Friday, November 30, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

I'm probably ignorant of the whole issue, but DC punk pretty much begins and ends with Dischord Records for me. Through the label and the policies therein, Ian MacKaye is an example and a hero for all aspiring and independant musicians. After the demise of the great Minor Threat, MacKaye was forming the even greater Fugazi and enlisted the services of guitarist Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty. They were two of four members of One Last Wish, a short lived act that grew out of the remnants of Rites of Spring that formed in May 1986 and was gone by January of '87. MacKaye met the band while producing their one recording session which, outside of "Burning in the Undertow," remained unreleased until 1999 under the title 1986. "This Time" is a track on the 20 Years of Dischord boxed set and is emotional and highly melodic in a way that few honest punk songs have been. It's not the greatest thing on the set, but it does serve as something of a ballad on the compilation. They aren't anywhere near as good as what they were (Rites of Spring) or what they would become (Fugazi), but it fits in the time and gives a slightly different perspective on what some of these musicians were capable of.

1. One Last Wish--This Time
2. Ennio Morricone--The Penitent (Theme) (from the soundtrack to The Penitent)
3. Prince & the Revolution--Take Me with U
4. System of a Down--Atwa
5. Jewlia Eisenberg--The Moon and Asia
6. Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble--Alsema Dub
7. Fiddlin' John Carson--Georgia Wagner
8. The Mars Volta--Tira Me a las Aranas
9. Steve Earle--Another Town
10. Memphis Slim--Nobody Loves Me (Every Day I Have the Blues)

The Republican Reponse Is Already Written

In the comments at the New York Times post on the hostage situation at the Hillary Clinton office in New Hampshire, an idiot named "ananchi" provides the natural Republican response. See comment #9.

"No offense to any Hillary supporter out there, but if she cant protect one of her campaign HQs from insane morons, how is she gonna protect the nation?"

This is perhaps the least useful and certainly one of the most offensive things I've read in a long time. But God it sounds like something an actual Republican operative would say. I guess it's her job to hire armed guards for every campaign office around the country or something.

U.S. Army Mental Tests, 1917, Question 4

4. Why judge a man by what he does rather than what he says? Because

A. what a man does shows what he really is
B. it is wrong to tell a lie
C. a deaf man cannot hear what is said

Fucking Scandihoovians

Gen. JC Christian has a modest proposal to kick all the Swedes out of the country:

The God damned lutefisk-eating bastards breed like rabbits. They've overrun the whole upper Midwest and turned it Lutheran. If we'd shipped them the moment they arrived, Minnesota would be as Baptist as an illicit hand job behind the Piggly Wiggly. Think about it. No more hot dishes. No more "you betchas." No more Garrison Keillor. If you want to sell that ethnic cleansing plan of yours, you got to bring up the Swedes.

Yep, that's about the truth. I only have a marginal amount of Swede in me, but you might as well put my ass on that boat too. Lyrad too. Soon, the blog will only belong to Trend, at least until we kick the goddamn krauts out.

Historical Image of the Day

Pioneering Korean-American actor Philip Ahn

Erik's Random 10

Despite owning two albums, I'm still not sure what to make of Animal Collective. This seems like the kind of band I would like a lot. I have always enjoyed experimental music, with a lot of interesting noises. Just last night, I saw the Miró Quartet perform compositions by John Zorn and George Crumb, both of which were pretty mind expanding. Animal Collective is the darling of the indie world.

But I'm not sure. It's certainly interesting music. But with Animal Collective and others of its ilk, (especially Battles, who I saw recently and felt very confused by) I'm not sure if the noise adds up to anything.

Usually I figure I "get" music, even if I don't much care for it. But I can understand what's going on and why people like it. I'm not so sure with Animal Collective and these new noise-rock bands. For the first time ever, I wonder if I am too old to understand them. Is there something going on that I am not getting because of generational issues? I keep listening to them, trying to figure it out. It's become a challenge of sorts. I keep thinking that at some point, I am going to listen to an album and it's all going to come together and I will be a big fan. I'm doing that as I write this. But it hasn't happened yet.

1. Animal Collective, Daffy Duck
2. The Music of Islam, Vol. 8: Folkloric Music of Tunisia, El Guelb Ely Yehwek
3. Sufjan Stevens, The Pick-Up
4. Bill Frisell/Vernon Reid, Size 10 1/2 Sneaks
5. Antonio Vivaldi, Laudate Pueri, Ut Collocet Eum--Allegro, Ottavio Dantone, director
6. Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five, Hotter Than That
7. King Crimson, B'Boom
8. Charlie Poole, Sunset March
9. Bobby Bare, Jr., Valentine
10. Anthony Coleman, Hidden Language

Mr. Trend's Random 10

"Andy," by Mike O'Neil, is off of Neko Case's Canadian Amp EP. The album is a nice little tribute to Case's sometimes-home country, Canada. Six of the eight tracks on the album are covers, and all but one (Hank Williams' "Alone and Forsaken") are Canadian-born. Generally, cover albums are hit-and-miss, but Case nails every one on this album. There isn't much in the way of variation in sound from one to the next - they all have the sparse, haunting sound to Furnace Room Lullaby, but, at an economical 23 minutes over 8 songs, this isn't much of a problem. Also, the songs she picks are perfect for this kind of delivery (even, surprisingly, Neil Young's "Dreamin' Man"). While the album isn't quite as varying or beautiful as Blacklisted or Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, it's still a top-notch EP top to bottom, and a great late-night album.

1. "Double Image" - Miles Davis
2. "Déserts - 1st Episode" - Edgard Varèse
3. "Stephanie Says" - Velvet Underground
4. "Se Tudo Pode Acontecer" - Arnaldo Antunes
5. "Denia" - Manu Chao
6. "You, Drum" - Liars
7. "Andy" - Neko Case
8. "O Céu" - Marisa Monte
9. "Coisa No. 4" - Moacir Santos
10. "Positivismo" - Noel Rosa

Thursday, November 29, 2007

U.S. Army Mental Tests, 1917, Question 3

3. Why is leather used for shoes? Because

A. it is produced in all countries
B. it wears well
C. it is an animal product

Risk, Carioca Style

For those who weren't sufficiently offended by "be an illegal immigrant" events and favela tours, a designer from Rio's Zona Sul has something new to offer: "Risk", Rio-style. Updating the old global-conquest game in which the players tried to use their armies to take over the 6 inhabited continents, 29-year-old designer Fábio Lopez has created "War in Rio", in which you can try to be any number of factions of drug gangs or Rio's corrupt police, trying to gain control of the city. Lopez has created a map of the city of Rio, divided like "Risk" into 6 major sections, but beyond that, the rules and idea are the same. Lopez apparently felt this was a good idea after he was robbed, an event which he apparently felt was "enlightening" enough to come up with this "game".

Lopez claims "The idea isn't to incite violence. What I want to provoke with the game is a discussion about the discomforts of living in a city at war with itself." Unfortunately, Lopez, like too many people here, only considers the violence in a one-way direction. He wasn't terribly worried about the violence within the city when police invaded Alemão and put it under a state of de facto martial law, nor did he seem to really consider the violence when the police were dismembering corpses of regular residents fighting for their rights in the faveals. Yet he gets robbed in the Zona Sul (one of the safest and richest parts of the city), and suddenly, he's worried about the violence in the city. It only pops into his head once it affects him directly, and given the fact that he's included the BOPE as one of the "factions" you can be, I suspect strongly that he falls into that category of middle class residents who believe that BOPE and other police forces are totally justified in any and all measures employed against the poor in the favelas. The fact that he could now stand to make money off this idea just adds to the repulsion of this.

Hopefully, the actual creators and producers of Risk will make sure any mass-production of this game gets halted on legal grounds. Still, the fact that it even reached this point is just one more example not jsut of how unwilling many people are to actually consider the real causes and effects of violence; it shows just how far from the reality of poverty, police brutality, and the favelas most residents of Rio are.

Historical Image of the Day

Neutrality Proclamation of 1793

Attempt by the U.S. to stay out of the wars between Britain and France coming out of the French Revolution.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

NFL 2007 Week 12: NFC Edition

NFC EAST: Only one more day until the NFC Championship preview game, and the fans of two lame teams can’t get enough. Both the Cowboys and the Packers go in with one loss, though there isn’t a catchy phrase like “someone’s O has got to go” for two one-loss teams. Dallas is the superior team, and the game is theirs to win or lose. On Thanksgiving, granted that it was the Jets, they ran an efficient and balanced offense to the destruction of the Jets. They’ve proven, when need be, that they have the ability to drives together with both pass and run heavy games, and the fact that they can also run a balanced offense is pretty remarkable. Green Bay will put points up against their secondary, but Dallas will still win strong. The Giants are looking a lot like their AFC brothers right now. Eli Manning got humiliated by the Vikings’ defense, who would have won without a single point from the offense. The defense didn’t look so bad, but they can’t do a lot about the offense and their yearly collapse. The Eagles were so close to taking the Patriots out. I was rooting for former Duck AJ Feeley to show some heroics but, in the end, they were just another slice of pie for win-fat Patriots. At this point, they’ll probably have to win out to secure a playoff slot, but fighting it out with the Redskins will be tough, at least when they decide to show up. Throwing for 300 yards with only one touchdown sounds like Bronco statistics to me.

