clap clap blog: we have moved
Friday, June 13, 2003
A high school student in Florida talks about educational policy in a very smart way, and also interviews Jeb Bush and ends up, well, disagreeing with him. A good read.
posted by Mike B. at 1:57 PM 0 comments
Good Krugman column today about DeLay:
Public images are funny things. Newt Gingrich became a famous symbol of Republican radicalism. By contrast, most people know little about Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader. Yet Mr. DeLay is more radical — and more powerful — than Mr. Gingrich ever was.
Maybe Mr. DeLay's public profile will be raised by his success yesterday in sabotaging tax credits for 12 million children. Those tax credits would cost only $3.5 billion. But Mr. DeLay has embedded the credits in an $82 billion tax cut package. That is, he wants to extort $22 in tax cuts (in the face of record budget deficits) for every dollar given to poor children.
Lotsa other good stuff in there, but my favorite part has to be this:
A telling anecdote: When an employee tried to stop Mr. DeLay from smoking a cigar on government property, the majority leader shouted, "I am the federal government."
Oh yeah? Well, I am...Kantian dualism! Hey kids, what abstraction are you?
Of course, then there's the ending:
There's no point in getting mad at Mr. DeLay and his clique: they are what they are. I do, however, get angry at moderates, liberals and traditional conservatives who avert their eyes, pretending that current disputes are just politics as usual. They aren't — what we're looking at here is a radical power play, which if it succeeds will transform our country. Yet it's considered uncool to point that out.
Is this just alarmism? I'm not sure. Certainly I'm very bothered by the seeming acceptability of the "bankrupt the government" position, and I have little doubt that DeLay would like to see a permanent Republican-dominated state--I just don't necessarily think that it will actually happen, given the Constitution and whatnot. I'm all for kicking DeLay's ass out of the Senate, though. (By electoral means, of course.)
posted by Mike B. at 1:56 PM 0 comments
Two random musical notes:
The new Coloma album, "Finery," is very very good. The Pitchfork review describes it as The Postal Service with Jarvis Cocker instead of Ben Gibbard, which sounds great, although it's not as good as The Postal Service with Jarvis Cocker slowly strangling Ben Gibbard. Here is the website (it's in German, but it's weirdly understandable, and anyway they sing in English) and here is a sample MP3. It's good because there are actual songs, and pretty damn good lyrics, all things told, alongside an electronic backing that's sometimes synth-pop, and sometimes pleasingly elliptical and abstract (like Wasteland a bit). A fine listen.
Also, Pitchfork today has the decency to be kinda embarrassed about that whole New York Press Broken Social Scene review thing.
posted by Mike B. at 11:57 AM 0 comments
Looks like the Justice Department's internal report criticizing its policy of casting a very wide net in rounding up illegal immigrants who might be terrorists had an effect:
Federal authorities said today that they planned to use stricter standards for identifying and locking up terrorist suspects in light of concerns raised in a recent report that hundreds of illegal immigrants were mistreated after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Law enforcement officials plan to make at least 12 structural changes that were recommended in a report issued last week by the Justice Department inspector general, according to interviews with officials at the agencies affected by the report. Nine other recommendations are being actively considered, they said.
The move to embrace the bulk of the changes appeared to signal a greater acknowledgment of shortcomings in antiterrorism and detention policies than Justice Department officials had publicly admitted.
Wahoo! I'm not going to be all "Well they should have done it earlier" or "Well it's not enough." Fuck that. Wahoo!
posted by Mike B. at 11:11 AM 0 comments
There's apparently been a call put out to say good things about Bush if you're a lefty, so here I go: he did the right thing by condemning Israel for attacking the Palestinians days after the peace summit, despite Congress' opposition to such a stance. It was the right thing to do, and maybe we can get this road map thing working. Certainly Sharon's stance that the PLO are just being "crybabies" for saying that they can't immediately stop Hamas is a bit counterproductive.
In a related note: I just searched for "Israel" at Eschaton and got nothing. Not a single hit on the main page. Weeeeeeird.
posted by Mike B. at 11:05 AM 0 comments
some questions about music
Why does Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You" sound like rain, or like it's raining while they were recording it, or like it's about to rain around you while you listen?
Why does Supertramp's "Take The Long Way Home" sound so good while walking to work on a rainy morning? (thanks for the tip, hil.)
