29 August 2008

Palin Comparison

I bet that even McCain was surprised, it was so gosh darn surprising

John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin today is perhaps the most nakedly political decision in a campaign that has been disappointingly rife with them. With Palin, McCain managed to fulfill three objectives:
  1. She's a woman, allowing him to both woo disaffected Hillary supports as well as slather his own moribund candidacy with the gloss of commodified change.
  2. She has a reputation as a maverick, taking on Alaska's Republican kleptocracy by knocking off Frank Murkowski, the unpopular incumbent governor two years ago
  3. She's a certified cultural conservative, especially strong on the issue of abortion: when she discovered during her last pregnancy that her child would be born with Down's syndrome, she carried the pregnancy to term.
Perhaps, on her face, Palin would be a welcome change in Washington, provided that she were not tethered to the increasingly doctrinaire McCain. Yet for a campaign that, when not busy casting aspersions about Barack Obama's character and patriotism, spends most of its time questioning his preparedness, the decision to place someone with virtually no experience a 72 year-old's heartbeat away from the presidency is utterly unconscionable. Beyond that, it is utterly incomprehensible: how can McCain, who has made much of his superior judgment during the campaign, judge someone who, less than two years ago was mayor of a town of less than 10,000 people, and presently governs a state of less than 700,000, someone with absolutely no foreign policy experience whatsoever, fit to govern the United States of America? How could Governor Palin, who is essentially being chosen to await McCain's death or incapacitation (as it's virtually incomprehensible that someone with such a slim resume would have anything of substance to add to McCain's own voluminous "experience"), conceivably be better prepared to assume the office than Senator Obama?

What McCain has done here is precisely what he has done his entire candidacy: he has said one thing and done another. He has criticized Senator Obama for his perceived inexperience, and then, out of sheer political calculation, has nominated as his running mate a politician with far less of it. (It's worth noting that Obama, recognizing his weakness in foreign policy, went out and made the unsexy pick in choosing Joe Biden, the seasoned Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, as his running mate; which choice seems the product of better judgment to you?) Palin may well make a fine vice-president - though in a country already choking to death on Bush Republican dogma, I sincerely doubt it. Yet, in choosing her, McCain is continuing to demonstrate that he has learned well the lessons of political expediency and duplicity. It seems to me that all of that "third Bush term" rhetoric may prove less far-fetched in the long run than utterly prophetic.

21 August 2008

The Wright Stuff

It's a bird, it's a plane...it's...

Super Met

The Power Out

Today your toothbrush, tomorrow your laptop

Re: this, and more specifically this:
On Thursday, the chip maker plans to demonstrate the use of a magnetic field to broadcast up to 60 watts of power two to three feet. It says it can do that losing only 25 percent of the power in transmission.
It's great that Intel may one day rid us of need to run a billion cables around our homes in order to enjoy the fruits of electrification, but is a technology that "only" loses 25 percent of power in transmission something that we should be considering at this point in time? Granted, it's not like this is right around the figurative corner, but is there any doubt that functionality, and not efficiency is going to determine when this technology hits the marketplace? God only knows how much power the average American household is already wasting, with those TVs and lights left on in vacant rooms, and air conditioners running with the windows open; imagine if we had a plethora of appliances that, if they were used properly, wasted a quarter of the electricity devoted to charging them. The Times doesn't address this timely (pun intended) concern in their puff piece; presumably, it also went unaddressed in Intel's press release.

15 August 2008

We Were All Thinking It

I prefer to get my revolutionary politics from Audioslave

From Pitchfork, regarding Rage Against The Machine's decision to play a festival protesting the Democratic National Convention in Denver in addition to their previously-planned protest gig at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul-Minneapolis:
Let us just take this opportunity to say it's a good thing Rage are protesting during both conventions, because limiting their condemnation to Republicans only would just be hypocritical. You know, hypocritical like making bank off of music that preaches anti-capitalist revolution to suburban teenagers.

13 August 2008


"Dead Disco"

Saw Metric at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan on Friday night (actually, given the starting time, it was technically Saturday morning). All bands fronted by a sole attractive female (Blondie, No Doubt, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) are de facto vehicles for the singer, at least in the eyes of the audience; from that perspective, Metric is three Canadian dudes and Emily Haines, who, though she has an actual solo record of her own (credited to Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton), did nothing to disabuse anyone of the notion. Wearing a gold lamé...uh, dress, or jumper, or something, Haines basically gave the audience what they wanted, tarting out (in an affirmative manner, of course) over her band's slicked-up superflat rock-disco hybridizations, and then, in a show of solidarity with her back-up ba...er, fellow band members, walking off the stage to thunderous applause well before the final song of the encore ended. No need for modesty or unity when the other three dudes quite correctly realize that they'd be sooner sleeping under a bridge than playing the Highline Ballroom without you, I guess. In any event, Metric were good in the sense that they never bored and kept the room's energy level up throughout their set, but why anyone would prefer Metric to the dozens of milquetoast soundalikes who specialize in similarly professional, just-this-side-of-albino danceable indie rock escapes me.

