooke (black) was doing, as of last check: "selling make-up for $6 an hour at a department store in Kalamazoo, Mich., and eating cereal for dinner."
UPDATE: OK, gotta get Neal Pollack in here somehow.
posted by Mike B. at 5:37 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Thank you, Paul Krugman, for once again nailing an issue. This time it's media deregulation. He asks why the BBC, a state-owned network, is so much more critical of its own country than, say, the vast majority of the American media, and explains that, well, when you're state-owned in a democracy, you're subject to constant scrutiny of your bias, and so the BBC is always careful to appear impartial. But when media is independently owned, there is paradoxically much more incentive to cozy up to the powers that be. Thus, when Fox wants to get into China, they pander to a repressive regime by killing any criticism of that regime from their services.
This is not unlike, Krugman says, the current FCC plan for media deregulation.
The plan's defects aside — it will further reduce the diversity of news available to most people — what struck me was the horse-trading involved. One media group wrote to Mr. Powell, dropping its opposition to part of his plan "in return for favorable commission action" on another matter. That was indiscreet, but you'd have to be very naïve not to imagine that there are a lot of implicit quid pro quos out there.
And the implicit trading surely extends to news content. Imagine a TV news executive considering whether to run a major story that might damage the Bush administration — say, a follow-up on Senator Bob Graham's charge that a Congressional report on Sept. 11 has been kept classified because it would raise embarrassing questions about the administration's performance. Surely it would occur to that executive that the administration could punish any network running that story.
This is just fucking evil. Plain and simple. This is not about wanting to hear Cat Power on K-Rock, or getting my zine into Barnes & Noble; this is freedom of the goddamn press. It's right there in the first amendment. It's important. This is not about McDonald's or Starbucks or Wal-Mart, because the right to local businesses is not in the constitution. Freedom of the press is. And fuck "deregulation"--this is a piece of legislation like any other that makes changes in the law, and those changes will, in fact, impose economic restrictions on the vast majority of press outlets, i.e. the small ones that are apt to be bought up by the conglomos. This is not an economic issue: this is a political issue. Laws are being passed that will result in further restrictions on the press, and these restrictions could be eased with regulation, since sometimes regulations are necessary to ensure freedom. That's why we have the government. This is not about ClearChannel not booking Steven Malkmus: this is freedom of the press. This is about news and how citizens are informed of the actions of their government, how they get the information that they will use when they vote for or against candidates, and in a country where the news media seems unable to challenge Ari Fleischer when he spews blatant fucking lies, this is a serious issue. This is about a governmental organization--the FCC--that is supposed to be working in the interest of the public trust to regulate the commonly-held airwaves, but is instead selling out that trust to the highest bidder, cutting backroom deals not with consumer organizations or congressional representatives but with one media monster against another. It's time we all started speaking out against the utter moral bankruptcy of the FCC, that we realized how important this issue is and started focusing on it and doing something about it to give our representatives the moral capital and political cover they need to mount an effective attack. These fuckers have sold us out for the last time. Now they're gonna go down.
posted by Mike B. at 4:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Good piece in the Voice about Stanley Crouch getting unceremoniously fired from JazzBeat magazine after writing a column about white jazz critics' bias towards "out-there" white jazz groups. (In which context the annoying Marsalis-esque "traditionalism" stuff makes a bit more sense--experimental jazz does seem to be dominated by whites--but is still pretty stupid.) The piece is sympathetic to both sides, but makes a good case why the move was both stupid and unjust; Crouch has always been controversial, but it's telling that he only got fired after pissing in his own soup. Criticize blacks all you want, but criticize the whites who run the industry, and whoops, you're out the door. It's also nice to see Amiri Baraka discussed as a great writer and critic instead of "that crackpot who wrote the anti-Semitic 9/11 poem"--it was weird to me when reading the accounts of that whole flap how no one seemed to know who he was, and pay no mind to the fact that he was pretty highly respected (if not agreed with) in certain circles.