Why does Lightning Bolt's "Two Towers On Fire" sound so good when there are actual lightning bolts flashing above your head? Is it really that literalist?
Why do good, old electronic bands make shitty sports themes now, i.e. Kraftwerk's "Tour De France 03" and New Order's "World in Motion"? The latter is a catchy but absolutely horrible song, I guess because they have nailed, as the Timelords would put it, The Golden Rules. I guess I could write a good world cup theme for the UK, but I'd have to brainwash Becks into liking noise-rock first...
Speaking of music: probably not too many posts today, as The Song Corporation has its first Manhattan gig tonight--7 pm @ Acme Underground! If you're in town, I'd love to see you there. Come say hi afterwards--I'll be the male who isn't playing drums.
posted by Mike B. at 10:44 AM 0 comments
Thursday, June 12, 2003
New York London Paris Munich posts the following about TaTu:
For the male gaze to work, it requires men. The genius of tatu dyking out is that they are not directed to men, their gaze is to each other, their innocence is amusing, and their politics are suspect. The lust that boys show for them seems not to matter a whit. They are gender theory having fun, and the rumours about Jenna Jameson tounging Britney's quim are as irrelevant as the pseudo naughtiness of Xtina. The two gals from Russia mocked both of them into submission. All of this came to a head at tonights MTV Movie Awards, where their post-queer spectacle reached amazing new heights. 137 girls in school girl uniforms stormed the stage some grand sapphic revolution. They danced and stripped and made out, and it was a bacchanal, but a bacchanal that suggested two things: one; that their was no need for boys, and two that the youth were taking over in a new sexual revolution directed towards their own pleasure. They may be accused of being fake but looking at them you wished happiness, like you would on any young and handsome revolutionary, on the way to the struggles.
Man, there's nothing better than when men use feminist rhetoric to justify their guilty male pleasures. Look, guy, I'm with you on the "lotsa hot girls making out is awesome" thing. But to say that it implies that "their [sic] was no need for boys" is just dumb, since everyone and their lesbian aunt knows that TaTu is orchestrated by a male pop Svengali, so obviously there is some need for boys. It's also not post-queer or anti-male since, as he sort of avoids saying at the beginning of the article, Tatu is designed to appeal to all men and closeted (or out) teenage lesbians, which means the message is not "no boys" but "hey, maybe you could join in sometime?"
I like TaTu--girls kissing+europop=me likee--but I don't think appealing to Girls Gone Wild-level lesbian fantasies exactly constitutes a sexual revolution. Ah, embarrassingly overblown critical rhetoric.
posted by Mike B. at 1:19 PM 0 comments
Neal Pollack nicely (i.e. sarcastically) expresses what I sometimes feel about the endless press second-guessing we see in the blogosphere:
...blogs have arrived as the primary form of character assassination in America. And when I say "character assassination," I mean "cleaning out the Fifth Column gutter by blowing minor details of a story way out of proportion." Without the analytical work of hundreds, nay, thousands, of creepily-obsessed geeks with an inflated sense of self-importance, King Howell would still be spreading his lies today.
posted by Mike B. at 1:09 PM 0 comments
squashing dissent like...hillary's head with a tire iron!
You may remember a while back this guy named Michael Graham said he wanted to bludgeon Hillary Clinton with a tire iron, which he defended by saying he was just doing it to get attention (you may have to do a search for "Correspondence" to get to it). Well, according to him, this got him a visit from the Secret Service.
He complains about this, of course, which to me is like the artist who creates a work involving urine and dead bodies responding to controversy by saying that it's not really about urine and dead bodies, it's about Christianity (say) and HE IS BEING REPRESSED! If you're going to do things to get attention, don't be surprised when some of that attention is not the kind you wanted, and if you talk about murdering a U.S. Senator and former First Lady on national television, that's fine, but it's not all that surprising that the Secret Service might give you a call, is it?
posted by Mike B. at 12:19 PM 0 comments
Also in talking with Rachel last night, we decided that since Christian missionaries seem to always be standing outside/around lib'ral arts schools and handing out copies of the Bible (and telling the homosexuals that they were going to hell, as happened at my alma mater) it would be fun to stand outside Catholic schools and hand out Gore Vidal's Live From Golgotha. (That's not the best summary of it, but it'll do. There is also what sounds like a horrible, horrible essay about it here.) We especially liked the part about Paul inventing certain New Testament bits because he was panicking about the fact that it had been 40 years since the crucifixion and it sure looked like Jesus wasn't coming back. Sure, it wouldn't be the most effective book for "conversion," but I'm not really sure that's what the evangelicals are trying to do, either.
