Friday, June 29, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

If Fiddlin' John Carson wasn't the best of his time or the most prolific, he was the first. In 1922, a week after WSB, the South's first radio station, began broadcasting, Carson arrived, fiddle in hand, to play until he could play no more. He was an immediate sensation, which makes sense given his previous popularity at political rallies and fiddle competitions (he won the Georgia State Championship seven times). A year and a series of radio performances later, a representative from the OKeh label came to Marietta, GA to record two sides, "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane" and "The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow." Long titles, and tracks that the rep absolutely hated, and only reluctantly agreed to press five hundred copies, which Carson distributed at concerts. Needless to say, they sold out immediately and he, along with the original Carter Family, became the first Country Music celebrity. With his daughter Rosa Lee (dubbed Moonshine Kate), he toured across the south to huge audiences. Apparently, he also had trained his dog to howl along with his fiddle but, alas, I don't believe any of this was recorded (I sure hope he taught the pooch to say "I love you"). Unfortunately, his recordings were not well preserved and sound terrible, some of the worst transfers Document Records has done. This is, of course, not their fault, but it would be nice to be able to properly hear his fiddle and understand at all what he's singing about. Even "The Lone Child," recorded in 1929, when technology had progressed significantly, sounds like it's sung through a tin can in the rain, but at least the recordings still exist.

1. Fiddlin' John Carson--The Lone Child
2. Robert Johnson--Crossroad Blues
3. Blind Boy Fuller--Cat Man Blues
4. Ennio Morricone--Guns Don't Argue (Theme from same titled film)
5. Albert King--Don't Lie To Me
6. Mose Allison--If You're Goin' to the City
7. Big Bill Broonzy--Too Too Train Blues
8. Henry Cow--Grontigen Again
9. Francois Couperin--Prelude No.2 for Organ (Jovanka Marville, Org)
10. Sonic Youth--Mary-Christ

The Top 10 Albums of 2007 (so far)

As we are officially at the halfway point of the year, it is time to offer my second annual "Best of the year (thus far)" list. Although there's a particular order on this list, it could (and probably will) change over time (indeed, looking back, I would probably switch around my number one, two and three albums of last year's best of, and I regret not having CSS on that list now). Plus, I haven't had much time to really let a few recent releases still sink in (the White Stripes' and the Queens of the Stone Age's new ones). With unannounced 2007 release dates of stuff from the Liars and Radiohead, among others, this list will no doubt change by the end of the year. Still, here are what I consider the best albums of 2007 so far.

1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible - There's not much more I can say about this album that I haven't already said. If anything, it's only gotten better, musically, lyrically, and the emotions in it just get richer over time.

2. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver - James Murphy shows his 2005 debut was no fluke. Despite the seemingly silly opening-track title ("Get Innocuous"), Murphy again combines his dance, punk, soul, and rock sentiments together into music unlike anything else anybody does. From the killer lyrics both celebrating and regretting being American in "North American Scum" to the "Baba O'Reilly" piano line driving "All My Friends" to the hilarious and simultaneously heartfelt "New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down", there isn't a single misstep on this album.

3. Bjork, Volta - There's not much more I can say about Bjork that hasn't already been said here. Her ability not just to totally reinvent her sound every time, but to make it as daring, original, and compelling as the previous (and very different) effort makes her one of the most innovative minds in music right now, and where the inclusion of Pussycat Dolls/Justin Timberlake/Smelly Furtado producer Timbaland seems like it might fall flat, Bjork's songwriting abilities just make it even better. This is unquestionably her most varying album in sound since 1995's Post, but it's no less daring or amazing than everything since Homogenic. Like Duss, Bjork is one of those few people whose album I know I'll buy even before I know a damn thing about it.

4 Arctic Monkeys, Favourite Worst Nightmare - Their debut in the U.S. last year was unfortunately a case of British over-hype taking its toll (sorry, England - no way they're already in the top 10 debut albums of all time). Yet the American-backlash-to-British-overhype was also overdone, leading many to ignore what was one of the best rock albums last year. Some may question how useful it is to crank out a second album so quickly, but "Favourite Worst Nightmare" is light years the Monkeys' debut. Where the first was light, fun, and about partying, this is all darkness and mystery, with the guitars gaining a far harder edge than they had on the debut. From the pounding "Brianstorm" to Alex Turner's tart voice soaring in "Balaclava" and album closer "505". If they Arctic Monkeys are going to continue to so rapidly mature and have their music grow, they can release albums whenever the hell they want.

5. Kings of Leon, Because of the Times - KOL are one of the bands that sort of disappeared after the "garage revival" hype earlier this decade, which is a real shame. 2005's "A-ha Shake Heartbreak" was criminally underrated and ignored. Fortunately, the quality continues, and the Followill clan are just learning to rock better and better. They still have their southern-fried sound, but the real treat is album opener "Knocked Up", which, with its pulsing drumbeat and driving bass pushing Caleb Followill's mumbled lyrics and the soaring, fleeting guitar, shows how great this family of rockers is at updating southern rock.

6. True Primes, We Have Won - Many may consider this album bizarre noise, but New York's Che Chen and Rolyn Hu have used drums, guitar amps, pedal fuzz, and unintelligble moans and words to release the best avant-garde material in a long time. Their fragmented pop songs are remarkable, and really bring back the notion of music as being "art" that is performed, without any of the pretention. The genius of the way they splice and connect their fragments in one wall of anthemic daring, and make it without question the most original album of the year (quite a feat when Bjork has new mateiral out).

7. Bloc Party, A Weekend in the City - Up until about a month ago, this would have been in my top 3, but now. It's a great album, and the quiet-loud explosion on the opening track sets up the album perfectly. No other album this year has had the political and social urgency of Bloc Party's material, and they've devloped both their political lyrics and their sound significantly since their debut (there's nothing like the earnest-but-hamfisted "Price of Gas" here). My one quibble is the album gets a bit slow in the middle, seeming like it would be better served to be 45 than 55 minutes, but the glorious ending of "I Still Remember," "Sunday," and "SRXT" make everything forgivable. People may be getting tired of that "post-punk" sound, but Bloc Party is just honest to god good, angular rock.

8. Dinosaur Jr., Beyond - With the reuniting and subsequent recording sessions of the original Dinosaur lineup (J., Murph, and Lou), there was much hope for another You're Living All Over Me, or at least another Bug. However, it turns out, we get another Where You Been, with Mascis's guitars wailing through the air, reminding us once again what a genius he is with the guitar turned up to 11. The album is as tight and great as anything since "Where You Been", and with the inclusion of two Barlow songs (always a point of contention up to their 1988 expulsion of Barlow), one hopes that Dinosaur Jr.'s back for good. This is just an awesome, awsome, sprawling album of great, fuzz-blasted, destructive guitar rock.

9. Modest Mouse, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank - When I heard that Johnny Marr was going to be on the album, I was terrified. I've never gotten the Smiths, and ever since their breakup, I've found his stuff as self-indulgent and uninteresting as anything since the Doors. However, mercifully, Isaac Brock apparently has the bigger personality, and this is still a Modest Mouse album, through and through, full of the "ugliness as beauty" approach that often characterizes Brock's vocals, all over generally beautiful and fierce melodies. While the album has some more weak points than other modest mouse albums (the appearance of the Shins' James Mercer on "We've Got Everything" does nothing to an already mediocre song), but when it's good, it's great, particularly on the poppy, driving "Dashboard", the balalaika thump of "Parting of the Sensory", and Mercer's additions to the great "Florida". See also "Spitting Venom" and opener "March into the Sea". Not their best work, but still, overall outstanding, and finally, I can appreciate something Johnny Marr has been involved in.

10. Air, Pocket Symphony - I've talked about this one already, too. To me, this isn't quite as great as the Air-penned Charlotte Gainsbourg album 5:55 from last year. Still, it's some of the lushest, darkest, and warmest music Air has provided yet, and is a welcome development in their sound and songwriting skills.

Best Re-Release: I'd love to go with the remastered edition of Daydream Nation (it's cliche, but hearing it remastered is like I never heard it before), but thus far, this has to go to the re-release of Betty Davis's three 1970s funk albums. Davis was married to Miles Davis for a year, turning him on to Jimmy Hendrix and serving as his muse as he moved towards fusion (and he ended up divorcing her, allegedly, because she was too crazy for him!). Davis's funk is some of the rawest, nastiest, dirtiest, and funnest funk to come out of the 70s, aided by Sly & the Family Stone's rhythm section and produced by Stone's drummer, Greg Errico. Her first album (simply self-titled), but they are all of such high quality, the three albums (Betty Davis, They Say I'm Different, and Nasty Gal) are all well worth the wait for re-release.

