Monday, December 03, 2007

spent all day at the holdiay inn trying to get out of bed

I'm back from Las Vegas, after a pretty darn successful campaign. Sorry for the lack of updates, but there wasn't a lot to tell:

It was hot.

Las Vegas is not a good place to go if you like to eat a lot (or any) fresh produce.

It's possible, and actually somewhat reassuring, to plan your day around the Scrubs rerun schedule.

And last but not least...
If someone who, with appropriate respect to all professions, is very obviously a male prostitute knocks on your window and asks for Derek, explain that you are not Derek in such a way that he will not return the following evening and ask for Derek.

That's it. Oh, see the Walkmen, Joe Henry, and The Hold Steady if they're coming through your town. Three shows I attended recently which were excellent.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

almost done with this the Episcopal House of Bishop's half-a-loaf response to the Anglican Communion ultimatum. I understand where the HOB is coming from, and it's probably true that no other path was possible from their perspective. But still, if the Rabbinical Assembly can manage to leave it up to the congregation without quite so much pandering to the bigots in their midst, surely the Episcopal Church can do the same.

Jeffords Schori had this to say:
"Not everyone is 100 percent happy with every word in this document, but we believe we have found a place that all of us can stand together -- at the foot of the cross."

In her defense, that is a good place to be if you owe Jesus an apology.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Retract, dude! Retract.

Guess I underestimated the Episcopal House of Bishops when I wrote about this last time. I was (justifiably, I think) disappointed with Bishop Kathleen Jefferts Schori for her statements recommending that Episcopalians acquiesce to the ultimatum set by the Anglican Communion (in brief: if you don't stop ordaining gay priests and performing gay marriages by September 30th, 2007, you can't fully participate in the Church). In reading my post again, the condemnations of Bishop Schori seem a little harsh. I reread her statement and I understand why she gave it, since the decision regarding a response to the Anglican primates isn't entirely hers, and she was trying to reconcile all kinds of factions in her church.

But still: what you want from a progressive leader at a moment like that is affirmation, not equivocation. i.e. "Gay and lesbian Christians are welcome in our church, and that's our interpretation of Jesus's teachings. We will do everything we can to make sure they remain welcome, and though we recognize this constitutes a minority opinion amongst the Anglican Communion, we will try to persuade the primates that we can preserve the integrity of the church without taking the drastic measures they've suggested." Bam, simple as that.

Regardless, the good news is that it looks like the Episcopal House of Bishops is not going to respond to the primates' request, even following the House of Bishops' September 20th meeting in New Orleans. It would be nice for the HoB meeting to produce a statement asserting the rights of Episcopal parishes to ordain gay priests and marry gay couples, but the truth is that the existence of those rights is more important than asserting them. If declining to respond allows the Episcopal church to continue its work and remain within the Anglican Communion (at least until the next ultimatum), then that's probably better for all concerned -- especially if, as one would hope, avoiding a schism would bring the Anglican Communion as a whole closer to tolerating gay congregants.

Anyway. Episcopal House of Bishops: more badass than I thought.

(title ref)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

...ain't no place for a poor boy like me

I'm in sunny, shiny, happy, plastic, recirculated, overblown, incomprehensible, unsustainable Las Vegas working on the hotel/casino contract fights here. Lucky for me, I love my job and any place is a good place to beat up on big companies.

But man. The food situation is a mess, and every day I feel socially irresponsible just by waking up.

I miss my home.

Blogging (as you've probably already seen) suspended till I get back.

(title help)

Monday, July 30, 2007

labor & boycotting Israel

Following efforts by British unions to boycott Israeli goods and imports, the Jewish newspaper Forward ran an editorial about the U.S. labor movement 's "angry rise in defense of the Jewish state."

I'm kind of conflicted here. Not because I support the boycott -- the ubiquitous amnesiac comparisons to South African anti-apartheid boycotts drive me crazy, and the strategy is flawed if not outright inhumane. No, I'm conflicted because on one hand, the editorial reminds readers (both Jewish and not) of how crucial a role Jews play in the labor movement, and how crucial a role unions play in creating the just and decent society envisioned in the Torah. On the other hand, the piece slides a little too effortlessly between generalizations about supporting Israel and generalizations about what constitute progressive values.

Here's what I liked about it:

It points out that left-wing doesn't necessarily mean anti-Israel, and that there's no reason for people who support Israeli sovereignty to make that assumption in dealing with the American left. These distinctions need to be made more often, because the kind of moral absolutism that informs leftist ideology encourages them (us?) to assume a consensus about who is and is not an "oppressor" or a "victim." I've certainly encountered the expectation that people in the labor movement should "support Palestine" and be angry at some amorphous combination of Zionism and Israel (it's never quite clear which). And I can't blame them for assuming we all agree on the Middle East, since most of the coalitions on the left rely on the same kinds of pre-established consensus: HMOs are bad, the Iraq war is a bloody, greedy mistake, corporations are anti-union, rich neighborhoods hate homeless people, etc. By the way, "supporting Palestine" among leftists usually means "opposing Israel," and, I'm equally disappointed to say, vice versa. So it's good to have the balancing viewpoint highlighted by the Forward, though the labor movement remains divided on this issue. Or, divided to the extent that anyone considers it during the normal course of his/her campaign work, which, I have to say, I hope for the sake of the near-50 million people living without health insurance is an extremely rare occurrence.

I loved the description of Jews in the labor movement, harkening back to the early days of the the
Forward and recalling just how many Jews lead America's unions. It's a good reminder that Jews in America are not uniformly wealthy, well-educated bankers, jewelers, economists, and professors -- we also "work for a living" and try to help others do the same. And obviously, it's rare for a major newspaper to refer to unions as "the single largest force for social justice and progressive values within American society." So that was nice to read.

Now what I didn't like so much:

Though the article stayed fairly clear of ideological issues in the Middle East conflict, it did present to the reader an subconscious (yet perhaps deliberate) conclusion, using a twist on the transitive property. If American labor is "pro-Israel," and American labor holds a truly progressive worldview, then true progressives should support Israel. After all, unions are the single largest force for social justice and progressive values in American society. If those progressive folks support Israel, you should too. Maybe that's a stretch, maybe not, but the editorial's narrative leads in that direction, and as I read it I wondered which of the articles subsidiary conclusions the Forward cares about the most, and what their aim was in writing an editorial that attempts to connect/unify pro-Israel and pro-union sentiments.

Personally, I don't believe that a truly progressive worldview -- one focused on the preservation of human rights, equality of opportunity, and a fair distribution of wealth throughout society -- would ever produce a pro/anti-type judgment on Middle East politics. In fact, the parts of the Jewish Labor Committee letter that appealed most to me were the paragraphs explaining why this kind of boycott doesn't work, and why the more humanitarian and rational course is to pro-actively support those organizations and leaders in both societies that are working towards peace and solidarity. Given the political volatility and addiction to violence that characterize discourse and action in the region, I'm increasingly of the opinion that a surge of progressive activity in the labor/social movements of both Israel and Palestine will be necessary to achieve any sustainable, enduring peace. And I wish the Forward had highlighted that aspect of the JLC statement a little more. As it was, the editorial kind of claimed the American labor movement for the pro-Israelites, which was neither accurate (I know 'cause I work in it), true to the JLC statement itself, or productive to the Jewish community's understanding of unions.

As for the deep connection between Jews and the labor movement, it always gratifies me to see that history preserved and (when appropriate) exalted. But, as the editorial rightly observes, that connection has frayed and somewhat disappeared over time. Now, I'm no expert on how the Jewish community makes decisions, or why it has evolved in the ways it has. I don't know enough Jewish history or have enough experience dealing with the most powerful Jewish institutions. But it doesn't seem to me that perceiving anti-Israel sentiment amongst unions would really explain why most Jews -- along with most Americans -- have little use for the labor movement.

The real reason is that most American Jews have embraced the American versions of capitalism, government, international trade, immigration, and neo-liberal economics. Our community has done well through those means, and with the exception of that progressive Jewish minority, we haven't done much to challenge them. So I'm very glad to see the
Forward arguing that "guaranteeing general welfare" and "dispensing equal justice" are/should be core Jewish values and points of connection with the labor movement, but most synagogues shrink from active political participation in the community, let alone the kind of courageously progressive stands that we need and expect from progressive organizations. Of course, the same could be said for the moribund sections of the labor movement. But it's worth pointing out that American unions haven't just "declined" due to their own inaction or obsolescence. They've been abandoned by the American people, Jews included.