Still, what would be better? I guess we aren't really interested in changing their faith (we could care less, frankly), just in toning down some of the more crazy fundamentalist beliefs. Richard Dawkins? G.K. Chesterton? C.S. Lewis? Mark Twain? (That Chesterton essay I linked to, by the way, looks really good, although I don't know if it would "convert" anyone.)
On that track, what books should we hand out in front of activist meetings to tone down some of their crazy fundamentalist beliefs? Calabresi & Bobbitt's Tragic Choices? Steven M. Gillon's That’s Not What We Meant To Do: Reform and its unintended consequences in twentieth-century America? Some Todd Gitlin book or other? I think Hitchens might be too blunt a weapon to be effective, but I kind of think that about Hitch in general. Rawls? J.S. Mill? Hmm. Arendt? No, she'd give them a seizure...
posted by Mike B. at 11:28 AM 0 comments
Regarding impeachment, I mentioned the whole Eschaton imbroglio to Rachel last night and she (being just as big a dork as me, no matter what she says) pointed me to Federalist #65:
A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
So, er, I was right. I just like to reinforce that. Viz:
1) Clinton shouldn't have been impeached because his misconduct was not against society or the public trust, or even particularly political. Indeed, the danger Hamilton notes in the last sentence seems more or less to be what happened to ol' Bill.
2) Bush can't be impeached because the selling of the war has not "agitate[d] the passions of the whole community" or "divide[d] it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused." Maybe it should, but it just hasn't.
The whole discussion was just weird. (Harm sarcastically makes some good points in his post on the subject.) Some of the posters seemed to end up at the conclusion that an impeachable offense is anything that you can get the House to draw up an impeachment for--but since the House would never impeach Bush, doesn't that mean his crimes aren't impeachable?
As I say in my comments below, it's this weird self-destructive impulse by lefties to "get" the Republicans for their political misdeeds under the Clinton administration. ("By being like the Republicans, we can beat the Republicans!") What they forget in their half-hearted quest for revenge, of course, is that the Republicans were able to get away with it because they were working from a very specific position that they had spent years building up. (And they didn't even get away with it all the time--see the government shutdown and the razor-thin margin of victory in 2000.) If we really want to engage in that kind of, as Norquist put it, "date rape," we can, but we'll need to spend a good 10 years doing the groundwork. Personally, I think we could more productively lay the groundwork for something a wee bit more positive, but I'm not heading the DLC, I guess.
posted by Mike B. at 11:08 AM 0 comments
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
Speaking of the WMD "intelligence failure," Fareed Zakaria has a very good column about how that seems to be kind of a syndrome for the neo-con kids:
It all started with the now famous “Team B” exercise. During the early 1970s, hard-line conservatives pilloried the CIA for being soft on the Soviets. As a result, CIA Director George Bush agreed to allow a team of outside experts to look at the intelligence and come to their own conclusions. Team B—which included Paul Wolfowitz—produced a scathing report, claiming that the Soviet threat had been badly underestimated...The reality was that even the CIA’s own estimates—savaged as too low by Team B—were, in retrospect, gross exaggerations. In 1989, the CIA published an internal review of its threat assessments from 1974 to 1986 and came to the conclusion that every year it had “substantially overestimated” the Soviet threat along all dimensions.
In the 1990s, some of these same conservatives decided that China was the new enemy. The only problem was that China was still a Third World country and could hardly be seen as a grave threat to the United States. What followed was wild speculation about the size of the Chinese military and accusations that it had engaged in massive theft of American nuclear secrets. This came to a crescendo with the publication of the Cox Commission Report in 1999, which claimed that Chinese military spending was twice what the CIA estimated. The Cox report is replete with speculation, loose assumptions and errors of fact. The book it footnotes for its military-spending numbers, for example, does not say what the report claims.
Iraq is part of a pattern. In each of these cases, arguments about the threat posed by a country rest in large part on the character of the regime. The Team B report explains that the CIA’s analysis was flawed because it was based on too much “hard data”—meaning facts—and neglected to divine Soviet intentions. The Chinese regime is assumed to be a mortal danger because it is Leninist. Saddam was assumed to be working on a vast weapons program because he was an evil man.