More on the Favela Violence

Not to put too fine a point on what I've been saying recently about calling favela residents "traficantes", but today's passage in the New York times (an AP report, and not Larry Rohter's reporting) really reinforces what I said. Favela-resident community organizer Edmundo Santos Oliveira points out,

"For the police, everyone is a drug trafficker, especially after they’ve killed you.”

Mister Trend's Random 10

This week's seventh song comes from Christian Marclay. I really don't like the term, but "electronic" is the best way to describe him - he works with samples, loops, turntables and synthesizers. However, he also incorporates free jazz elements and style, and symphonic samples and sounds, into his complex soundscapes, making him as much experimental as electronic. Marclay's work is pure avant-garde, and he often collaborates with other musicians from other areas of the avant-garde (such as joining with Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and jazz musician William Hooker on "Bouquet"). Marclay's solo work can be about as nightmarish as anything, and as experimental, too. I've said this before, but it's unfortunate popular music conceives techno as either (but not exclusively) the Fatboy Slim/Prodigy/Chemical Brothers (though I also enjoy all 3 of them) blowup of the late 1990s, or as a bunch of music for kids on acid. Marclay's work, particularly the collection "Records 1981-1989", just shows how complex and fascinating electronic music can be.

1. "Dr. Baker" - Beta Band
2. "Bird Song" - The Instruments
3. "Three-Part Sectional Love Seat" - Sonic Youth
4. "Life Like Weeds" - Modest Mouse
5. "Porque É Proibido Pisar na Grama" - Jorge Ben
6. "Number One" - John Coltrane
7. "One Thousand Cycles" - Christian Marclay
8. "Segue o Seco" - Marisa Monte
9. "Tempo Rei" - Gilberto Gil
10. "Dry Bone Shuffle" - Blind Blake

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thank YOU, Joe Biden, for making me feel comfortable about condoms again!!!!

It's good to know that men have Joe Biden's seal of approval that using condoms doesn't make them less "manly".

Worst PR Move Ever

In a move that will surely put the ailing Amtrak back on its feet, personnell kicked a man off a Los Angeles bound train for acting drunk an unruly. First, they drop him off at a railroad crossing in the middle of Nowhere, AZ. Second, it turns out that he was actually not drunk, but in the stages of diabetic shock. The incoherent man ran off into the woods and is unable to be found. Amtrak officials have said that the company is not looking into the matter. Smart move, guys, smart move.

I like riding Amtrak, personally, but now I know. If I'm ever unfortunate enough to become diabetic, I'll have to switch to Greyhound, where it doesn't make any difference whether I'm sick, drunk, or crazy. Everybody's welcome on the bus!

More Violence in the Favelas

Today, over 1300 military police officers invaded one of the larger favelas in the northern part of Rio, allegedly killing 19 people in their ongoing version of the "war on drugs". (It's worth noting the MP here is simply armed, militarized police; it is not the police of the military in the way that American MPs are). The number of dead has wavered back and forth in the media throughout the day, though most accounts now seem to be settling on 19, including 13 alleged traficantes, and it seems there were 6 more dead. News reports here claim that the six were weak links in the traficantes' chain that the traficantes themselves killed. The police occupied the favela and found a signifiant weapons caché near the top of the favela (most all the favelas in Rio are spread out along the mountains and hillsides that pop up in the city).

The media are declaring the move a huge success, and the use of 1300 military police officers is certainly unprecedented. To be honest, I'm not quite sure who has decided to step up the efforts against the favelas so fiercely. Unlike in the U.S., the governors of the states in Brazil and the president are much more aligned, and work together far more here than in the U.S. Thus, this could be an order coming from Lula himself, from the military, or from Rio's governor. I'm not really sure what they hope to accomplish with this. Arguments that it's not about the upcoming Pan-American games may be true, as the state has increased pressure on druglords in the favelas since a string of violence at the end of last year temporarily shocked the city. However, such arguments may be false, though, since the efforts have really increased in the last few weeks.

Unfortunately, I doubt today's capture of arms and the dead of 13 "alleged" traficantes (I've commented before on how the media uses that term indiscriminately to dehumanize favelados). The police cannot stay in the favela forever. As soon as they leave, it is probable that either some other members of this favela (Alemão) will fill in the previous traficantes' void, or that some neighboring favelas' traficantes may try to move in on the turf (turf wars between favelas and their traficantes are very real in Rio).

As is often the case, the poor majority of favelados who simply live there with little economic recourse are still the victims in all of this. The occupation in the name of crime-fighting has left many innocents wounded in the crossfire and unable to return to their homes. Even worse, as a precursor to today's action, police throughout the city have been concentrating at the entrances to favelas and strip-searching "suspects", yet generally targeting the elderly and the children residents of the favelas. I'm not going to pretend that it's impossible that these groups, and particularly teens, could be used to smuggle drugs or arms, but the fact that pre-teen children and the elderly are being arbitrarily strip-searched when they try to return home is inexcusable.

Yet, once again, Rio doesn't seem particularly upset by this. The media refers to the actions ("Hurricane 1" and "Hurricane 2" - all good military maneuvers must have their names) as simple "searches" of those going into the favelas, reducing the severity by neglecting to mention the searches involve stripping. Only through a recent conversation my wife had with the main contact for human rights in Rio did I learn of the severity of the searches. Yet this doesn't make the news. Instead, there are some benign "searches" vaguely referenced in the media, buried deep in the news, yet when 13 traficantes and 6 alleged associates are dead, the media here is trumpeting the good news. All the while, innocent residents of the favelas continue to suffer and be ignored, as has been the case too often. Until Brazil can address the issues of poverty and the obscene gap in wages here, the favelas, and the comments they make about this country in terms of equality and race, will never go away.

Ah, those charming Republican candidates...

It's probably not a good sign for your party when one of the great hopes among the candidates thinks its a good idea to travel across the country with your dog stuck on the top of the car.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Beating a servant? Bad. Beating a Prostitute? OK!

Late this past Saturday night, 5 upper-middle class men in their early-20s beat up Sirley Dias de Carvalho Pinto, a "domestica," (the maids who serve much of Brazil's elite and middle-class families), and while she lived, the damage was obvious and significant.

The youths' defense? They thought was prostitute. Because, of course, beating the holy hell out of a domestica is a bad idea, but doing so to a hooker? No problem.

All of this happened in Barra da Tijuca, one of the richest parts of Rio (it's the "Miami of Rio", but in none of the good ways). I've written several times on the way classism and racism work in various ways in Brazil, and this is nothing new. The domestica is noticably darker and obviously poorer than the perpetrators. The father of one of the perpetrators insists they shouldn't go to jail, as they are just "children," and insisted (and this is direct quoting) that "they study, they have families and they are not bandits....there exist worst crimes. They can't mix with bandits in Polinter [a prison]. Bandits are these that are regularly involved in shootouts with police in favelas like Vila Cruzeiro".

Because, as we all know, true "criminals" are only those poor and darker skinned people who shoot at cops!! Beating a domestica is just "children" being "children", and god knows what will happen if we mix them with these TRUE criminals in the prison!!! And beating a woman because you (mistakenly) disapprove of her presence as a female making profit on the sexual use of her body?? Eh, there are certainly WORSE crimes - this one is NOTHING!

What's really infuriating about this is this attitude is nothing new, and most likely would not vary from one middle- or upper-class parent to another were it their kids. They really rely upon a double standard that puts a heavier price on crimes committed by the poor and racially darker than the wealthy and whiter. Even the outrage here is far more muted than it would be had it been a domestica beating a white middle-class kid. Even Globo, which never shies away from the sensationalism of a story, is rather muted in its criticisms. Certainly, it's in no way supporting the youth, but descriptions of them lack the perjorative tones and labels that Globo and other papers indiscriminately give to those in the favelas.

It's tough to say how this will turn out. There does seem to be some genuine outrage at this, but not enough. As for Pinto, she's kind of taking the high road, saying that while she forgives them as humans, but also responding to the father above by basically saying, "Children? Well, they sure weren't children when the beat the crap out of me and stole my purse, just because they mistakenly thought I was a prostitute." I doubt much will come of this - the kids will probably never go to a real jail (the father isn't the only one who believes jail is just for "bandits"), but we can certainly hope that, maybe for once, the classism of the legal system in Brazil will be a little less pronounced, and these men will get what they deserve.

And wrestling isn't sensationalist?

I recently wrote about the bizarre (and accurate) historical analogy in the patently faked story of the death of WWE's Vincent McMahon. However, given the double-murder-and-suicide of Chris Benoit, the story has been justifiably buried, as apparently (I go on reports here, as I'm in Brazil), Vince McMahon introduced Raw last night as a tribute to Benoit (before it was clear it was a double-murder-suicide). The burial of the storyline of McMahon's "death" is without question the tasteful thing to do here.