Of course, the question now would be why no one's bringing up Crouch's (or Baraka's) kind of questions in the context of other genres--like, oh I dunno, indie rock. (Race issues, guys! Deal with 'em!) I will make the prediction that Crouch's criticism can and will be very effectively turned against undie hip-hop--yeah, white guys who grew up in the culture get respect, but if they keep up that emo-rap bullshit, I sure hope there's a backlash. I can barely stand El-P's lyrics as it is, his fabulous production notwithstanding.
Here's an excerpt from the Baraka essay mentioned in the article, "Jazz and the White Critic," which is well worth reading. The part that would most directly apply to all music criticism, however, would be this one (keep in mind that this is from 1960 and is before Baraka became a full-blown Marxist):
Another hopeless flaw in a great deal of the writing about jazz that has been done over the years is that in most cases the writers, the jazz critics, have been anything but intellectuals (in the most complete sense of that word). Most jazz critics began as hobbyists or boyishly brash members of the American petite bourgeoisie, whose only claim to any understanding about the music was that they knew it was different; or else they had once been brave enough to make a trip into a Negro slum to hear their favorite instrumentalist defame Western musical tradition. Most jazz critics were (and are) not only white middle-class Americans, but middle-brows as well. The irony here is that because the majority of jazz critics are white middlebrows, most jazz criticism tends to enforce white middle-brow standards of excellence as criteria for performance of a music that in its most profound manifestations is completely antithetical to such standards; in fact, quite often is in direct reaction against them. (As an analogy, suppose the great majority of the critics of Western formal music were poor, "uneducated" Negroes?) A man can speak of the "heresy of bebop" for instance, only if he is completely unaware of the psychological catalysts that made that music the exact registration of the social and cultural, thinking of a whole generation of black Americans. The blues and jazz aesthetic, to be fully understood, must be seen in as nearly its complete human context as possible. People made bebop. The question the critic must ask is: why?
Now, there's a whole lot of interesting shit going on here when you look at what's happened to rock criticism since its inception. For the sake of convenience, let me divide it up into the Christgaus, the Marcuses, and the Meltzers. All three started off in the 60's, as rock crit got going, and I think they each correspond to a line in Baraka's taxonomy.
Christgau is, I think, clearly the middlebrow: graduated from Dartmouth, but not really an intellectual "in the most complete sense of the word," he came to rock as a fanboy (didn't really study it in school) and runs a "consumer guide." A lot of rock crit has followed in this vein--positivist, subjectively objective (B+! **! 8.3!), listener-oriented, somewhat fawning, generally not too adventurous, fixed in its tastes, attracted more to the surface of "difference" than the meat that makes it that way. For this reason, many "respected" rock crits hate Christgau, but it's a weird self-hatred, since those are the standards most critics end up going by anyway. The author of the Voice piece alludes to this bind, since he admits that he finds Crouch's accusations controversial because they are directed at critics like himself, and are in no small part true.
Marcus is the intellectual, but I think he's a good example of where that tendency can go wrong. A lot of his stuff is far more valuable as criticism than as actual commentary: he's wrong, but in really interesting ways. This makes him valuable as a cultural critic, but it doesn't really help advance the art he's addressing. He tends to elevate the music and the musicians (although instead of Christgau's pedestal, his would be a slightly colder observation chamber) and write about them in very distanced, reserved tones, and his view of political music is, as I've said before, reductive at best--he takes on music that "is completely antithetical to such standards; in fact, quite often is in direct reaction against them" and interprets this as a simple act of dissent rather than a more complicated critique. This, to me, is the problem of intellectuals addressing music: they would be better if they were writers, too. Baraka works because he's got music in the words as well as the thoughts, although I would often disagree with him on the politics stuff. (Tangent: which is maybe why comedy criticism is always so stifled--very few critics have a sense of humor in their writing, to say nothing of the problem of doing this while simultaneously taking comedy seriously.) Marcus has a good crowd of followers who I like, but who I would say don't always fully engage with the music--this kind of intellectual critic tends to be a bit insecure in his middlebrow-ism and so, I think, often assumes he knows more than the musicians he's examining.