NFC NORTH: The other half of the preview of future Super Bowl losers did look strong on the road on Thanksgiving, but the Lions are ailing and not much of a match. This Thursday, Green Bay’s burgeoning run game will be cut short by Dallas’ defense, so it’ll be a pass, and points, fest. Green Bay will keep it close for a while, but barring more unlikely Favre heroics, Dallas will be in the clear lead for the NFC. Kitna and the Lions tried to evoke another “miracle,” but Jesus should have been smiling on them in the first half instead of just the fourth quarter. The Vikings’ offense remains inconsistent, and generally poor, without Adrian Peterson, but their defense played superb against the Giants. It was more than just the three interception TDs, they beat them up and down the field. It was pretty impressive and, with Peterson supposedly returning this week, Detroit should have a pretty hard time. Minnesota will have the ball a long time and, when the Lions have the ball, Kitna had better pray hard. The Broncos allowed the Bears back in the again and again until, finally, Chicago got the message and won the game. Without Devin Hester, would the Bears have any wins at all?

NFC SOUTH: With the poor play from the rest of the division, the Buccaneers have just about sealed up the north. They’re only two games up but, even though the Saints have gotten better since the start of the season, their play is too inconsistent for them to contend at this point. They’ve been able to hang on with Gradkowski in the lineup, and they’re hoping to have Garcia back in soon, which should be able to take them to the finish. The Saints were able to snap their two game losing streak, but a win this week against Tampa is imperative or they can forget about the postseason. The winner of this division will be the only team going to the playoffs, and it will be all but sealed up if they drop it. Carolina showed they have no business in the discussion anymore. Now at 4-7, and after a horrible beating from the Saints on Sunday, they have nothing but pride to play for. The Falcons appeared to try on Thursday for the first quarter, and then they realized that they were the Falcons and do not try. Atlanta was able to take advantage of a down-and-out Colts until Indianapolis realized who they were and slaughtered them after that. Atlanta doesn’t even have pride to play for anymore.

NFC WEST: The Seahawks may not be quite as bad as they seem, but they sure got lucky that Frerotte is playing for the Rams right now. I realize that the game was meaningless for St. Louis at this point, but that has to be one of the great chokes of the year. If Seattle gets Alexander healthy (good luck) by playoff time, they could have a shot, but they’re just too old, too spotty, and on the quick decline. Any strides Arizona’s defense has made this year looked to be moot the way they played against San Francisco. Everyone was saying that they would be special this year, but the ‘Niners have only been short bus special and, if a defense gives up 36 points to them, they should hang their heads in shame. San Francisco, to their credit, have finally gotten Vernon Davis back in the mix and…what’s this?...a decent game from Frank Gore? Wasn’t he supposed to be the season’s leading rusher? Oh, yeah, he plays for the 49ers. The Rams have wins now but, mostly, they aren’t looking any better than they did at the beginning of the season. They’ve had a lot of injuries and some bad luck, but they can’t fall apart when it counts; that’s for cowards.

U.S. Army Mental Tests, 1917, Question 2

2. Why are pencils more commonly carried than fountain pens? Because

A. they are brightly colored
B. they are cheaper
C. they are not so heavy

Historical Image of the Day

French philosopher Jacques Lacan

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

U.S. Army Mental Tests, 1917

I decided that for the next while, I would post one question a day from Test 3 of the U.S. Army Mental Tests, given in World War I. These notoriously subjective and racist tests only helped confirm already existing stereotypes about America's diverse population to the nation's white Anglo-Saxon elite.

1. Cats are useful animals, because

A. they catch mice
B. they are gentle
C. they are afraid of dogs

More Movies: Yeah for Lyrad!

For the first time in over five years, somebody was a big enough sucker to hire me to write DVD reviews for them. I had previously worked for Schwann DVD Advance and, later, Videohound DVD Guide, but both went bankrupt many years ago (my fault? I have a history of this happening). Now, I have been brought onto the staff of DVD Verdict, a fine website for new and catalog DVD reviews. The reviews are professional and the judge and jury gimmick makes the work easy to write. Plus, I get free movies, which is the only reason I've ever done this. Anyway, my first review, on I Am Cuba, is here. The only downside of putting this in the blog is that it outs me from my ultra-clever pseudonym. See if you can guess how I came up with it.

NFL 2007 Week 12: AFC Edition

AFC EAST: The Eagles were so damned close, I could taste New England's defeat, but those plucky Pats were able to pull it out. In truth, they've looked somewhat beatable over the last couple of weeks and they're primed for somebody to take them out. Philadelphia showed that, even with an average secondary, Moss can be covered. While that leaves other guys open, eliminating that huge play threat did a lot toward keeping it close. Buffalo, though they have looked fairly good at times, showed how overrated a .500 team that they were. Giving up 36 points to the Jaguars' offense really shouldn't happen. Losman gave up three turnovers, which were the clear difference makers in the game. Now he's benched and, once again, Trent Edwards will step into the role. Neither of these guys has performed all that well over the long haul, and I don't see what it's helping to keep this revolving door quarterback policy going. Were the Jets ever bad on Thanksgiving. Playing at Dallas on that day is hard for every team (although that didn't stop Ron Dayne and the Broncos from running sixty yards in overtime for the win...go Broncos!), but their performance this year was one of the worst I've seen. Less than 200 total yards and only two first downs. Which team is winless? I'm not going to try and say that Miami is playing well, because they're clearly not. But they have lost so many of their games by a field goal, they seem like a victim of bad luck as much as anything; the Jets are victims of bad play. The Dolphins didn't stink the league up any worse than the Steelers did last night, and Pittsburgh is number one in their division.

AFC NORTH: What a stinkfest it truly was in Pittsburgh last night. I'd be afraid of malaria if I'd played on that field. It seems hard for me to believe that the 3-0 final was the lowest NFL points total in sixty years, but the two teams showed just how lousy you have to play to reach that milestone. I'm going to finally admit it: the Browns are a good team. They have the third most points in the league, and are proving week after week that all their young offensive threats have become a team. They don't want to be like the Lions, though. They have to get more strength on defense in every capacity if they want playoff hopes in the coming years. There game against the Texans this week, before the season, would have looked like one of the worst games of the season. Now, it may be a preview of a hot playoff matchup in the coming years. The Bengals have finally come out of their pit, albeit far too late. They slapped a declining Titans team all over the field, finally showing the offense that they always promise and finally not destroying themselves on defense. They might do just well enough to screw themselves out of a good draft pick. Baltimore's defense has clearly declined. Age may be the only major factor, but they often look lost on the field this year. The Chargers may promise a lot of offense, but they haven't delivered. 22 points in the second quarter will just about wrap the Ravens up, though. If Baltimore is going to win any games with the offense they have, the defense has to make some semblance of respecability, and they haven't now for weeks.

AFC SOUTH: The Thanksgiving matchup between the Colts and the Falcons looked interesting, for the first ten minutes. When Atlanta was up 10-0, it seemed like Indy still hadn't recovered from the Patriots game, but then they kicked the Falcons' asses all over the place. After the first quarter, it was far from interesting. Jacksonville continues to play very strong going into the final part of the season. Still only a game back from the Colts, they have every opportunity to win the division. I've often scoffed at their offense, but they're getting quality performances from David Garrard and both running backs every week. If they can keep putting points on the board as they have been, they'll be a very difficult wild card game for anybody. Tennessee has fallen farther than anybody except the Ravens. It was only a few weeks ago that they were in contention but, based on how they're playing right now, I have a hard time believing that they'll win two more games. The Texans may actually overtake them. They're playing inconsistently but, like the Browns though to a lesser degree, they're making it work with what they have. Matt Schaub and the receivers are playing great and, if they can get a reliable running back and some stronger line players, they could be right there in the hunt next year.

AFC WEST: It was a nice one week stint, but I can no longer talk about the Broncos first here (except that I just did). The Chargers looked anemic for 45 minutes, but all it took was one ridiculous quarter to take the game. How the Ravens allowed 22 points in a quarter the way this year's Chargers are playing is beyond me, but it keeps San Diego in first. In almost every one of Denver's losses this year, the defeat can be attributed to one or two direct events. They haven't played that poorly (given their injury problems) at any point this season, but some bad decision inevitably takes them down. This week, it was kicking to Deven Hester...over and over again to the tune of two touchdowns. He had more return yards than the rest of the team had combined yards. That's pathetic and there's no reason Denver should have let the game go. On the plus side, Cutler ran an excellent option pitch to Andre Hall for a touchdown; it was a great play and why the Broncos are such fun to watch. Not so fun to watch was the bowling shoe of a matchup between the Chiefs and the Raiders. The Raiders actually had a good game, but it was against the Chiefs, so it's pretty hard to gauge. KC has lost four in a row and they're playing like it. Who cares, anyway? Both teams suck and are worthless to watch play.

