29 August 2007

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Not about dogfighting

Ah, fall. So full of promise. Each year the 32 teams of the National Football League line up in roughly the first full weekend of September, each with 0 wins and 0 losses, and commence a 17-week odyssey (16 games with one bye week) to determine who is greatest in all the land. At stake: one of twelve precious playoff berths, 6 per conference, and an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, the nexus where America's consumer culture, love of spectacle, and passion for sport collide in a bloody spray of...Prince. (There's also a football game somewhere in there, I assure you. Well, maybe not.)

Football is appealing for many reasons, but one is so mindblowingly obvious, that it towers above the rest: each team only plays once a week. So, in order to consider yourself a good football fan, you only have to watch...one...game...per...week. And guess what else? They're almost always on Sunday. Are you telling me that you don't have three and half hours to kill on a lazy autumnal Sunday? OF COURSE YOU DON'T: YOU'RE WATCHING FOOTBALL.

Sure, there's Monday Night Football, and the occasional Thursday game (excluding Thanksgiving, which is a football free-fire zone), but you know what? Those games are for the harder-core football consumer - a consumer whose abundance relative to hard-core fans of other pro sports can be directly attributable to a) the relative paucity of pro-football games, and b) the fact that a high proportion of football games are actually meaningful. Take me, for example: I consider myself to be a relatively ardent football fan. I also consider myself to be a relatively hard core Mets fan. Over the course of this season, the New York Jets, my NFL team of choice, will play the aforementioned 16 game schedule; I guarantee that I will watch at least 14 of these contests in their entirety, give or take the occasional unavoidable prior obligation. This season, the Mets have played roughly 130 games out of 162; I have watched roughly 30 games in their entirety, and have caught extended bits on TV or radio of maybe another 60 or 70 games.

These numbers may not be that striking, but consider this: I guarantee that outside of contests featuring the Jets, I will watch roughly 13 or 14 of the Sunday Night Football games broadcast on NBC, most of another 13 or 14 Monday Night games on ESPN, a further 7 or 8 complete Giants games, and handful of Thursday and Saturday contest featuring neither the Jets nor the Giants. So far this year, I have caught most of 6 or 7 Yankee games, and maybe one or two extended bits of games featuring neither the Yankees or the Mets.

Look, I'm not a prognosticator by any stretch of the imagination; I certainly didn't predict a 10-6 season with a playoff berth for the Jets in Eric Mangini's first season as coach, and nor did I predict the New Orleans Saints' amazing 2006 turnaround, giving them the first playoff bye in team history. If you want prognostication, analysis, a good deal of informative digression, and a fantastic sense of humor, check out Brookings Institution-fellow Gregg Easterbrook's weekly Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN.com - if you are remotely a football fan, it is the best half an hour you can spend at work during the season.

No, my pre-season ritual is sartorial. Each year I like to check out the new fashions placed up for sale by the NFL, which maintains a pretty limited product design scheme, reinforced by its ongoing exclusivity deal with Reebok. Usually I buy one new piece of Jet-wear per season, renewing the eternal commercial bond between man and franchise; last year was the first time in a while I declined to do so, a fact I blame on an increasingly outlandish design philosophy. Hopefully this year the NFL and Reebok can turn things around so I can give them another $30 or so.

The Hats:

Reebok 2007 Draft Day Cap

Ugh. See, the problem here is that most NFL fan-wear looks like it was designed with 10 year-old boys in mind. Understatement is not a prized commodity: check out the ridiculous inclusion of a Jets wordmark on the cap's visor. Totally superfluous considering the fact that "NY JETS" is prominently displayed on the cap's crown, right? Also, the two white hashmarks at the temple - what for? Bleccch.

2007 Player Hat

Egads. Back when I was a wee lad, I had a pair of Zubaz pants. They are days that I care not to relive in any sense, let alone with a hat that screams "I'm behind on child support." Note, though, the inclusion of one of the more promising developments in recent Jets design history: the NY-in-oval mark. Some Jersey partisans don't like this, because they see it as a continued encroachment of a New York centric-ethos on our state's resident football teams. A couple of years ago, to great local consternation, the Giants switched their primary logo from this to this, reversing a uniform trend towards enforced vagueness to make us Jersey (and...uh...Connecticut) fans feel at home. The Jets changed their uniforms in 1998 from the ol' Jolly Greens to a more retro, and welcome, Namath-era design, adding an NY to the primary logo but maintaining the prominence of the "Jets" wordmark. The NY-in-oval so far has no place on the uniform (although one wonders what would have happened if the West Side Manhattan stadium deal went through); I think it looks pretty sharp, giving the organization a bit of well-deserved flair.

Pre-season Mesh Slouch Hat

o-for-3. Again with the logos. The solid-crown/solid-bill combination is always a winner, but the front of the crown is far, far too busy, with not only the Jets' primary logo, but a Jets wordmark, and beneath that "football", as if there could be some confusion as to what sport the hat refers to. On the back velcro closure, we learn that the Jets play in the AFC East ("Oh, really doctor?"). The only welcome development here is the unheralded return of a simple NFL shield in place of the case-study-in-branding-overkill "Equipment NFL" shield, introduced by the league to demarcate official sideline gear, which is basically everything Reebok hawks.

Women's Adjustable Pink Slouch Cap

Ladies, this is no way to gain respect.

The Shirts

2007 Draft Day T-shirt

Now, I once had a totally awesome Jets t-shirt from the 1999 season, following 1998's 12-4 regular season performance that ended with a crushing defeat in the AFC Championship game. (Fuck John Elway.) It had a Jets logo on the front, and on the back simply said "START OVER." Man, I loved that shirt. This shirt, on the other hand, is a complete assfest, meant to bilk stockbrokers out of twenty bucks over the esoterica convention that is the NFL Draft. Forewarned is forearmed.

Gridiron Crown T-shirt

Hmm. I like the concept: football helmet, words, we out. But...I mean, I'm all for improved safety, but the use of the new, more reptillian, more protective vented helmets...not so good on a t-shirt. It just looks odd, and it really turns me off to what would otherwise be a perfectly acceptable piece of Sunday afternoon couchwear. C+.

The Sweatshirt...s

Classic Hooded Fleece

The best of a weak field. The coloration bothers me - looks kind of like the toothpaste green the Philadelphia Eagles favor, more than the robust dark green of my beloved Jets. I like the simple lettering though, and I strongly approve of the use of the old-timey passenger jet logo - very tasteful. Overall, you really can't beat the sweatshirt for football season utility. It's gonna be chilly come October and November, so you aren't going to be wearing that t-shirt outside too much, are ya? The only really sticking point with this baby is the premium price tag: $69.99. Ouch.

28 August 2007

Tuesday: The New Monday

Another one bites the dust

The news is thick on the ground today, let me tell you. But in the interest of preventing this site from becoming just another internet repository for half-formed, half-informed political aggravation-divesting rants, I'm going to keep today's post brief:

Alberto Gonzales resigns: Man, next time the Bush Administration considers taking a team photo, maybe they should just save the film (or bytes, or whatever) and hire Thomas Nast's ghost to draw a caricature instead. "Oh you mean those eight fired U.S. Attorneys...right, right...no, I...did I talk to anybody about that? At the what house? White House...a white house, or the White House?"

Christopher Hitchens insists that we're winning two out of three wars in Iraq: Too bad neither is the one where we get the democracy and the stability and people stop killing each other and we get to go home. But, as official Hitchensverse poet laureate Meat Loaf says, "Two out of three ain't bad."