The analysis was flawed because it used hard facts? Hee hee hee. That's some postmodern shit right there, Mr. Wolfowitz!
posted by Mike B. at 3:48 PM 0 comments
Just briefly: do not try and start some half-assed impeachment thing against Bush because of the WMD "intelligence failure." Why?
1) If you think that Clinton's conduct was not an impeachable offense, Bush's conduct isn't either. Politicians lying is not something we should be hijacking the Constitution because of.
2) He didn't "lie" in the strictest sense. Clinton said "I did not have sex with that woman" when he knew he did. Bush said that our intelligence tells us that Sadaam has WMD, and that could very well be true. The offense could easily lie farther down the chain of command (c.f. "plausible deniability") so, evil though it may be, it's not an impeachable offense.
3) It'll never work, due to the political makeup of the legislature if nothing else.
Efforts are best directed elsewhere. Almost anywhere elsewhere. Please. When John Dean tells liberals to do something, you should almost always do the exact opposite, it seems to me. It's fine to get the meme in the popular consciousness, I guess, but let's not be starting concerted campaigns. Take the money and time and donate it to a struggling Democratic rep.
UPDATE: Posted this at Eschaton and got some pretty hilarious responses. I'm a conservative! Who knew? Harm, you'll find some of the things they call me particularly amusing...
posted by Mike B. at 3:43 PM 0 comments
A New York Press review of the Broken Social Scene album starts off normal, but then for some reason decides to take a totally random shot:
Over here in America, nobody had any idea. That changed in February, when online review site Pitchfork raved about the band, telling readers they simply had to hear this for themselves. The review prompted me to check out Broken Social Scene at Northsix a few weeks later, and given Pitchfork’s influence, it surely resulted in hundreds of Google searches about the band. No matter what anybody says, this one online review started the band’s momentum in the U.S.
Problem is, so many music-critic pretenders, who gather in places like the incorrectly named "I Love Music" message board, hate Pitchfork. These writers have wasted thousands of words railing against Pitchfork’s fakeness, shallowness, whatever. Of course, these are the same scribes who get aroused the most when the Village Voice publishes their impenetrable prose.
The worst you can say about Pitchfork, which truly cares about discovering new music and is often funny and smart, is that some of their conceits are the stuff of college English classes. But can you think of any time you cared more about music than when you were in college? Indie rock itself is a highly experimental, often embarrassing and amateurish genre, so why hate a site that takes similar chances and scores more often than it misses? Jealousy, of course, because it’s hard for some to fathom that some dude with a webzine has as much influence as paper that makes hands dirty.
Geez Louise, where to start? First, I guess, would be the straw man argument; most people who complain about Pitchfork think the Voice is a total joke at this point. They're way more likely to go with Simon Reynolds or Sasha whatsisface--you know, the kind of folks who went to the EMP criticism conference. So that's just not true. I will grant that jealousy doubtless plays a role in some folks' Pitchfork-bashing, but I think the rest of them have an honest complaint about the standards of the most widely-accepted music criticism right now. Of course, that complaint seems to be way different from mine, but more on that in a second.
The other big thing (I'm not even touching the "Indie rock itself is...highly experimental" bit) is that I think this particular bit of the Pitchfork brand is not at the forefront of most people's complaints. They are very good at finding and hyping certain overlooked bands; I definitely hit both the Books and Max Tundra because of them, and have enjoyed both quite a bit. (People who cite their Trail of Dead championing as groundbreaking apparently haven't read the NME in the last four years.) And this is good. Yay getting good new bands exposure.
A complaint I hear from a lot of people is that their snobbishness coupled with their ignorance produces some problems--notably the Jean-Michel Jarre "review," although this applies in many other regions. Certainly this can be annoying, but like the Press guy, I think it's reasonably charming, and it's hard to feel like they're being snobbish if you think of them as a bunch of college-kid nerds who aren't particularly hip, more or less like you; they just have different taste and get sent free records.
The problem I have, as I've stated before, is with their reactive record reviews; their desire to be the "anti-NME," doing with pans what that publication (the Voice of the UK?) does with hype. Certainly they will sometimes break away from the pack and unexpectedly praise a much-talked-up album (Interpol, for instance), but by and large they seem to assign writers to eagerly expected new release that everyone know they will hate. And it's very strange, and, quite frankly, it decreases listeners' pleasure in the albums, and I don't think that's cool.