Meltzer is I think closest to what Baraka is talking about, and it's no coincidence that his statement of purpose, The Aesthetics of Rock, was written shortly after Baraka's essay came out. (It's also no coincidence that, like Baraka, his line enjoys the least support.) He addresses music-as-consumerism instead of submitting to it, and in doing so gets to its ultimate heart of banality--everyday life and living, buying things and discarding them, girls and cars and surfing--which is, after all, not unlike what Baraka talks about when he wants critics to address the lives of the people who make the music and how this effects the music itself. Meltzer is someone who knew the music and was interested in using his education to address it and understand it. What's more, he was close enough to it to really get to its heart.
I think the bit about criticizing music that "is completely antithetical to such standards; in fact, quite often is in direct reaction against them" is particularly important. Aside from its resonance with both the canonical interpretation of punk and "sellout" rhetoric, that idea of taking music at its word, in some ways, and engaging with it on its own terms instead of forcing it into your own (or those dictated by hype, other critical assessments, etc.) is one maybe all three schools of critics could stand to remember.
posted by Mike B. at 3:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Yes yes, Village Voice = evil, but this one's pretty good, and a transcript to boot:
At a White House briefing last week, Russell Mokhiber, publisher of Corporate Crime Reporter, renewed his running colloquy with Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer.
Mokhiber: The president was in Santa Clara, California, last week. And he appeared at United Defense, a major defense contractor controlled by the Carlyle Group. The president's father is a paid adviser to the Carlyle Group. So, you have a situation where the president is there touting the products of a company that directly benefit financially his father. Why isn't that unethical?
Fleischer: The question is, are Bradley fighting vehicles part of what the military does and should [they] be supported? The answer is, of course, yes, regardless of who serves on the Carlyle Group.
Mokhiber: But what if the president's father was the president of United Defense? Would that be unethical?
Fleischer: What if the president's father was on Social Security and the president wanted to strengthen the Social Security system so that all Americans could have a strong retirement?
He should be grateful they let him come to press conferences! Where's Helen Thomas at these days, anyway?
posted by Mike B. at 1:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I don't really give a shit about the whole Jayson Blair thing, quite frankly, but I will point you to Gawker's suggestion that the NYT's sin was less mollycoddling a reporter because he's black than ignoring his coke addiction, which was the real cause of all his inaccuracies and unprofessionalism.
posted by Mike B. at 1:13 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Fluxblog points us to a comparison between Cremaster 1+2, X-Men 2, and A Mighty Wind.
Unsurprisingly, Cremaster wins the "Ass Rodeo?" section.
posted by Mike B. at 12:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Well, it's one of those depressing news days on the front page of the NYT. First off, the bombings in Saudi Arabia and Bush's response: "they will learn the meaning of American justice." (I'll allow myself one cheap shot here: what, that we loves to kill black people?)
Second, Sharon Sets Hard Line on Settlements Policy. Good call there, Ari.
Mr. Sharon dismissed as not "on the horizon" any talk of changing Israel's settlement policy, and he dismissed suggestions that the Bush administration was pressing him to dismantle settlements.
During a visit here over the weekend, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that he raised the issue of settlements with Mr. Sharon, and that President Bush would pursue the matter when he sees Mr. Sharon on May 20.
In an interview with Israeli television, Mr. Powell said he told Mr. Sharon that settlements were "a problem," and he said the president would speak to the prime minister "in very open, straightforward, honest, candid terms about settlement activity."
A new American-backed peace plan, known as the road map, calls on Israel to dismantle all settlement outposts built since March 2001, at the same time that the Palestinian Authority cracks down on terrorism. It also calls for a freeze on Israeli settlements. Mr. Sharon insists that the Palestinians must end incitement and dismantle all terrorist organizations before Israel can begin to make concessions.
Finally, and I know this might not be as depressing to everyone else as it is to me, the FCC looks like it's going to do some more deregulatin', which is weird, since the current deregulation seems to have pretty much fucked everything up, and a lot of people agree on that.