Of course, the two out of three thing only applies if we accept C-Hitch's stated belief that we are on the cusp of defeating al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) - a claim he bases on "e-mail from soldiers in Anbar province and some well-attested other reports" (which he follows up with a link to his August 13th Slate column, that, in the best neocons-and-their-fellow-travelers tradition, contains no references to said e-mails and another citation-free reference to these "well-attested reports"). Let me put it this way: Mr. Hitchens, impressive intellect though he may be, has a chronic case of confirmation bias when it comes to the Iraq War; indeed he maybe the only person outside of the G.O.P. still trying to paint a smiley face on this particular clusterfuck. If a couple of e-mails and phantom reports is what Hitchens is going on (hey, sounds a lot like the original case for war!) then be advised to place your bets elsewhere.

25 August 2007

The Dustbin of History

Hell yeah I said it/'Cause Oprah won't say it/And Bill won't say it/And they still won't say it

For the weekend:
  1. Killer Mike - "That's Life"
  2. ABBA - "Waterloo"
  3. Peter Gabriel - "I Don't Remember"
  4. New York Dolls - "Personality Crisis"
  5. David Bowie - "Boys Keep Swinging"
  6. Caribou - "Melody Day"
  7. New Pornographers - "Your Rights vs. Mine"
  8. Justice - "D.A.N.C.E. (Alan Braxe Remix)"
  9. The Strokes - "What Ever Happened?"
  10. The Black Ghosts - "Face (The Teenagers Remix)"
  11. Elvis Costello - "Chemistry Class"

24 August 2007

Let's Impeach the President

You know where this is going

Every now and again, from the primordial depths of the commentariat bubbles forth the appealing idea of impeaching President Bush. This week's model is a column by constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein on Slate.com castigating House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) for "single handedly" taking impeachment off the table. The prospect of impeachment, Fein tells us, "would concentrate the minds of the president and vice president wonderfully on obeying rather than sabotaging the Constitution." Furthermore, the time is right:
According to public opinion polling, the percentage of voters supporting the impeachments of both President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are now approximately 45 and 54 percent, respectively. Most Americans instinctively feel the president is an untrustworthy steward of the Constitution's checks and balances because, among other things, he flouts laws, prohibits White House aides from testifying before Congress, consistently defends an attorney general who is an inveterate liar, and detains citizens and noncitizens indefinitely as enemy combatants on his say-so alone.
Pelosi won't consider this option, according to Fein, because "It is the fortunes of the Democratic Party, not the fate of the Constitution and the strength of democracy, that animate her decision." The Speaker is squarely fixed on the Democrats retaining control of Congress and capturing the White House in 2008; she feels that an impeachment proceeding could needlessly derail the party's electoral prospects. Mr. Fein, articulating the feelings of "many Democrats", asserts that this is a misreading of the mandate the party was handed in 2006, and that failing to pursue impeachment may ultimately prove a costlier course:
...citizens voted for authentic change last November and will revolt if Democrats ape President Bush and maneuver for partisan advantage while the Constitution burns. If an impeachment inquiry is blocked by Pelosi, and the White House is left undisturbed in its constitutional usurpations and celebration of perpetual war, voters may turn against Democrats for their political spinelessness.
I placed the phrase "many Democrats" in quotation marks in the above paragraph, not because I dispute Mr. Fein's assertion or wish to belittle him; those are his exact words, and I believe them to be accurate. Democrats are frustrated, and we have a right to be. Eight months have passed since Congress switched hands, and not only does the Iraq war continue to grind on (though I believe it naive to think that it would already be over, even under the best of circumstances) but President Bush has actually managed to escalate the conflict with his so-called "surge", ramping up our military presence even as our military leaders have taken the idea of "victory" off the table. The Democratic leadership in Congress has shown no willingness to use that body's considerable war-making and budgetary powers to do anything whatsoever to impede him. Furthermore, as Fein rightly points out, the Democratic leadership has virtually bent over backwards to aid the Bush Administration's quest to shred the Constitution and consolidate unprecedented power in the Executive Branch; the enactment of the Protect America Act of 2007 (paging Mr. Orwell) basically lends Congress's considerable imprimatur to the extensive program of illegal warrantless wiretapping exposed by the New York Times in December 2005.

Ending the war and stopping the Bush gang's assault on our constitutional freedoms: these are aims Democrats can achieve now with the majorities they enjoy in both houses of Congress. Furthermore, such policies are entirely congruent with the results of the 2006 elections. Mr. Fein's focus, however, is on impeachment, where the stakes, both constitutionally and politically, are considerably higher. Only two presidents in American history, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have ever been impeached by the House of Representatives (though Richard Nixon surely would have been had he not resigned); neither was convicted by the Senate.

Therein lies the rub: there is no possibility of getting the 67 votes in the Senate required to convict President Bush. Fein tacitly acknowledges this, omitting any mention of the impeachment trial itself and focusing solely on the articles of impeachment. That initiating impeachment proceedings under such circumstances would be a supreme act of futility is seemingly besides the point; according to Fein's logic, President Bush has trampled the Constitution, ergo impeachment proceedings should be viewed not as a matter of discretion for the House but as a fait accompli. Failure to impeach the President equates to "spinelessness", an abdication of the Democrats' responsibility to check the Administration's growing litany of abuses. Of course, the consequences of the President's inevitable acquittal at the hands of the full Senate are never considered; such a moment would invariably be bent into a political triumph for the White House and a validation of the Bush gang's policies. The Democratic Congress's prestige would be considerably damaged, and instead of going into 2008 with a clear shot at the presidency and a good chance of expanding their majority, Democrats would instead be left playing defense against a cast of Republican goons, none of whom are George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. Any one who believes that, in practical terms, a botched impeachment of President Bush is more likely to hasten an end to the war in Iraq than a Democratic sweep in 2008, well, I'm sure that Cindy Sheehan's congressional campaign can use a few more volunteers.

Indeed, something as grave as impeachment must be considered in practical terms. Mr. Fein is content to rest his case on principal, which is all well and good: in principal, I agree with him that Bush deserves impeachment. Condemning Pelosi's inaction, he adopts the high-falutin' language of the above-it-all:
But even if the speaker's political and strategic impeachment worries were valid, the Constitution is beyond party. It has remained generally unscathed for more than two centuries only because our leaders have subordinated their parochial concerns when looking into a constitutional abyss. The speaker should not be permitted to frustrate the will of 434 co-equal members who collectively represent the entire nation and who are inspired by loftier motives when the Constitution and the relevance of Congress lie in the balance. Just as President Bush should not be a king, Speaker Pelosi should not be our queen.
Heady stuff, but ultimately laughable, and a constitutional lawyer should presumably know better. The Constitution "has remained generally unscathed for more than two centuries[?]" So I'm guessing that the Alien and Sedition Acts, Lincoln suspending habeus corpus, the WWI-era Espionage and Sedition Acts, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, J. Edgar Hoover's tenure at the FBI - these are all examples of our precious constitutional rights being "generally" upheld. And our leaders subordinating "their parochial concerns when looking into a constitutional abyss[?]" So that's how the framers ended up determining that a slave counted as precisely 3/5ths of a man.

The Constitution has not endured because it denies the inherently political and partisan nature of American democracy, but because it has outlined an ingenious series of institutions, checks, and balances designed to withstand these pressures and channel them in a fashion presumably useful to the American people. Amateurs often cite George Washington's words about avoiding partisanship as some holy dictum, absolute proof that parties are unnatural impurities in the American political system. Yet other Founding Fathers, who can probably lay even greater claim to the intellectual formulation of our Constitution - James Madison, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson - were all partisan politicians themselves, often arrayed against one another.