Whatever, I've talked about this before. I just think this Press guy is taking some really random and ill-informed shots. The BSS record is OK, Pitchfork or no Pitchfork.
Oh, I found this via Pure Rock Fury, which looks to be quite a good site. I like any blog that features an Alice in Chains review prominently (although I truly and sincerely hate Alice in Chains).
posted by Mike B. at 3:32 PM 0 comments
Sullivan don't know shit about Waugh. From the commentary:
Now, an attentive reader might wonder about this assessment solely on the basis of the short excerpt from the novel provided by Sullivan; as the most obvious example, the name of the paper, The Beast, might cause one to wonder if, just perhaps, Waugh's portrait of journalism is not an entirely flattering one.
Ha. Go read. There's some great Waugh stuff in there, too.
posted by Mike B. at 1:08 PM 0 comments
"Read my lips, no new services. Thank you, President Bush."
Tom Friedman makes some good points, although I think he's willfully overlooking the fact that a lot of Americans right now see the services getting cut as other people's services, so why should they care? The bit at the end is all good, though:
To name something is to own it. And the Democrats, for too long, have allowed the Bush team to name its radical reduction in services, and the huge dependence it is creating on foreign capital, as an innocuous "tax cut." Balderdash.
This is something the left seems to be forgetting. Of course, we're at a bit of a disadvantage, since not only does the President have a lot of agenda-setting power, but the next best option is the legislature, which is also under opposition control. So I can sympathize with Dems trying to get their message out there, but it also seems like they really aren't trying that hard since there's, well, there's not much of a Democratic message, seems like. You can't just be reactive to Bush's agenda; you have to start going out on limbs and talking up subjects that the Republicans aren't, so that at least you can have the first say, and maybe even define the (ugh) paradigm (sorry) under which they're discussed.
That said, while naming something may give you power over it, the problem is that you may be doing it in a language that won't resonate with or be understood by your target audience. So libs have defined a lot of stuff real good (i.e. "to death") but when you shout "Manufacturing consent!" a lot of people are either going to go "Buh?" or roll their eyes. The other option, then, is to redefine the structure behind a term people already like.
To use an analogy, let's say there's a policy of giving everyone free ice cream and this policy is called "The Welcome Wagon." (I'm envisioning it in a wagon. Just run with it, OK?) But then the Blue Meany party decides it doesn't like giving everyone free ice cream because it takes away tax dollars from hard-working etc., decreases productivity, and so forth, and so they want to cut it. But who's going to accept cutting a program like that? No one, that's who.
But there are a number of other techniques wherein you retain the name--use the power of the initial naming--and repurpose it either to drive other policies or to decrease the power of the name. So, for instance, you could require everyone who wants free ice cream to register for a national ID card, or you could put methamphetamines in the ice cream to boost worker productivity back up, and even if people knew about this, they might think, "Well, it's the Welcome Wagon, so it's still good." On the other hand, you could steadily decrease funding for the ice cream trucks so that the flavors were bad, they ran out of stock, and the workers were grumpy and rude, so that people started to think, "The Welcome Wagon, that's not so great. Why are we paying for shitty ice cream and rude workers?"
The parallels to contemporary policy are obvious. (And, honestly, not intentional--I just pursued the analogy to its conclusion.) But let me focus for a second on a whole other kind of redefinition: the redefinition of federal departments. Take the FCC, for example, which has drifted so far from its original mandate of serving the public interest that it's not even funny, but it's still staying true to itself because whatever the FCC does is whatever the FCC is supposed to do. This is one of the big problems with bureaucracies, especially as regards long-seated civil organizations. So while I might be all for killing the FCC and rebuilding it anew (and that's not a bad message to pursue), unless they sponsor an Al-Quada terrorist they're not going to get defunded anytime soon (a Christian terrorist would be OK, though). So instead you have to get into power and redefine its mandate from the inside. This takes a lot longer. So it goes.
posted by Mike B. at 1:06 PM 0 comments
I do hate Pitchfork sometimes.
As Yorke put it in Meeting People Is Easy: "English people aren't impressed. There's this automatic assumption that any degree of success means that you've cheated. Or you're full of shit."