Friday, July 20, 2007

we can bring it back

Last night I saw Sonic Youth perform the entirety of Daydream Nation. I almost didn't even get there. Having ridden BART across the bay up to Berkeley, and walked from Downtown across the entire campus to the Greek Theater, the last bit running because I was late, I arrived at the venue and there was no show. The way the theater is positioned from the North, you can't really see anything till you arrive, so it probably looked pretty funny to passersby when I jogged determinedly up to a completely deserted complex, then stopped and stared in horror and, I have to admit, some tiny degree of relief. I wasn't sure I could sit through all of Daydream Nation -- as cathartic and revelatory as some of it can be, the album still contains periods of prolonged boredom punctuated by Lee Ranaldo pretending that melody's gone out of style. What happened was, I'd bought tickets for the following night's show, at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.

So I called Camille, and -- brief note: this is why I got married -- she tolerated a few minutes of whining, followed by a few minutes of fake, forced commentary like "Nevermind, it's not that big a deal" to cover my brokenheartedness, before finally getting on Craigslist and persuading me to walk over to the Berkeley Community Theater, where the show was actually taking place. It's actually about a block from the BART station, so not a huge sacrifice. Anyway, I bought a scalped ticket for $5 above face, displaying a phenomenal lack of haggling ability when, having gotten the guy to agree to face value (don't like to pay less, refuse to pay more), I realized I didn't have change and just gave him two twenties instead of insisting. I was so relieved. The only time I've been any good at haggling was when I was in Senegal, where it's just basic practice, but it didn't stick. Although I got pretty good at eating fishbones and unidentified beef chunks there too, so I guess I left a lot of skills behind.

The show was awesome. I actually have very little to say about it. a Kim and Kim and Kim and Kim was hot despite looking (as always) slightly reanimated. I hadn't realized how much of a "Hip Dad" vibe Lee Ranaldo puts out, but that was also entertaining. Thurston Moore is ageless and godlike, as Sleater-Kinney recognized awhile ago. The album felt more bombastic live, in part because the Berkeley Community Theater doesn't have the best sound system for a waves-of-noise band like Sonic Youth. Kind of the same problem with the Roots when we saw them there in 1999. "Teen Age Riot," "The Sprawl," "Total Trash," and "Silver Rocket" were incredible. Hearing Daydream Nation from start to finish reminded me how much of what I love in music these days came in some part from the bracing novelty of that album. I'm very glad I got a chance to see them do this somewhat unique tour.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Re: The Bridge is Over (10 Responses)

Slate says Youtube is killing the hiphop beef, and endangering the genre as a whole. While I like Hua Hsu's observation that beefing over Youtube is just plain lame, the analysis (such as it is) deserves some more careful attention. Hsu's arguing that, instead of putting creative energy and effort into dis tracks, like they used to, hiphop artists just release crappy videos with no thought given to care or quality. Well, the conclusion certainly rings true, but there are a few flaws here:

1) Dis tracks are, on average, not very good. They don't tend to be well-crafted, incisive commentaries on their target. The beef between Nas and Jay-Z produced two really good tracks, maybe not even that depending on your tolerance for homophobia and for sampling the Doors. The rest were pretty "LAAAaaaaaaaame," and that particular beef occurred between two fairly gifted lyricists. What do you expect from writers like 50 Cent or Cam'ron? The fact that Youtube beefs involve weak, self-centered, poorly-conceived video comebacks should surprise no-one who's bought a mixtape or listened to Hot 97.

2) Beef isn't at the heart of hiphop, and the end of highly-publicized beefs on record will have no effect on the quality or the future of the music. People seem to confuse beefs with battling -- a legitimately crucial element to hiphop. We can trot out Shan/KRS, LL Cool J/Everyone, Biggie/Pac, but the truth is that the best hiphop doesn't come from beefs. Entertaining songs, album hype, identity politics? Sure. But at the core, hiphop is about projecting yourself, not critiquing someone else (unless you're applying your worldview to them (cf The Coup or "Pussy Galore"). Ask someone to tell you about The Chronic, they aren't going to mention the Eazy-E disses, because those moments are the least interesting and most forgettable on the album. Did beefing with Wrecks 'n' Effect put A Tribe Called Quest at the top of their game? How about Eminem or Tupac? Dis tracks usually end up the least memorable parts of an MC's catalogue, even the good ones. Obviously there are exceptions, but treating hiphop beefs as anything more than manufactured hype betrays the real nature of the genre.

3) The examples in this article are terrible. Were we really expecting a masterpiece from Fiddy? Or Cam'ron? Or Puff Daddy? We're worried because these guys didn't put any effort into releasing a quality product? Mainstream hiphop tends towards cookie-cutter, homogenously dance-able crap that leaves absolutely no taste in your mouth. Youtube is not the problem here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

How can you tell if a multinational media conglomerate has been using your computer?

So, Andrew Keen's book The Cult of the Amateur has stirred up quite a bit of cyberspace dust recently, dividing the (fairly small) world of people who care about the cultural future of the web into the reactionaries (Keen et al), the evangelists (Tim O'Reilly et al), and everyone in the middle (me et al) who just want to watch the Pride of Arizona Marching Band perform "Fitter Happier" and remind Alex Trebek that he's sitting on a goldmine.

I can't decide what I'm more sick of: the webvangelists who can't stop telling us how Web 2.0 will revolutionize every aspect of human thought and culture, or the weblitists who've deluded themselves into thinking that Youtube is to blame for the collapsing standards of Western cultural discourse.

Keen has a disturbing tendency to red-bait, and a fundamentally skewed concept of the purpose of culture and its attendant industries. But I have to admit to sharing some of his panic at the explosion of Web 2.0, albeit for different reasons. Keen views the combination of narcissism, amateurism, and an infinite multiplicity of messages as a culturally corrosive force, quite akin to communism, in his framing. Those things don't bother me so much, since people were amateur narcissists long before Google, and using market strategies to discourage a culture of self-obsession seems bizarre and way off the mark.

What scares me is not a cultural collapse, or a cultural revolution, but a cultural grey-out. (check out Bruno Nettl's The Study of Ethnomusicology for the origin of the term)

Why? Because, as a recent Bear Stearns report confirms, the long tail is growing and user-generated content (UGC) is here to stay. Which means there's money in it. Which means it will aggregate and consolidate. Which means it will blend, desaturate, and flatten out. Don't believe me? Turn on the radio, or watch ABC for a day, or strike up a conversation about politics with someone at a bar. Or, for that matter, get on MySpace. Grey-out, be it rhetorical, aesthetic, ethical, or whatever, has become the norm in mainstream media and discourse, for all the reasons we're familiar with. It tends to follow market activity and, where a desire to consume can be monetized, it bleaches out all but the most palatable and deliverable hues.

There's no doubt that UGC exposes us to fresh and wonderful ways of looking at the world -- made fresh and wonderful primarily by their lack of resemblance to the stifling similarity of mainstream culture. It marks an incredible (if somewhat narcissistic and/or voyeuristic) sea change in our culture. But Bear Stearns knows what they're talking about, and when they anticipate the emergence of new "aggregation vehicles" to deliver this new form of content, they're also anticipating a structuralization and consolidation of UGC into consumable product for wider and wider swaths of the buying population. We might see Youtube as a friendly "aggregation vehicle" right now, with a vast library and a friendly tagging system to sort it, but how's eBay treating us these days? What about Starbucks? That's where the world of UGC is headed, facilitated in large part by the technology and the applied ideology of Web 2.0. Here I'm making a distinction between the anti-corporate, democratic, localized, user-focused ideals professed by Web 2.0 proponents and the reality of Web 2.0's existence in the marketplace -- MySpace (aka Murdoch), Youtube (aka Google), Flickr (aka Yahoo!), and Second Life (aka...well, Second Life. It corporatized itself).

Plus, though corporations play their crucial rule in grey-out, they are not the only actors, nor the most important. The bulk of the responsibility falls on us. I'm afraid that, to some degree, I support Andrew Keen's assessment of human beings as cultural agents. We're great at it, but also we totally suck. When our agency as consumers intersects with our agency as cultural practitioners on a massive scale, the former tends to win out. This, incidentally, explains why for me the struggle is to activate people as economic agents, where their consumption, labor, and values can clash together to a productive end. Ukelele videos and second-life avatars may teach us about ourselves by opening new paradigms of human culture and interaction, but ultimately Web 2.0 is permeated and controlled by consumption. The cost of the product happens to be (more or less) free at the moment, but the basic transaction remains the same. Folks who like to make money are attracted to transactions. They especially love short, repetitive, autonomic, pleasant and convenient transactions, because they get the most bang per buck. UGC fits that mold perfectly.