Make no mistake, impeachment is a deeply political process; that is why it was entrusted to the Congress. That does not make it an unserious matter, where principal should always be subordinated to the same horse-trading mentality that governs much Congressional business. It does, however, signify that it is process governed by very real political considerations, chief among which should be the likely success of adopting articles of impeachment, and the potential for obtaining a conviction in the Senate. We can argue that such "craven" calculations are beneath our American concept of justice, but it should be noted that prosecutors in our courts often refuse to bring criminal proceedings where they feel there are insufficient odds of getting a conviction. The Constitution, by requiring a 2/3rds majority "yea" vote in the Senate for conviction, set the bar extremely high for a successful impeachment; it would be foolish to presume that this requirement was not in some way intended by the Founding Fathers to deter impeachment proceedings that had little chance of ultimate success.

I empathize with Mr. Fein's frustrations; the Democrats were given a clear mandate by the electorate to bring the machinery of war and deceit to halt, and thus far they have failed to do so. But insisting on impeachment in lieu of oversight is like getting turned down for five bucks and then asking to borrow a million. To suggest that Speaker Pelosi should allow a free vote on the matter and cease "frustrating the will of 434 co-equal members" is a fantasy sentiment, ignoring the political reality that the "will" of 202 of those "co-equal members" is to erase the Democratic majority in 2008 and get their hands back on the levers of power. A stillborn impeachment process would be at the top of the GOP's wish list for 2008 - a readymade opportunity to portray the Democrats as weak, ineffective, and vengeful: just as obsessed with embarrassing President Bush as the Republican Congress was with embarrassing Clinton in 1998. As a leader of her party and a guardian of its electoral prospects, Speaker Pelosi should continue to do everything in her power to prevent this from happening. As the leader of the full House of Representatives and the most powerful member of Congress, she should do everything in her power to provide the type of oversight and opposition necessary to bring the Bush gang to heel and preserve our Constitution.

23 August 2007

"...a boot stamping on a human face - for ever."

"I Don't Remember"

Originally, Elvis Costello was to name his third album Emotional Fascism; when he chickened out and titled it Armed Forces instead, Greil Marcus called bullshit, noting that E.C. was onto something by directly suggesting in songs like "Goon Squad", "Green Shirt", "Chemistry Class", and, get this, "Two Little Hitlers", that fascism, a la Henri Bernard-Levi, had become the dominant political mode of the West: "If fascism now pervades our everyday lives and our interactions with each other, our whole understanding of social intercourse supports and ultimately affirms fascism. This makes it a more interesting and less fixed statement."

Peter Gabriel's "I Don't Remember" opens with the tell-tale lines "I got no means to show identification/I got no papers show you what I am", but where Costello can call his fears by name ("They'll never get to make a lampshade out of meeeeeeee..."), Gabriel is a tangle of confusion, paranoia, and recrimination. He is on the stool and under the hot lights, asked questions we never hear and he doesn't want to or cannot answer: "I don't remember/ I don't recall/ I have no memory of anything at all."

As with Costello, Gabriel's politics in the song are sexual; unlike Costello, whose thesis is the infiltration of the political into the realm of the sexual, Gabriel seems to believe that the two concepts are directly interchangeable. Interspersed between Orwellian imagery that has become shorthand for the twentieth century, hints surface: "I got empty heart and empty bed"; "With eyes on the sun and your mouth to the soda." When Gabriel's interrogator says "Tell me the truth, you've got nothing to fear," we hear both the secret policeman's voice and the woman's, offering the same hollow assurances and seeking similar ends. By this point Gabriel himself has moved from the selfless defiance of the first verse ("You'll have to take me just the way that you find me/What's gone is gone and I do not give a damn") to pleading confusion in the second ("I'm all mixed up/I got nothing to say"). Whether he remembers or not, whether or not there is even anything to remember in the first place, is immaterial; he's going to break sooner or later, and he's going to tell them what they want to hear.

In the August 13th edition of The New Yorker, Jane Mayer wrote extensively about the programs implemented by the CIA in the wake of 9/11 to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists abroad ("The Black Sites"). According to Ms. Mayer's article, the interrogation regimen that was utilized in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locations, was developed by a group of behavioral psychologists who had worked on the Special Forces' SERE program - an acronym standing for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape. SERE was designed to teach soldiers how to cope with the treatment they might receive if captured by a "torture regime"; the CIA essentially focused on perfecting the methods SERE training was created to resist. Steve Kleinman, a retired Air Force colonel who specialized in interrogation, elaborates:
It starts with isolation. Then they eliminate the prisoners’ ability to forecast the future—when their next meal is, when they can go to the bathroom. It creates dread and dependency. It was the K.G.B. model. But the K.G.B. used it to get people who had turned against the state to confess falsely. The K.G.B. wasn’t after intelligence.
Col. Kleinman's comments above suggest he believes that by adopting the KGB's old interrogation techniques, our government is somehow missing the point. Perhaps, though, the truth doesn't matter anymore; it's the idea of confession, of self-incrimination that really counts. After all, the more intelligence, specious or not, that the CIA can claim to have extracted by its methods, the more justification there is to continue employing them. The mechanisms of torture are thereby self-perpetuating; they are not means to an end, but an end unto themselves - intended, like the accompanying War on Terror, to become a permanent feature of the 21st century.

For Elvis Costello and Peter Gabriel, none of this is remotely surprising: the doctors supervising torture, the secret prisons, the false confessions. Fascism never really went away, it was just silently absorbed into human consciousness, ripping open new seams of possibility and obliterating boundaries of conduct that can never be re-established. It has permeated every layer of our society, and if Costello and Gabriel are to be believed, even crept into our beds.

Asked once to compare the explicit politics of Woody Guthrie's music with the implicit politics of Elvis Costello's, Greil Marcus replied that

Woody Guthrie had a sign on his guitar that said 'this machine kills fascists.' That's just the kind of connection between music and politics that I'm arguing against. It wasn't a machine and it didn't kill fascists. It made Woody Guthrie and the people who listened to him feel noble. I'm not saying that he wasn't against fascism but to say that you could defeat it by singing songs is not helpful in the war against fascism...

Woody Guthrie says 'sing my songs and defeat fascism.' Elvis Costello says 'fascism exists- look around you.' Is that a stronger political statement? I don't know. It doesn't tell you what to do or promise any results. It's a stronger statement but I don't know if it's a stronger political statement.

22 August 2007

Caribou's Andorra: Necrophilia as a Higher Love

"Melody Day"

Admittedly, I was never a passenger on the Dan Snaith/Manitoba/Caribou train. Neither 2003's Up in Flames nor 2005's post-Handsome Dick-ed The Milk of Human Kindness struck me as any more than interesting experiments in collage and production dressed up in pop music's big sister clothes. Perhaps that was the idea, but to my mind it exposed the idea of IDM as an alibi instead of a legitimate genre unto itself. I listened to both records a couple of times, filed them away alphabetically, and recently thought about trading them in via LaLa.com.

Caribou's latest album, Andorra provides definitive proof that a) Snaith indeed has pop pretensions, and b) he is capable of making good on them. His work had always drawn upon '60s psych influences, but on Andorra the connection is made explicit; seeking more than a feeling, Snaith exhumes the whole formula, creating a record that cops, in turn, post-Pet Sounds Beach Boys' vocal stylings and cadence, The Zombies' filigreed chamber pop, and the playful experimentation of The Beatles circa Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's. Each track on side 1 seems designed (and fit) for inclusion on some future Nuggets comp, especially the blissed-out (and relatively conventional) lead single, "Melody Day."