The government proposed the most significant overhaul of its media ownership rules in a generation today, including a change that would allow television networks to own enough local stations to reach 90 percent of the nation's viewers.
That change — a result of increasing the cap on ownership and simultaneously preserving a 1980's formula that discounts the reach of UHF stations — is part of the package of proposals that officials said appeared to have the support of the Republican majority of the Federal Communications Commission.
Yeah, I bet it does. *sigh* 90%. Seriously, guys, can we all agree this is not a fucking "economic" issue now?
posted by Mike B. at 11:50 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Monday, May 12, 2003
Good Bob Herbert column about Bush's judicial nominees. The choice bit is at the end:
Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York who is on the Judiciary Committee, has been trying (along with many others) to sound the alarm about the succession of ideologues and extremists that the president has been attempting to install in the courts. During an interview last week, he discussed several "troubling" nominations, including that of James Leon Holmes to a federal judgeship in Arkansas.
Mr. Holmes has a problem with women. He doesn't see them as equals. "The wife is to subordinate herself to her husband," he has written. The woman, in Mr. Holmes's view, "is to place herself under the authority of the man."
Those who adopt the "feminist principle" of the equality of the sexes, he has said, "are contributing to the culture of death."
Mr. Holmes, a lawyer, is an absolute opponent of abortion, even in cases of rape. He once said that "conception from rape occurs with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami."
He has since expressed regret for that remark.
"Even assuming they want to nominate conservative Republicans," said Senator Schumer, "can't they do better than these nominations? This president has selected judges through an ideological prism to a far greater extent than any other president in history."
"Contributing to the culture of death"? Yikes. Schumer actually sounds a lot more rational than anyone else I've heard in this debate, and makes a very, very good point that would seem to override the administration's high-minded rhetoric.
Then again, Neal Pollack alerts us to some other troubling nominees.
posted by Mike B. at 6:21 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Employees at a plastics factory in Omaha won't get paid while Bush speaks there.
Airlite's chief executive, Brad Crosby, has announced that more than 300 hourly workers might lose all or part of a day's pay unless they work next Saturday to offset the time lost when the plant closes for the speech.
An Airlite spokesman said in a telephone interview last night that most workers would be given four options when the plant is partly closed for one and a half shifts during the speech: They can take an official day off whether or not they attend the speech and make up the work on Saturday to receive full pay. They can use a paid vacation day. They can work their regular shift in part of the plant that will remain open. Or they can take an unpaid day off.
Which is pretty funny given that Bush's speech will be about tax cuts spurring job growth. I'm sure Rove will jump right on this one and get a retraction, but let's focus on the far more important point: the plant is non-union, which is why the employer could get away with this shit before the consultants make a call. The irony here is easy, but the problem of non-union shops is actually significant.
Of course, Bush's vacuous image-mongering by cynically utilizing factories to promote a policy that most agree will be bad for the economy, and certainly no better for non-union industrial laborers, who will get very little back under Bush's plan, is problematic too, but I suppose that's politics.
posted by Mike B. at 1:53 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In the probably-not-a-good-idea department: a NYT story claims that American Marines in Baghdad knocked down the walls of Baghdad's only mental hospital, set up a command post there, opened the building to looters and allowed 1,100 mentally ill patients to escape, some to be killed, some to threaten relatives with death, which is not unusual behavior for paranoid schizophrenics off their medication. The story itself is somewhat questionable--it uses primarily Iraqi sources and has a picture of a kitten, never a good sign--but a cautious interpretation still seems fairly damning. This was not, to be clear, a liberation of these patients: all seem clear that it was a civilian hospital that had been much improved in recent years (the Red Cross spent $1.5 million over the last three years bringing the facility up almost to Western standards, according to a Norwegian physician), and the prisoners were here for their own good. Released, they're thrown off their medication and into a war zone, and it's clear to me, at least, that they would have been far better off remaining inside.