Old Political Hacks Don't Die

I'm stealing the title for this post from the blog Somewhere in Africa. The hack in question--Dick Morris, who is causing controversy for his recent work in the Kenyan presidential race of all things.

Kenya? I don't really have that much to say about this except to wonder how greedy Morris must be. Supposedly this work is pro bono. Why do I not believe this to be true? Is it because Dick Morris is incapable of telling the truth? It is because of the deep corruption in African politics? Is it because it is blindingly obvious? Or all of the above?

Global Voices Online has a more comprehensive discussion of Morris' African turn.

Historical Image of the Day

List of purchases of slaves by British slave ship Mangovo George, West Africa, 1785

Sepp Blatter Reveals He's Not Just Sexist - He's Xenophobic Too!

Apparently, it wasn't enough for FIFA president to reveal his blatant sexism when he proposed women soccer players wear skimpy outfits to draw attention to the sport. Now, he's decrying the increasing tendency of Brazilian-born soccer players to become naturalized citizens in other countries, making them able to play on those countries' World Cup teams. His overall concern is foolish enough, based on the fact that the desire to keep World Cup teams "national" ignores any modern definition of what it is to be a "national", not to mention how arbitrary such definitions are. But you do NOT need to put it like this: "If we don't take care about the invaders from Brazil, not only toward Europe but toward Asia and Africa, then the next World Cups in 2014 and 2018 out of the 32 teams - you will still have national teams - but we will have 16 full of Brazilian players."

Oh no!!! The mongrel brown hordes from Brazil are invading Europe and taking over!!! The bastion of caucasian sportsmanship is being torn asunder!!!! First they get five World Cups, and now this!!!! OH, THE HORROR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

More seriously, this is about as xenophobic and ridiculous a thing I've seen from soccer leadership. It is incredibly racist against Brazilians, and not just because he refers to them as "invaders". You don't see Blatter complaining here about a broader tendency of players applying for naturalization to play on the team of a country where they weren't born. Blatter doesn't seem so upset, for example, about the Algerians who may apply for French citizenship to play on the French national team, or players from other parts of Africa, or Asia, or even within Europe. It doesn't matter if more Brazilians are doing this than any other country. If you think this is a problem, then what you need to do, as head of FIFA, is try to see that other countries put into place the same structure of scouting and training that Brazil has. But to sit in your tower bemoaning the presence of "invaders" without actually trying to find constructive ways to deal with the issue has all the maturity of a 5-year-old and all of the open-mindedness of a Confederate general. It's become patently clear that the time for Blatter to go has come and gone a long time ago. Maybe replacing him with a Brazilian would be a good idea.....

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Appalling Conditions of Prisons in Brazil

Over the weekend, news came out about reports that a 15 year old girl who had been arrested in the northern state of Pará had been repeatedly abused and raped by police in return for food.
The story is atrocious, but just one more appalling report on what may very well be one of the worst prison systems in the world, between the overcrowding, the corruption (political and police), the gang violence within the prisons, the extremely-unequal treatment (the wealthy rarely go to prison for the same crimes that land the poor in jail for 10-30 years), and the torture and abuse of prisoners. Randy goes into depth here, and has some excellent commentary well worth checking out.

Like Randy, I'm extremely skeptical that the case will be sufficiently investigated and those responsible dealt with appropriately. The only thing I would add to Randy's commentary is that the fact that anything will be done is reduced even further by two factors. First, the girl is most likely poor (charging a teen with theft and throwing them in jail is generally treatment only the poor, who have little-to-no recourse to serious legal aid, receive). Thus, her probable class status makes punishment extremely unlikely. Added to this, Pará is one of the few strongholds of the old political model of coronelismo, in which local landed elites and politicians are in bed together (or even one and the same), and are basically able to manipulate local politics in ways they see as optimal to their own interests. While this model is no way as strong as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, it hasn't gone away from the North, and quite frankly, I just don't see the political and landed elites really mustering up much more outrage than to verbally condemn the act once and then forget about it. The report is extremely disturbing, and it is frustrating that these conditions exist in Brazil. Given the extreme apathy and even open antipathy among the middle-class, elites, and politicians throughout the country towards the poor and towards criminals among here, the most frustrating aspect to me is that there is no evidence or sign that anything will even change in the slightest to address the extremely serious prison problem here.

Historical Image of the Day

Secretary of the Treasury and patron saint of supply-side economics Andrew Mellon (left).

Of course, given that he held the position from 1921-1932, one might think that the supply-siders would not look at Mellon in such a good light. But then what's a Great Depression so long as rich people pay no taxes?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Woodcut of Puritans in tavern.

I don't have a date on this. But I did get it off this interesting site. It lists all sorts of important things about American history and alcohol. In short, before Prohibition, Americans drank a shocking amount of alcohol. This is almost totally forgotten about today. But Christ did the Puritans like to drink. They would shame most anyone today.

David Brooks Shows He Knows Nothing About Music

I generally ignore the idiocy of David Brooks's nonsensical, conservative political ranting. However, apparently not satisfied to show his idiocy in politics and class culture alone, he has branched out. In dealing with the question of "what's wrong with America?", Brooks has a new answer:

Indie music.

Yes, indie is to blame for America's fragmentation. Brooks whines, chafes, and shakes his fists at the numerous musical niches he doesn't understand. Apparently, according to Brooks, all these sub-categories of indie music are not only getting away from the blues-based rock of the Rolling Stones in the 1960s or of Springsteen; this division of musical categories is also both emblematic of and increasing the "fragmentation" of America. That's right, folks - if you like Arcade Fire more than Arctic Monkeys, Dntel more than Sufjan Stevens, well, you're part of the problem politically, too. And the worst part of all this, according to Brooks, is (brace yourself), "It’s considered inappropriate or even immoral for white musicians to appropriate African-American styles. And there’s the rise of the mass educated class. "

Suffice to say, there are numerous holes and sheer, blindingly stupid aspects of Brooks's argument. Rolling Stone (in a rare case of actual cleverness) points out several problems here ("Niche music for upper-middle-class elites is nothing new — anybody remember the Cambridge folk scene in the Fifties? It spurred a boom that produced one of those guys that Brooks might like: Bob Dylan," and "if anything, most indie rockers don’t try to make black music (i.e., hip-hop) these days because they still have bad memories of 311 from the Nineties.")
However, the idiocy goes well beyond this.

First of all, "indie rockers" haven't quit drawing on "black music". Akron's own Black Keys are extremely influenced by Junior Kimbrough, and both Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach are on record as citing the Wu-Tang Clan's influence on their dirty, raw sound. Beck has always enjoyed playing with hip-hop beats and syncopation, and Midnite Vultures was a straight reinterpretation of 70s funk and 70s and 80s soul (and I personally wouldn't call Beck "indie" here, but if Brooks is going to say "nobody uses black music anymore", I'm bringing him in).

Then, of course, there's Brooks' complete ignorance of musical history. He whines about rock becoming too fragmented, ignoring that rock itself is one fragment of an extremely diverse musical tradition in the U.S. and throughout the world, as well as ignoring the fact that other music forms were also fragmented within themselves, sometimes for decades (certainly blues, bluegrass, country, jazz, and classical music have all seen this diversification or, as Brooks prefers, "fragmentation"). Indeed, despite his professed love for "black music", funk, gospel, and hip-hop appear nowhere in Brooks' lament. It comes as no shock to me that Brooks equates "black music" to one type of music (blues) that influenced the music he likes (rock). But, again, these movements are still being mined by "indie rock" - Brooks either just doesn't care or simply is too ignroant to see it.

Then there is his assumption that good music is good because it can rock out in arenas of 25,000 people (like Springsteen and the Stones). This is just ridiculous. Good music doesn't need to be able to play in arenas to be good - it needs to be interesting, have something to offer musically and/or lyrically, and it should last. If Arcade Fire, or Sufjan Stevens, or Belle & Sebastian, or whomever are still listened to (or even around) in 20 years, still playing to crowds of 5000 or less, that won't mean they "failed". If people still listen to them, and they still have something to say, through their own music or through followers, then good.

Finally, there is what Brooks doesn't say. By totally ignoring music forms like hip-hop, classical, he isn't just ignoring the fact that the musical universe has already been fragmented for centuries; he's basically removing enormous sectors of American society from the picture here. The problem with fragmentation and the political direction of the U.S. is those college-educated white kids making music and listening to music. African-Americans who listen to hip-hop or R&B? Sorry - you don't matter. 50-somethings who love Enya? Nope - you're not part of the equation. Nor are those who listen to classical, country, bluegrass, or anything else - it's just these damn white kids with their indie music that are screwing it all up and fragmenting everything! The rest? They simply don't appear to matter to anything.

Overall, the stupidity is stunning, but I guess only David Brooks could see the diversification of musical styles in one small part of the musical universe as part of the death-knell of America's culture and political being.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Aztecs dying of smallpox. From The Florentine Codex.