Yet Andorra, though a pastiche, is far from a straight rip. The music is undeniably vintage Snaith; a close listen reveals his delicate hand at work, essentially creating a musical mosaic composed of hundreds if not thousands of ornate electronic manipulations massaged into a coherent, seamless whole. Furthermore he proves that he does not need to be shackled to conventional songforms like an errant child in order to retain some sense of shape - tracks like "After Hours"and "Desiree" overflow their molds, coalescing into singular, sprawling pop confections. Even when Andorra grows more atmospheric during the course of side 2, Snaith maintains discipline, crafting his IDM creations with a sculptor's touch; closing track "Niobe" is a controlled detonation of interwoven beats and synths, expanding and contracting kaleidoscopically.

At its very best, Andorra scales the same heights of perfection as 2006's undersung masterpiece, Junior Boys' So This Is Goodbye, welding pop classicism and romanticism to an expertly-crafted IDM chassis, and making certain that the latter always operates in service of the former. It is a marked sign of artistic evolution for Snaith, answering the questions posed by his prior work and signifying his arrival as an unlikely pop auteur. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay is that Andorra has secured its predecessors' place on my shelf in perpetuity: after all, maybe there's something I've missed.

21 August 2007

Michael Vick and American Justice


On Monday it was announced that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, one of the premier superstars of the National Football League, has agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges stemming from allegations that he and several associates operated a dogfighting ring from a Vick-owned property in Surry County, Virginia. The conspiracy charges carry a maximum of five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine; sources indicate that prosecutors will recommend Vick be incarcerated for one year to 18 months - a prison term in line with a first offense, according to federal sentencing guidelines. The plea deal only settles the federal case against Vick; there is no word yet whether or not the Commonwealth of Virginia will continue to seek its own set of indictments.

Since yesterday's announcement, much of the focus has shifted to Michael Vick's future in the NFL, and more specifically, what the League's response will be to Mr. Vick's pending conviction. It is already assumed that the NFL will suspend Vick, and that his suspension will not run concurrently with his prison term. Following a spate of high profile off-the-field incidents involving players this off-season, there is a significant amount of pressure from the media, fans, and team owners on the NFL and its rookie commissioner, Roger Goodell, to make an example of Vick under the League's recently toughened personal conduct policy.

Public sentiment in the matter has been understandably harsh. Dogfighting is an extremely cruel enterprise, tantamount to physical and psychological torture for the animals forced to participate; the federal indictment in Vick's case specifically enumerates some particularly abominable practices, which I will not rehash here. Furthermore, Michael Vick, as a star NFL quarterback, is not unreasonably assumed to have some responsibilities as a role model and leader in his community - responsibilities he has obviously abdicated by participating in such a barbaric criminal activity. He is also extremely wealthy, with a $130 million contract (not all of which is guaranteed) and several lucrative endorsement deals, all of which he gambled away on his repugnant "leisure" activity. There is a sense that through his actions, Vick squandered his immense athletic gifts - gifts that most of his fans believe they would give anything to have. In their eyes, this betrayal, this waste, may almost be a bigger crime than the dogfighting itself, and they are inclined to despise Vick all the more for it.

Yet it would be pollyannaish to suggest that all of the opprobrium directed at Vick is solely occasioned by such "pure" motivations. Any thinking man must consider the fact that Mr. Vick is a young, prominent African-American with a hip hop-informed public persona; that is to say, for much of white America, he is the "wrong" kind of black. It is not hard to detect the schadenfreude dimension at work here - just note the relish and abandon with which sports talk radio call-ins will apply the pejorative "thug" label to Vick over the coming weeks. A certain, bigoted segment of American sports fans will always root for men like Mike Vick to fail; sadly, this time he has managed to live down to their expectations.

Should Vick be punished for his actions? Of course, and he will be: at least one year of his mortal life will be spent without freedom, an inmate in a federal prison. Furthermore, the NFL, as previously discussed, will undoubtedly suspend him, denying Vick the opportunity to play professional football at its highest level and the financial compensation that would be afforded him. This, too, is just: Vick has broken the law, and in doing so caused his employer grave embarrassment, tarnishing both the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL brand. Furthermore, he lied about his actions on several occasions to Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Commissioner Goodell, abusing their trust and disrespecting their authority.

What is particularly fascinating about Vick's case is that we somehow have come to expect that the latter punishment is going to be more meaningful, more fitting, than the former. We have seemingly sublimated our faith in the American justice system to our faith in Roger Goodell. Part of this is doubtlessly fueled by the fact that the sports media has been the primary source of coverage on Vick's case - certainly Mr. Vick's legal disposition is of less material interest to ESPN than what impact his absence will have on the Falcons' salary cap structure. However, I think it also reflects the widespread belief in our society that our justice system is somehow incapable of dealing with the rich and powerful, or the most noxious offenders. We reason that prison won't sufficiently "hurt" Vick, the same way we reason that our courts are incapable of appropriately dealing with terrorists. In real life, we turn to extrajudicial military tribunals to handle "enemy combatants" or the NFL to deny Vick his dream and his livelihood; in the movies it's Charles Bronson in Death Wish, wasting punks and delivering gleefully fascistic vengeance.

So what punishment fits the crime, then? Materially, I hardly think it matters; in any instance Vick will probably never play in the NFL again. If he serves one year in prison, as is likely, and then just a one year suspension (unlikely, given that one year is what Pacman Jones received without a conviction), the earliest Vick would be eligible would be for the 2009-10 season. By that point he would be 30 years old, almost past his prime for a running quarterback, and Vick has thus far shown no ability or inclination to become a better passer. Additionally he would have lost out on two seasons of potential development, which almost all observers agree that he sorely requires. And, as Salon.com's King Kaufman correctly points out (subscription required), the peculiarities of the quarterback position within the game of football present their own set of obstacles: "The quarterback is the face of the franchise, the guy on the billboards, the leader of the team. If he's not a gem of a guy, you work with that as best you can, but a vicious animal torturer and killer?"

In any event I suspect that Roger Goodell, a far smarter man than I, has probably considered this possibility. He realizes that by simply banning Vick from the game for two or three seasons following his release from prison that he can sweep him under the rug without countenancing the potential controversy that a lifetime ban would invite. He can maintain the pretense of fairness and proportionality with a straight face when a reporter asks him why so and so who just beat up his girlfriend got an eight game suspension while Vick remains locked out of the game permanently for abusing animals. Sure, Goodell will take a little heat for his perceived leniency right now, but the story will run out of steam once Vick packs off for jail, and who's going to care about Michael Vick when his suspension ends in 2011 or 2012? By then the face of the league will be completely different anyway, with a new constellation of stars in ascendance. The game will move on.

Interestingly, Deion Sanders, himself a former football star and current commentator for the NFL Network, wrote a newspaper column defending Vick; after its publication, the Network (read: Goodell) ordered Sanders to refrain from commenting on Vick's case in the future. Most of Sanders' column is trash, dedicated to making feeble excuses for Vick, or diffusing responsibility off of Vick (he's not the ringleader), or insisting that there ought to be higher priorities than prosecuting Vick (though how a dogfighting investigation in Virginia would drain resources from the Colorado investigation into the murder of Broncos' player Darrent Williams is never made clear). However, he makes one fascinating point:
...some people enjoy proving they have the biggest, toughest dog on the street. You’re probably not going to believe this, but I bet Vick loves the dogs that were the biggest and the baddest. Maybe, he identified with them in some way. (Italics added.)
Gregg Easterbrook, in his outstanding August 17th ESPN.com column, first drew out the significance of these remarks:
You don't need to be Dr. Freud to see the parallels between killing a dog that lost a fight and cutting an NFL player who had a bad game -- or shrugging as a soldier dies in the Iraq desert because the Pentagon didn't care that a corrupt defense contractor stole the money that was supposed to be used for armor.
One wonders what Commissioner Goodell might read into that.