11 August 2008

The Gospel of Wealth, 2008 Edition

Watching the above, I'm struck by that fact that Maher's criticisms of hip-hop aren't centered on profanity, violence, misogyny, or homophobia, the latter two of which his foil, the intellectual Michael Eric Dyson, is left to bring up. No, Maher is fixated on rap's tendency toward the self-referential, towards what he perceives, condescendingly, as "the virtues of the ghetto": criminal prowess and materialism. Dyson's response is first to introduce examples of "positive" rappers like Mos Def and Common, which is like defending rock and roll in the '50s by appealing to Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson (not an aesthetic judgment on my part); he then draws an amusing parallel between hip-hop's braggadocio and the cottage industry dedicated to churning out thousands of redundant histories lauding the brilliance of the Founding Fathers, which he suggests is chicken soup for white America's collective ego. The debate goes limp as Maher and his fellow white panelists, Congressman Rahm Emanuel ("These are great artists who don't use all their talents," whatever that means) and author Pete Hamill (who curiously cops to preferring Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, thus reducing respecting black culture to liking music produced by African-Americans half a century ago), attempt to get Dyson to concede that there is something innately defective about mainstream hip-hop; it occurs to me that a group of 40+ year-old white men have about as much of a chance of embracing the rap idiom as their parents would have had assimilating the Sex Pistols.

Perhaps a more effective counterargument would be to point out that the self-lauding aspects of rap serve the same function for its adherents that the Sunday Styles section does for the readership of the New York Times. Each is an orgy of materialism tailored to its audience: rappers rattle off clothing brands, automobile manufacturers, jewelers, and champagne houses; Sunday Styles investigates artisinal ice cubes (I shit you not), a 103 year-old mansion picturesquely perched on Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay, and an ecological product line designed by Philippe Starcke (who designed this lamp, which, for those of you who like closed circles, would not at all look out of place in a rapper's boudoir). This connection may not seem intuitive, but perhaps this is because of the disconnect between white America's conception of the appropriate way to display or savor wealth and achievement - what Bill Maher terms "modesty" - and rap's more direct approach. The distinction, perhaps, is that while it's verboten to brag that you spent a million dollars on a chain from Jacob the Jeweler, drank a case of Cristal, or have a nice set of rims on your car, it's perfectly acceptable to flaunt your material success and possessions if the New York Times (or HGTV, or Martha Stewart Living) calls you up wanting to do a story.

Obviously, the above comparison is somewhat inexact: unlike the Times, a great deal of hip-hop is also focused on violence, criminal activity, explicit sex, misogyny, and homophobia. The latter two qualities I, nor anyone else, can convincingly defend; if those are two qualities you understandably can't look beyond, then broad swaths of mainstream rap are not for you. However, it is worth noting, with regards to misogyny, that rock 'n' roll is no better: for proof, listen to the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb", or Elvis Costello's This Years Model, or read Jess Hopper's superlative, insightful "Emo: Where The Girls Aren't". As for the former, well, rap is primarily a ghetto music, and there is crime and violence in the ghetto. Certainly a great deal of rap glorifies violence and criminality; so does the movie Bonnie and Clyde, what's your point? More to the point, so do much of the blues, concerned as they are with figures like Staggerlee, who killed Billy Lyons with a .44 pistol over a Stetson hat in a thousand saloons from New Orleans to Memphis to St. Louis. Granted the lingua franca has become more profane, taking the blues' thinly-veiled suggestiveness - like Robert Johnson moaning about the lemon juice running down his leg, an image so ideally filthy that thirty years later Led Zeppelin was able to import it wholesale without losing any of the punch - and rendering it explicit. Yet the connection is undeniably there; rap and blues both create and transmit a kind of folklore that is not, as Chuck D put it, "the CNN of the streets," but a kind of underhistory, a main circuit cable through American black culture. It is not, as Dyson astutely notes, the whole story of the inner city by any stretch, but it is kind of a negative image, communicating a quotidian reality all its own.