A belated tribute to Thanksgiving

Erik's Random 10

"Burns Supper," off Richard Thompson's 1996 You? Me? Us? album is a really nice track. For some reason, this album did not really take off at all. In part, this is because it did not seem to be fully thought out. One disc is electric, the other acoustic. Two of the songs are performed on each disc. It was kind of like he couldn't decide what to do with it. But there are a lot of really first rate songs on the album. From the best I can tell, he plays almost none of them. On his recent 5 CD box set, the only song that appears is a good live version of "Put It There Pal." When I saw him a couple of months ago, it was one of the only albums he did not play anything from. This is too bad. "Burns Supper" is a good, pretty but also sad, ballad of the kind Thompson specializes in. "Dark Hand Over My Heart" is an excellent pop song, "No's Not a Word" is a creepy stalker song, which RT does really well. Another underrated song on that album is "Woods of Darney," which like "No's Not a Word" shows RT's weird dark side. This song is about a World War I soldier who takes the identity of his friend who was killed in France and then he goes back and hooks up with his dead friend's wife. I would certainly be happy if these songs became more central to Thompson's oeuvre, but I guess because the reviews on the album were not as great as he hoped, the project had kind of been forgotten about.

I don't know that I would recommend You? Me? Us? as the first Richard Thompson one should buy, but it is a very worthy piece of work.

1. Richard Thompson, Burns Supper
2. Reckless Kelly, Wretched Again
3. Drive-By Truckers, Goodbye
4. Don Cherry, Flute
5. Ken Orrick, It's Gonna Rain
6. Rosalie Sorrels, Brigham Young
7. Bob Wills, Faded Love
8. Townes Van Zandt, Waitin' Round to Die
9. Beck, Shake Shake Tambourine
10. Buddy Tabor, Thin Ice

Mister Trend's Random 10

I often grumble that people will verbally give a nod to Chuck Berry in early rock and roll, but very few seem to actually really appreciate how incredible and revolutionary his music was (and you can make this case for a lot of the artists from the late-1950s and early-1960s not named "Elvis", "Cash", or "Lewis"). However, I remain absolutely flabbergasted at how few people really know and appreciate Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Most who have even heard of him only know "I Put a Spell On You", and much of the credit he gets for his contribution to rock is based on his daring showmanship (such as singing to a skull in his hand and emerging from a coffin onstage). Yet his music is overlooked, which is a shame, because it was as shocking and radical as his stage shows in the 1950s and 1960s. His baritone growl and yelps were pretty much unheard of (only Howlin' Wolf could maybe match him in vocal lack of convention), and amazing in their own right, yet he could also croon when he wanted. The music was often so bluesy, brutal, rough, and raw, it had a primal-ness that made the opening guitar-line of "Maybelline" sound like the most polished, tinny guitar ever. He was a great performer, yes, but his songs were unbelievable too. I guess it's good some people remember him still for his stage antics, but more people should definitely know more of his music, too.

1. "Infinitely Late at Night" - The Magnetic Fields
2. "Trompe Le Monde" - Pixies
3. "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" - T-Model Ford
4. "Minas" - Milton Nascimento
5. Symphony No. 5 - IV: Allegro - Ludwig Von Beethoven (Christoph von Dohnanyi and the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra
6. "Lazy Line Painter Jane" - Belle & Sebastian
7. "Little Demon" - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
8. "Darn that Dream" - Miles Davis
9. "Black Snake Moan" - Blind Lemon Jefferson
10. "First Day" - The Futureheads

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Film Review--Duck Soup (1933)

I’ve been familiar with the Marx Brothers, mostly through Warner Bros’ Looney Toons shorts and Alan Alda in MASH, for a long time. It took their personas for granted, but I’d never actually watched one of their films. In general, I’m not the biggest fan of old comedy, since the jokes are so often contextual and so quickly become outdated. For whatever reason though, I decided to pick up Duck Soup to watch. After watching it, not only did I find it was pretty damn funny, but it had a strong relevance to today and, overall, it’s complete insanity, pure chaos on film.

Duck Soup was one of the first Marx Brothers films not adapted from their stage show so, while it has a full story (sort of), it still comes off somewhat stagey, especially since the majority of the film takes place on two sets. Groucho plays the inexplicably named Rufus T. Firefly. While it’s never really explained whether he’s an ambassador or a businessman, he is installed as the leader of the small nation of Freedonia by a wealthy heiress (played by long-time foil Margaret Dumont) in exchange for her $20 million to rescue the country from debt. He is insulted by the ambassador of the neighboring nation of Sylvania and, as a result, war breaks out in the small, but proudly free, nation (how a supposedly free nation appoints its leaders is beyond me, but so is our predicament….). There are no subplots, and the situation is designed specifically as fodder for the quartet’s jokes and, although I understand that this has the most complete plot of any of their films, there aren’t a lot of twists and turns.

For what they do, simple as the story is, the Marx Brothers are a perfect comic team. Groucho is the slick, scheming Jew, always with an angle and a witty cut; Chico plays the grimy Italian immigrant, full of puns and the worst of the worst of jokes; Harpo plays the mute buffoon with an inexhaustible array of horns and props; Zeppo plays the erudite WASP-y straight man who, without a real character of his own, is in on all the jokes and adds and element that was gone after he left. They had all their bases covered.

The comedy comes fast and loose, with little regard for the story that’s happening around them. The jokes are there for the sake of the jokes, not to help the story and not to develop the characters. What makes it all seem so crazy is that, aside from the brothers themselves, everyone acts as though everything is normal and that the brothers should be acting normally as well, but are flabbergasted each time they find themselves in the same position over and over again. This is done to maximum effect by Margaret Dumont, but all the actors just go about their business as if they are not battling wits with the completely insane. While the whole production is truly insane, there’s not much more chaotic than when the brothers are together in scenes. In one, Harpo is showing Groucho his tattoos. On Harpo’s chest is a doghouse. When Groucho leans in for a closer look, a live dog jumps out of the house to bark at him. In what I think is the funniest scene, the war is almost lost and the brothers are with Dumont in a house, waiting to be destroyed. In a last ditch effort, Groucho gets on the horn to call out to all nations for aid (this, of course, takes only one phone call). He hangs up and yells that help is on the way and, all of a sudden, stock footage of armies racing to their aid. After the infantry units, tanks and battleships, here comes a bunch of marathon runners, then a rowing team, then a herd of elephants, then monkeys crossing a river and on and on and on. It’s bizarre, and Duck Soup is full of some of the most outrageous sequences I’ve ever seen.

Funny as it is though, it was a commercial and critical failure when it was released. In the end, the failure caused them to leave Paramount for MGM, where Zeppo was eliminated entirely and the studio forced romantic subplots and extraneous musical numbers to help with sales. Though these were some of their most commercially successful productions, they are also the most easily forgotten today. Since their comedy didn’t really change before Duck Soup or after, the lack of success can be almost wholly attributed to the content. With America still stinging from the First World War, in the throes of the great depression and watching the rise of fascism in Europe, the public simply wasn’t ready for the sharp-tongued satire of Duck Soup. Innocuous as the comedy might seem today, it is full of pointed, cynical observations of the reasons for and methods of going to war. Especially distasteful to some was the blatant spoofing of the incompetence of nations’ leaders. All of this depth and its current relevance are exactly why it is still so funny today and why it has been revered for so long. It may have nearly destroyed their film careers, but the film cemented the Marx Brothers’ place in film history.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Greenbriar Hotel, Greenbriar, West Virginia. 1872

Film Review: I'm Not There

If you see Todd Haynes’ film about Bob Dylan, you will think that it is the best thing or the worst thing to biopics; that it’s a masterful impressionistic film about the identities of a man who’s always shifted form, or it’s a pretentious, incomprehensible piece of muddled garbage; that it is one of the most ambitious projects in film in the last 5 years, or an abominable dud whose existence should be wiped clean of the earth. It is, simply, one of those movies that will have no middle-ground fans – they will praise or damn it in equal intensity.

I had the chance to see the premiere of this film at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival in October, and I personally think it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen not just this year, but in the last 5 years (at least). As is common knowledge by now, there are 6 different actors offering Haynes’ (and their own) takes on moments, images, and ideals in Dylan’s life. Marcus Carl Franklin is Bob/Woody, a child acting out the hitchiking, vagabond lifestyle Dylan himself would like to have lived (and claimed on occasion to have lived, even if he never did); Christian Bale is John/Jack, the honest folk hero of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and, later, the christian-era Dylan [extrapolated all the way to the point of Bale becoming an evangelical minister]; Cate Blanchett is Dylan when he was entering his electric phase in 1965-1966; Heath Ledger is Dylan the actor in the 60s and, as his marriage to Charlotte Gainsbourg falls apart, the Dylan of Blood on the Tracks; Richard Gere is the both the Dylan who retreated to Woodstock with The Band after his motorcycle accident, as well as the outlaw Billy the Kid; and Ben Whishaw is Dylan as French poet (and idol to Dylan) Arthur Rimbaud. There is no real narrative – each of the stories has their own sub-narrative (Blanchett’s dealing with pissed-off Limey folkies who felt betrayed is the most cohesive of these, followed by Ledger’s increasingly asshole-like behavior and separation from his wife). Not only is there no narrative – there is no linearity. We start with Franklin’s Bob/Woody (throughout the film, the name of Dylan is never mentioned directly), but soon we are jumping from Ledger to Blanchett to Bale to Whishaw to Gere back to Ledger back to Franklin back to Whishaw back to Ledger etc.