20 August 2007

More Evidence for the Unfuckability With of Bears #128

This movie is on DVD? Time to check eBay for The Adventures of Milo and Otis again

So I realize that I should be serving as a conduit for news that falls through the cracks of the so called MSM, but fuck it, I'm just going to link to a story on CNN's front page. It seems that over the weekend, some joker at a beer festival in Belgrade managed to get all tore up and fall into the bear pit at the zoo. The bears, as bears are wont to do, ate his ass.

Some observations:
  1. The verbatim response of Belgrade Zoo director Vuk Bojovic to the news: "There's a good chance he was drunk or drugged. Only an idiot would jump into the bear cage." Now, imagine if this happened at, say, the Bronx Zoo. What do you think the zoo director would say? Probably something along the lines of "This is a sad and tragic day for every member of the Bronx Zoo family. We will be reviewing the safety precautions at all of our enclosures for the protection of both the animals and our guests, and we strongly encourage other institutions to do likewise." Mr. Bojovic was like, "Fuck that guy. Also, he didn't fall in - he jumped." Also, note that in Belgrade they keep the bears in cages. Not habitats, or enclosures, or paddocks or whatever: cages.
  2. The bears are named Masha and Misha. Now, for those of you who aren't in the know, Misha the Bear was the official mascot of the 1980 summer Olympics, held in Moscow and boycotted by the United States. What a cute widdle commie bastard. One wonders if the directive went out from the Kremlin before the games that every bear held in captivity throughout the Eastern Bloc had to be named Misha or Masha (which I believe is the name's female equivalent). (Alright, I realize that Yugoslavia was non-aligned during the Cold War, but still, maybe they were throwing Brezhnev a bone or something.)
  3. Being a zoo animal in a former Communist nation really sucks. Not only are you stuck in an actual cage, but people are apparently throwing their cell phones at you. I kid you not: cell phones. Who throws their cell phone at a bear? Serbs, evidently.

19 August 2007

18 August 2007

Epiphany #437

One step closer to being an Obama man

Watching, the Yankees-Tigers game today on Fox, I came to the sudden realization that Yankees fans are the closest thing that the New York metropolitan area has to rednecks. Look at those crowd shots sometimes. I mean, I don't think it's just me, or anything. After all, I love the Yankees and their fans.

Cameron Maybin, a 20 year-old called up from Detroit's farm system yesterday just took Roger "The $30 Million Dollar Man" Clemens yard to the deepest park of Yankee Stadium, dead center, for his second career hit in the Majors. 2-1 Tigers, in the top of the 5th.

17 August 2007

Don't Techno For an Answer

Feed me beats, pls

"I must take better care of my things, and I will.": this quote, courtesy of Lil Wayne, concludes Sasha Frere-Jones' excellent profile of the New Orleans rapper from the August 13th edition of The New Yorker. I've been feeling the same about this site, posting pretty regularly but clearly off of my torrid July pace (a lot like the Yankees: 3 Ls in a row, ouch); to make slight amends I thought I'd throw in a little weekend bonus addition, for the fans, if you will.

So first, a recommendation: check out Ann Arbor label Spectral Sound's Death is Nothing to Fear EP series, now on its second volume (the first was released in February). Comprised of artists both established and new, it is the premier argument that not only is techno in America not a dead form, but it's thriving just a hop, skip, and a jump from its Detroit birthplace. The time is now, especially with Total 8, the latest edition of industry leader Kompakt's state-of-the-label comp, receiving less than stellar reviews for lack of forward momentum. Take the power back! You can order both Vols. 1 & 2 from iTunes for roughly $4 a pop - little money well spent. Also make sure to visit BuyGhostly.com, the internet storefront for Spectral Sound and parent electronic label, Ghostly International. Any one who wants to get me that Osborne t-shirt: I take a large.

Second, here some old and new tracks for your weekend jaunt:
  1. The Long Blondes - "Giddy Stratospheres" (Rough Trade)
  2. The Beatles - "I'm a Loser" (Capitol/EMI)
  3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Down Boy" (Interscope)
  4. Feist - "My Moon My Man (Boyz Noize Classic Mix)" (Kitsune)
  5. The Vibrators - "Baby, Baby" (Columbia)
  6. Franz Ferdinand - "All My Friends (LCD Soundsystem Cover)" (DFA/EMI)
  7. Blondie - "Atomic" (Chrysalis)
  8. Death From Above 1979 - "Black History Month (Alan Braxe and Fred Falke Remix)" (Last Gang)
  9. Kanye West feat. Daft Punk - "Stronger" (Def Jam)
  10. The Marvelettes - "I'll Keep Holding On" (Tamla)
  11. Depeche Mode - "Strangelove" (Mute/Sire)
  12. M.I.A. - "Paper Planes" (Interscope)
  13. The Clash - "Death or Glory" (Epic)

Way Cooler Than You Sucka

Bayside High Class of '92

So, yesterday, I am at the [NAME REDACTED] record store in Fords (hollah!) perusing the used racks, when I come upon that holiest of grails, the promo copy of a yet-to-be-released album. Sure enough some sucka M.C. sold back his free copy of the new M.I.A. album, Kala, slated for release this upcoming Tuesday, August 21st, but in my hot little hands for the princely sum of $5.99 today.

"So what do I thi...er...what do you think?" you ask? Well, first the bad news:
  1. Contrary to the hopes of Interscope Records and the internet, this album will not "break" M.I.A. in America, nor does it constitute any sort of "pop move," at least not anymore so than Arular was a "pop move."
  2. The singles - well, the advance leak from way back ("Bird Flu"), the official first single ("Boyz") and what I assume is targeted for a single as it is highlighted on the sticker that was slapped on my copy of the album ("Bamboo Banga") - are all pretty much duds, sounding less like pop songs and more like fragments, all thudding monotonous beats with dissonant "world" (read: jungle) sounds going on in the background.
  3. Kids rapping = still not good ("Mango Pickle Down River" featuring what is referred to as The Wilcanna Mob - you'll like this if you thought Debbie Harry's rap on "Rapture" was wicked dope).
  4. Timbaland's verse on album closer "Come Around" is pretty much one of the worst guest raps ever, rehashing basically all of the verses he contributed to Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake's records last year and turning the wattage down by half. Take his contribution to JT's "Chop Me Up", replace "Let's take it back to my hive" with "You and me need to go to your teepee" and voila.
Of course, here's where I pick it up, flip it over, and reverse it. I do think that as a whole, Kala is a stronger album than Arular, which could be extremely repetitive at times (a sin reprised on Kala's first three tracks). But where tracks like "Galang" and "Bucky Done Gun" wore thin upon repeated listenings, Kala deep cuts "20 Dollar" and "Paper Planes" are seemingly bottomless, demonstrating a widescreen vision previously hinted at by M.I.A.'s stabs at hip hop along a South Asian/African/Anglo-American (South American? Caribbean? Is baile funk still in? Reggaeton?) multicultural axis. "Paper Planes,"* an early candidate for Track of the Year and easily the best thing M.I.A.'s ever done, is an especially infectious refraction of Kanye West's "We Don't Care" ethos by way of Dirty Pretty Things:
I fly like paper get high like planes
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
If you come around, hey! I make 'em all day!
I'll get one down in a second if you wait

Sometimes I think sittin' on trains
Every stop I get I'm clockin' out game
Everyone's a winner, we're makin' our fame
Bona fide hustler makin' my name

Followed by a sunny chorus of:
All I wanna do is
[4 gun shots]
And a [sound of slide on a gun being pulled back, cash register opening]
And take ya money
Never having been a huge M.I.A. booster, it's tough for me to say how Kala is going to fare with the blogniks that seem to constitute her core audience, at least in the U.S. It's a tougher listen than Arular, transcending a lot of the initial "novelty" that stemmed from M.I.A.'s bio and her affiliation with the then-white hot DJ Diplo. It's also inconsistent, as I guess would be the case for almost any album recorded over almost a year on three or four different continents and with any number of collaborators. Yet when it works, it really works, and on tracks like the aforementioned "Paper Planes and "20 Dollar" plus "Jimmy", "Hussle", and "World Town" you can hear what the Fork that Dare Not Speak Its Name meant when it said that M.I.A. "recasts the tag 'world music' as the ultimate in communicative pop rather than a symbol of condescending piety."