What's a little less tasteful is WWE's condemnation of the media for being "sensationalist" for reporting that steroids and roid rage were behind the incident (though at 6:20 PM Eastern time, the discovery of steroids at his house was breaking news, but we cannot fault WWE for writing a statement earlier in the day before this discovery was announced in the last 10 minutes as I write). No doubt, the media is sensationalist, and they are certainly trying to both try to explain why one of their most popular stars did this, and perhaps trying to deflect the (now inevitable) look towards the use of steroids in wrestling. However, it is more than a little ironic that the WWE, who just buried a storyline about its owner being "dead" and played it up (complete with a "federal investigator" reporting to the webpage), is now criticizing the news media for its sensationalism.

...UPDATE: Just to add to Lyrad's point on the exploitation of wrestlers' bodies with little concern for their health, see this scary list of wrestlers who have died before turning 50 since 1997, many from drugs or heart attacks (and the list doesn't even include recently-passed-away "Sensational" Sherri.)

The Great Western Experiment

I suppose there have been dozens of weird experiments over the years in the American West. Few are as likely to end in disaster as the one correctly identified by the New York Times today: people deciding to live at the edge of national forests. The fire near Lake Tahoe that has destroyed over 200 homes is the latest slap in the face to Americans who remain blithely oblivious to the environment around them. Fire? That can´t happen to me! Yes, it can.

This reminds me of the aftermath from probably the millennium´s first great western fire, the Cerro Grande fire that swallowed up a big chunk of Los Alamos, New Mexico. People were on the news, devastated that such an event would attack them in their own back yard. Of course, their back yard was literally a national forest. But hey, it´s my back yard! In the aftermath of that fire, an engineer friend of mine had a punch thrown at him in a public meeting because he stated that Los Alamos residents were going to have to start living on roads that were both big enough for fire trucks to drive along easily and would have more than one way out in case they were caught by fire. This infuriated people who didn´t want their Eden spoiled by reality.

It´s not just fires that threaten these communities. Let´s move ahead in time to about 2025 or so. Most of the people building second homes or retirement homes in the West are in their 50s and 60s. In about 20 years, they are going to need serious health care. Where is that going to come from? In communities dominated by these retirees, levies frequently fail. They have no interest in supporting education or public services because their children are grown and they have enough money to support themselves. But they don´t think about medical care. Without any sort of local hospital, the nearest medical care can be 50 miles away. That´s an awful long ways for an ambulance to come if you are having a heart attack or stroke.

Since these communities have long been sparsely populated, local people have organized their own public services. Volunteer fire fighting is an excellent example. Do you think these amenity migrants are volunteering for fire fighting? Hell, no. With property values and taxes going through the roof, the locals who had long supported these community functions are moving on to, leaving a gaping hole.

What to do? First, let the fires burn. If you are going to build out there, it is your responsibility to take care of your place. It should not fall on taxpayers to bail out rich amenity migrants. At the very least, lightning caused fires should be able to burn naturally, regardless of what homes are in the way. This will create healthier forests and undermine destructive fires in the long run. Second, FEMA should seriously limit its handouts to fire victims. This is especially true if you don´t cut down the trees around your house. If you do cut those trees down, your chances of having your house go are cut immensely, because the fuel load is so reduced. Of course, you also lose some of your forest hideaway. Boo hoo!

Republicans Again Show That They Don´t Care About American Workers

Republicans block key labor legislation in the Senate.

This legislation would have given workers at least some chance to form labor unions. It would create a union when workers collected signatures from at least 50% of workers in a given place. Of course, Republicans are going to oppose this. What makes me really sick is that they place their opposition under the guise of democracy. They claim that such a process would undermine a secret ballot. They would have a point if corporations didn´t undermine the secret ballot at every opportunity, looking to allow supervisors to vote, limiting access to workers´voting, using propaganda at every turn to scare workers, intimidating workers on the job so that they are afraid to be part of a union. This is really just disgusting.

I suppose we should´t be surprised to hear such rhetoric from the same people who undermined American democracy to throw the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000. But it´s sad that working-class Americans must again suffer at the hands of corporations and their political lapdogs.

Catron County Strikes Again

I´ve talked before about the insane anti-wolf mania in Catron County, New Mexico. Catron County, long a bastion of anti-federal government sentiment and the worst kind of western hypocrisy of complaining about the government with your mouth while clinging to a government subsidy check in your hands, continues to attack the idea of Mexican wolves.

This time, they are saying they will remove a gray wolf if the government doesn´t do it for them. Although this is quite illegal, most of the story is standard anti-wolf hooha. However, toward the end of the article, we see discussion of a 13 year old girl who has supposedly been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from dealing with wolves in some unspecified way. They also claim that she can recover but not if there is a chance to see wolves again in Catron County!!! This is almost certainly garbage. In all of recorded history in North America, at least up to the last report I saw about 2 years ago, there has never been a known case of a wolf attacking a human being. Yet, Catron County "claims the right to remove wolves that are accustomed to humans or have a high probability of harming children or defenseless people, physically or psychologically."

All of this is a cynical attempt by out of touch ranchers to keep wolves out by claiming they are a threat to humans. With their statements that wolves will attack humans completely lacking evidence, they are now using the psychological approach. Which can of course mean anything. A person sees a wolf track, or something that maybe might could be a wolf track--in the eyes of locals that might as well be psychological damage.


Historical Image of the Day

Hank Aaron

Monday, June 25, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Stephen A. Douglas

Baseball in Brazil

A great article down here in Brazil yesterday brought up the nascent growth of baseball in Brazil. As everybody, in and outside of Brazil knows, this country is famous for one sport: soccer (futebol). Everything revolves around soccer, and what little attention is given to other sports here tends to be given to volleyball (which is also rather big) and very mild attention to basketball. In all of this, of course, baseball is totally absent, and I can't tell you the number of times I've had Brazilians ask me what the hell baseball is and what it's about, only to glaze over and be confused within the first five seconds of my explaining it.

However, it appears that baseball is making a tenuous start in some of the favelas. (The article starts off with a quotation that generally expresses Brazilian sentiment about baseball: "what the fuck is this?). While right now only four teams are fielded (Latinos, Cariocas, Itaguaí, and Nikkei), they have enough people to play regularly, and their tournament is coming up (as they are poor areas of the city, the only reward is a trophy - no cash reward).

I think this is nothing but good for Brazilian. Sure, the baseball lover in me loves seeing baseball's roots spreading out. The large number of youths who play baseball in Mexico, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and elsewhere in the Americas is already great, and seeing baseball getting a (albeit weak) start in Brazil is great. As more and more kids see their friends playing baseball, hopefully it will only spread further in this country.

This is also great because, much like with the NBA in the states, lots of kids here hope to make it big in soccer, getting the kind of money that players like Robinho and Ronaldinho get in Europe, or at least the kind of money players like Edmundo and Dodô get in Brazil. However, as with all the teens who dream of being the "next Lebron" in the US, not all of them will be able to make those big teams in soccer. Certainly, the likelihood of them jumping to the MLB right now is virtually nil, but every sport has to start somewhere, and this is nothing but good news for both baseball as a sport and for the youth in Brazil who may one day look to sports for their future profession.

In some ways, MLB should recognize the opportunity this nascent phase of baseball in Brazil is as quickly as possible, and try to increase interest in baseball via the baseball clinincs that it has set up in other parts of Latin America with huge success. It is clear that at least some interest is here (and to be fair, it's not just the poor areas of the city - while walking in a rather wealthy neighborhood one day last fall, I saw a man working on fielding skills with about 5 boys in the 10-13 range on an improvised baseball field in Lagoa, one of Rio's wealthier areas).

Certainly, with only four teams, this is a tiny step, and in five or ten years, baseball could be extinct in Brazil again. However, it is just as possible, with this nascent league here in Rio, that more and more kids will see the game, and have people who can explain baseball's intricacies and natural beauty (in much better ways than I have been able to do thus far), and will turn on to baseball. Certainly, soccer faces no real threat, but the grounds here are fertile for baseball (as Joseílton da Silva puts it, "I don't want to know about soccer anymore. Just baseball."). This is a great start. Hopefully the sport will only grow, and it won't be long before we're hearing about Brazilian leagues and even having Brazilian players at the international level.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Image of Pullman Strike, 1894. From Harper's Weekly.

Greensburg, Kansas

I was interested in Dan Barry´s article on Greensburg, Kansas because I drove through their last week. 3 months ago, it was just another county seat in western Kansas. Then, a tornado slammed through it and completly destroyed it. Everything. I just happened upon it last week in the first part of my move to Texas. I was totally speechless. The place is just gone. A few of the older buildings with thicker walls are sort of standing. The east side of town escaped most damage. But the center of town is demolished. This was the first real natural disaster I had ever seen. Let me tell you, it lived up to the name. Absolutely amazing.