The importance of this approach cannot be overstated. Up to this point, as Erik has pointed out, over the last several years, the cleaned-up, point-A-to-B narrative focusing on a character’s “redemption” from some low (see Ray, Walk the Line, A Beautiful Mind, The Queen, Capote, etc.) has made the biopic as interesting and unpredictable as a Meg Ryan romantic comedy. [In one of my biggest beefs, actors in these movies don’t really seem to be acting to me anymore. They seem to be impersonating – they aren’t making somebody new in terms of character. The best example of this is Helen Mirren, who was no doubt excellent in The Queen, but whose performance in terms of sheer power and emotion pales in comparison to Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal.]

Haynes’ approach completely blows all of this out of the water. None of these actors and actresses are impersonating Dylan – they are giving flesh to aspects of Dylan’s life, be they aspects he actually lived, he wishes he had lived, as Haynes visions them, as they appear in Dylan’s songs, or as Dylan’s fans imagine. Blanchett as Dylan in the mid-1960s (much will be made of her portrayal, and it is truly inspired, but so is Ledger’s and Franklin’s, and I even enjoyed Gere, which isn’t always easy for me). There is no better word for this approach than “impressionistic” – Haynes is operating on people’s (his own, fans’, Dylan’s himself) impressions of “BOB DYLAN”. This approach offers a completely fresh new way for us to understand Dylan, not in terms of the actual life and history of Bob Dylan, but what Dylan means to us individually.

Haynes is incredible at keeping our interest in each of the “stories”, too. He switches filming styles and approaches throughout, so that Gere’s portions have a feel like part of a Fellini dream (and indeed, parts of the film recall Fellini or Goddard, but with Haynes’ own style), while the Blanchett sections, filmed in black-and-white (as are the Whishaw sections) are a great nod to films like Don’t Look Back. Whishaw’s sections are no more than poetic confessions looking straight at the camera, which come off a both a genius and as pretentious SOB at times (but that’s the point – anyone who says Dylan hasn’t been pretentious before is missing the point). And by telling the Ledger portion not so much from Ledger’s point of view as from the POV of Gainsbourg, we sympathize with her but, like her, grow increasingly alienated, unsympathetic, and angry at Ledger – it is clear that, even if Haynes’ film is an idolization of sorts, he at least is accepting Dylan with all of his warts (which is far more than Ray or Walk the Line had the courage to do).

This movie is not without its flaws, of course. While the Bale section was decent enough, I really didn’t think it was fleshed out enough. The stories with Franklin, Blanchett, and Ledger were so dominating that Bale’s section seemed a bit of a shadow. He himself did a fine job as an actor – it seems more like the script (and maybe the editing process) reduced the effectiveness of the part. And Gere’s part is interesting, but the least understandable upon viewing (only after about a week had I finally made sense of it all).

It is worth mentioning in passing that, throughout the film, Dylan's actual songs are used to great effect (especially "Twist of Fate" during the Ledger section), and I suppose it could mean something to some fans that Dylan thought enough of the movie to give rights to his songs to it. But that's not what is really important here. What is the true standout is the film itself. Regardless of which side of the divide you will fall on on I’m Not There, it is absolutely, unquestionably, a must-see film. Haynes has unquestionably given us a wonderful way to re-understand and re-think one of America’s greatest enigmas, told in an amazingly inventive, artistic, and beautiful (which is wonderful in and of itself). But he has also done far more by giving Dylan this treatment: he has (for the time being, at least) saved the biopic.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NFL 2007 Week 11: AFC Edition

AFC EAST: Oh, what joy. The Patriots played again and, lo and behold, they blew the Bills out of the water. It’s a waste of time to watch New England play. It’s like watching somebody play Madden, that is, extremely boring. When you’re already up by 21 points at the end of the half, there is no excuse for hucking the ball downfield. They got a touchdown…great, they’re running their offense and the game isn’t over with, I can accept this, I guess. However, when a team is up like New England is going for it on fourth down time and again, this is just rubbing their faces in it. This doesn’t usually happen, but I feel bad for the Bills, who have been playing far above their level only to get swatted back down. It’s almost like the Patriots had an extra vendetta against them; since Kevin Everett is doing well, they wanted to make the rest of the team feel paralyzed. The Jets finally won another game, through a pathetic performance from the Steelers. If I was a Jets fan, I would take this as a sign that the quarterback is not the main issue with the team. Kellen Clemens is not the answer, but neither is Chad Pennington. The answer is an offensive line that can protect the quarterback and open holes for the running back. They don’t have a lot, but with a player like Lavernues Coles, they should be able to put up more points. He may not be a Randy Moss, but he’s pretty far up there. Without time, there’s no way he can get open. It’s pretty amazing how badly the Dolphins are playing. Philadelphia had a terrible game, rife with injuries, but Miami simply has no offense, none at all. Had Ronnie Brown not gotten hurt, I believe they’d have won at least a couple of these games but, noble as his effort has been, Jesse Chapman is just not the same. In desperation, they are accepting Ricky Williams back into the fold. I’m happy for Williams, but it won’t mean much for Miami. He’s over thirty and, while he hasn’t been tearing his body apart for the last few years, there’s no way he’ll be the force he once was. Still, they’re my real dark horse to beat the Patriots, and I’d love to see Williams as a big part of that.

AFC NORTH: Boy, did the Steelers look bad on Sunday. They’re a strange team. They’ve earned respect and, at times, are playing really well. But their three losses come against the Cardinals, the Broncos and the Jets. They really seem to play to their opponents’ level and are a completely beatable team at any time. Most are picking them as the strongest bet to beat the Pats, but I think they’ll get wailed on all day long. The defense is excellent and, if Roethisberger and Parker are both on, they can score a lot of points but, if either of them is off, the whole team falls apart. Cleveland wins again, in hilarious fashion no less. I’ve only seen this a few times in my life, but it’s great fun when a team thinks they’ve won and have gone back into the locker room, only to find out that there is more game to play. This has been the year of the kicker and Cleveland’s Phil Dawson made probably the craziest field goal any of us have ever seen. I’ve thought it ridiculous that the Browns are winning like they are, but when you take a victory like that, it’s fantastic. The Ravens must be pissed, though. That field goal was the difference between being tied for second in the division and a losing record. They’ve fallen apart so badly, though, they have nobody to blame for that but themselves. Plus, since many of them were already in the showers, their hearts probably weren’t so much into that overtime period. Cincinnati’s offense has gotten a great boost from the return of Chris Henry and they really seem to be clicking on that side of the ball. Their defense, though, is just not showing up. While they only punted one time and each of their top four receivers got eight catches (fantastic ball distribution), they didn’t have a player on defense with more than five tackles. Arizona had three players with more tackles than Cincy’s top guy and, while Arizona allowed 27 points, their vaunted offense just couldn’t be stopped. The Bengals now really have to think about what they can give up to help their defense out and, unfortunately, I believe that cut will be Chad Johnson. New England will probably sign him as their #2.

AFC SOUTH: The Colts sure have fallen apart after the New England game. It’s almost like they were playing the entire season for that match up and, failing to win it, see little point in playing out the rest of the season. They beat the Chiefs, which shouldn’t be that hard, but they had to do it in nail-biting fashion. Has a kicker as high profile as Adam Vinatieri ever gone downhill so quickly? He hit the game winner, to be sure, but he missed two previously. It sounds a lot like Jason Elam earlier this year. Right now, I’m very happy with this division for two reasons. First, Jacksonville takes San Diego apart. The Jags do so well with so very little, I have to be impressed every week with Jack Del Rio and his staff. They have players on offense that appear akin to Miami’s squad, but yet they keep winning. It’s either good coaching or a mafia connection, but they’ve pretty well assured themselves a wild card slot with that win. Second, the Titans laid down for the Broncos, which is greatly appreciated. Vince Young had a very good passing day, a career day in fact, but because the Broncos got out to a big early lead, Tennessee just doesn’t have the capability to catch up. This doesn’t bode well for their playoff hopes, but they’re not out of it yet. The Texans, out of the running as they may be, are still playing very well for their talent level. Matt Schaub had a good game and must be elated that Andre Johnson has returned. He had a big game but, more important to the story of the game, Mario Williams had a much better day on his side than Reggie Bush had. Putting them together on the same field should remove any doubt that Kubiak made the right choice with his draft pick.