*Idiot that I am, I completely missed the fact that "Paper Planes" samples The Clash's "Straight to Hell" fairly heavily - something I realized playing Combat Rock in bed Saturday morning. Updated on 8/20/07.

15 August 2007

Shit, I Forgot About 9/11 Again

If only someone had a bumper sticker or window appliqué to remind me

So I was driving to work today and I saw this on the back of some decrepit Chevy or Buick or whatever; I can't really remember because I was got very angry and was soon distracted by my own thoughts. I was angry because I'd finally had it, after 5+ solid years, with the 9/11 industry, which, unsurprisingly, has penetrated deeper into this portion of the country than anywhere else.

Let's just get one thing out of the way right now: the 9/11 industry = someone profiting off of 9/11. Don't imagine that the funds from these bumper stickers, magnets, t-shirts, hats, posters, belt buckles, lighters, et cetera are being funneled directly from your wallet to some WTC widow's fund, or to buy equipment for firefighters, or to build memorials somewhat less ephemeral than the rusting back doors of your Econovan. Your money is translating into BMW payments and Caribbean vacations for murder-profiteers.

Now don't get me wrong, I understand capitalism and all that jazz, there's a natural order of things, vultures, so on and so forth. It's not the profit motive alone that bothers me, it's the toxic combination of cynical money grubbing and extreme sanctimony. There's a line from the movie Fight Club about selling people their own fat asses back to them that seems particularly apt when we talk about the types of self-righteous people who take it upon themselves to be the de facto guardians of 9/11 victims' memories while forking over the big bucks to Boss Hogg. Gee, thanks. In an amazing coincidence, these are usually the same vicarious thrill seekers and tragedy whores who love to remind you that they knew someone who's cousin worked in the Twin Towers, or that someone in their dorm's godparent was in the city that day, or whatever. I could be wrong about this, but I bet that people who were actually present at the WTC on 9/11 don't relish recounting to strangers in bars the frantic scramble down sixty flights of smoke-filled stairs, the burning bodies hitting the sidewalks at unbelievable speeds, or the desperate attempts to let their love ones know that, yes they were not in those buildings when they collapsed.

Beyond the money and the self-righteousness is the disgusting fact that 9/11 has effectively become a shorthand justification for the most brutish, self-serving, morally expedient, and (dare I say it?) un-American activities and policies that our political betters in the White House can dream up. 9/11 has been transformed from a unifying, apolitical event without historical precedent to just another point on the timeline of outrages that opportunists will invariably bend to their advantage. The sinking of the Maine, the sinking of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin "incident": whether we agree with the moral justifications of the reactions that followed these events or deplore them, the fact that we react at all soon puts lie to the notion that these things ought to be "out of bounds" or "beyond politics." The Bush gang understood this well and acted accordingly: now the American people debate just under what circumstances torture may be justified and how much illegal domestic surveillance is enough to keep us safe while the President and his cronies still mark time in the White House.

Thus 9/11 is bifurcated into the event itself and the symbol; when we are implored to "NEVER FORGET", which are we supposed to remember, and to what purpose? Frankly, it seems ridiculous to suggest that anyone who was cognizant of the terrorist attacks when they occurred will ever forget the event, yet clearly this is the same audience for which the bumper stickers and other memorabilia are intended (unless people are really concerned that the 10-and-under set is not properly keeping the flame). No, what we're being asked to remember is the symbol, that is, the justification for whatever political viewpoints the bearer espouses in relation to the attacks. The slogan's glibness makes it incontrovertible, and that is its true genius; whatever sentiments the bearer has freighted it with magically become incontrovertible, too - at least in his or her own mind. For a lot of people, that's much easier than having a bumper sticker that says "I Heartily Endorse The Last Five Years of Total Bullshit."

13 August 2007

Fear Strikes Out

The Ace of Pricks

In an exclusive interview appearing in today's Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove, the top political adviser to President Bush, announced that he would be resigning from the White House. Doubtlessly, this news has been met in many quarters, including this one, with no small measure of satisfaction. Rove, after all, was the long time bogey-man of American liberals (and many self-described centrists); the chief electoral enabler of what has become concurrent six year long experiments in undermining the historical legacy of the New Deal while squandering our once-insuperable post-Cold War military, diplomatic, and economic advantages abroad. The 2002 and 2004 elections, of which Rove was dubbed "The Architect," were the deepest humiliations inflicted on the Democratic Party since Nixon's 1972 re-election.

Yet, as it turned out, the White House that Rove Built was erected on a faulty foundation. Bush's 2004 re-election prompted a lot of loose talk on the Right about The Final Victory: Republicans installed as a "permanent majority" with the Democrats decisively defeated if not utterly destroyed as a viable force in national politics. Mr. Rove himself used heady phrases like "rolling realignment" to describe what he saw as not just a logical dividend from being the party in power on 9/11, but as a continuation of a trend that was three decades in the making. Only two years and one federal election cycle later, and the dream, if you can call it that, was dead. The Democrats, after only four years in complete exile (they controlled the Senate in 2001 and 2002 following the defection of Republican Senator Jim Jeffords) had captured not only the House of Representatives, as was widely anticipated, but retook the Senate as well.

We always knew that Rove was not in any sense a mercenary; he typified the obsequious loyalty demanded by the Bush family as the price of admission to their clique. The fault of the Republican Party writ large was that its adherents imagined that the goals of the Bush White House, and by extension, Rove, were compatible, if not synonymous with their larger electoral imperative. They believed that the Bush Administration would always sublimate the business of governing to the business of winning elections; what they failed to understand was that though the two ideas remained intricately intertwined in Rove's head, he thought that Bush and the G.O.P. were leading the parade when instead they had just walked right out in front of it. People had signed for Bush's bill of goods because they were afraid of terrorism and divided over gay marriage - that this would not translate into an inexhaustible reservoir of support for Social Security privatization, a muddled course on illegal immigration, and a never-ending war in Iraq seems to never have occurred to Rove, or, more likely, wasn't a consideration in the first place. Good politics typically make for bad government, and vice-versa; the Bush Administration, in its second go-round, has managed the bizarre, although not unprecedented feat of specializing in both bad politics and bad government.