Is the greyout of Web 2.0 any more worrisome or destructive than the grey-out of FM radio? Not really. But the infuriating paradox in this case is that Web 2.0 is designed to connect you with your special niche in the long tail, giving you respite from the blandness of the rest of the curve. In the old days of Web 1.0 and bulletin boards, the simple effort of finding one's special spot on the tail transformed the action from one of consumption to one of identity formation. The people who made their way to the pre-net equivalent of weren't just melodica consumers, they were melodica people. They occupied their niche, protected it, strengthened it, grew it. The rich culture of thought and activity that surrounded each of these niches contributed to an overall cultural diversity that could give America both the Muppets and 2 Live Crew. When finding your niche becomes an easy, repetitive, temporarily-satisfying task, you become a consumer and markets get interested.

And your niche starts going grey.

(oh, and some help with the title.)

Friday, June 15, 2007


As usual, I'm about five months behind the bandwagon, but before this hyper-meme explodes beyond all recognition I thought I'd throw my effort in. No real way to explain the lol___ phenomenon, so you'll just have to see it for yourself. When you know that I cut that link list down to four from about, 20, you'll get a better sense of what I did last night while hopped up on Sudafed 12-hour.

Here's mine.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sort of helps our image?

The LA Times reported earlier this week on gang members entering the building trades to gain a secure economic future. It's a fairly run-of-the-mill human interest story, as they go, but a great primer for anyone trying to understand how some unions allowed their industry power to evaporate, and how they've responded.

There's some important subtext here as well. On the positive side, the story offers excellent evidence of how the fight to win and maintain high labor standards isn't about greed -- it's about opportunity, and those opportunities can create real change in peoples' lives. I wish the story had been a little more upfront about the fact that the non-union contractors who were eating up the jobs were also paying low wages with no benefits & protections. So the building trades' efforts to regain some of that share of the workforce, while perhaps motivated by self-interest, does drive the standard up and make the jobs available to gang members and undocumented workers good ones...which in turn can help strengthen and stabilize communities.

On the negative side, the article glosses over the fact that non-union contractors and the existence of a poor, available workforce were not shocking surprises to the building trades or anyone associated with the LA construction industry. The switch from 80% union density to 20% was not some magical, overnight occurrence impossible to predict or combat. It happened because the building trades were unable or unwilling to organize the workforce and the employers that flooded the industry. The article suggests that racial issues and insularity may have played a part, but I think complacency is probably more to blame than anything else. What's remarkable is the degree to which some unions will tolerate having their industry power and density stripped from them, as long as what's left of their piece of the pie still feeds their existing membership fairly well. When they get down to around 20% density (or perhaps much sooner) they start to see a real erosion of standards and loss of guaranteed security for their own membership.

If you're paying monthly dues to an organization and have authorized it as your exclusive bargaining agent, you'd hope for a little more foresight. I'm happy to say that this erosion hasn't taken place to the same degree in every sector -- due to a combination of circumstance, foresight, and outright resistance. Others have responded aggressively and are making small gains. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a union that hasn't struggled with density problems in some form.

baseball? world bank?

What will Richard Levin's next career be? I always hoped he'd end up the baseball commissioner, under the rationale that a PC neo-liberal economist with no real sympathy or sensitivity to the damage done by market "failures" couldn't do too much damage in the MLB. Head of the World Bank is exactly the kind of position where Mr. Levin's impractical and dehumanized economic views would produce terrible outcomes while appearing (as at Yale) to be progressive in the economic sense.

I respect Levin as a theorist, in so far as his work (what I've read of it) takes a considered and methodical approach to navigating the intersections of political philosophy and economic reality. But his concept of what we're doing on this planet leaves a lot to be desired, which is why his version of democracy -- and, for that matter, his interpretation of what actually constitutes market economics -- differs so significantly from people like me. Being a such a careful thinker, I don't believe he ignores the pervasive and destructive influence of capital and the complicity of the state in ceding control. I think he accepts, perhaps welcomes the situation we're in, and constructs his ideas about markets and society with our current situation as a given.

Anyway, that doesn't make him much different than any of his many, many compatriots in the Academy or the international development community, but nevertheless I'm hoping that, to score PR points, Bush may appoint someone less loyal with more of a humanitarian record. Or, as I said before, I'd pretty much settle for someone with actual development experience. A lot to ask, though.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


A few additions to the sidebar:

Joe Mathlete Explains Todays Marmaduke: Pretty self-explanatory. Hilariously funny and sarcastic, though.

The Fart Party: Written and drawn by Julia Wertz, also known as the cute lady who works at Cafe Abir, our old coffeeshop. The Fart Party is like what you dream a minicomic will be.

Classical Convert: Totally entertaining diary/web resource of a guy about my age who discovered "classical" music a few years ago and is evangelizing like crazy. It gives a terrific look into how and why people from our generation can connect with a whole range of music not easily available or legible to us. I enjoy it particularly for its lack of concern about how one is "supposed" to approach the Western classical cannon. He treats Beethoven and Berg like college radio treats new bands, which ends up refreshing and insightful.

Malcolm Gladwell: I was pretty hesitant to put this up here, what with Gladwell having delivered a keynote speech on the other side of the San Francisco Hilton picket line last year, but the truth is he's a brilliant, accessible writer and I read pretty much all his stuff, so...

Wired editor Chris Anderson's Long Tail Blog, which elaborates on the subject of his book. I haven't read the book, but I did read his early article and I read the blog, know. Reading this blog is extremely reassuring for people with phobias about the consolidation of culture industries. It's not so reassuring for people with phobias about cultural greyout. I have both, so it's a mixed bag, but fascinating., homepage of the Edge Foundation, which is dedicated to blowing your mind. Not good if you're feeling particularly politically sensitive, since with few exceptions these folks are above all that. And the influence of Richard Dawkins also makes it a fairly hostile environment for religious thought, though not for spiritual ideas. I arrived at this site via their World Question Center, which is endlessly enlightening, frustrating, and entertaining in equal measure.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces part 5

Parmegiani - La Creation du Monde

Don't buy this. I don't even know why I'm recommending it, except to bring a close to this preposterous exercise. Okay, maybe you should buy it. There's absolutely no other way to hear it, and people should hear it, because it's unlike anything humans ever really experience. It's sort of an amoeba's-eye view of geological time, from the first intercellular communications through World War III. Maybe not. If you want to read my actual, considered opinion on this utterly remarkable piece, you can. Recording available online from my beloved Aquarius Records here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces part 4

Steve Reich. Really any of his pieces will do, you almost can't go wrong here if you like rhythm, timbre, harmony -- basically if you enjoy anything related to the process of hearing sounds you will like his work. Some of Reich's work is more formalist, like the tape pieces and the counterpoint compositions, and some is pretty sprawling (You Are Variations, City Life, Desert Music). Music for 18 Musicians or Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ both offer good starting places. Then you can look back towards the instrumental phase pieces or forward to Different Trains, which has my vote as the greatest composition after WWII.

If all you've heard of "minimalism" is Phillip Glass, you might feel overwhelmed by its inhumanity, its clinical disregard for physiology and sense. Steve Reich will disabuse you of that right away.

This is the recording you want of
Music for 18 Musicians, and here's a great recording of Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices and Organ.

Different Trains, Kronos recorded the undisputed benchmark.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces part 3

John Cage: Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano

These pieces for "prepared piano" contrast starkly with his one work for "unprepared piano," in which the piano's just sitting there peacefully in a room until the performer lunges in from behind and dropkicks it. People who have only a casual acquaintance with John Cage couldn't really be blamed for believing that last sentence. Prepared piano refers augmenting, dampening, or otherwise messing with the strings inside to produce different timbres and attacks. I think the best un-theoretical way to describe it is that Cage builds his own alternate piano universe, possessing a rare and strange cosmos of sounds, melody, harmony, and rhythm. Not at all to be listened to on the regular, but not to be of those records that is sometimes the only thing. I usually put it on when I need to hear something but I can't stand the thought of all the emotional and theoretical baggage that comes with, say, TV on the Radio or Orchestra Baobab. I like (but don't own) this version. I do own this version, also very satisfying. Okay, "satisfying" might not be the word. What's that thing where after you experience something you feel kind of hollow and young and slightly hopeless? It's like that. People forget that music (and art) don't always have to make you feel good, or better, or sad, or guilty. That's like always drinking water, milk, or soda. There's more stuff out there to experience, some of it pretty complex.