AFC WEST: Nothing feels better to me right now than being able to have the Broncos at the top of this list. They’ve played two very strong games in a row and it appears that they’ve turned around a lot of their problems. They gave up a minimum of rushing yards, despite the fact that the Titans only have a rushing game, the dropped balls and penalties were both down and special teams was way up. They had their first punt return for a touchdown in four years yesterday and I can’t actually say how long it had been before that. Here’s to a 7-9 Broncos team winning the division. Go Broncos! The Chargers, on the other hand, have looked really bad over the last few weeks and couldn’t handle the Jag’s onslaught on Sunday at all. Rivers looks like he’s scared and Merriman looks like he’s finally off the steroids and playing like it. They are going to stay in with the Broncos for the rest of the season but, like Denver, really have too many problems to be any threat to any team during playoff time. Kansas City did their best to thwart the Colts, and almost succeeded but, in the end, if you can’t score any points, then the Colts will beat you. They had all the chances in the world to go ahead, and they have to blame themselves entirely, but they are really just a bad team. Not as bad as the Raiders, though, which always makes me happy. They looked stupid out there against an Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota offense, one of the worst in the league. That their defense is supposed to be their strength is sad, they were old and slow and got burned by everyone, including Tavarius Jackson, who only incompleted five passes, which is pathetic since their have been games where he’s only completed that many. So much for the Raiders.

Historical Image of the Day

Irish Brigade soldiers at Harrison's Landing, Virginia, U.S. Civil War

Mike Huckabee - Now Ready for a Tag-Team Match

The circus of celebrities supporting Mike Huckabee's candidacy took surreality to a whole new level today. Huckabee already had the support of Chuck Norris and Ted Nugent. Just when you thought this couldn't get stranger, he gets the support of....Ric Flair. (I believe Huckabee's initial reaction was "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"). While I suspect his campaign will go nowhere (despite what his staunchest supporters may say), I would pay decent money ($20 or less) to see a campaign stop that included Norris, the Nuge, and "the Nature Boy" (or just "the Nat" if you're tight with him) on the same stage. The only thing I want to know is, would they come on stage to the tune of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" or "Wango Tango"? I mean, these are the REAL issues Mike Huckabee now has to face.

Nonetheless, given this bastion of masculity, how can anybody stop him?

PTSD: It's Like LSD For Wingnuts

Grim at Blackfire has this lunatic post, which claims to be sympathetic to soldiers with PTSD, but reads like he really wishes he could have such an experience:

"What you need to know, first and last, is that so-called PTSD is not an illness. It is a normal condition for people who have been through what you have been through. The instinct to kill and war is native to humanity. It is very deeply rooted in me, as it is in you. We have rules and customs to restrain it, so that sometimes we may have peace. What you are experiencing is not an illness, but the awareness of what human nature is like deep down. It is the awareness of what life is like without the walls that protect civilization."

I swear that if you replaced a few choice words, you could pass this off as something from Timothy Leary.

He then goes on to compare PTSD with riding horses.

TIDOS Yankee also wishes he could have this mind-bending experience.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Obama: Really Bad on the Environment

A while ago, I wrote about Obama coming out against reforming the 1872 Mining Act. I now find out that Obama earlier this year also co-sponsored a bill to encourage companies to invest in Coal to Liquid plants. Converting coal to liquid fuel, while a potential solution to rising oil prices, is also estimated to spew almost twice as many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as regular oil.

This is just terrible. Does Obama really not care about the environment? Or does he just believe that he can pander to his various constituencies by promoting environmental exploitation? In a time when we desperately need to take measures to reduce carbon emissions, Obama's plan (co-sponsored with Crazy Jim Bunning) would do the exact opposite.

Completely unacceptable.

Obama has moved down on my list below Clinton and into the depths with Kucinich and Biden.

Historical Image of the Day

LAPD female officers posing for gun inspection, 1966
I have to say that I find this photo quite remarkable, although I'm not sure I can really say why.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lyrad's Random 10

Back in the old days, when I put significantly more hazardous substances in my body than I do now, I experienced plenty of hallucinations. Some were good, some were not so good, but almost none of them were visual. I was never one to get confused about what I had seen. I would, instead, hear the some of the most bizarre sounds and voice, much more than I could ever comprehend. As a result, a lot of the nights I spent in this state took place in my room, in the dark, with whatever music I could find, which sent my mind into fantastic places that no sober person could ever reach. When those times were all said and done, the two artists I pulled out more than anyone else were Bill Frisell (specifically, for whatever reason, This Land, an album which no person could rightfully call "trippy") and Orb. I don't listen to a lot of that same music anymore, but nor do I have the same appetites I once did, but I have always found Orb densely innovative and very listenable, especially for its genre.

"Oxbow Lakes" is the third song of Orb's 1995 Orbus Terrarum, which I find to be their best work. It is full of the same thick sampling and slowed down house beats of their other albums, but somehow feels less clean than other efforts. While industrial sounds and noise are heavily utilized, "Oxbow Lakes" is the anomaly. Led almost entirely through by a few bars from a piano solo, the beats slowly wrap around it, always keeping that central acoustic them rather than using the acoustic noises to accentuate the electronic beats. It's good to break up the noise of the rest of the album, though the noise is welcomed back until the best song, the final song of the album, "Slug Dub," finishes off the experience in grand fashion. On the right combination of chemicals, the children's story told in this song can stick with one for years.

1. Orb--Oxbow Lakes
2. Billy Bang--Silent Observation
3. Zamir Choir of Boston--Hallelujah, Amen
4. Jimmie Rodgers--Whippin' that Old T.B.
5. Leon Russell--Am I that Easy to Forget
6. Alicia Keys--The Life
7. Mary Stafford--Arkansas Blues
8. Dmitri Shostakovich--Festive Overture in A for Orchestra, Op.96 (Dallas SO; Andrew Litton, cond.)
9. El Stew--Vintage
10. Dr. Octagon--Bear Witness

Ohio State beats Michigan....AGAIN!!!!

I swear, after all the years of abuse as a Cleveland Sports fan and growing up in the heartland of Ohio for 7 years during the BRUTAL Cooper years (the first Buckeyes coach I remember), this still is surreal.

Watching on Gamecast, the game looked pretty tough to watch (though since I couldn't actually SEE it, it may well have been one of those games where "the defenses imposed their wills on the offense"). Now, Ohio State is undisputed Big 10 champion and headed off to the Rose Bowl (where I SINCERELY hope they will play Oregon, though with Dixon out now, I'm not so sure...). I'm not sure how Ohio State (or THE Ohio State University, as some call it) will do in the Rose Bowl. They've done better than anybody expected, and than the talent on paper suggested they would ever do, though, once again, that's why they play the games. Last week's loss is REALLY disappointing now, but if it means the Bucks don't get killed by LSU, I guess I'll take it.

What is really sweet in all this is, for the first time in my life, a class of Michigan players never beat Ohio State. The Cooper years were ATROCIOUS (to the tune of 2-10-1 in his 13 years). Tressel now is 6-1 against Michigan, and this year's graduating class with Chad Henne (who I swear it feels like has been playing for 17 years at Michigan) at the helm never, NEVER beat the Buckeyes. I never could say that before - now I can. That alone is great. The fact we go into the Big House is even better. And while Michigan does finish 8-4, it's beyond wonderful, sublime, etc. (words fail) that they started their season losing to a I-AA team, then suffering their worst loss at the Big House in some time at the hands of Oregon, and ended it losing in historically bad fashion to the Bucks...again (the 3 Michigan points were the fewest in the series since 1962, and Michigan's total offense was 89 yards on the game - how's that decision to come back for your senior year to beat Ohio State working out for you, Chris Wells?). Again. Now, I can go downstairs and toast to the REAL conquering heroes and victors valiant - THE Ohio State University Buckeyes.

On to January!!! Go Bucks!!!! (and GO DUCKS!)

Historical Image of the Day

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), writer of Democracy in America, probably the best contemporary book for understanding early nineteenth century America.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Historical Image of the Day

Based on a couple requests for more context for these photos, I am at least occasionally going to write an explanatory sentence or two.

George Mason (1725-92). Writer of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, advocate for the Bill of Rights, general important figure of the American Revolution.

Also, at least according to Wikipedia, Mason is Paris Hilton's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. He'd probably regret pushing for such a democratic government if he knew this.

Erik's Random 10

I knew that at some point this would force me to talk about classical music. And the reality is that I have little to say. For all the massive amount of ink spilled on Bach over the centuries, classical music is something I've come to fairly recently. I've always had an interest in modernist composers. I guess it was in college that I started listening to Edgar Varése, Stravinsky, and others. They spoke to me as a modern person. It's only been in the last or two that I've started picking up albums by some of classical music's more ancient icons. It's great music, there's no doubt. This particular cut is quite beautiful, even though I'm not so into choral music. So rather than say something stupid about Bach when a million other people have said things far more interesting, allow me to muse for a sentence or two on classical music more generally.

I really wonder why people listen to people like Bach. Obviously there's an inherent reason for people who are into good music. It is good and of course worth listening to for its own sake. But I do think a lot of people listen to this stuff because they are supposed to. They have not listened to Bach's contemporaries and made actual judgments on why Bach is so much better than they are. Rather, they are into the idea of the canon and knowing Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. Of course they are going to listen to Bach because it is what any "civilized" person would do. Given that I hate the idea of a canon, something Wynton Marsalis is trying to create in jazz, I just oppose this idea on principle. It would be nice for classical music fans not to judge composers based upon received wisdom and instead make these decisions for themselves, maybe sometimes coming to conclusions that are odd or even heretical to the dwlinding classical music establishment in this country.