Barry´s bigger question is whether the town will survive. The answer is almost certainly no. Now, it is the county seat so presumably something will be there. But on the Great Plains, it doesn´t take anything nearly as damaging as a 2 mile wide tornado to send a town into decline. Greensburg was already suffering from a declining population, especially among the young. Like much of the Plains, western Kansas has seen its population consistenly decline for nearly 100 years now. There´s not much left out there. Some towns are now gone completely. Others are barely hanging on. The only influx of population there on much of the Plains, and certainly in western Kansas, comes from Latin American workers coming north to labor in meatpacking. Outside of that, zilch.

The Great Plains are dying and I´m not sure what will bring them back. Probably nothing. Most of it is far from any large cities, from any major economic activity, or from the nation´s major social trends. Frankly, it´s not a place where many people should be living. It´s sad that Greensburg, which advertised having the world´s largest hand-dug well, should disappear in this way. But it was heading toward death anyway.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Ku Klux Klan parade, Richmond, Virginia, 1920s


Green Cine Daily notes that it is Roger Ebert´s 65th birthday. I agree with the very positive sentiments they have toward Ebert. Before his latest health problems, Ebert was slammed pretty frequently by a lot of bloggers who also write about movies. While there´s no question that he likes a lot of really bad films, not only is he far better than Richard Roeper, but he has also done a tremendous amount of good by promoting films like The Wild Bunch and Decalogue long before they became popular. Ebert´s health seems to be improving and I wish him a happy birthday and hope he gets back to work soon.

More stupid "music" criticism

Memo to Dave White: Not all music sucks, and while the issue of how overrated a band is and why can be interesting (and make for better lists than this one), basing arguments on the overrated-ness of band should be based on their music, and NOT on the bands that followed them. Calling Nirvana overrated (they aren't) because Puddle of Mudd was influenced by them, or the Doors overrated (they are) because they were "responsible for" bands like Third Eye Blind, or blaming the Clash for the fact that your neighbor is always playing "Should I Stay or Should I Go" is NOT music criticism. While such lists are always meaningless and useless, at least next time try to put the "music" part back into "music criticism".

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mister Trend's Random 10

This week's seventh song is a standard bossa nova sound from one of the bossa nova masters. While not as famous as Tom Jobim or even his former wife, Astrud Gilberto (who was big in the 1960s for singing Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes's "Girl from Ipanema"), João is a perfect example of the laid-back bossa nova sound. Bossa nova is a Rio de Janeiro music, created in the city by "Eu Vim da Bahia" comes from his 2000 album "Voz e Violão" (Voice and Accoustic Guitar, produced by fellow Bahiano Caetano Veloso), and reflects Gilerto's differences from Jobim. While "Eu Vim da Bahia" is originally a Gilberto Gil song (many of Brazil's greatest musicians of the 20th century, including Gilberto, Veloso, Gil, Gal Costa, Maria Bethânia, and Tom Zé come from Bahia, and it's a theme in many of their songs). Gilberto gives the song a great cover, providing the perfect chill-out bossa nova sound for the song, and giving the lyrics a heartfelt rendition as an homage to Gilberto's birthplace. For those interested in how bossa nova continues to be good well after its height in the 1960s and 1970s, or just for those who like good chill-out music that keeps your attention (it's not just wallpaper music), João Gilberto's "Voz e Violão" is well worth checking out.

1. “It Won’t Be Long” – Charley Patton
2. “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” – The Beatles
3. “Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche” – Richard Strauss
4. “To the Left, To the Right” – T-Model Ford
5. “Quest for the Cup” – Sonic Youth
6. “Proud Mary” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
7. “Eu Vim da Bahia” – João Gilberto
8. Symphony #9 in E Minor (“New World”) – 4. Allegro con Fuoco - Dvořák
9. “Poor Places” - Wilco
10. “Man is the Baby” – Antony & the Johnsons

Lyrad's Random 10

Georges Auric was one of the premier early composers for sound film, and I had first heard of him through his work on the films of Jean Renoir and, mainly, his outstandingly ironic comic score for Rene Clair's A Nous la Liberte. He was, as well, part of the dying art of "popularized" classical music, and recognized as part of "Les Six," a group of French composers who became popular together, though their music diverges significantly: Auric, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey, and (probably most significantly as one of the only popular female composers of the early 20th Century) Germaine Tailleferre, all of whom had rejected the recently popular Impressionistic stylings and tried to make their music less intellectual and academic to help it to function in a more popular, modern realm. They all had mixed success, and Auric was never as well known as some of his cohorts, Poulenc and Honegger, specifically, but he did have one big hit in "Where Is Your Heart?" from the soundtrack to the original Moulin Rouge. He may have not been the most popular of his time, but he may have proved the most lasting. Using modern American pop sensibilities with the advanced harmonies of his time, it seems that he preceded much of the progressive rock of a few decades later and, under the same light, his music has become more listenable.

1. Georges Auric--Notre Dame de Paris (Original Cast Recording); Farandole--Main Title
2. Memphis Minnie--Got To Leave You
3. The Skatalites--Coconut Rock
4. Luis Bacalov--Django (Suite) [from the soundtrack to Django]
5. Ruins--Vrresto
6. Iceburn--Blacksmith; 2. Hammeranvil
7. John Zorn--Tiki for Blue
8. Rosa Henderson--Penitentiary Blues
9. T. Rex--Love for Me
10. Django Reinhardt--Liebesfreud

Friday Guitar Blogging

Television. A very nice rendition of "1880 or So" from their underrated 1992 self-titled reunion album. (Richard solos at 1:50, Tom at 4:05.)

Sources report that Richard Lloyd, after missing the band's performance at Central Park's Summerstage last week due to being hospitalized for penumonia, "will, after 34 years, be amicably severing all ties with the band Television."

I was lucky enough to catch Television live twice, in 2001 and again in 2003. Both of the shows were among the best I've ever seen. As you can gather from the video, a band featuring either Tom Verlaine or Richard Lloyd by himself would have been very impressive; a band with them together was transcendent.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Psychology in Modern Torture

In an open letter to the President of the American Psychological Association, a group of private sector psychologists and professors have demanded an explanation of the APA's role in developing the methods of torture currently in use for "terrorists." In their words:

Every report of horrific abuses occuring at Guantanamo and elsewhere has not only cast doubt upon this basic premise of APA policy, these reports have repeatedly highlighted psychologists' abuse of psychological knowledge for purposes of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Yet the APA has never made any public attempt to investigate such reports. Even if certain psychologists attempted to "keep interrogations safe and ethical," the OIG [Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General] report demonstrates once and for all that BSCT [Behavioral Science Consultation Teams] and SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape] psychologists, among others, were responsible for the development, migration, and perpetration of abuses.

The ideas of using medical, biological, and other scientific knowledge is certainly not a new idea, but do we really want to have our psychologists referred to in the same ways as the Nazi Doctors or the "scientists" at Japan's "Unit 731?" From how it appears, after it's all over, we'll treat the officials at our facilities as we did those from Japan: exonerate them of their crimes and give them high level positions in thanks for their innovative work in destroying people (specifically, on that subject, after General MacArthur commuted the death and prison sentences of the officials, Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii became the supervisor of biological research at the University of Maryland).

Steven Soldz, who's signature leads on the letter, also wrote this for the Atlantic Free Press.

The Dumbest Way to Prove You're Tough

I don't think it's going to help them out too much this coming season, but the fact that Rod Marinelli has wrestled a bear is something the Lions have going for them, I suppose.

That he "beat the bear," this is garbage. I've seen men, I've seen bears, and I've seen men wrestling bears...twice. Men do not beat bears. Ever. I'm not actually sure that bears' shoulders would bend in such a way that you could pin it. I haven't wrestled a bear myself, so I wouldn't know.

This just in!!!

Ralph Nader is still a huge moron.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why not just put all the Yankees on the list?

While I fully support the inclusion of Jeter, Giambi, AND A-Rod, I cannot fully support a list that claims it can't decide who the most annoying broadcaster is. Clearly, if Perry worked for anybody but FoxSports, he could say who we all know it is:

the team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

The Objectionable Smell of Blowback

In Sunday's Outlook section, Warren Bass wrote a short profile of Hamas, and about the competition between it and Fatah which has now boiled over into a Palestinian civil war. For some reason, however, while noting that Hamas grew out of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, he did not mention the role that Israel played in cultivating the Brotherhood as a pan-Islamic alternative to the secular nationalist Fatah. While the true extent of Israeli support for the Brotherhood is not known, that it took place is not questioned. Sari Nusseibeh, whose memoir Bass recommends, writes about this in some detail, noting that while the Israel occupation authorities harassed and detained Palestinian activists of every stripe, Sheikh Yassin and his organization were left strangely unmolested, as Brotherhood-run social services and study centers went up at a peculiarly high rate throughout the territories. In addition to being rather relevant to Hamas’s story, you’d think that a bitter irony such as this, Israel now frantically trying to prop up Fatah against Hamas as it earlier propped up Hamas's precursor against Fatah, would be attractive to any writer.