Monday, April 16, 2007

ribot = badass

New York's remarkable experimental music venue, Tonic, closed its doors on Friday. Just the most recent in a long, sad list of music venues that don't book Fall Out Boy or charge $50/ticket to close due to skyrocketing rent. Everyone's not going to go to Avery Fisher to hear exciting new performers, and every exciting new performer isn't going to play there. So when the Tonics and CBGBs of the world get squeezed out by condo towers, and when the music itself is improvised/collaborated on/composed specifically for events at the venue, that music quite literally disappears.

Marc Ribot kept playing till the cops shut the place down, and got arrested because he is, in addition to being a truly gifted and bizarre guitarist, a straight badass motherfucker.

Hmm? What's that? What did I do for the world of music today?

Oh. While I was riding the BART to work, I composed a song called "Get Me A Donut," which, as should be patently obvious, has no verses.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces part 2

(Sorry for the retroactive title edit -- took me a while to land on the correct title)

Osvaldo Golijov -- Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind: There's like an unwritten rule for composers that states: If you're going to write a clarinet quintet, you have to write it such that any prospective reviewer cannot avoid using the word "lyrical." So this piece, for clarinet and string quartet, fits the mold pretty well. It's actually for B-flat, A, C, and Bass Clarinet with string quartet, so there's all kinds of weeping, keening, shrieking, and squawking from the different sizes of black wooden tube. It makes a great fit for the subject matter, a meditation on the writings and the mystical posture of Isaac the Blind, a 12th-century French Kabbalist rabbi who was, among other things, blind and batshit insane. The piece draws on Jewish prayer melodies, klezmer tunes, and cantorial vocal style. It completely mesmerizes, even on recording. Kronos Quartet recorded it with my idol David Krakauer, and the St. Lawrence String Quartet also recorded it with Todd Palmer -- also a fantastic recording.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Five (Easy) Pieces

aka "Five Pieces of New Music You Might Actually Like and Listen To Voluntarily."

Modern music doesn't suck. Contemporary composers are actually trying very hard to connect with an audience that has in large part abandoned the "classical" arena for popular forms. In some cases, all that's required is the same flexibility and open ears you need to appreciate TV on the Radio or Mogwai or whoever. You get my point, maybe. In that spirit, here goes:

Frederick Rzewski--Coming Together/Attica: These two pieces function together as Rzewski's commentary on Attica prison riots and their aftermath. I first heard Coming Together in high school, and it knocked me out of my chair. Rzewski sets an excerpt from a letter by Attica prisoner Sam Melville, who died during the riots. The poetic force comes mainly from Rzewski's "squaring" process, which gradually aggregates the text sentence by sentence, starting from the beginning, culminating with the full text, then "washing away" the words sentence by sentence from the start. The internal, circular connections between the different sentiments, and the ways that different ideas and emotions ground various sections of the piece, make it anything but repetitive. Attica, meanwhile, offers the other side of the coin, with a single sentence from released inmate Richard X Clark. When asked how it felt to put Attica behind him, he simply said "Attica is in front of me." Surprisingly, Rzewski's sets this fairly bleak pronouncement against a surging, cautiously hopeful melodic sequence that sort of devastates with its beauty and ultimate lack of hope. That's not a very lucid description. Here's an excellent early recording of both pieces, with some other stuff as well. Here's the Eighth Blackbird take on Coming Together.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Popularity Contest (vol. 2)

Just to keep us all up to date, the Association for Dressings and Sauces announced their Dressing of the Year for 2006.

One of the biggest differences between me now and me two years ago is my healthy, growing obsession with cooking and food. This choice, like their last few (not that I'm following...), makes no sense to anyone who's not in the dressing industry. "Asiago Peppercorn...for that delicious, nostalgic taste that brings you back to your college dorm salad bar." No thanks.

Here are my recommendations, based on comparative sampling:

Mendocino Mustard: Camille
hates mustard. It's like:
Me: Camille, quick word association, okay? "Karl Rove."
Camille: [
no hesitation] Mustard.

But she eats this brand. She actually requests it, all embarassed-like. Mendocino Mustard is the shit. Suggested on a Rudy's hamburger bun with olive oil mayo, green lettuce, a Quorn fake chicken patty, and Morningstar Farms fakon. It gives a powerfully convincing feel of Jack in the Box except with really tasty hot & sweet mustard. My favorite customer quote from their site: "A refrigerator without Mendocino Mustard is not a refrigerator." That's some pretty powerful negation. Like, this mustard challenges refrigerator identity politics. Close second favorite: "I've never wanted to get up in the middle of the night and stick my finger in a mustard jar until now."

Pain is Good Hot Sauce: Despite the name, this hot sauce is actually easier to eat than normal hot sauce due to the richness of flavor. It's hot, but not punishingly hot, and there's this other flavor of sweet and tangy that totally toasts my nibbles.* Also the packaging is recyclable and the design is so killer that it wards off some of the "packaged food pangs" I sometimes get when filling up my cart. They've got a Keebler-esque production team made up of Bubba, Mo, GeeGee, Blondie, Juanita, and Buckwheat (seriously). Original Juan, which produces the Pain is Good line, also makes a line called Old Fart Baked Beans. For a host reasons, both legitimate and not, Camille will never, ever, EVER buy or allow me to buy a product with the word "fart" in its name.

Daddy Sam's BBQ: This website is ridiculous. I apologize for linking to it. The sauce is great though -- it's thoroughly replaced Sweet Baby Ray's as my go-to sauce for tater tots, poached egg sandwiches, and chili.

What about salad dressing, you ask? Fuck store-bought salad dressing. If I need corn syrup, sodium benzoate and dehydrated onions I know where to find them. I dress myself; I dress my salad. Okay, getting kind of sassy. Obviously I didn't get much sleep last night.

*This is slang is so new I only just now noticed the stripes. Trying it out.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

that settles...something

It's hard to make heads or tails out of the recent decision by the California Nurses Association to affiliate with the AFL-CIO. It doesn't help that this news isn't getting a whole lot of attention, even though it could have fairly profound consequences for both healthcare organizing and healthcare policy going forward. Not having a cohesive opinion on this, I'll just throw out some stuff to consider.

- The CNA has historically prided itself on its independence, touting its ability to rise above labor politics, bureaucracy, etc. to advocate aggressively on behalf of nurses and patients. The independence also allowed the union to maintain a sometimes-criticized purity in terms of its membership -- only nurses. Ask a PCA or an animal care tech. how nurses view other folks "lower" down the hospital chain and you'll get an idea what I'm talking about. I'm not saying that purity's necessarily good or bad, nor is it unique to the CNA among AFL affiliates, but nurses will have to know that most of their per capita dues are going outside the profession and outside the hospital.

- Will this limit their remarkable political effectiveness? Being subsumed by the bureaucracy (and sluggishness) of AFL-CIO politics could weaken and slow down anyone. If done smartly, the added AFL-CIO resources could make the CNA an even bigger player in both statewide and national politics. We'll see.

- Is this going to help or hurt their national organizing ambitions? I think their independence and RN focus generally helped them organize in other states, but I don't know much about their campaigns. I don't totally see why someone would want to join the AFL-CIO right now, since -- apart from the newly-joined CNA -- very few of the affiliated unions are actually growing or attempting to do so in a strategic manner. In my admittedly biased view, the most dynamic and promising national organizing campaigns are being conducted by Change to Win affiliates: Justice for Janitors, Hotel Workers Rising, the Teamsters Port Campaign, Walmart, etc. And many of the natural allies for those campaigns are represented by (or in bargaining relationships with) SEIU in the healthcare industry. CNA and SIEU may still have some animus left over despite their partnership, but joint organizing within the same federation would certainly solve a lot more raiding problems than getting on opposite sides.

- Is the AFL-CIO's position on healthcare reform enough of a reason to affiliate? I actually think this makes some good sense. The AFL will strengthen its position by adding thousands of union nurses and experienced healthcare advocates, and the CNA will probably get more influence in what happens nationally than they previously had.

Is this getting boring for anyone else? It's boring me. I'm out.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

a legitimate improvement to national security

I'm speaking here, of course, about Congress's decision to grant organizing rights to 45,000 airport screeners. Can we all agree that, of the hundreds of millions of working Americans, these people should be on the list of Top Ten Professions Who We Really Need Be Happy On The Job? I'm going to skip over the obvious reasons for this, and I'll refrain from ranting about Mitch McConnell's remarks, because what did we expect?, and same goes for Richard Burr's comically inept and insulting attempt at a soundbite, but I will say this:

Why is it so damn hard for our elected officials to just say "Collective bargaining is good. It improves operations, increases retention, and protects workers." Meanwhile, all the reassurances about what the union won't be able to do (strike, bargain for pay, etc.) don't do anything to make me feel safer. A weak union doesn't protect anyone.