Ghostface Killah's verse from "The Heart Gently Weeps" on the Wu-Tang Clan's 8 Diagrams (2007):
Yeah, yo
I brought my bitch out to Pathmark, she's pushin the cart
Headed to aisle four, damn I got milk on my Clark's
That's what I get, not focusin from hittin that bar
My mouth dried, need plenty water quick, I feel like a shark
In the aisle bustin them paper towels and wipin my Wally's down
I stood up to face a barrel, he's holdin a shiny pound
It's him, he want revenge, I murdered his Uncle Tim
I sold him a bag of dope, his wife came and copped again
[singing] That bitch is crazyyyyy
And uh, she brought her babyyyyy
She knew I hard the murders, a smack
It killed her man though, now I got his fuckin nephew grippin his gat
You's a bitch - [singing] you better kill meeeee
You know you're bootyyyyyy
You pulled your toolie, out on meeeee... motherfucker
First thought was to snatch the ratchet
Said fuck it and fuckin grabbed it
I ducked, he bucked twice, this nigga was fuckin laughin
I wrestled him to the ground, tustle, scuffle, constantly kicked him
He wouldn't let go the joint, so I fuckin bit him
Shots was whizzin, hittin Clorox bottles
Customers screamin, then the f----- ran out of hollows
I had to show him what it's all about
Next thing you read in the paper, "A man who came to kill gets knocked out"
"Stagolee" as performed on a 1928 recording by Mississippi John Hurt:
Po-lice officer, how can it be?
You can 'rest everybody but cruel Stagolee
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee

Billy DeLyon told Stagolee, "Please don't take my life
I got two little babes and a darling, loving wife"
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee

"What'd I care about your two little babes and darling, loving wife?
You done stole my Stetson hat, I'm bound to take your life."
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee

Boom boom, boom boom,
Went the forty-four.
Well when I spied Billy DeLyon
He's lyin' down on the floor.
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee

Gentlemens of the Jury,
What you think of that?
Stagolee killed Billy DeLyon
'bout a five-dollar Stetson hat.
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee

Standin' on the gallows, head way up high
At twelve o'clock, they killed him, they's all glad to see him die
That bad man, oh cruel Stagolee

10 August 2008

Our President, George W. Bush

"Oh, it's a dirty job/But someone's gotta do it"

I flipped over to NBC, expecting divers or gymnasts, and instead I got Bob Costas interviewing George W. Bush. He spoke on China, stressing the need for tolerance of religious practices but counseling that our interests are best served by remaining engaged with the economic giant; on the Russian-Georgian conflict, noting, when queried on his conversation with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, that he also spoke to "the president of that country," Dmitry Medvedev; and he dissembled on the need for the host country to pressure the Sudanese government regarding the ongoing genocide in Darfur. It was a jarring moment, wherein I realized that President Bush was no longer a figure of the future but of the past; for the first time, he came across, to me at least, as the president he always wanted to portray himself as (which is to say, a president I still don't want, but, to quote Bono, even better than the real thing). There is nothing at this point that can redeem the incompetence, arrogance, and corruption that has characterized his administration, yet his appearance reminded me of the bizarre, ineffable process wherein all of our presidents are absorbed into history as a representation of the Americas they governed. The words were right, the sentiments perhaps naive (Vladimir Putin is no friend of the United States), the actions depressingly lacking; could it be that President Bush himself has subtly become a walking critique of the America he has led down the wrong path, the expedient path, the path for those unwilling to confront the realities of the world, be they far afield or right in our own communities? The fault, as they say, is not in our stars, but in our selves; perhaps, in other words, we get the government we deserve, not the government we think we deserve.

07 August 2008

Brett the Jet

Next stop: East Rutherford

Through the looking glass, indeed: Brett Favre, the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, a man synonymous with the Green Bay Packers, a quarterback who led his team to the last year's NFC title game, has been traded to the New York Jets for a conditional 4th round pick in the 2009 draft. If nothing else, the trade has transformed the Jets from a reloaded team - they spent a collective $140 million in free agency this offseason - without a starting quarterback into the NFL's number one sideshow, sure to garner all manner of attention from the media and the league despite being far and away the second best team (on paper) in the AFC East. Chad Pennington, the Jets' number one, oft-injured QB option for the past five seasons, he of the Rhodes Scholar head and noodle arm, is undoubtedly on the way out, either via trade or release. Kellen Clemens, drafted to be the QB of the future, will now spend at least one season, and - with Favre, who knows? - possibly more, under the tutelage of one of the league's all-time great field generals. As for Favre himself, it's fairly clear he would have preferred to play somewhere else, probably in the NFC where the way to a Super Bowl is far clearer than in an AFC where the Patriots and Colts stand as perennial obstacles to such ambitions. Yet, he is in New York, the number one media market in the league, the biggest of stages, a place where he will have the opportunity to wrest the spotlight away from Eli Manning and the defending champion Giants. He is also (and what a sad commentary this is) without playing a down in green and white probably the best player to put on a Jets uniform since...Mark Gastineau? Broadway Joe Namath? Hell, by the numbers he's better than either. In any event, since I brought up the Giants' improbable Super Bowl title, what that little miracle (which, it should be noted, cut off Favre's own championship ambitions off at the knees last season) tells us is that in the NFL, any team can win in any year, given the right chips falling where they may. The Giants were not, by any stretch of the imagination a great team; by all rights, they should have honked it in Dallas, or a frigid Green Bay, or, Lord knows, in Glendale facing down the mightest juggernaut in the history of the league. Yet they emerged triumphant, an emphatic rejoinder to a destiny that had seemed written in the stars, or at least in the Boston Globe. So, for the forecasters running down Jets' fans' dreams by prognosticating a Wild Card at best finish because of the big, bad cheating Pats, let us all remember who won the NFC East last year.