If the 2006 election was Rove's Waterloo, then surely Hurricane Katrina was his Leipzig. Up until that point the alleged incompetence, cronyism and corruption of the Bush Administration was abstract for most Americans; Republicans could always argue that unflattering portraits of the War in Iraq or other Administration activities were being painted by subjective artists with ideological agendas of their own. Katrina was important because it was concrete and incontrovertible. For almost a week during September 2005, the American government effectively abdicated control over one of the country's largest cities, abandoning its residents to the predations of the both the elements and general lawlessness. Instantly New Orleans became a symbol, the flip-side of "compassionate conservatism." Michael Brown, an incompetent Bush fundraiser, had been made head of FEMA; the Iraq war had stretched resources too thin to adequately respond to the crisis; the levees broke because the money needed to maintain them had been parceled out as tax cuts for the wealthy; "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

In a 2006 essay for The Threepenny Review, playwright David Mamet expands upon the idea that the Republicans are the party of management, indifferent or outright hostile to the needs of labor where they diverge from management's overriding interests; thus it follows that Katrina and its aftermath (and last week's I-35 bridge catastrophe in Minneapolis) should be viewed as being of a piece with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire or the Sago Mine disaster. It is an analogy that Karl Rove, in a darker private moment, might embrace. After all, he authored the concept of the "Ownership Society," a society wherein the veneration of labor is replaced in political importance by what one owns. The aggregation of power proportionate to capital is an economic fact of life; the argument can be made that the American government in the wake of Theodore Roosevelt's progressive movement and later, the New Deal, has sought to interject itself, with a highly debatable degree of success, as a counterweight. Rove's master project for the past six-odd years has been to not only ensure that the boot heel is securely planted on your neck, but to convince you that this is a desirable condition, good for you and necessary for greater prosperity. Hence it is that environmental and safety regulations are tossed aside, government bureaucracies are seeded with political loyalists instead of professionals, taxes on passively earned wealth are slashed with abandon, and access to the civil courts for persons wrongfully injured is either strictly limited or denied outright.

Since the 2006 election, Mr. Rove has gradually faded into the background, stripped of the aura of invincibility conferred by his previous successes, as well as his influence beyond the walls of the White House. Vice President Cheney has since long eclipsed him, in image as well as fact, as the prime intellectual mover of the Bush Administration and as the favorite hate-object among Democrats. Indeed, had Rove's resignation come down a year ago, it would have been an earth-shattering political event; now it is simply the natural consequence of his enforced obsolescence.

So maybe you aren't having a party tonight. Maybe you're thinking, as am I, that this changes absolutely nothing, that the Bushies and their ideological heirs will still be around tomorrow and the day after and the day after that espousing their nauseating blend of counterfactual fear-mongering and economic abnegation. It's true, the War of Ideas continues without a moment's abeyance. Yet, hopefully, somewhere deep in the recesses of your refrigerator, there's a can or a bottle of beer, something aptly proletarian. Tonight, when you go home, reach back there for it, crack it open, and raise a toast to Karl Rove, Government Retiree.

09 August 2007

The Land of Give and Take

Late Tuesday night, Barry Bonds hit the 756th home run of his baseball career over the 421ft mark in AT&T Park's right-center field, surpassing Hank Aaron as the all-time Major League leader. The mark he now holds is one of the game's most hallowed, passing first from George Herman "Babe" Ruth, the last American athlete into transubstantiate directly into myth, to Aaron, whose 715th homer was both a powerful symbol of achievement for African-Americans in and out of baseball, and a defeat for the bigotry and intimidation he personally endured as he chased Ruth's ghost. Bonds' 756th home run should have been a rarefied moment of triumph; an occasion for the game of baseball to once again assert its claim as our national pastime, an opportunity for the fans to witness a piece of history inextricable from the larger American narrative, and a chance to take the full measure of Barry Bonds, who, by the numbers, now belongs in the same pantheon as not only Ruth and Aaron, but Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Ted Williams, and Bonds' own godfather, Willie Mays. The greatest of the great.

Of course, you don't need me to tell you why this chain of events failed to unfold.

Bonds' name, instead of a synonym for the pinnacle of athletic success, is now emblematic of the pessimism of our times, the unyielding creep of cynicism and corruption into our most sacred public institutions. His accusers, which by now number the vast majority of the media, as well as most fans of the game of baseball, point to the vast mountains of circumstantial evidence: the amazing changes to his physique, the unprecedented increase in his power production so late in his career, his close associations with individuals caught up in the federal Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) steroids case, and his leaked grand jury testimony in that same proceeding wherein he seems to tacitly admit using performance enhancers. Such is the case against Bonds that many of his staunchest defenders are now ceding that, yes, perhaps he took steroids,
  • but so did Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa when they were chasing down Roger Maris' single season home run mark (a mark Bonds now holds with 73 HRs) in 1998, and no one seems to care about that.
  • but some of the pitchers probably did too, so Bonds' steroids use didn't constitute an unfair advantage.
  • but the game of baseball enabled, and perhaps encouraged him, eager to profit off of Bonds' own individual achievements as well as a concurrent increase in home run production throughout the league.
  • but baseball is only entertainment anyway, and why should we care what Bonds' did so long as we were entertained?
  • but we, the fans, are guilty as well for willfully blinding ourselves to the fact that Bonds' achievements, and the achievements of so many other players, were impossible without steroids and performance enhancing drugs.
Essentially, these caveats seek to place Bonds' actions in a larger, perfidious context, thereby casting his Faust in a more favorable light. By diffusing responsibility for Bonds' actions across an epic cast of characters, and by denying the very existence of any moral high ground from which to safely cast aspersions, Bonds' defenders echo Mick Jagger's assignation of guilt in the Kennedy assassinations: "After all, it was you and me."

This is by turns pathetic and repugnant. Bonds' ultimate guilt or innocence remains debatable; neither I, nor anyone else I know of, possesses definitive proof that he used steroids. What oughtn't be debatable is whether or not Bonds, if he did in fact cheat, tarnished both his own legacy as well as the mark he now holds. Indeed, the intent of Bonds' defenders appears to not only to rationalize Bonds hypothetical steroids use, but to create a set of conditions allowing, and perhaps encouraging us to accept and celebrate his dubious achievement. In doing so, of course, they manage to sidestep the inconvenient fact that Bonds, if he cheated, robbed Hank Aaron both of his record, and the potential opportunity to watch it surpassed under more auspicious circumstances. Instead of allowing us to fondly recall Aaron's achievement and celebrate the dignified Hall of Famer once more, Bonds' Road to 756 was effectively a death watch, an event characterized more by a sense of leaden inevitability than any real anticipation. The clock struck midnight at 11:56 pm EST on August 7th, 2007, and the nation, whose pastime baseball professes to be, let out a collective sigh and went back to sleep, if it was awake in the first place.

It has been reported in various news accounts that President Bush, an avid baseball fan and former team owner, placed a congratulatory phone call to Mr. Bonds on Wednesday afternoon. That Bush should find himself in the awkward position of embracing Bonds is apt; if the President is most responsible for the ethos of corruption, cynicism and moral expediency that informs America's experience of the 21st century, then surely Barry Bonds is one of its most visible standard bearers. I don't mean to suggest that the continuing assault on the rule of law and the bloody morass in Iraq are equivalent to the fall of a mere sporting record; the Bush gang's crimes are far too grave to be so trivialized. However, they are of a piece, enabled by the same capacity for moral flexibility and self-justification that allows men to decide that since the rules do not conform to their desires, this alone is ample proof that the rules are defective and should be disregarded. Thus cancer spreads.

There are no do-overs in life; just like you can't take miles off the odometer by driving in reverse, you can't go from Bonds' 756 to Aaron's 755. Barry Bonds is now baseball's all-time home run king; whether he did or didn't use steroids is irrelevant to this fact. What matters most is how we choose to internalize this moment; whether or not we are intellectually honest with ourselves about what it signifies.

On Wednesday night, in the rubber game of a three game set with the Washington Nationals, Bonds hit his 757th home run, guaranteeing that it will take at least one more at-bat for the next guy to catch him.