I know this is well-trod ground. I think it's worth a reminder that, as with many jobs, DHS employees make sacrifices and enter into obligations as part of their work. No union has the authority or the power to curtail the TSA from doing what it needs to do in an emergency, and plenty of collective bargaining agreements contain whole sections devoted to those exceptional circumstances. Similarly, all the TSA needs to do to avoid an emergency labor problem is employ enough people and treat them well enough to ensure proper staffing, training, etc.

To my mind, this debate exposes the equally well-trod ground of how inadequate the labor standards are for DHS employees, and the shameful hypocrisy of Congress and the Bush Administration in trying to get national security on the cheap, at the expense of our safety as well as the lives of the people charged with protecting us.

Okay, enough of that.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Tonight's Special: Tolerance, Smothered in Weak Sauce

In the middle of last month, the Anglican Communion primates met in Africa and issued an ultimatum to the Episcopal Church (its U.S. "branch"), asserting that if the Episcopal Church does not discontinue ordaining gay priests and performing gay marriages by September 30th, 2007, it will essentially be barred from "full participation" in the church. This has been brewing for the last four years or so, since the Episcopals began ordaining gay priests and allowing congregations flexibility to perform gay marriages.

Yesterday, in an act of stupendous cowardice, Kathline Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop, told 2 million Episcopalians that they should comply with this ultimatum. Now I recognize that we all regularly find ourselves in situations where we must tolerate the opinions and actions of others with whom we share common ground. In our personal lives, we may be compelled to tolerate or resign ourselves to the political beliefs of our parents, spouse, boss, etc. In my case, I often find that, to preserve solidarity and coalitions, I have to make peace with incremental reformers and latte liberals in order to remain an active participant in Democratic politics. I imagine that many SEIU members, and perhaps UNITE HERE members as well, have resigned themselves to accepting a somewhat watered-down immigration stance in exchange for a real seat at the table on immigration policy.

So I can understand why a progressive Episcopalian would not resign their membership in the Anglican Church, just as I can understand why a pro-choice woman would decide to take communion (not to mention any number of other examples). What I cannot understand, or for that matter stomach, is arguing that we should change our beliefs to retain our membership. One way or another, the Anglican Communion is trying to expunge the institutions and people that hold progressive views from its ranks. They want to kick you out for your beliefs, and your response is not to assert your right to membership and your beliefs, but rather, to buckle under, degrading both in the process.

With apologies to any Episcopalians out there, that frankly disgusts me. To position a "hunger for clarity" and an "intensity" of feeling as detrimental, as dangerous, in a religious context, simply seems disengenuous. After all, the Anglican primates aren't having any trouble with clarity -- they've made their views, and the intensity of their feeling about them, quite clear. I think it demeans Episcopalians to request from them more patience and less passion in the pursuit of Jesus's teachings. And to say that "We are being asked to pause in the journey, not to go back," is so flagrant a lie that I can't imagine how she kept a straight face. Tell that to the gay and lesbian Episcopalians currently in seminary. Tell that to the ones that have already been ordained, and to their congregations. It'd be like if, in 1967, Congress had come back to black Americans and said: "Look, I know you have voting rights now, but what with all the rioting and racial violence, we want to suspend them for a bit until we figure out a solution. It's not a step back for justice, it's just a pause until we can figure out how to live in harmony."

I admit that I feel rather uncomfortable judging the actions of one of the most progressive church leaders in the United States, and a critical ally in the fight for marriage equality and gay rights. And I don't presume to argue that those LGBT concerns should supercede the integrity and existence of the church. But how long can the church continue if it sacrifices its integrity and betrays its members? History would tell us, "A whole hell of a long time," but I prefer to ignore that. Here's hoping the Episcopal Executive Council and the House of Bishops will do the right thing.

Otherwise, they'll have to change their motto to: "The Episcopal Church [Conditionally] Welcomes You...Now with 50% Weaker Sauce!"

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I'm taking an night class on Statistics at the UC Berkeley Extension, as part of my general "Preparation For A Degree That, For Some Reason, I Believe I Need To Get Before I'll Be Offered The Exact Job I Already Have" program. Below, for your amusement, an excerpt from last week's class. All you need to know in advance is that, when you're dealing with probability, you refer figuratively to whatever population you're picking from as the "box."

Prof. Jurkat: So, the first step is to draw the box with the different results. Then, second, we need to determine the proportion of those results in the so. Does anybody know the third step?

Alek: [raising hand] Step, make her open the box?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Middlebury Affair

Lots of press flurries around the decision by the Middlebury College history department to ban Wikipedia citations in history papers. The most sensible response appears to come from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who simply says: "For God's sake, you're in college. Don't cite the encyclopedia."

Wikivangelists see this as the beginnings of censorship, which just proves that they need to spend more time on Wikipedia learning about what censorship actually is. That said, the Middlebury history department's response to Wikipedia use strikes me as both reactionary and narrow-minded. Don't get me wrong. The preponderance of inaccuracies (which the professors ascribe to Wikipedia, not to the students) is in fact a big deal, and requires an aggressive response. As with, say, large military conflicts, lots of people getting bad information from unreliable sources is a serious problem. But, in banning Wikipedia citations, Middlebury profs missed addressing that problem altogether.

Here are, I think, the putative reasons for the ban: 1) due to convenience, students are relying on a source of information that may expose them to historical inaccuracies, which they in turn embrace because (I guess) they're too dumb or lazy to know better; 2) relying on Wikipedia prevents students from distinguishing the difference between credible and non-credible sources, from developing a critical approach to historical information, etc. -- i.e. they fail to learn proper research methodology.

So what's the solution? Hold students accountable for incorrect information, as you would with any other statement, sourced or not? Actually teach research methodology, so students can independently evaluate sources and the information they provide?

Nope. They just banned Wikipedia citations. They don't, as far as I know, have a public ban on citing The Onion or attributing words spoken by Dana Carvey on SNL to George Bush Sr. But they single out Wikipedia almost, I think, out of spite for the damage they believe it causes to traditional scholarship. Now, despite the histrionics of campus free speech advocates, this citation ban does not constitute censorship in any substantive sense. But how does it help, exactly?

What Middlebury professors (and all professors) should be doing is teaching students how to evaluate information and build a supported argument, then holding those students accountable for what they write. I think they've chosen citation ban either to avoid doing those things, which is sad, or to send a figurative shot over the open-source bow, which is petty. I read the ban, in part, as a sign of how threatened the academic elite feel by Wikipedia and the like. In my view, the limitless benefits of community-created information repositories far outweigh the potential for inaccuracy, especially since rigorous editorial and peer review don't root out inaccuracies or bias by any stretch. But Wikipedia damn sure scares people who control knowledge production, and the anti-Wiki backlash (of which this citation ban is, I think, a part) reveals just how much.

One last thing. In some parts of the academy, Wikipedia is actually offering teachers a way to teach students about research methods (as noted in the linked NYT article). Assigning students to edit or create a Wikipedia pages seems like such a better solution to both of the problems discussed above. Lame.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sneak Preview! Next month's issue...

...of Least Ambiguous Song Lyrics Ever, featuring Arcade Fire's "Intervention":

"Working for the church while your life falls apart
Singing Hallelujah with the fear in your heart"

...which, is actually still less ambiguous than the earlier chorus, "Working for the church while your family dies."

Also, badass point to Win Butler for saying "Jesus Fucking Christ, we're in a church" during their performance at St. John's last month.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Deborah Lipstadt, my badass hero

For the last week, I've been puzzling over an article by Frank Furedi in Spiked. Furedi argues that in the 21st century, the concept of "denial" -- in the critical sense, as in a "Holocaust denier," an "AIDS denier," or a "climate change denier" -- has become a secular replacement for heresy. The essay alternates between bold, compelling, insightful discussion of the relevant issues and a vague, thin, accusatory rhetoric that reveals a little too much about the author's agenda.