06 August 2008

Killing Joke


Having let it sit for two weeks while vacationing, I guess the issue with The Dark Knight, like Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ or most pornography, is that it functions better as a conveyance than as a movie. The Joker, played, as if you didn't know, by certified Dead Hot Celebrity Heath Ledger, is easily the most captivating character in the piece, re-envisioned here as a nihilist-anarcho-terrorist whose raison d'etre is to destroy and kill - a point he proves emphatically in the film by burning an enormous stack of money, thus symbolically placing himself outside of the capitalist-criminal continuum and in the realm of villains who exist solely because Batman's appearance as an arbiter of moral order in Gotham City has summoned them into being as a sort of cosmic rejoinder. Director Christopher Nolan, who wrote the film with his brother, realizes The Dark Knight as a game wherein the stakes are continually raised: how many charred bodies is the Joker going to stack before the forces of good - Harvey Dent (played by Aaron Eckhart as Himself), Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman, as the most normal character in the film), and, of course, the Caped Crusader himself - buckle under the mounting pressure to disavow their principles and use Any Means Necessary to restore the order the Joker is self-consciously critiquing and deconstructing. Unfortunately, Nolan's film ends up being morally incoherent, seemingly unable to choose between endorsing extraordinary measures - transparently linked to Bush's perpetual War on Civil Lib...I mean, Terror - and disavowing them, settling in the end on "Okay, but just this once...", which is no answer at all to the questions the filmmakers fancy themselves to be raising. Yet a muddled message is a comparatively venal sin next to The Dark Knight's greatest shortcoming: when Ledger is not onscreen testing the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, it's kind of boring.

You see, The Dark Knight is really two movies: one wherein Ledger's psycho clown blows things up, tortures people to death, and generally engages is outlandish acts of ultraviolence to the delight of moviegoers everywhere; and the afterbirth, wherein Nolan attempts to wrap the Batman brand around the experience, allow the good guys to win (sort of), prove the Joker's moral philosophy of the lowest common denominator wrong (in a scene ripped pretty much out of Spider-man 2), and, of course, establish an opening for the inevitable third installment of this apparently inexhaustible cash cow. I empathize with Nolan insofar as the former film, without the latter, would be nigh unwatchable. Even as Americans hath loved Ledger's Joker too well, there's no natural end-point to his immolation act, and The Dark Knight, with its Domino's Pizza tie-in, required a set of brakes; bombs get boring after awhile, and what was he going to do for his next trick, rape a pack of nuns? Plus, consider the commercial imperatives at work: you can't have a Batman movie without Batman, so we're saddled with the fact, which most of the audience seems content to ignore, that Bale's iteration of said Dark Knight is rather dull; it's rather like watching Patrick Bateman (only one letter off, for you conspiracy theorists), Bale's character from American Psycho, if he were on Klonopin and didn't kill women and the homeless. He broods and broods some more as Bruce Wayne, a part whose contours were more effectively explored in the origin story that was Batman Begins, and when donning the bat-suit, he comes off as utterly ridiculous, sounding like a fourteen year-old feigning a deeper voice in an ill-fated attempt to convince the liquor store cashier that he actually is 23, like it says on his fake ID. In a way, it's compelling meta-theatre: whereas Ledger seems (ironically, in retrospect) liberated by his part, Bale wears his like a straitjacket. Unfortunately, the franchise sinks or swims with the latter, an inevitability made all the more so by Ledger's untimely passing. If Batman survives into perpetuity as a dramatic proposition, it's going to have to do so on the strength of its villains - a possibility made all the more likely if the whispers about Philip Seymour Hoffman signing on to play the Penguin are true.