Curious at why Bass ignored this low hanging fruit, I wrote and asked him about it. He responded that because of “limited space” he was not able to include every little bit of information on Hamas than he might have wanted. You will notice, however, that he devoted some of this very precious space to referencing a satirical Onion article about Hamas. Heh, indeed.

The Heartbreak of False Equivalence

Andrew Sullivan:

Obama takes the Christianist route, citing religion as the base for his old-school liberalism…

What Obama might represent is a twist on Bush's "compassionate conservatism." That label was always a way to disguise well-meaning big government liberalism. Obama, unlike Bush, need not pretend otherwise. He can raise taxes on the successful as a Biblical injunction. He can increase even further the reach of the welfare state because Jesus is calling him to. It may be that history records the Bush presidency as the breakthrough for a revival of domestic liberalism - because Bush conceded that "when someone's hurt, government has got to move." I'm not surprised many Democrats are now exploiting that concession.

There is a stark difference between bringing one’s faith to bear on one’s political ideas, and looking to religious teaching as a guide for one’s political principles, as it seems Obama does, and believing in Christianity as a “total system” with appropriate teaching for each and every aspect of life, and supporting the writing of that teaching into U.S. law, as Christianists do.

I think what this represents is Sullivan once again trying to demonstrate his vaunted independence by seeing similarities that just aren’t there. While it may have borne a resemblance to old school liberalism, “compassionate conservatism” was, like everything else having to do with the Bush presidency, like everything else that's ever sprung from Karl Rove's big fuzzy head, designed primarily to enhance the fortunes of the Republican Party.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Film Review--El Topo (1970)

The scene is pretty familiar to Western fans: a man in black rides slowly through the open desert. Pausing briefly to force his unclothed son to bury his favorite toy and his mother’s picture in a display of his emerging adulthood (maybe that’s not so common), he continues on until he arrives in town. There, he sees the aftermath of an epic massacre; man, woman, and child all lying in pools of blood and curled around their slaughtered animals. He and his son coldly walk through the grue and enter the church. There, they find a mass more dead, all hung from the rafters. They find a lone survivor, an old man, who begs the stranger to kill him. El Topo hands his son a pistol, and he shoots the old man through the belly. This cold, brutal scene begins the spiritual journey of El Topo, both of Alejandro Jodorowski’s mystical western and the silent, violent title character, played by Jodorowski himself. With each subsequent scene, the story touches on more than can be counted becomes more and more violent and increasingly surreal.

El Topo and son leave town as coldly as they came, but not before our hero robbing the victims. On their way out, three of killers attack. El Topo shoots two in the face and tortures one to get the name of their boss: The Colonel. The Colonel is crippled and decrepit, able to do little except have his feet kissed. But, as he dons his uniform, he gains power and takes on the posture of royalty. Villains beyond villainy, his group makes games out of shooting restrained men with machine guns and raping monks and, as he throws his concubine to them for their amusement, El Topo rides into town, exacting vengeance on the gang and, finally, emasculating The Colonel. In gratitude, the saved woman begs El Topo to take her with him. Though he agrees, he only has room on his horse for two and he (literally) kicks his son to the sand, forcing him into the hands of the surviving monks and riding off into the sunset with his new girlfriend. She praises his skills but, for her dubious devotion, demands he murder the four great gunfighters of the desert. So begins his rewardless quest, one in which he cheats tricks to win, which leads to both his own villainy and murder. But only part of El Topo has died. Years later, he awakens, wild-eyed in a cavern, care for by the crippled, deformed outcasts from the town, whose only desire is to escape the cave. El Topo now has a purpose and a method to atone for the heinous actions of his former life and, when he completes this quest, he will be granted the reward of enlightenment.

There is a lot going on in El Topo, more than I can write here and much more than I realized when I first saw a bootlegged copy of the film a decade ago. By using the anti-hero paradigm and settings of the Italian westerns, Jodorowski is deftly able to spin a tale of a man’s search for spiritual enlightenment and, though he is often as cruel and brutal as his adversaries (and, sometimes, the definite antagonist), there is sympathy for his remorse. Because of this familiar setting, as well as a masterful use of surreal imagery, he is able to satirize religion of all types and the decadent social hierarchy of the elite; effective, biting criticism that still rings true. This may be the one big problem with the film, however, at the same time: there is, indeed, so much going on that he can’t focus on one point and, thus, is sometimes muddled. Jodorowski is certain of his viewpoint, but it is often not as clear as it could be (or would be in his next film, Holy Mountain). Sometimes, his switching of subject is jarring and it may take a little while to understand where he’s suddenly coming from. Moreover, as a result, the plot suffers. There isn’t a lot of spoken dialogue and, with much of the story coming visually, there is more to invest and it can come off as jumpy.

That said, from a visual standpoint, there are few who can go match Jodorowski’s imagery and command of the camera. Even if one doesn’t remember the plot or the character’s names, there will inevitably be images used (in all of Jodorowski’s films) that are impossible to shake. Whether these images are violent, religious, or erotic, they etch themselves in the mind. Again, this is sometimes to the film's own detriment but, as a visual piece, image after image is shot in such unique ways that, though the scenery is familiar, and even passe in 1970, are unmatched by even the finest western directors, including Leone.

While El Topo is extraordinarily cruel in its violence, disturbing in its sexuality, and obscure in its imagery, it is fast paced and striking in how it demands repeat viewings. For those who love their Westerns truly beautiful and truly bizarre, there is no higher recommendation from me than El Topo. That this is the first official video release of this film is a travesty. Right about a year ago, I had lamented the fact that I hadn’t been able to see Holy Mountain, but I now realize that I’d never truly seen El Topo, either. Anchor Bay’s restoration of the movie is a truly a feat. That his movie had not officially seen the light of day in over thirty years, the print, the colors, the sound are all phenomenal, impeccable given the film’s treatment. This will, without a doubt (along with the entire Jodorowski boxed set, including Holy Mountain, Fando y Lis, La Cravate and two soundtracks) is the best DVD release of 2007, and I have a hard time seeing anything coming close.

Lyrad's Random 10

Erik Friedlander is probably my favorite cello player alive today. It's not for his prodigious skill; he is skilled but there are those superior. No, it's for his ability to move the cello from strictly a chamber instrument into one that can be played under multiple genres in a multitude of settings. He smoothly transitions between styles, using is classical training to accent his jazz arrangements and, especially, to color his improvisational tactics. While it is certainly not a new thing to use traditionally classical instruments in improvisational music, it is rare to see the cello used in such a way, especially in the realm of computer music. Friedlander is a master of such techniques, and his albums get better and better, sounding more full and expansive with each new offering he gives. I recommend both his 2003 albums Maldoror, improvisations on the poetry of Isidore Ducasse, and Quake, which is stylistically more broad, and where "Gol Gham," originally written by Iranian pop star Googoosh, was released.

1. Erik Friedlander--Gol Gham
2. Clarence "Tom" Ashley--My Sweet Farm Girl
3. Benny Goodman--Superman
4. Ennio Morricone--Sospensione Folle (from the soundtrack to Senza Movente)
5. The Dixon Brothers--Under the Old Cherry Tree
6. Dmitri Shostakovich--Chamber Symphony in c for Orchestra, Op.35; 1. Concerto No.1 for Trumpet, Piano & Orchestra; 1.Allegro Moderato (BT Scottish Ensemble)
7. Earl Johnson--Laughin' Rufus
8. Sorta--Starry-Eyed
9. Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf--Quintet No. 1 in A for Strings; 1. Allegro (Kubin Qt)
10. Magic Slim--Think

Buying a Laptop

I need to buy a laptop. I am a total idiot about these things. So I'm asking you all for some advice.

I've never actually purchased a computer before. I've always people around me who do these things so I don't have to. It's usually better for all involved.

A few questions:
1. Mac or PC? I've always worked with a PC but everyone seems to loathe the Vista thing. It seems that the cost, once you include things you have to buy for the PC like antivirus protection will be about the same. So it's a tough call. Mac people love them and I'm sure for good reason. On the other hand, I don't have time right now to figure out a whole new way of using a computer. But I don't want to buy an inferior product and regret it later.