Here are the main points. I'm paraphrasing, and (in some cases) I think I'm presenting the point in a more effective manner, but anyway:

  • "Those who question prevailing cultural orthodoxies are treated as immoral, evil people, and their arguments depicted as a form of secular heresy."
  • Targeting denial isn't about the highly-charged emotional context of the issues (i.e. genocide, the environment, etc.), but about an intolerance towards free thinking.
  • Traditional heresy involves denying an article of religious truth, but those have been supplanted by articles of historical and scientific truth.
  • "Heresy-hunters" strive to follow the model of the ultimate 20th-century taboo, Holocaust denial, by constructing new taboos.
  • In this way, denial becomes a "generic evil," a "free-floating blasphemy" that can apply to anything.
  • Difference of opinion disappears in the context of debate, replaced by accusations of denial.
  • The perceived danger of taboo opinions makes it "responsible behavior" to repress those opinions. Hence the wave of existing and proposed anti-denial laws (anti-genocide in the EU, criminalizing AIDS misinformation, etc.)
  • These "denial" accusations deliberately conflate the psychological and critical definitions of "denial" in order to discredit a viewpoint, as well as the holder of that viewpoint. Being a denier is like being "in denial." So, as in the psychological case, denial is a disability that results in suppressed information and does damage to society -- which allows the people who subscribe to those articles of historical and scientific truth to justify censoring deniers.
  • Moreover, it's not really about the desire to affirm those truths, but about about "moral policing."
  • Finally, the secular heresy of "denial" constitutes a serious threat to freedom of speech and thought, one which outweighs the ultimately negligible positive effects of censoring taboo ideas.
On the whole, I find the arguments decent, especially the implied distinction between dismissal and debate, and the effort to point towards the resultant problems regarding free speech/censorship. I also have to reluctantly concede that I admire Furedi for wading into somewhat dangerous waters and sticking to his point, given the fact that he's essentially attacking people who try to speak for genocide victims, AIDS patients, and the health of every organism on the planet.

However, in claiming that accusations of "denial" arise from an intolerance of free thinking, Furedi shortchanges the social, political, and emotional context. People's motives as scholars and scientists are (of course) affected by what they care about and what they believe should take happen in the world. Though censorship might arise from a given situation, not wanting people to get inaccurate information about AIDS doesn't exactly describe an intolerance of free thought.

Which leads me to the article's major flaw: the lack of a critical qualitative distinction between good and bad scholarship or science. One's skill at scientific or historical research should not have any bearing on one's democratic right to free expression, nor should one's personal agenda. But these characteristics may start to explain the vehemence with which people attack revisionist Holocaust historians or industry-backed climate change skeptics. After all, bad science is bad science, and people invested in getting accurate information to the public concerning, say, epidemic disease, might be pretty invested in minimizing the influence of poorly researched, unsupportable conclusions. Again, no effect on the free speech issues, but the argument for the intrinsic value of free thinking loses some integrity when it tries to compare David Irving to Copernicus.

I prefer Deborah Lipstadt's take on this question (also from Spiked...hmm). She has no compunction about calling someone a denier, but she doesn't believe in criminalizing or persecuting genocide denial. She describes the proposed EU genocide denial laws as a "body blow to academic debate." And, though I don't want to revert to using someone's C.V. to support the validity of their claims, she does have a great deal of experience in this matter, and she pursues Holocaust deniers aggressively. But she doesn't want them in jail. because of freedom of speech, because of the need to avoid making deniers into martyrs, and because making a law against genocide-denying speech implies that we don't have the evidence to prove the truth.

I like the third reason best. She's basically saying that she doesn't want to censor deniers, she wants to beat them. Debunk their scholarship, destroy their credibility, prove that they're wrong, and let them "fade into obscurity." I can get behind that, because a) it's the right thing to do; b) it not only preserves freedom of speech, it encourages it; c) it keeps us focused on deepening our knowledge of things like genocide and pollution, thus keeping them in our minds and on our agenda; and d) it places the weight of the argument where it should be -- in the evidence.

I already noted how badass Deborah Lipstadt was, but it's worth mentioning again.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Apple week

Holy cow. This is like in the Olympics when the acknowledged speedskating favorite, who's been just hanging in the pack, opens up like crazy and leaves everyone else behind. I don't really do too much Apple-polishing, but in the last week this company demonstrated why it consistently beats its industry competition like an old rug. Steve "Boom" Jobs may be a complete parody of himself, but like Ang Lee, his incoherence and goofiness are hiding something.

In the past week Apple settled its enormous dispute with Apple Corps., which has two consequences, one that might be sort of important for Beatle fans, and one that's likely going to help them secure a future monopoly on digital music delivery. Yeah, we'll be able to get Beatles songs etc. on iTunes, but the big deal here is the ability of Apple (Computer) to begin selling music via "physical media," which, despite all the online music hullaballoo, still represents something like 90% of music sales.

Meanwhile, after vigorously defending their Fairplay system (a Digital Rights Management program that "secures" content downloaded from iTunes), Steve Jobs has essentially reversed their position. He's now calling on the Big Four to acknowledge the DRM doesn't work (no duh) and abolish it. I found the essay lucid and fairly balanced, with the only flaw being a somewhat facetious argument regarding the degree to which Apple's software and hardware lock users into a consumer relationship with the company. This reversal comes after a wave of challenges to the iTunes DRM system throughout Europe, and increasing competition from other online music vendors (especially eMusic) which don't use DRM.

Anyway, Apple made huge, smart strides this week to stay ahead of the curve. The iPhone (even with its 150 kabillion contacts) pales in comparison.

Monday, February 05, 2007

i tried/i gave up

After about two and a half straight years of concerted resistance, I gave in to my demons. See, I love Wikipedia. I feel about Wikipedia kind of the way I do about unions -- with all their flaws, limitations, legitimate detractors, they're still the best revolution we've got.

Anyway, I knew from the moment I first got on the site, back in college, that it could be poison. I'd just recovered from an addiction to the okayplayer messageboards, and now Jimmy Wales was offering impassioned know-it-alls like me an opportunity to weigh in on everything, fight out minor points on discussion boards, root out systemic bias -- it really seemed like a wikitopia. So, even though I use the site all the time, and I followed the recent wave of criticism and praise, and got into a number of intense discussions about the merits of collectivism in encyclopaedic context...I never actually made any edits. Because I knew that as soon as I changed something, it would be a slippery slope.

This weekend I let go like it was Raging Waters. I'd been reading so much about it, and debating it, and I just decided that I couldn't hold my position in these arguments if I wasn't a wiki author myself. So now I am. Oh well.

(title ref. help)

Friday, February 02, 2007

TAP Letter/Change to Win

Harold Meyerson published an excellent column in the online edition of The American Prospect on Andy Stern, titled "Organization Man." TAP published my letter in response today, on their website. I didn't really imagine that they would, so I can't say that I cleared it with our communications staff. I think it's pretty innocuous, though.

Doing Something

Harold Meyerson’s recent column on SEIU president Andy Stern ("Organization Man," 2/1/07) makes a compelling argument regarding Stern’s political effectiveness and his similarities to former UAW president Walter Reuther. But, to strengthen the comparison, Mr. Meyerson likens Reuther’s failed Alliance for Labor Action to the recently-formed Change to Win Federation, which -- according to Meyerson -- "can’t really be said to have done anything, either."

Quite the contrary. Since the formation of Change to Win, SEIU organized 5,300 janitors in the union-hostile environment of Houston, TX, the UFCW mounted an effective nationwide opposition to Wal-Mart, and UNITE HERE, in an unprecedented victory, won organizing agreements with two national hotel chains. In fact, a year ago Mr. Meyerson published a Washington Post column on the revolutionary nature of the UNITE HERE campaign, which he praised for "opening a whole new front" ("Taking on the Hotels," Washington Post, 1/18/06). These milestones, along with the record participation of labor unions in the 2006 election cycle, clearly demonstrate the commitment of Change to Win members to the new federation’s founding principle of strategic, industry-based organizing. Change to Win may have faults to match its successes, but it is, without a doubt, doing something.

Alek Felstiner, Organizer

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Matthew LaClair = Badass!

This is the 16-year old New Jersey high school student who recorded his history teacher telling the class, among other things, that they belong in Hell if they don't accept Jesus Christ as their savior. So, we knew he was badass from the earlier coverage, and just by definition, but I didn't realize until I looked into it further this morning the degree to which he's exposed himself by taking on this fight. And I hadn't listened to the recordings, so I didn't realize how fearlessly he confronted his teacher on the hypocrisy of a loving, merciful God that cannot tolerate dissent. "Why would a loving God give up on someone after just one lifetime?...As a parent, if your child did something wrong, would you throw them in an oven and leave them there forever?" BADASS. He should join Carlton Pearson's church.

To me, the fact that LaClair's classmates and community don't support him strengthens his claim that without the recordings he would never have persuaded the school, district, and community that Paszkiewicz was doing something wrong. I mean, the man is teaching an 11th-grade history course about the US Constitution, and he says the following:

[God] did everything in his power to make sure that you could go to heaven, so much so that he took your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you, and he's saying, 'Please, accept me, believe.' If you reject that, you belong in hell....If you reject his gift of salvation, then you're going where you belong.''