That's a cross Thom no longer has to bear, since whatever shit he was full of was kicked out of him-- in his hometown, no less-- one night in 2000. Like Johnny, the similarly bloodied main character from Mike Leigh's Naked, the assault appears to have Thom dealing with reality for possibly the first time. Protected from street-level human misery-- first by privilege, and then as a celebrity-- by a misguided belief in the world as something definite and easily changed, Yorke's pummeling rightly refocused an unparalleled modern songwriter on more immediate and emotionally resonant issues, stuffing him back in boots he was growing too big for.
Secondly: I think this is a critical attempt to draw a narrative that doesn't exist, or at best, to draw a counter-narrative to the one the boys in the band are trying to push. So "we wanted to rawk more" does battle with "Thom got beat up and it changed his life" and, Occam's Razory, the first one comes out triumphant. I just don't buy that this album is more emotionally resonant, or personal, or immediate. There are more slow ballads, but that's not the same thing. Thom's voice is more prominent in the mix, but that's not the same thing. Ott wouldn't say this if he had listened to Amnesiac more, I suspect (he says he didn't like that one) since there was a whole lot more emotional immediacy on that one.
Here's the thing: I'm a musician. And I've had the crap kicked out of me. And it didn't make me write more emotional songs. Hell, I didn't even write a song about having the crap kicked out of me. It's just a strange thing to suggest. I do think that Thom knew about "street-level human misery" previously; indeed, a more reactionary (and probably more accurate) interpretation for the lessened political content on this album (again, kind of questionable, but I'll go with it) would be that it's a reaction against ingratitude from the people he's trying to help. Of course, I think that interpretation is bullshit, too, but it's still more valid than Ott's. Getting beat up changes your social behavior (you're generally a bit more leery of large men from then on, in my experience) but I don't think it has a damn thing to do with your songwriting--or, at least, I don't see any evidence of that on HTTT.
As for politics: if he thinks OK Computer portrays "the world as something definite and easily changed," I wonder whether he got some secret reviewer-only copy with different lyrical and music content. "No Surprises" anyone? Honestly, one of the big criticisms I've had of Radiohead's 'political' song (No Surprises, You and Whose Army) is that they primarily express resignation and impotence, not exactly the best base for political action.
Later in the review, he writes, "Kid A and Amnesiac were written and recorded before Thom was attacked, before he became a father, before the world became a lot smaller, when nothing really mattered. Hail to the Thief is almost four years removed from the reality Yorke last wrote about..." Now seriously, Chris, what kind of "9/11 changed everything!!!" (and, holy christ, "Being a father changes everything!!!") bullshit is this? You think the pre-HTTT albums don't represent a stultifying, enclosed, suffocating reality? Sheesh. The songs are different, but they're always different from album to album with Radiohead; that's one of the big reasons why we like 'em. And we all know that the leap between Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief is just not as big of a jump from OKC to Kid A--or, hell, not even as big as the jump from The Bends to OK Computer.
It's an OK review otherwise, but the opening and the framing device is just horrible. I can only assume (as he more or less states at the outset) that he's trying to prevent this narrative in order to counteract the band's, but people, people, how many times do I have to say it--don't write reactionary reviews. Eek.
posted by Mike B. at 12:27 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, June 10, 2003
The new Fountains of Wayne album is...well, I do this from time to time, and it's kind of embarassing, but fuck it: the thing made me cry last night. It's that good, and I've only gotten through five songs because I keep having to go back and listen to them again. "Mexican Wine" might have the best opening verse I've heard all year, and all the great little character sketches in the lyrics and the attention to detail with the production...man, it's good. If you like power-pop, you'll like this. I wish I could write a more coherant review, but...fuck. It's just way too good.
I also picked up the Children's Hour album, Prince's "Sign O' the Times" and the limited edition Radiohead package, which has a very nice fold-out map thing that makes my geek heart go pitter-pat.
posted by Mike B. at 2:33 PM 0 comments
From an interview with Hilary Clinton:
NP: So what is your book about?
HC: ABOUT? What is my book ABOUT? It's about America, jack, and how we live in it despite everything. It's about the big themes, which writers today are too pussy-whipped to address. I mean, fuck Jonathan Safran Foer, with his little magical-realist eponymous narrator shit. Fuck Jonathan Franzen. That's not a social novel. It's just a book about a professor who can't get his dick straight and then some other people. American literature today is just about belly-gazing. My book is about the grand things, like death, life, and fucking. Big topics for a big woman. Fuck everyone else. I really can't give a fuckety-fuck-fuck about them. I've got too much other shit on my plate. You know what I'm saying?