2. Hardware--I don't need a whole lot--enough room for some music, basic Office functions, internet. All of the hardware language is really confusing to me. So any advice would be welcome.

3. Anything else you would recommend? I really don't know what I am doing here.

Historical Image of the Day

Osceola, Seminole leader

Bird Declines

This article on the speeding decline of songbird populations in the East distrubed me greatly, though I had heard this before. Some numbers:

40 years ago--31 million
Today--5.5 million

Evening Grosbeak:
40 years ago--17 million
Today--3.8 million

The study suggests a few major reasons for this. Climate change likely has something to do with it. Increasingly industrialized agriculture severely decimates bird habitat and definitely played a part too.

But probably the biggest reason is suburban expansion. The worst culprits are often second home buyers building a home in a previously undeveloped field. They need roads, power lines, and other services. Those roads are deathways for animals, though not birds so much. Moreover, many animals, both birds and others, need undeveloped land. A home, even if it is 1/8 mile away from the next home, destroys that. Suburban development is actually better in many cases than ex-urban development. And of course, animals and humans often like the same habitat, particularly along waterways.

One of the bigger lessons here is that the few people have more of a negative impact on the environment than the middle to upper class person who builds a second home. Ironically, many of these people claim to be environmentalists. They recycle and give money to the Wilderness Society. But they impact the planet far more negatively than the city dweller.

On The Decks

Music that's been moving me lately.

20 Golden Pieces of George Jones. I really can't believe I haven't been listening to George Jones all these years.

Volta by Bjork. Have you accepted Bjork as your personal friend and savior? There are a few artists whose new records I'll pick up sound unheard, Bjork being one. If at first you don't understand, just wait, and it will eventually become clear what she is trying to impart. And you will dwell in the land of sick beats and processed harmonium, attended by faeries and angels whose voices will alternately chill your heart and heat your home. Peace, child.

Foley Room by Amon Tobin. Tobin's music is like one of those 3D paintings where a sea of squiggles magically becomes a Tyrannosaurus. You don't listen to his music so much as relax and let it happen to you. Tobin's Supermodified, from 2000, is, in my opinion, one of the towering achievements of the electronica genre. I didn't enjoy his next few records as much, although they were still some of the most interesting music being made over the last few years. Getting away from sampling records, Tobin constructed Foley Room completely of manipulated field recordings, including, among many other things, motorcycles, assembly line robots, and a tiger. In less skilled hands, such an experiment in musique concrete could have been self-justifyingly obtuse, but Tobin wraps it all around expansive, Morricone-esque themes and fathoms-deep grooves. It's an astonishing achievement. Headphones were invented for such as this.

Friday Guitar Blogging

Otis Rush.

Mister Trend's Random 10

I don't know what I can say about Springsteen that hasn't already been said. He's been around so long, and been so consistently great, he just seems like somebody we take for granted now, some song-smith who appeals to middle-class white people. While it's hard to argue he's "unpopular" (given his millions of fans), I still think his work as a lyricist is greatly unappreciated and not articulated enough. His work is unbelievable, and few people on earth get into describing people and life situations like he does. While "Born In the USA" isn't my favorite Springsteen album (that would probably go to either Nebraska or Born to Run), it's still top-notch, and well worth listening to even today. Somehow, the economic crises and issues of working-class identity he describe on that album are still great without being dated.

1. "Modulando" - Altamiro Carrilho
2. "Stop Talking" - The Walkmen
3. "Beeswax" - Nirvana
4. "Superunknown" - Soundgarden
5. "I Don't Know What I Can Save You From" - Kings of Convenience
6. "2001" - Gilberto Gil
7. "My Hometown" - Bruce Springsteen
8. "If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got To Stay All Night)" - Bob Dylan
9. "Uranus, the Magician" - Gustav Holst
10. "Lady Madonna" - The Beatles

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Shins--Overrated

I'll be coming out of my blogging hiatus once in a while over the next couple of months but it's hard to see too much happening until my dissertation is done, or at least all the drafts. Which I hope will be by the end of July.

But anyway, I finally just got around to listening to The Shins' Wincing the Night Away. I know that ever since "Garden State" came out, people have been talking about The Shins like they are America's greatest band. But listening to that album has helped me come to a conclusion I have been leaning toward for awhile--The Shins are highly overrated. More specifically, I think their music is just kind of boring. I'm not hearing any risks on the album at all. This may be a personal aesthetic choice as much as anything. They sound a lot like The Beach Boys to me and I never really got what was supposed to be so great about them either.

The Shins certainly don't fit into the wallpaper category of boring (see Norah Jones) but I don't see how people get really excited about them either. There's just not very much going on. When I think about it, a lot of The Shins fans I know aren't really big music people. I wonder if that matters. I suppose they are a pleasant and interesting enough band for someone who doesn't really want to think very hard about what they are listening to. I don't know that they are much more than that.

Since The Shins are pretty much the only band to ever make it big out of Albuquerque, I suppose I am committing some sort of heresy.

Ocean's Thirteen

I'll say this for the Ocean's films: They make you feel underdressed.

To put it mildly, this was a loose movie. Quips are traded, some hit, some thud to the carpet, scores are settled, cha-ching, and everyone looks awesome. While the reason for the gang's reunion, their mentor lies in a screwed by his ruthless partner-induced coma, reeked of "a very special episode," at least they're back in Vegas. I kind of saw it as the movie that Ocean's Eleven might have been, had that movie not been so much better than it should have been. This one definitely benefited from not having Julia Roberts storking around, ruining everybody's fun. Amazingly, Pacino keeps things at a simmer, mercifully sparing us the Hoo-ah. Seeing him and Ellen Barkin together again made me want to rewatch Sea of Love . The scene where Brad Pitt warns Pacino of the Vegas earthquake threat finally answers the question of what became of Floyd from True Romance , which is, of course, Pitt's greatest role ever: He sobered up and got his PhD in geology. Well, he got his PhD, anyway. And the Mexican dice factory strike subplot had me at "Peligroso es mi nombre medio."

Interestingly, if Ruben hadn't lived, it would have been the second time that Al Pacino killed Mo Green. (Idea for a great animated series: The Adventures of Young Ruben Tischkoff. No?)

I can't recommend paying ten bucks for it, but if you enjoy cinematograpy and production design for their own sake, and most of this film is absolutely gorgeous, see a matinee. Otherwise, rental.

Just Because Alan Dershowitz Agrees Doesn't Mean You're Wrong

I wrote last week that I don't think the boycott of Israeli universities is appropriate. Having considered Alan Dershowitz's argument against the boycott, however, I have concluded that I'm still against it.

I do think it's interesting, though, that, according to Dershowitz, when British academics undertake a boycott against Israeli universities for their alleged support for, and complicity in, four decades of occupation, colonization, and expropriation, that's anti-Semitism, but when the Israeli military undertakes to bomb, displace, and kill thousands of Lebanese civilians for their alleged support for, and complicity in, Hezbollah terrorism, that's tough luck.

Dershowitz claims that the boycott "wildly overstates the significance of the Israel/Palestine conflict," and then goes on to claim that "the fight against the boycott is one aspect, perhaps the most urgent aspect, of the contemporary fight against anti-Semitism." Right. As usual, when defending Israel, or rather, when attacking Israel's critics, Dershowitz permits himself the sort of arguments for which his TA's would fail a freshman.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Most Incongruous Latin American History Lesson of the Year

While cruising around on the internets today, I checked out what's been going on recently in professional wrestling. Apparently, in what is unquestionably a new storyline (were it real news, you could find it on websites that host, well, real news), owner/CEO/heel Vince McMahon was killed last night in a car bomb. This is, as I said, obviously not true, and is being used to push some new storyline in the near future.

However, what's particularly odd about this story is the history they actually include. Towards the bottom of the story, there is the following paragraph: "This incident [the "carbombing"] is the first of its kind in the U.S. since the assassination of political figure Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C. in 1976. Sources say that given the nature of the apparent car bombing, under law federal authorities will be called in for a more thorough investigation that would supersede local Pennsylvania authorities."

To my knowledge, that's actually completely true (if we accept the silliness of the McMahon carbombing). Orlando Letelier died in Washington, D.C. in 1976 when Augusto Pinochet's government had Letelier (who was a vocal critic of Pinochet) blown up, along with his assistant, Ronni Moffitt (her husband was severely wounded but survived).