Yeah. People are defending that. Now, to be fair, Paszkiewiscz makes one (1) feeble attempt (on the NYT recordings at least) to say that this is his belief, and he makes a couple of references to interpretation of scripture being "your prerogative," which is good. But he still presents salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus, and the condemnation of the unsaved to hell as incontrovertible facts. Not so good.

Other highlights include the penetrating distinction that "Scriptures aren't religion," by way of arguing that all Christian religions believe in one book, "The Bible -- you should be able to bring that into the classroom and read it."

Another hilarious moment: Paszkiewicz asks the class, sarcastically, if "anyone ever observed" the evolution of simple life forms to complex life forms, like it's a ridiculous notion. Then he goes on to say, sarcastically again, "You can collect some the fossil record." ....hmm. Yeah, that pesky fossil record, with its overwhelming mountain of observed data supporting evolution. Oh, also comparative anatomy, molecular genetics, geographical distribution...there's some observation going on. But, damn, scientists can't prove that life spontaneously generates, and they can't repeat it in experimental conditions, so it can't be a scientific fact! Wait, whoops, that's
completely wrong because they can and have. It's one thing to present the scientific argument for evolution in an unbiased manner, then express your belief in another explanation of life, but lying about what's out there is just a shameful, criminal action from any teacher, especially a public school teacher.

Also good: Paskiewicz distinguishes faith from blind belief, saying that his faith is "rooted and grounded in Scripture" because of "Prophecy," which came true. What's his example? Moses says in Genesis (right) that Israel would endure 400 years of slavery, and, lo and behold, it happened!...When? In the next book of the Bible. Not really a prophecy so much as a clunky piece of foreshadowing.

I was disappointed to see that the most aggressive response from the school district was to ban unauthorized recording in class...which, okay, that's fine, but isn't there a larger problem here? If students have to surreptitiously record their teachers in order to fix drastic Constitutional problems with the curriculum, maybe the district can do better than a memo and some teacher education. Here's some evidence that they're on the wrong track. Paszkiewicz recently compared global warming scientists to Hitler repeating a lie often enough that people believe it. The school board's lawyer reported that the board didn't investigate the report (???) because the comment wasn't religious and didn't break any kind of law.

Um. I don't know where to start with that. He didn't break a law (assuming New Jersey doesn't have a statute requiring public school teachers to represent scientific and historical truth to the best of their ability). But come on, you've got recordings of this guy endangering your school district by violating the Constitution in a class about the Constitution, and you didn't feel the need to investigate an incident wherein that same teacher discredits science some more?

Leaving aside the wildly inappropriate nature of the Hitler analogy, global warming isn't a lie -- calling it one is. Also, much as we might like to believe it, Hitler's use of the "big lie" theory is widely misinterpreted. In
Mein Kampf, Hitler attributed the "big lie" strategy to a conspiracy of Jews in media, bent on convincing the German people that they lost World War I (they did). Goebbels later appropriated it for his attacks on Churchill's "Lie Factory." So, Nazi leaders obviously believed in the effectiveness of the "Big Lie," and it may seem like the "Big Lie" concept played an obvious role in Hitler's propoganda strategy, but that latter point hasn't been substantiated. So, giving Paszkiewiscz the benefit of the doubt, we'll assume that he's not implicitly associating global warming scientists with an evil conspiracy of "Big Lie"-telling Jews. Instead, we'll just assume that he's adopting the common "Big Lie" myth that surrounds Hitler, and he's ignorant of WWII/Holocaust history.

That's cool, though, it's not like he's a history teacher or anything.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

velveeta = still gross

Kraft is finally going to split off from Altria (aka Phillip Morris USA). According to the NYT, Altria and Wall Street expect this to offer yet another boon to the morally bankrupt individuals and ethically compromised mutual funds that invest in Big Tobacco. The NYT and tobacco PR execs took the opportunity to explain why tobacco, as an investment vehicle, is basically impervious to government regulation, litigation, public opinion, and health concerns. David Adelman of Morgan Stanley noted that "people like to's enjoyable and there's not an alternative product."

Well...that's just because you can't (yet) sell stock in living an extra 10 years. But, with all due respect to Adelman's market savvy, I don't agree that there's not an alternative product, and frozen dinners provide a poor analogy. For one thing, frozen dinners aren't just about food cost, they're about storage convenience, shelf-life, and preparation time. If frozen dinners become too expensive, people will certainly switch to another product, but only if it also possesses those other key characteristics.

It's the same with cigarettes. There's more too them than nicoteine delivery, obviously. There's a ritual/habitual aspect, and a social cache as well. I don't smoke, so that's just what I observe, but there may be (there likely is) even more there. Saying that there isn't an alternative product seems simplistic to me. To me, the market elasticity of cigarettes (that people will buy them regardless of price hikes) does less to demonstrate their addictive quality than it does to dramatize these intangible aspects. So, two conclusions:

1) I believe the addictive nature of cigarettes, as well as their other characteristics, could well be replicated in an alternative product.

2) The elasticity of cigarettes may be due in part to a hidden cost that hasn't made its way into public consciousness. Forget about the eleven minutes you lose each time you smoke -- getting treatment for heart disease or lung cancer is expensive.

Also a fun fact from the NYT article: I'd never heard of this Vice Fund before, but if you check out their website, it's pretty entertaining. Like they specifically set out to see how much morally reprehensible ideology they could cram into one website. Blech.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Music Misc.

1) Obviously I dropped out of band way too early. Doesn't it keep you up at night, the fact that you've never heard "Crosseyed and Painless" played by a marching band? No longer (check youtube for clips).

2) A sensible, jargon-free, clear, concise, non-polemic from Sean O'Hagan about the effect of digitization on our relationship with music. I take issue with the idea that digitization removes music from context -- the contexts just change, and digital contexts are anything but information-poor. But I agree wholeheartedly that the change in context produced by digitization, one of space, time, interface, etc., may well squeeze out elements of emotional investment that shape our long-term relationship with music. By the way, I get the hypocrisy in praising an essay for its lack of jargon and then cramming a ton of jargon into my response. Also, Sean O'Hagan may be Irish.

3) Generally when people research music and the brain, they try to fit music into our structural understanding of neurocognition and behavioral science. They want to know what music can tell us about those fields, and thus about how our brains work. For a refreshing change, Daniel Levitin concerns himself with the opposite (in my view). He's interested in what our brains and behavior can tell us about the remarkable cultural phenomenon that is organized sound. The NYT gave him his due at the end of last month, and the article's been stewing in my head for a while. See Levitin Lab and Levitin's website for more.

4) It was a weekend of chock-full of culture. We saw Babel, a film so depressing that it's "upbeat" plot involves a deaf-mute recovering from her mother's suicide...which, yeah, you bet, she witnessed. We also saw Ladysmith Black Mambazo in concert. They are apparently back from Outer Space.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Revolver (1966)

An excellent interview with Giles Martin on All Songs Considered prompted me to finally get back to these. Let me say that it has been a real struggle to fairly consider this Cirque du Soleil project. I mean, however much you dress it up, Cirque du Soleil is ultimately about transvestite clowns. The Magical Mystery Tour movie failed for a reason, after all. But I have to admit that Giles Martin is a very smart guy, and obviously possesses a talent commensurate to his father's. Based on the clips I've heard, the music is actually terrific. The staging appears to be a ridiculous skateboarding, breakdancing fiasco. Should have just been an album.

Anyway, Revolver.

Most Overrated: "Good Day Sunshine." This song has some wonderful rhythmic and harmonic divergences in the chorus, and an awesome fade, but basically it's lame enough that it seems like Paul wrote specifically for Kermit the Frog. It's cheesy enough to make "Yellow Submarine" seem mature and subversive. On an album with "I'm Only Sleeping" and "She Said She Said," it sticks out more than necessary. Overrated.

Most Underrated: "She Said She Said." Very easy choice. The correct genre title for this song (and its author, actually) would be "existential badass." It just destroys, but in this finicky way that's impossible not to love. I had a lot more to say about the structure of this song, and the meter-changes in the bridge, and the the brilliance of the verse melody, and the high dog-whistle organ mixed way in the back, and Ringo getting a fill in every verse to go apeshit -- but you can just listen to it.

Also, the song contains an excellent transcription of my internal monologue during English class at Yale:

"Even though you know what you know
I know that I'm ready to leave
And you're making me feel like I've never been born."