The staff says "that the marines stood by as looters carried away every bed, basin, cooker, air-conditioner, piece of furniture or thing of value." Obviously it's impossible to verify this claim without some physical evidence, and one would hope for better from Marines, but if true, it also means that 6 women were raped as a result of their inaction, and it's further proof that there were reasons to criticize Rumsfeld's decision for a smaller ground force besides their military efficacy. Let's not get lost in the shameful overreporting of the looting of the Baghdad museum by assuming that military presence in the city was adequate after its fall: there are other uses for soldiers besides killing the enemy.
This story, though maudlin and, again, hard to verify, is nevertheless troubling:
Ahmed Shehab stood in front of them on Saturday to say that Samir Hamid, 40, had escaped from the maximum security ward and was threatening to kill his sister, who is Mr. Shehab's wife.
"He is a paranoid schizophrenic and is so dangerous, especially to his sister," Dr. Sultan said. "He thinks that she destroyed him and so he went home to kill her. He has a knife."
The doctors told Mr. Shehab they were powerless to act. There is no government, no law to commit dangerous mental patients, no police force to call for help, and no hospital in which to treat the mentally ill.
Dr. Sultan is worried. He thinks there are quite a few human time bombs out in the community. One is a 60-year-old man who more than 30 years ago killed two of his own small children. One son survived and today is in his 30's, living in Baghdad with his family. For 30 years, the father told his doctor that all he wanted was to escape so he could kill the remaining son.
Now the man is out there somewhere, the doctors say. They have notified the son. It was all they could do.
A preventable tragedy or a small price to pay for liberation? I don't know. The metaphor here is obvious--in the aftermath of war, the patients are loosed from the asylum--but I'm not quite sure what the political or ethical implications of that are. Maybe we should just go see House of Fools instead. You should probably see House of Fools regardless, as you should see any movie in which Bryan Adams plays himself in a mental patient's hallucination.
posted by Mike B. at 1:23 PM 0 comments Links to this post
the differences are as old as the constitution
The NYT publishes a decent primer on the differences between the House and Senate, focusing more (I think) on the cultural than the structural differences, but that's OK. This is occasioned by the struggles of the last few years resulting from no party enjoying more than a 2-vote majority in the Senate. It's nothing special, but it is a pretty good overview of the current historical situation for structural nerds like myself (and their valued readers).
That said, this is one of the most willfully inaccurate things I've read in a long time, particularly in an article that's going to be read by structure nerds:
To Al Swift, a lobbyist and former Democratic representative from Washington who often poked fun at the stodginess of the Senate, that formulation was a huge mistake. "I think you can make an awfully good argument that the Senate is the least democratic democratic institution on the face of the earth," Mr. Swift said. "You are able to prevent the majority from working its will well beyond anything that should be allowed."
No shit, Sherlock. It's not democratic: it's republican, and it makes a whole lot of sense. The founders had a deep distrust of democracy, since the tyranny of the majority has been as much a problem throughout human history as the tyranny of a select few. Minorities need to be protected, and the theory behind the Senate is sound. Indeed, I think it's this skepticism toward our erstwhile form of government that has sustained it for these many years, and it is precisely this lack of skepticism that gets people so up in arms about our foreign policy. It's unfortunate that people seem to have (conveniently) forgotten that we're not a democracy, we're a representative or republican democracy, and that the Senate system is a vital part of that, but it nevertheless remains true and relevant. The internecine structures of the Senate and the ways bills can get killed might strike some as unjust, but so are the blindly populist and pandering policies that get passed in the House, and since no one's come up with a viable idea for a perfect legislature yet, the way these two balance each other out seems to work OK. This is not to say that it works perfectly or that there aren't a bunch of structural changes that would make it work better, but criticizing the Senate for being undemocratic is like criticizing chocolate ice cream for not tasting like vanilla. It's not supposed to.
Of course, I may be a wee bit bitter because Mr. Swift loves telecommunications deregulation so very much, a subject on which we would be in disagreement, but that's irrelevant to the nimwittedness of his remark.
posted by Mike B. at 1:01 PM 0 comments Links to this post