I could chastise WWE for being offensive in tying together a political victim of an authoritarian state and Vince McMahon, but offensiveness is nothing new for WWE. So instead, I'll actually begrudgingly congratulate them. While McMahon will pop up again soon, the WWE actually not only brought in an actual history lesson to their wrestling audience (that of Letelier); they even got the basic fact of the car-bombing right.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Unsung Giants of Modern Music (VI): The Melvins

Picture those unfortunate days of rock music circa 1987. With the smell of hairspray and vinyl pants in the air, you turn on the radio to hear the singer from yet another band that sounds like Led Zeppelin squeal in his most irritating falsetto without rhyme or reason, just squealing. When Motley Crue is the best thing in popular rock, you know days are dark. Around now, pockets of bands in cities like Austin, Chicago, and Seattle began to creep into college radio, many referred to by the dubious genre of “post-punk” through labels such as Sub Pop, Touch and Go, and 4AD, which started to break the mold of what most knew as rock. The bands were varied, and not all good, but they were often very different than what could be heard through mainstream media. The Pixies, Soundgarden, and The Jesus Lizard were just a few of the bands that emerged and some, such as Nirvana, became worldwide superstars. In the subsequent twenty years, most of these bands destroyed themselves by either submitting to the drug pitfalls of the road or allowing themselves to be absorbed and altered by the lure of the mainstream’s bankroll. One act, however, that did not fall for these traps, for better or for worse, and one that would become one of the most influential bands in years was The Melvins.

The Melvins originally formed in 1983 in (the great) Montesano, WA as a high school band that featured Buzz Osborne (the only still present member) on guitar, Mike Dillard on Drums, and Matt Lukin (who would leave to form the also great Mudhoney with members of the soon-to-be-defunct Green River) on bass. Dillard was soon replaced by Dale Crover (who was about sixteen at the time) and they moved to (the even greater) Aberdeen, WA. What basically began as a sheer ripoff of Black Sabbath (innovative, in its own right, given the overabundance of Zeppelin ripoffs at the time), moved into something much greater once they moved from Washington to San Francisco. Lukin left before the move and they recruited (daughter of Shirley Temple) Lori Black, dubbed Lorax who played on their next few albums. Over the years, the band has gone through a litany of bass players, but the core of Osborne and Crover has remained intact, and they have grown together as musicians and innovators.

Metal, over the years, has often been more concerned with speed than anything else, but The Melvins changed this. They slowed their tempos and tuned down their instruments, which gave a dark, sludgy feel to their music that was hugely influential to up and coming acts that would become huge, much larger than they could ever become. Most notably, a former roadie of theirs named Kurt Cobain took the sound, added his own brand of songwriting talent and a distinct pop sensibility to form Nirvana, one of the biggest bands of the last two decades. But it wasn’t just Nirvana; the entire world of mid-90s “grunge” begins and ends with The Melvins. To hear “Love Thing” off their 1989 album Ozma is to hear the melody and tone of Pearl Jam’s “Alive” three years later. After all these acts got major label contracts, finally The Melvins were granted a similar deal and, in 1994, were signed to Atlantic Records. They stayed here for three years, releasing “Houdini,” “Stoner Witch,” and “Stag.” Unfortunately, Atlantic was looking to cash in on the craze of the time, but The Melvins had no interest in this and released three of the most difficult rock albums to be released on a major label. Innovation rarely occurs in situations such as this but, completely eschewing all pop music structure and the idea of being superstars, they made no changes to their style, only broadening their sound further. After the contract was up, they were immediately dropped and returned to indie status where they, once again, continued to broaden, using samples and electronic manipulation to further intensify the sludge.

Above and beyond all else, what is truly “unsung” about The Melvins is Dale Crover. King Buzzo is charming, skilled, and highly interesting, but Crover is possibly the single best drummer in rock music today. Heavily influenced by Sabbath’s Bill Ward, Crover plays slow with minimal, but perfectly executed fills that accent Osborne’s guitar and vocals. Most importantly, he plays without ego, never pulling a John Bonham “Moby Dick” bullshit solo, and never leaning against power over precision. The current lineup of the group is Osborne, Crover, and noise act Big Business, which consists solely of a bass and drums. In spite of his greatness, Crover does not take it as a slight to bring a second drummer in; he embraces it as an avenue to experimentation, something the band has always reveled in. Sitting side by side and sharing a tom, they play in sync and independently to hugely successful rhythmic ends.

Where is Nirvana today? Where is Mudhoney? Where is Pearl Jam? Where is Soundgarden? All are either defunct or relegated to irrelevance. The Melvins, on the other hand, twenty-four years after their inception are playing their most advanced, strangest music yet. Buzzo’s afro may be graying, Crover may no longer be sixteen, and they may have gone through more bassists than live in some small towns where they’re from, but there they stand, going strong for two decades making music that make the most diehard metalhead cringe and shaming all their imitators. Where are they today? Likely resting after a tour last month that spanned Italy, Croatia, and Israel for undoubtedly small, fanatically devoted crowds who laugh at the thought of going to witness the horror of a Soundgarden reunion show.

Trying to find justice in Georgia

Mercifully, a judge today has thrown out the conviction and sex offender label of Genarlow Wilson. Another fine example of the racist legal double-standard for whites and blacks in the South, Wilson is the 20 year old African-American male serving a 10-year sentence for a sex crime for engaging in a voluntary sex act with a 15 year old when he was 17. Of course, the idiot prosecutors are still going after Wilson, and he will remain in jail until the prosecutors' appeal is heard. Still, at least there is some hope here. The Georgia legislature has since re-written the law that put Wilson in jail, and the judge has already acknowledged that Wilson's conviction was, in a word, idiotic. While the fact that two teens willingly engaged in sexual acts is still prosecuteable in Georgia is laughable (as many have put it, if you're old enough to be tried as an adult, you're old enough to decide what to do with your body sexually), at least it looks like Wilson may still get a break here. It's just unfortunate he's already lost two years of his life. Here's hoping the appeals fail, and Wilson is a free man VERY soon.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Larry Rohter Has No Right to his Job

Larry Rohter is quite simply one of the worst "journalists" (in the absolute loosest sense of the word) in history, and how he keeps his job at the New York Times is inexplicable. This is the classy guy who was expelled from Brazil for absolutely baseless accusations of Lula being an alcohlic a few years back (imagine how the American media would respond if a foreign journalist were using smear journalism against Bush because they simply didn't like him).

Well, he's at it again. He filed a report last week detailing the ways in which a street lottery game is involved in an erupting corruption case involving judges here in Brazil. There's just one problem: it doesn't involve the game he says it involves.

This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't the central item in his article. All the charges of corruption involving the jogo do bicho don't involve the jogo do bicho at all, but instead involve the "bingos", slot-machine based casinos throughout Rio, São Paulo, and other parts of the country. Rohter does his hardest to tie the jogo do bicho, and its genrally lower-middle to lower-class vendors and clientele to this wave of corruption in Brazil. But it doesn't even involve these lower-class peoples. Instead, it involves wealthy businessmen who have been using the bingos to launder money, resulting in the closing of all the bingos, which in turn has left thousands of lower-middle class employees of the bingos (totally uninvolved in the high-level corruption) unemployed.

This wouldn't be that hard for Rohter to learn - he could pay attention to the news here, for one, as the story has dominated every headline here for the last 3 weeks. Or, even more simply, he could just look around the major cities and pay attention to what's going on in Brazil. But instead, he absoulely screws up the most simple and central facet of the entire story.

Rohter should have lost his job years ago, and it perplexes me even more to this day that he's still the Brazil correspondent. Of all the unemployed in the world, he probably should be number three on the list.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Les Schwab

I´m breaking my temporary absence from blogging to mention the death of Northwestern tire entrepreneur Les Schwab. I always thought that if the Northwest should decide to break from the rest of the nation, it should be entitled Les Schwab Country and its capital should be lovely Prineville, Oregon. Most importantly, February would be Free Beef Month for all, whether or not they actually bought a set of tires.

I know no one who is not from the Northwest has any idea what I am talking about. And that shows why you should spend more time there.

Oh Yes He Did

Marty Peretz on George Soros:

"His authority comes from nothing more than his money."

Hey, but at least it's his own money, right Marty?

Beatles Revisionism

Jody Rosen on the real significance of the most written about album in pop history:

On both sides of the Sgt. Pepper's divide—hyperbolically pro and knee-jerk con—there is a tendency to treat the album as an icon stripped of historical peculiarity, floating outside of time and place. Yet Sgt. Pepper's is the definitive Beatles record not necessarily because it contains their best music, but because it captures them at their zeitgeist-commandeering peak: It is the Beatles album of, and about, history's Beatles Moment. It's worth reflecting further on the Beatles' particularity. Today, the band belongs to the world. But they were an English group, and no album was more local and particular, more steeped in the life and lore of Old Blighty, than Sgt. Pepper's.

If Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band doesn't have a concept, it does have a theme. It's a record about England in the midst of whirling change, a humorous, sympathetic chronicle of an old culture convulsed by the shock of the new—by new music and new mores, by rising hemlines and lengthening hair and crumbling caste systems. In short, it's a record about the transformations that the Beatles themselves, more than anyone else, were galvanizing. Playing Sgt. Pepper's for the umpteenth time, you marvel at what generous-spirited revolutionaries the Beatles were. Compare the "Don't trust anyone over 30" rhetoric of the Beatles' 1960s fellow travelers to "When I'm 64," the sweetest song about old age ever created by a rock group. Then there's "She's Leaving Home," which hitches one of McCartney's prettiest melodies to a lyric that sympathizes on both sides of the generation gap—with the runaway girl who is "meeting a man from the motor trade," and with her grief-stricken parents: "We gave her most of our lives/ Sacrificed most of our lives/ We gave her everything money could buy." It's a remarkable feat of the artistic imagination, but it may as well have been reportage: Many British parents were saying such things back in the spring before the Summer of Love. Forty years later, if you listen closely, you can hear what Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sounded like that morning at Mama Cass' flat in England in 1967. It sounds like England, in 1967.

As Rosen notes, many fans and critics now claim Revolver as a superior album. From a purely musical standpoint, I think this is almost certainly correct. Even recognizing that Help, Rubber Soul, and Revolver represent the most astonishing period of accelerated artistic growth in the history of pop music, the increase in compositional, lyrical, and productional sophistication from Rubber Soul to Revolver is flat-out amazing. While there's obviously no denying that Sgt. Pepper's is, by any measure, a great pop record, it essentially consolidated the artistic gains made on the previous album.

As to the critical disrespect for McCartney that Rosen mentions, I don't know of any serious critics who still cling to the nonsense about McCartney being the shallow tunesmith/Lennon the tortured, thoughtful artist. In any case, upgrading Revolver certainly does not serve that argument, as Paul's contributions to the record are stellar.

If I have one nit to pick with Rosen's article, it is that while he recognizes Sgt. Pepper's as a nostalgic look back on Old England, he does not go the next step of recognizing the figure in the studio with the Beatles who represented, to some extent, a connection to that England, and who became the midwife, so to speak, of the musical and cultural revolution which the Beatles brought forth: George Martin. Fifteen years older than the Four, the picture of buttoned-down, proper Englishness, Martin was of the generation from whose hands the Beatles and their cohort would wrench the torch. Ironically, perhaps, Martin would help them do it. It was Martin who, after they had been rejected by other London labels, decided to take a chance on the group, recognizing in them the charm and humor that would make them not just musical but cultural icons. It was Martin who, unable to decide which of the four should be featured as the group's leader, made the seminal decision they were best presented as a group. Most importantly, it was Martin whose traditional musical education, and own playful experimentalism, enabled him to realize on tape the sounds that the Beatles heard in their heads. If there's any revisionism which needs to take place here, it's that Martin should be better recognized as a key component to the Beatles' music and moment.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

There isn't a whole lot I can say about Isaac Hayes soundtrack for Shaft that hasn't been said a million times already and, if I speak too much about it, somebody will inevitably tell me to shut my mouth. It's a great score to an outrageously overrated movie. With a producer like David Golden working the movie, who had score a huge hit the previous year in Love Story and would again with Kramer vs. Kramer and Endless Love, I have a hard time with the overwrought sincerity of the movie. At this point, if it isn't Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song, I really don't have a lot of interest in the dubious "Blaxploitation" genre any longer. This soundtrack, however, is phenomenal, and a good representation of why Hayes has become so revered over the years (in spite of the Scientology business). "Shaft's Cab Ride" is some of the best driving music ever recorded. It's a shame that it clocks in at just over a minute, but I'd just recommend looping it onto a tape for half an hour. It won't get old.

1. Isaac Hayes--Shaft's Cab Ride (from the soundtrack to Shaft)
2. The Dixon Brothers--I Can't Tell Why I Love You
3. The Velvet Underground--I'm Sticking with You
4. Sergei Prokofiev--Scythian Suite for Violin & Orchestra, Op.20; 4. The Glorious Departure of Lolly and Procession of the Sun (Ruggiero Ricci, Vn; Swiss Radio Orch; Ernest Ansermet, cond.)
5. Bruce Springsteen--Highway Patrolman
6. Roy Budd--FB M2 (from the soundtrack to Foxbat)
7. Rhapsody--Trolls in the Dark
8. Tall Dwarves--Ride a White Swan
9. Mudhoney--Let Me Let You Down
10. Led Zepplin--The Ocean

Friday Guitar Blogging

Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel, and Grant Green.

The Boycott

I don't endorse everything Martha Nussbaum has to say here, but I strongly agree with her central argument that that academic boycott declared by British scholars against Israel is not appropriate.

I know that I tend to focus in this blog on the abuses of the Israeli occupation regime, but I do recognize that there is a great amount and variety of excellent work being done in Israeli universities, much if not most having nothing whatever to do with conflict with the Palestinians. Trying to subsume all of the Israeli academy under the heading "in service to the occupation," as the boycott essentially does, seems to me kind of bullshit. For those scholars whose work does serve to justify and support the Israeli occupation and settlement project, their work should be (and repeatedly has been, most devastatingly by their fellow Israelis), singled out and refuted. I don't think that boycotting and attempting to silence those scholars, who, by virtue of their being in and of Israel, are in a unique position to produce work on various aspects of Israeli culture and society (which, again, is obviously not reducible to its conflict with the Arabs), will be productive. If anything, Israeli scholars who oppose the occupation should be engaged and supported by those hoping and working toward a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Mr. Trend's Random 10

I know it's two days early, but tomorrow and Friday are official holidays in Brazil, and I am going out of town to celebrate my wedding with my wife's (very) extended family (9 aunts & uncles, 30 cousins, numerous spouses, children, etc). So here's my random 10, a little early.

I actually owe Erik for turning me on to Joe McPhee. McPhee is (in my limited opinion) one of the best jazz musicians of the last 40 years (William Hooker, also in today's random 10, is also very underrated, but that's another post later). As Erik has pointed out before, there has been a (sometimes understandable, sometimes baffling) emphasis on John Coltrane’s production that has more than dominated the narrative of jazz since 1960, at the expense both of older jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespe as well as Coltrane’s contemporaries (particularly Ornette Coleman) and those who came after him. Joe McPhee definitely falls into that latter category. His early-1970s production is as good as (if not better than) Coltrane’s later material, though I generally enjoy McPhee’s work even more.

1. “When I First Get to Phoenix” – Set Fire to Flames
2. “Je Ne T’Aime Plus” – Manu Chao
3. “Rainha Negra” – Maria Bethânia
4. “Blow” – Glen Hall, Lee Ranaldo, and William Hooker
5. “I Dreamed I Dream” – Sonic Youth
6. “Now Mary” – White Stripes
7. “Nation Time” – Joe McPhee
8. “Nuestra Ultima Gusto” – Ibrahim Ferrer
9. “The Book of Right-On” – Joanna Newsom
10. “NYC Ghosts & Flowers” – Sonic Youth

Rights for Afghan Women! For Saudi Women...Not So Much

Via Yglesias, Megan Stack recounts some of her experiences as a woman living in Saudi Arabia. While recognizing the sad fact that the sort of routine extreme oppression of women which takes place in Saudi Arabia isn't enough to cause any significant ripples in the very close US-Saudi relationship, doesn't it seem that that coupled with continued Saudi underwriting of violent, radical Wahabbism worldwide would merit a more confrontational stance?

The Rare Film That's Actually Almost Worth Ten Bucks

I saw Knocked Up the other night, the first time in a few years that I'd been to a packed movie. I know this is obvious, but funny movies are just way, way funnier when you're howling along with a couple hundred other people. Given that I pretty rarely see "it" movies in a timely fashion (I'll put it his way: I haven't gotten around to "The Piano" yet), it's nice to be able to read the various online discussions in real time. Whether or not you've seen the film, however, conservative film-crit silliness is always a treat. Here's K-Lo claiming Knocked Up for the wingers:

It’s a vulgar comedy so this pro-life, pro-marriage, essentially conservative message is reaching people a piece in First Things never would. This is what conservatives in Hollywood should be doing, making funny movies that no one would ever ghettoize as conservative – really engage the culture.

Err, yeah...As others have pointed out, there's nothing inherently conservative about choosing to have a baby. Now, if Alison had no choice in the matter, or rather, if her only choice were between having the child or potentially bleeding to death in an alley after a botched black market abortion, that would be conservative.

Quick review: Runs a bit long, the male lead could have been better (though there are moments when he's perfect), Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are brilliant, and Darryl from The Office has one of those scenes you could write a whole other movie around. (Having worked as a nightclub doorman myself, I know I've got the script in here somewhere...)