Friday, January 19, 2007


The RIAA, once again demonstrating an unexplored capacity for willful ignorance, is now attempting a crackdown on mixtapes. Someone needs to explain to them that, from time to time, social, technological, or cultural developments by their very existence simply nullify certain applications of the law. Traditional copyright is not going to work for digital content, and people who deal with these issues as a matter of course discovered that a long time ago. But the music industry, despite its ostensible involvement in creating and defining the cultural vanguard, spends most of its time studying how to cash in on existing trends, instead of studying (or attempting to shape) the culture of subsequent consumer generations. So instead of reading the signs and designing a delivery system that would protect its assets, the music industry followed a "wait and sue" policy (I came up with that independently -- kind of disappointing to find out it's a widely-used phrase).

That was dumb.

For example, a careful (or even superficial) study of mixtape consumers would immediately reveal what the Times article points out: "part of the fun involves hearing rappers remake one another's songs and respond to one another's taunts; a great mixtape captures the controlled chaos that hiphop thrives on." Mixtapes have the potential to be incredibly lucrative, as any of those guys selling $5 CDs on the street can tell you. But, obsessed with shoring up a doomed section of copyright law, the RIAA decided to arrest DJ Drama. It's not going to work, it's not a deterrent.

Imagine how much the Big Four/Five would have made directly on online sales if they didn't have to enter expensive contracts with mediators like Apple et al. This will turn out just the same. The record companies have already missed the boat on mixtapes, and if/when they do figure out a way to enter the real mixtape market (DJ Clue doesn't count), they will likely do so in compromised, water-down fashion that won't make them much money.

By that time listeners will have moved on to someone or something else -- which the RIAA will immediately try to sue, or arrest.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Albums I Bought and the Albums I Said I Bought...

As part of my family's new budgeting process, I don't buy music anymore, really at all. See, the the only places I want to buy music are Amoeba, Rasputin, and Aquarius records, and I don't appear to possess the willpower necessary for me to buy fewer than 10 cds at a time. I used to have that kind of money because I spent literally nothing on anything else (I have been clothes shopping 3 times in the last 9 years), but now, instead of living in a dorm with Stanford graciously paying the bulk of my Yale tuition, I live in San Francisco and I've chosen the lowest paying job in my field, in preparation for the most expensive education available.

So no new CDs since some time in early 2005. And due to our environmental & energy concerns, plus the glorious move that put us two blocks away from BART, I don't listen to the radio in the car anymore. Given a choice, I'd rather see live music than buy another CD to add to the 1200 I'm still struggling to file. As a result I can't in good conscience make a "Best of" list for 2006 because I have only the vaguest notion of what went on, musically speaking.

But who cares. Here's my best of list, from the extremely limited perspective of someone with just enough time to invest in music he already likes.

Rainer Maria - Catastrophe Keeps Us Together. Well, apparently, catastrophe only kept them together just long enough to record and tour this album. Man, did that bum me out. The last time I saw them live it was at San Francisco's crappy Bottom of the Hill, where the sound and food compete for least appetizing aspect of the overall experience. But the album is wonderful, improved by its flaws (much like the band), and very hard not to fall in love with (much like the band's bassist and lead singer, Caithlin de Marrais). Incredible lead single, surprisingly affective acoustic numbers, Kyle Fisher's remarkable ability to shred a guitar wistfully (?) -- it all adds up to Rainer Maria. It's nice, and rare, for music to be actually affirming. Punk, Gospel, Beethoven, and "Getting Better" are a few examples that come to mind, but I'm surprised at how infrequently music will make you feel better about the future (as opposed to simply feeling better about the present). "I've got a plan/I'm gonna find you/at the end of the world," sings De Marrais on the album's phenomenal lead single. It's possible I'm just a sucker for the prospect of lots of time with a pretty redhead in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter.

Walkmen -
A Hundred Miles Off. This album disappointed folks who were expecting and hoping for another Bows + Arrows. That includes me. But, though it's not as good as the impossibly appealing Bows + Arrows, it succeeds at hanging together better and annoying me less. The Walkmen are like Robin Williams -- very good, but annoying at the extremes. The last album alternated between cuts that simply capture your whole being for 3 minutes ("No Christmas While I'm Talking," "The North Pole," the title cut, and of course "The Rat") and ones that appear to have been created with the intention of irritating us crosseyed. A Hundred Miles Off gives up the epic in favor of the effortless, which means I'll listen to it less frequently, but all the way through. Highlights include "Louisiana" (which has a distinct flavor of nightime barbecue outdoors), "Emma, Get Me a Lemon," which is about what it says it's about, and "All Hands on the Cook," which is about nothing, but Hamilton Leithauser does make a series of bizarre requests in the bridge, including a request to "stop talking to the neighbor's dog." The real star of the album is Matt Barrick, the preternaturally gifted drummer and expert in timbres, textures, and straight whaling on his trap. The lame lyrics of "Emma, Get Me a Lemon" only really work because of the music's subtext: "Emma, you might as well get me a lemon because, according to these drums, I'm about to be burned alive by a Polynesian cargo cult."

Mike Relm --
Radio Fryer. This is a cheat, as he actually released it in 2005. But he's Mike Relm. I love this man and his music. I'm pretty sure that, given the chance, my wife would leave me for him because he's that talented and charming. Which, writing it now, sounds like a compliment to me, but you know what I mean. If I had to pick a highlight from this 70 minute mixtape wonder, I don't know what I'd choose. "Relm and Josie," which pits the cheesiness of Outback against the cheesiness of pre-Cube NWA? "Amadeus is Passing Me By?" "Ain't Goin' Out Like Linus?" They're all good. Mike Relm succeeded in translating that remarkable capacity of live DJs -- making you enjoy a song more than you ever had before -- to what is, essentially, a very accomplished and complex blend tape. The only thing I could recommend higher than buying this album would be seeing him live.

Yo La Tengo --
I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. I haven't bought this for myself (see above), but between downloads, the live show, Youtube, etc. I have a pretty good idea. Basically it's this decade's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. I said most of the relevant things in the review (linked), and in photoshop, but in case you didn't know, Ira Kaplan does feedback solos like he's plugging the meter.

Jay Dilla --
Donuts. Jay Dee's aesthetic sensibilities are so acute, he can make an aimless, incoherent beat tape like Donuts into a masterpiece. Sometimes Jay Dee was lazy, and sometimes his ability to effortlessly replicate styles led to some pretty generic production. But Donuts plays like the best of Slum Village or Common's fourth album -- by turns sloppy and finessed, exposed and submerged. It's like he's saying: "Here's everying you can do with hiphop production -- except you probably can't." R.I.P.

Smoosh --
Free to Stay. Smoosh will win you over. Is that a guarantee, you ask? I'll put it this way: if you don't fall in love with the opening single "Find a Way," then you probably won't like the way you look either. I saw these young women live last year, and the fact that I willingly stood in a group of 14-year old hipsters and their chaperones (along with, doubtless, the assorted pedophile) should speak for itself. Damn is this band fun.

Roots --
Game Theory. Foregone conclusion.

Why? --
Elephant Eyelash. Also from 2005, but started getting a lot more heat in 2006. So, so many reasons to love this album. "Crushed Bones," "Waterfalls" (which, though not a cover of TLC, is now the best song with that title, something I thought TLC had pretty well locked down), "Rubber Traits," "Gemini (Birthday Song)," the album is just stuffed with bizarre, unique, disturbing music that sounds something like what you know but not quite. Kind of Daniel Johnston, kind of Pharcyde, kind of Laurie Anderson, kind of Smile outtakes -- impossible to describe. See them live, get the album.

Afro Reggae -
Nenhum Motivo Explica a Guerra. Speaking of music that sounds like nothing else. The cultural politics of this music is pretty complex -- seeing Favela Rising may help significantly, but you still need to draw your own conclusions about the medium and the message (which requires babelfish unless you speak Portuguese -- and that won't help too much because it's insanely fast hiphop and may include fairly specific slang from Vicario General). Great album, hard to listen to frequently, but overwhelming (in a good way) when it comes to atmosphere and scope.

Arab Strap -
The Last Romance. Also foregone. I love this band, and the newest album is just packed to the top with bitterness, humor, resentment, desperation, resignation, and hushed lyricism. What they do best. Surprisingly, there are more "upbeat" tunes on this one than on any previous, including an undeniably happy closer in "There is No Ending" (my nominee for Best Song of 2006). Lots more thoughts on the album and the band in an earlier review. Probably don't go buy this album if you're easily depressed by music. Or buy this one, but don't buy any of the others till you're ready to hear Aidan Moffat ask for "something to wipe with."

That's all. Maybe 2007 will be the Year of Buying Albums from Last Year. Looking forward to it.

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