1. Johann Sebastian Bach, Ein Herz, das seinem Jesum lebend weiß - Chorus, Osterkantaten (St. Thomas Choir, Leipzig)
2. Merle Haggard, Kentucky Gambler
3. Lovage, Stroker Ace
4. Bill Frisell, Steady, Girl
5. Cowboy Copas, Crazy Over You
6. Arise Therefore, Disorder
7. Animal Collective, Cuckoo Cuckoo
8. Gram Parsons, I Can't Dance
9. Lightin' Hopkins, Baby Please Don't Go
10. Mance Lipscomb, Sugar Babe (It's All Over Now)

Argentina's First Beatified Indian and Issues of Identity

This Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church will beatify Caferino Namuncura, an Argentine Mapuche who died of tuberculosis while training to become a priest at the age of 18. Beatification is the first step in what may lead to canonization (beatification occurs after the first miracle attributed to a subject; canonization only happens after the second miracle) . Namancura is notable because he is the first Argentine indigenous person to be beatified (the Church only canonized its first American Indian in 2002, when Juan Diego of Mexico gained the honor).

There are several interesting issues at play in the beatification of Namuncura. First, it is the first under Benedict XVI's policy of beatifying and canonizing in the subjects home country, rather than in Rome. Thus, the ceremony will happen this Sunday in Chimpay in Patagonia). Second, there is the issue of ethnicity and religious colonization. While Cardinal Nercone is cited in the BBC piece as saying that Namuncura "was a role model for many, many young people" whose "ideal was to serve his people." Mapuche Indians in Argentina view the issue differently, rightfully condemning the genocidal campaigns the Argentine military launced against the indigenous people of Patagonia in the late-19th century and saying Namuncura's handover and conversion were part of this process of militaristic imperialism. Many Mapuche are offended by the cooptation of Namuncura by the Catholic Church, both in the past and now in the present sugar-coating and simplification of his story (as each and every beatification has exactly that effect on an individual's biography).

More interesting to me, though, is a quick comment in the Yahoo story that points out that Namuncura "has a wide following among the Argentina's poor." Anybody who has traveled to Argentina knows that the class divide also intersects frequently with racial categories; there are a far more disproportionate number of poor indigenous peoples than the "whites" of Argentina (indeed, the only beggars and homeless people I saw in Buenos Aires were clearly of indigenous ancestry). This isn't to say that there are no poor whites. However, the disparity is obvious and present.

What strikes me about all this is the ways in which different groups are competing over Namuncura's identity. The Church has its own (obvious) reasons to add another saint, particularly one from Argentina (and indigenous to boot!); likewise, the Mapuches understandably want to resist this and maintain Namuncura's identity as part of their broader struggle to address their own issues of identity and the genocide [and while that word is often misused, that's exactly what happened in the Argentine case - the military set out to completely kill off the indigenous peoples of Argentina] they suffered in the 19th century and beyond at the hands of the Argentine military (often with religious complicity). The less obvious element in all this is the poor, who are also often indigenous. Framed in terms of identity, they can relate to him both in terms of economy and ethnicity. Of course, it is the masses whose opinions are left out of the reports on Namuncura's beatification - instead, it is the traditional (but not necessarily in the bad sense) framing of the beatification as "Church hagiography vs. Indigenous resistance to cooptation". Yet the thousands of indigenous Catholics who have multiple reasons to relate to Namuncura are left out of the equation, even while it's their devotion that makes the beatification possible. It just reminds us once more how complex race relations and issues of identity in Argentina (where many people still deny the existence of "real Indians") can be.

Mister Trend's Random 10

Panda Bear is one of the key members of Animal Collective. This year, he released his second solo album, Person Pitch, which has "Bros". As good as Animal Collective's new album (Strawberry Jam) is, I like Person Pitch even more. Panda Bear (AKA Noah Lennox) doesn't lose any of the eclecticism, playfulness, and sonic explorations of Animal Collective when he's on his own, but he does indulge a bit more with his Brian Wilson tendencies. However, while most artists who engage with the Brian-Wilson soundalikes are disgustingly sweet and follow a "paint-by-numbers" mimicry of Pet Sounds, Lennox avoids the trap. "Bros" is a perfect example of this, employing the Wilson school of harmonics and multi-instrumentation, but also keeping the vibrant, trance-inducing repetition and beats of Animal Collective over the song's 12 minutes. The song evolves, going from dreamy sounds to a driving, pulsing, almost-psychedelic driving rhythm over the last 6 minutes that are absolutely transcendant. It's probably one of the best songs on the album, but the whole album is really good. Anybody who likes Animal Collective or who enjoys well-crafted, well-thought "pop" music that stretches well beyond the traditional limits of the pop song structure should check out Person Pitch.

1. "Bad Feelin' Blues" - Blind Blake
2. "Delta Blues" - Son House
3. "Na Cadência do Samba" - Cássia Eller
4. "Broke and Hungry" - Blind Lemon Jefferson
5. "Water" - PJ Harvey
6. "Bad Luck Blues" - Big Bill Broonzy
7. "Bros" - Panda Bear
8. "When Will You Come Home" - Galaxie 500
9. "The E Street Shuffle" - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
10. "Her Majesty" - The Beatles

Bill Richardson: Stopping the Presses in Brazil

I was rather surprised last Saturday, for while checking my Brazilian news, I happened to see a photo of Bill Richardson. Yes, O Globo ran a story about Bill Richardson's candidacy for president. The article itself doesn't provide anything particularly groundbreaking in and of itself. It traces his political trajectory from a member of the House of Representatives to his presence in the Clinton cabinet as Secretary of the Interior to his role as New Mexico's government (although, come to think of it, O Globo actually like, you know, mentioned some of Richardson's credentials. I can't remember seeing a focus on things like experience in the media, so maybe it IS groundbreaking....but I digress). They also focus on his ethnicity (the opening line reads, "He has the face of a Latino and the name of a noble American: William Blaine Richardson III"), and then reprint in Portuguese an interview Richardson did with New Hampshire's Nashua Telegraph (the original Telegraph article in English can be found here).

Among other things, O Globo ran his answers to issues like immigration, education, Iraq, foreign policy, SCHIP, stem-cell research, global warming, and how the United States is ideologically divided (in that order).

There are a couple of interesting things in this.'s Bill Richardson. I mean, I'm not knocking him, but they have done NOTHING like this for the other candidates, and Richardson certainly isn't the only minority running here (see: Clinton, Obama). Obviously, Globo is drawn to his label as a Latino, something the readership can maybe identify with (while I've never heard Brazilians refer to themselves as "Latinos" or even "Latin Americans", they can empathize more with him on a certain level than they can with a Clinton, Edwards, Giuliani, or Romney). Secondly, (and again), they actually offer in-depth discussion and detail on Richardson's actual policy and beliefs!!!!! Let's be honest - in the country that gives us Swift-boat Veterans, Fox News, and Maureen Dowd, when was the last time we saw major journalistic sources going in depth on our own candidates? Certainly, some could say (fairly) that O Globo has given Richardson a fairer shake here than Globo ever gave to many political candidates in Brazil (Lula, Leonel Brizola). Nonetheless, it was remarkable, not only to see this in-depth analysis of a candidate in foreign media while it lacks in the U.S. media, but to see it going to Richardson of all people. Too bad for him Brazil doesn't vote in the American primaries....

Thursday, November 15, 2007

NFL 2007 Week 10: NFC Edition

NFC EAST: Unfortunately, the Cowboys clearly established their dominance in the divison with their big win over the Giants. While the beginning of the game was close, Dallas put it out of reach, in play at least, by the beginning of the second half. Tank Johnson looked fantastic in his first effort back and they must have even greater confidence in their front seven now with that kind of depth. The Giants, on the other hand, showed their true colors. They still may look like a playoff team, but it became clear that their defense can't handle an elite level offense, and their offense can't produce against an elite level defense. That may allow them to get into the playoffs, but they won't be able to handle anybody when they get in there. Philadelphia's pursuit to prove that their mediocre instead of terrible continues in their win over the Redskins. The Eagles continue their inconsistent play and, this week, did well. NcNabb was accurate and effective, Westbrook ran consistently and caught well (as he normally does), but their defense is leaving so much to be desired. Washington is bad, and any legitimate defense should hold them under 25 points, which shows the level Philly is playing at. Washington is definitely the most overrated team at the mid-level. If Jason Campbell doesn't completely blow the game, people say he had a good game, and if he does blow the game, everyone seems to blame other factors.

NFC NORTH: I still can't believe how well the Packers are playing, despite all their deficiencies. Even as a Packer hater, I can't deny the power of a 34 point shutout. Even against the Vikings offense, an offense without Adrian Peterson, that's impressive. The next mid-year Super Bowl is coming in three weeks against the Cowboys. It's a highly publicized game thus far, but I don't see much of a chance for them. Their defense is good, and their offense is doing well, but Dallas' tools are too powerful. The Lions of last week are the Lions I know. They are able to put points on the board, but their defense fell apart. We all know Jesus isn't a fan of defensive football, but I can't believe he'd allow the Cardinals to put that many points up. The Rex Grossman era has begun again in Chicago and, as they're accustomed to doing, the fans have put the cart before the horse. Listen Bears fans, just because a quarterback throws a touchdown pass, it doesn't mean that a Super Bowl is nigh. It is funny to see Grossman celebrating after that pass. It juxtaposes well with the tears after he's benched again after this week. Will Minnesota score another point until Peterson comes back? Maybe from their defense, but without him, they have an offense that is legendarily bad.