07 August 2007

Youth In Reverse

Best of the rest

At the time of the above photo, Mick Jagger was 33 and already old; "The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" was well past the artistic zenith that stretched from 1965 to 1972 and coasting on a gentle downslope towards the escarpment that would be the 1980s. After their last unqualified masterpiece, Exile on Main St. (1972), there would be a handful of peaks ('78's excellent Some Girls album, "Emotional Rescue", "Start Me Up"), a smattering of return-to-form mirages (Voodoo Lounge, A Bigger Bang), and a ton of pointless money-grubbing tour souvenir live albums (the avoid-like-the-plague quartet of Flashpoint, Stripped, No Security, and Live Licks). Today The Stones are famous for being old, and for having obscenely expensive ticket prices for their live shows. In fact, one could make the argument that The Rolling Stones' most significant recorded release of the past quarter century was 2002's Forty Licks, their first greatest hits comp to feature selections from both the Decca/London years (now licensed by ABKCO) and the Rolling Stones Records/Virgin years.

Forty Licks' track list is a lot like one of those Arctic ice core samples from An Inconvenient Truth where you can determine the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during different eras from the air bubbles trapped at the corresponding points in the ice. Forty Licks is evenly split between two discs, the first 20 songs going to the ABKCO era and the second 20 reserved for Virgin. The difference in quality is mind blowing, rendered even more stark when you consider that no fewer than four throwaway tracks from 2002 ("Don't Stop", "Keys to Your Love", "Stealing My Heart", "Losing My Touch") pad out the Virgin platter. With the ABKCO disc, you can't help but think "how could they leave off ________?" With the Virgin disc, you have certified top shelf hits with "Start Me Up", "Brown Sugar", "Miss You", "Beast of Burden", "Angie", "Happy", "Tumbling Dice", and "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll". That's eight tracks - nine if you throw in the divisive disco-stab "Emotional Rescue" - out of a possible 20. With a discography as deep and rich as The Stones', even a .450 batting average is completely inexcusable.

Pondering this tragedy over the weekend, I set out to create my own shadow Stones' comp, mixing a few stone cold classics with a couple of hits of the second rank and a smattering of deep album cuts for a result that would flow more like an album, rather than another mindless greatest hits autodial. Clearly, I didn't aim for complete obscurity, although surely obscurity is a relative matter when discussing the Rolling Stones' discography. There are certified hits present, as one could not tell the story of the band, even impressionistically, without them. The results are as follows:

(Note that for purposes of balancing ease of temporal contextualization with ease of assemblage, I opted to identify all singles present with the albums they appear on, where applicable. Fact is, many of these songs are available in their original incarnations on myriad compilations.)
  1. "Tumbling Dice" from Exile on Main St. (1972)
  2. "It's All Over Now" from 12 x 5 (1964)
  3. "Before They Make Me Run" from Some Girls (1978)
  4. "Dead Flowers" from Sticky Fingers (1971)
  5. "Angie" from Goats Head Soup (1973)
  6. "Fool to Cry" from Black and Blue (1976)
  7. "All Sold Out" from Between the Buttons (1967)
  8. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from Out of Our Heads (1965)
  9. "Beast of Burden" from Some Girls (1978)
  10. "Tell Me" from non-LP single (1964); available on Singles Collection: The London Years
  11. "Stray Cat Blues" from Beggars Banquet (1968)
  12. "Emotional Rescue" from Emotional Rescue (1980)
  13. "Monkey Man" from Let It Bleed (1969)
  14. "Torn and Frayed" from Exile on Main St. (1972)
  15. "Salt of the Earth" from Beggars Banquet (1968)
  16. "Paint It, Black" from U.S version of Aftermath(1966)
If you want a pre-fab Stones' comp that is more representative of the band's chart topping ubiquitousness (the group was scoring Top Ten singles well into the '80s; their run of commercial success with contemporaneous material is probably only matched at this point by U2 and Madonna), I do have a few recommendations:

Hot Rocks 1964-1971 - Probably pound for pound the finest assemblage of Stones' cuts relative to selections made. At 21 shit-hot tracks spread across two CDs, Hot Rocks is a phenomenal survey of the ABKCO years, including "Wild Horses" and "Brown Sugar", which were singles on London Records prior to their inclusion on the Stones' first Rolling Stones Records release, Sticky Fingers. For the adventurous, there is also More Hot Rocks (Big Hits and Fazed Cookies), focusing more on the pre-"Satisfaction" years and the group's dabblings in psychedelica circa-'67. Both comps were reissued in SACD-hybrid editions as part of the 2002 ABKCO catalogue upgrade.

Singles Collection: The London Years - For the completist, this is exactly what it purports to be: a compendium of every A and B-side issued by The Rolling Stones while they were on London Records, winding circuitously from "Come On" to "Sympathy for the Devil". At a glance, all of the songs on Hot Rocks Vol. 1 are available on Singles Collection, save the inessential live version of "Midnight Rambler" from Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! and the full album version of "You Can't Always Get What You Want", presented here in truncated single form. The added bonus is that, at 58 tracks, Singles Collection presents a gapless portrait of the Stones' ascension from straight R&B practitioners to originators of what is understood today to be mainstream rock and roll. Also available as a 3 disc SACD-hybrid reissue.

Jump Back: 1971-1993 - Bizarrely, for a band brazenly committed to the art of making a buck, there are only two Rolling Stones compilations that approximate a complete overview of the Rolling Stones Records/Virgin years (save Forty Licks). The first of these, Rewind (1971-1984), is out of print, thus narrowing our choices to Jump Back. There's a wee bit of unavoidable overlap between Hot Rocks, Singles Collection, and Jump Back as I guess one would have to be a complete imbecile to leave "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses" off of a greatest hits comp if one had the rights. Aside from that forgivable duplication, Jump Back is the cream of the Stones' second act, including staples "Tumbling Dice", "Miss You", "Start Me Up", "Beast of Burden", and "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)". Hilariously, this set was originally issued in the U.K. back in 1993, and only made it to American shores in 2004, two years after the supposedly definitive Forty Licks. Still, people are always gonna want "Start Me Up", and outside of Tatoo You, this is the best place to get it.

But wait, there's more:

For odds 'n' sods:

Metamorphosis - A fascinating look at the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards songwriting partnership, mainly through demos and alternate takes. Many of the tracks were cut as instrumentals for other artists to sing over, and yet others would be taken back and reconstituted as proper Stones' songs. Indeed, the chief complaint about this set is that oftentimes there are more session men present than actual Rolling Stones; of course, among these session men are Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, so do you really care? Another ABKCO SACD-hybrid.


Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! - The Stones were/are a legendary live act, and there is no shortage of attempts to document this. However, aside from some alleged bootlegs that you or I will never lay ears on, this 1970 set remains the definitive Rolling Stones live album. Culled from the legendary 1969 tour that culminated in Altamont, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! is a gut punch from start to finish, very nearly transmitting the presence and velocity of the group at their apex through your speakers. It's rock qua rock, distilled to a naked set of gears and ball bearings. For evidence of this check out the cover of Chuck Berry's "Carol".


Gimme Shelter - This is the greatest rock and roll film ever made. Intended by the Maysles brothers (Salesman, Grey Gardens) to document the group's 1969 American tour and their planned "Woodstock West" at San Francisco's Altamont Speedway, Gimme Shelter instead ended up an epitaph for the Sixties writ large. The film boils down to one incredibly powerful sequence: Mick Jagger watching footage on a Movieola editing set-up of 18 year-old Meredith Hunter being stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel a few feet from the Altamont stage. For the record, the Stones were wrapping up "Under My Thumb" at the time of the murder, not "Sympathy for the Devil", as is commonly asserted. Nevertheless, a print-the-legend mentality took hold and the band excluded "Sympathy" from their set lists for years following the event.

05 August 2007

Mr. 300

On a related note

Congratulations to Tom Glavine on becoming the 23rd pitcher in Major League history to win 300 games.

P.S. Braves suck.