NP: I do. What do you think of James Frey?
HC: Oh. I love his stuff.
NP: What about Heidi Julavits' essay in the first issue of The Believer, where she calls for the end of snark?
HC: Fuck that. It's bullshit. I don't have time for that shit. I'm HILLARY CLINTON. Do you think I have time for literary party games? I swear, that whole McSweeneys thing is so forced. Do I want to go to church or read a fucking book? I want literature about real things, not some fucking sacrificial hipster rite. Who cares if it's well-designed? Mein Kampf is well-designed, and that fucking book caused a lot of trouble. Dave Eggers is really just a better-looking Hitler who doesn't hate Jews.
Not that there's any moral equivalence between Dave Eggers and Hitler or anything. I'd hate to appear to be endorsing that.
Anyway, very good piece by Neal there, especially liked the James Frey ref. James Frey is pretty funny. I also liked the fact that Hil gets Tourettic. But what I really liked is that it allows me to segue into my own subject, viz:
I did me a reading Sunday night
This reminded me of two things, which I say in total honesty and without any false modesty: 1) that I am unusually good at doing readings, and 2) why I do not do readings anymore. The first goes without saying (I'm fabulous, witty, mind-numbingly handsome, etc.) but let me explicate the second a bit more.
I hate writers. I know, I know, all writers say that, but I hate writers so much that I stopped writing. Well, not really--of course I still write lyrics, and a decent number of my songs are basically spoken-word pieces--but it definitely drove me away from my original New York goal of being a writer to the new goal of being a working musician. A large part of it was the experience of playing to a crowd; I had been one of those bedroom musician kids, but once I got out and played in front of people who were reasonably interested in hearing what I did, it became quickly apparently that it was just plain ol' a lot more fun than doing a reading to a bunch of people, even if you were pretty good at readings and keeping a crowd involved and friendly and etc.
The problem is that since writers don't get the energy and feedback of a crowd or set of listeners driving them, they seem to compensate in other ways. Most notably, they create some sort of "transgressive" personality (c.f. Frey) and go with it, which aside from being annoying in and of itself also tends to influence their non-public persona and thence gets into the writing. And we have enough crappy Bukowski imitators already, it seems to me. Now, I don't mean writers who actually write (or try to write) for a living--freelancers, media folk, etc. These can be annoying but in a much different, and, I think, much smaller way. The "I'm a writer" writers, though...I mean, they're not unlike the people who are protesters because they like the culture of protesting, or who start a band because they think it would be cool to be in a band. They might actually be talented, but all too often that tends to be obscured by the persona, and quite frankly I can't stand to be around them, much less participate in readings with them. I'll probably start focusing on writing again at some point, but for now, I'm much happier with my music crowds.
posted by Mike B. at 2:29 PM 0 comments
Monday, June 09, 2003
I'm not going to blame Matt Y. for this entry, but the other two he links to make some pretty retarded claims saying that (gasp) Derrida is a Straussian!
By the way, am I the only one to have noticed the similarities between Leo Strauss and Jacques Derrida? Both believe in the importance of close readings of classic philosophical texts, both find hidden meanings in these texts which become available only after careful study by the cognoscenti, and both are interested in how surface or ordinary readings of a text are undermined and even reversed by these close readings. (And both have a problematic relationship to the Enlightenment, and a particular love for the classics.)
Indeed, Straussianism has long been one of the two pathologies of "political philosophy" as practiced in U.S. political science departments (the infection has not spread to the U.K. or Australasia); the other, of course, is "postmodernism." This "odd couple" actually has much in common, notwithstanding the unpostmodern commitment of Straussians to "the immutability of moral and social values" (as the Times put it). Straussians and postmodernists produce relatively little competent scholarship; the quality of argumentation (for or against "the immutability of moral and social values") is very low in both Straussian and postmodernist political theory; the political motivations of Straussians and postmodernists are usually transparent; and, perhaps most strikingly, Straussian and postmodernist political philosophy simply can't be found in major philosophy departments.