NFC SOUTH: The South is looking to be the most enjoyable race going down the stretch. Three teams have the opportunity to win, and nobody has risen above the rest. The Buccaneers have fallen away, but had their bye so will come back fresh for what should be an easy game against Atlanta. Carolina has lost three in a row, which isn't a good sign for them going toward the end. Injuries have been a huge problem, and it looks like Steve Smith won't be playing again this week against Green Bay, which is a huge blow in a game that would already have been a very tough game. New Orleans' comeback streak was cut short in giving the Rams their first win, but it shouldn't hinder them too much. The game this week against the Texans will be tough, and a second loss in a row now might signal an end that was thwarted earlier, but I think they'll win big. The Falcons won't be winning much at this point, though. The great Leftwich is back and it should work out just as well as it had before. They have Tampa, who have the ability to lose an easy game like this, but Atlanta is just too pathetic for anyone to have to take them seriously.

NFC WEST: The western divisions still flop and flounder, but it's looking like the NFC's entry is the worse of the two. The Seahawks at the top are probably the worst number one team in the league right now. With injuries and some terrible play from Shaun Alexander, their playoff chances beyond the first round is basically nil, even if the NFC is essentially worthless. The Cardinals will occasionally show signs of strength, as they did in their win over the Lions. It is the Lions, of course, so that is always possible, but they have the tools to be doing so much better. Even through this inconsistency, they are the only team in the division capable of a wild card slot. The rest of the division is so bad, they're hardly worth mentioning. When the Seahawks in this shape are able to put 24 unanswered points on a team, you know they must be bad. This is the 49ers, who I would right now say is worse than St. Louis. Congratulations to the Rams, as that goes, on getting their first win. Now, only the Dolphins are in this ignominious position and the Rams can get on with their season. That may only translate to two or three more wins for the remainder of the season, but that's going to be enough for third in the division. Sorry San Francisco, you plain suck.

The Onion Strikes Again

Truer words have seldom been spoken....

Film Review--Control (2007)

I have long been dismissive of musician bio-pics. They rarely tell a compelling story about the musician. Too often, these pictures are poor art, in no small part because they are constrained by what actually happened to said person and also because the musician's fan base expects the movie to tell a particular, simple, and glorifying story. The most recent entry into this category of lame movies is Walk the Line, which was at its heart is really quite bad. It did neither fact nor fiction well. It rearranged key parts of Johnny Cash's life to fit its pedestrian narrative and in doing so, made Cash's first wife look like a horrid shrew. Meanwhile, it created certain fictions to reinforce people's narrative about Cash. It didn't get across that it was Cash who was impossible to live with, not his first wife. She should probably be canonized for putting up with the son of a bitch, as should June Carter. Second, it insinuated at the end that June cured Johnny of his drug problem and it was happiness every after for this great romance. In fact, Cash spent much of the 70s and 80s high as a kite, treating everyone his life like total shit, and nearly killing his marriage. But hey, that didn't fit the neat little story arc James Mangold created, so forget about it.

Perhaps the biggest problem with traditional bio-pics, including Walk the Line, Ray, Ali, and Man on the Moon is that these movies don't trust their audience. Rather than tell an interesting story about Cash, Charles, Ali, or Andy Kaufman, they create boring movies that lead the audience by the hand, making some people look better than they were and others far worse. Said figure goes through a "Behind the Music" like narrative, eventually rising from the ashes at the end, except I guess for Kaufman, but that's because he died in real life. Even there, he looks like some kind of saint when he dies. These films set out to be boring mainstream dreck that you can immediately forget about after you leave the theatre, except to remind you to buy that Cash or Charles album. Sometimes these films manage to steep to an even more execrable level, such as The Doors, about which the less said, the better.

Meanwhile, there is the occasional biographical film that aspires to be something more than a piece of shit. The Buddy Holly Story is an excellent example. Lenny, starring Dustin Hoffman and about Lenny Bruce, is another. A third is the new movie Control, about Ian Curtis, the singer of Joy Division.

Joy Division was a pioneering band in the late 70s English post-punk scene. Just as the band was about to embark on its first U.S. tour, Curtis killed himself. He became the kind of rock legend people love--the tragic figure. But was he tragic? Or was he just a fucked-up, depressive kid beset with health problems and a bad marriage? I fall decisively for the latter, but that's OK. Control works so well because it trusts its audience to make these kind of decisions about Curtis and the people around him on their own.

The film follows a fairly standard timeline naturally enough, starting with Curtis in high school. He falls in love with the woman he marries at the age of 19, Debbie, played by Samantha Morton. He joins this band with some friends of his and they start having success. Curtis has some ambition for the big-time, but he seems to lack the giant ego of some rock stars. As the band grows in popularity, he becomes increasingly estranged from his wife and he falls in love with a worker at the Belgian embassy in London/occasional rock journalist, played by Alexandra Maria Lara. He starts have epileptic seizures, his marriage falls apart, he has trouble dealing with his increasing popularity, and so he hangs himself.

But by telling Curtis' story in such a standard way, Anton Corbijn, the film's director, accomplishes a level of filmmaking that few directors of bio-pics reach. He both lets the man's life speak for itself without creating some bullshit narrative and he treats his film as a piece of art rather than a made for TV entertainment, thus creating a more entertaining film than the pablum listed above. Curtis comes across as more real than Cash or Charles--he's just this guy who has a lot of trouble relating to the world, is really distant from people (including both of the women who love him), and is struck with an embarrassing and debilitating illness. Moreover, when he kills himself, I wasn't sitting there thinking about how tragic this was, because Corbijn didn't play with my emotions. Instead, I was thinking that Curtis' issues are problems people deal with every day and why can't he? But then again, most suicides are like this. It makes sense from a human perspective.

Also, the film treats neither of the women in his life poorly. Deborah wrote a memoir about living with Curtis where she slams on his lover, as one might expect from an estranged wife. But Corbijn took this with a grain of salt. None of the three major characters comes out as perfect, but none are vilified either. Rather, they are all people that don't seem that different from you or I, except for Curtis' talent.

Of course, not falling into the traps of the usual bio-pic is not enough to create a good film. The actors do a hell of a job, especially Samantha Morton as Debbie and San Riley as Ian. Both fully inhabit their characters. Morton's combination of vulnerability with a deep inner toughness is riveting. After all, Debbie's the one who had to break the marriage off in the end, since Ian had no ability to end either of his relationships. Morton demonstrates both sides of Debbie's character. Meanwhile, Riley plays Ian as a decent, but messed up guy, who can't really deal with the world. He's only comfortable when on stage, and eventually he's not comfortable there either.

What really surprised me was the ability of Anton Corbijn to make such a compelling debut film. Corbijn is a video director. Mr. Trend and I have had a years-long debate over whether music videos are art, a debate where I come down decisively in the negative. He filmed in black and white, which does not come across as pretentious, but rather as a good representation of the shittiness of Manchester in the 1970s. He handled a difficult subject well and got great performances out of his actors. I think both Riley and Morton should be considered for Academy Award nominations, though I'm sure neither will be because the film is not mainstream enough.

This is not a film that is getting a wide release, but its quality combined with the popularity of Joy Division, means that it should come to your local art theatre at least. Check it out. It's probably the 2nd best film I've seen this year.

Teaching Populism

One of the most fascinating things to me about teaching this semester is that I have not mentioned the Populists in my US, 1877-1920 course except in passing. I also do not discuss the Populists in my modern US survey course.

I was surprised when they didn't get mentioned in my survey course, but I am downright shocked at their omission this semester. But when I think about, the Populists seem to me to be such an outlier to American history, that I'm not sure what kind of larger narratives they fit into.

Part of this is that I teach the Gilded Age and Progressive Era course thematically rather than by chronology. I simply think the era makes almost sense chronologically because so much is happening at the same time. So I talked a lot about race, with weeks on Native Americans, segregation, imperialism, and immigration. Then I moved on to discussions of gender and sexuality for a couple of weeks (and God do they love talking about the history of sex. So do I which makes it fun!). Now I've moved on to politics. The semester is ending so next week I am discussing political Progressivism and the week after World War I. This was the week I thought I would squeeze the Populists in--I'm discussing labor. But again, they are such outliers to the larger questions of labor during the GAPE. So they are just getting dropped. I am also not discussing William Jennings Bryan or the election of 1896 at all. Were I teaching this course chronologically, or from a primarily political perspective, all of this would get serious play.

But what do you think matters more for students, birth control or Populists? Hell, what matters more for our understanding of the past? I would fall decidedly on the side of birth control. Next semester, I am teaching a labor course. There I am already planning on taking a week to talk about rural labor during the GAPE and that of course will be dominated by the Populists. But I wonder if I am the only U.S. historian who sees the Populists fading from their teaching narratives, as interesting as they might be.