So let me get this straight: Derrida is like Strauss because he likes classical texts (are all Plato scholars Straussian?), he finds "hidden meaning" (are all practitioners of close reading Straussian?) and he thinks this hidden meaning is available only to the chosen few. Presumably my parentheticals have knocked off the first two, but as for the last: as Jason said, "I think they're projecting." I've never found Derrida to claim--and maybe I'm missing it--that only a select few can deconstruct, but at the very least that assertion is disproved by contemporary evidence (who doesn't "deconstruct" nowadays?). I know a lot of nerds dislike Derrida because he's too mainstream (I joke, I joke, I know he's not particularly intellectually rigorous) but it seems inaccurate to group him in with a pretty roundly hated conservative doctrine just because they're bitter that the cool pomo kids won't let them sit at their lunch table with the cute girls. I know, I know, you feel like you can't deconstruct because you're not hep to the lingo, but that's just social anxiety. Derrida is pretty inclusive.
As for #2, I'm a bit lost here. Seems to me that Straussianism is unique less because it's "one of the two pathologies" but because it's the only contemporary strain of political philosophy that has a name. I'd say that the major philosophical viewpoint taught in politics departments is liberalism ("in the classical sense," as I'm required to say here). They could actually use a wee bit more postmodernism. Perhaps he means "multiculturalism" instead of postmodernism? And surely he knows that those aren't even remotely the same thing? If there's a problem with postmodernism, it would be that it doesn't have a particular political viewpoint most of the time; when political views are expressed in postmodern criticism, it all too often sits outside the critical viewpoint and is just this annoying jab wedgeed in there to win brownie points. Postmodernism in and of itself is pretty anti-political, you ask me.
So yeah--leave Derrida alone. He didn't start the whole rimless-glasses thing, and he definitely doesn't believe in a Rhodesian secret society, thank you very much.
UPDATE: Honestly, as to #2, I have a paltry grasp of the ideological makeup of most politics departments, and I should have been a bit less shrill. (Although let me add: uh, Marxists?!) So maybe there are a lot of joint Straussian-Pomo departments in the country, but it seems unlikely to me. That said, who does qualify as a postmodern political philosopher? I can think of lots of feminists/multiculturalists, but not really any pomos. Wollin?
I guess a lot of my political theory could be described as "postmodern" in the sense that it does incorporate a decent bit of Foucault and other suspects who I wholly abuse for my own purposes, and the indeterminacy of policy-as-text is sort of a wayback assumption of a lot of my thinking, but generally I only get to the pomo arena by combining literary theorists with political theorists. Is Foucault a pomo political theorist, or is he just a cultural theorist-slash-historian?
posted by Mike B. at 5:59 PM 0 comments
Phrases I particularly like today would include:
"The sound of thousands of underpants hitting the floor."
"Metaphysics. Love. Urban America."
posted by Mike B. at 5:40 PM 0 comments
The whole Ari Fleisher-Helen Thomas thing is particularly funny in small bits:
I'm happy to take your questions. Helen. (April 14, 2003)
Always interested in your opinion, Helen. (Nov. 27, 2001)
I'm not sure what you're driving at, Helen. (Jan. 16, 2002)
I'm not answering the question, Helen. (Dec. 10, 2002)
You're mixing up two stories, Helen. (Dec. 14, 2001)
It's a wily paraphrase, Helen, wily. (Jan. 23, 2003)
Go stand in the corner, Helen. (Feb. 26, 2003)
What's next, Helen? (Oct. 1, 2001)
Helen? We're back to Helen? (July 3, 2002)
Helen, your views on this are well known. (Oct. 9, 2002)
Helen, we all know you have opinions. (May 17, 2002)
Helen, with your support, the answer will be yes. (June 20, 2001)
Helen, I've addressed the question. (Sept. 28, 2001)
Helen, Helen. (May 14, 2002)
Helen? Helen? (July 3, 2002)
Helen. (May 29, 2003)
posted by Mike B. at 5:36 PM 0 comments
Ftrain (via Gawker reprints a NYT advertisement from 1869:
Its EDITORIAL DEPARTMENT will be conducted in a spirit of fairness and impartiality, free alike from personal rancor or undue favoritism; and will be the production of the ablest and most experienced writers upon all the subjects treated.
Yeah, it's almost as if journalistic standards have changed since eighteen sixty fucking nine. They don't have editorials in verse anymore, like they used to. (They do have editorials about verse, however.) Oh well. I like my editorials with a little impartiality.
posted by Mike B. at 5:33 PM 0 comments