October 31, 2003

I assume they'll end up re-editing this

A German politician uses an ugly, repellent analogy to argue against collective German Holocaust guilt, saying that blaming the "German race" for Auschwitz is like blaming the Jews for the Russian revolution. "One could describe Jews with some justification as Taetervolk [a race of perpetrators]." As Instantman points out, playing "the moral-equivalence game" is a guaranteed loser for Germans when they're talking about Jews. It is particularly shocking when, as here, the analogy involves charges and rhetoric that are identical to Nazi-era antisemitic propaganda. How could this guy have possibly believed that including such an analogy and such rhetoric in an official public speech would be a good idea? I don't know enough about German politics to judge, but it does appear to reveal, at minimum, something ugly and disturbing about contemporary German political culture.

The BBC's assessment of the story is downright bizarre, and perhaps similarly revealing of something disturbing about British journalistic culture:

Our correspondent says any criticism of Jewish people is still a taboo in Germany, which makes this extremely embarrassing for Mr Hohmann's party.

Perhaps I have an over-active imagination, but I can't help visualizing the BBC's anonymous correspondent as in a film, a close-up frame on a mouth whispering into a telephone receiver, hissing, sputtering with indignation and regret over the fact that "any criticism" of Jews is "still taboo" even after all these years. OK, there's no "perhaps" about it. I do have an o.-a. i. Still, how could the BBC web folks have felt it to be a good idea to describe this talk of Taetervolk as just "any criticism"?

(A statement from a leading Social Democrat that "there is no place for anti-Semites in the German parliament" is described as "a harder line.")

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 29, 2003

"How you do that is beyond someone like me..."

"The real threat to Iraqis is coming now from Western defeatists," writes Johann Hari, challenging the reliably defeatist writers of letters to the Independent to "dare" to claim that Iraq's Marsh Arabs would be better off now if Saddam Hussein had remained in power:

No, this is not the primary reason why we went to war, but the liberation of the Marsh Arabs was an entirely predictable result of military action - and many of you marched to stop it.

As to those who marched to stop it, a fraction of whom continue to march to interrupt or "repeal" it, Michelle Goldberg has a fascinating report from the Bring the Troops Home demo in D.C. last weekend. Maybe she could have tried harder to find at least one demonstrator who whole-heartedly endorsed the notion-- the explicit theme of the demonstration and the position of its hardline Stalinist organizers-- that the interests of humanity would be best served if the US were to cut and run and abandon the Iraqis to their fate. Well, there was one nihilistic/antisemitic loon, who asked "so, what are we going to do about the Zionists?... I think that Malaysian guy hit the nail on the head." But other than him, she managed only to bump into good-natured, well-meaning (if vacuous), urbane counter-culture types who explicitly disagreed with the demonstration's premise, yet nonetheless felt it appropriate to participate; as well as a few who seemed at such a loss that their views on the matter of the occupation of Iraq are, to the degree that they may be discerned, thoroughly negligible.

One guy hadn't bothered to read the sign he had been handed (U.S. Troops Out of Iraq. Bring Them Home Now!), which, if his banal homily on the the need to fix windows you have broken is any indication, directly contradicted his actual opinion. Others seemed even more confused:

Protestor Laura Beauvais, a professor of business at the University of Rhode Island, was against appropriating $87 billion to Iraq. When asked what Americans owe the Iraqi people, she said, "We owe them help getting basic things like schools and healthcare." But how to provide that, without spending American money? "How you do that is beyond someone like me. It doesn't have to be through more troops, and giving money to corporations," she said.

I think Goldberg's Orwell-invoking conclusion is dead on: "one of the key dynamics shaping both Democratic and leftist demands on Iraq [is] the sense that since progressives have so little power, it doesn't much matter what they call for." One demonstrator believes that demonstrating to "bring the troops home," though wrong ("irresponsible," in his words), is nevertheless a good, constructive way to "get the dialogue started." It's hard to see how, unless your objective is to lose the argument. It seems to me that an effective neo-progressivism would stand more of a chance of persuading people if it were based on something other than a generally-acknowledged, tactical falsehood. Assuming that persuasion is the goal.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 27, 2003

Getting out the barge pole...

My first and continuing inclination regarding the Gregg Easterbrook antisemitism flap was and has been not to touch it with a barge pole. I will say, though, that Steven Weiss of Jewsweek has the best treatment of the subject I've seen so far and, I believe, gets it just about right.

Two points I think he addresses particularly well. First, the blogosphere rewards hyperbole. Strongly worded, over the top denunciations get far more attention (links, trackbacks, little digital pats on the head from celebribloggers, commenters saying "you go girl" or the like) than temperate criticism. If you're a blogger in search of more traffic, you know what you have to do. Even when you're not really angling for attention, this dynamic is always in play in the blogospheric ecology: your over-the-top, hyperbolic posts will get linked a lot, while your measured, reasoned, temperate ones probably won't.

It's one of the things that makes reading blogs interesting, of course. But occasionally, it can involve negligent or willful misinterpretation of the intent of someone's words, particularly if they refer to (or can be construed as bearing on) one of the hotbutton blogospheric topics, like antisemitism, anti-Americanism, etc. At its worst, the tendency can lead to posts which fabricate an outrageous scenario, as in the infamous case of the Dissident Frogman's "missing" flags. More often, it's simply a matter of well-intentioned spin, featuring genuine outrage, to be sure, but at times seeming to be more concerned with the rhetorical effect within the microcosm of the post than the matter being commented on. The unfortunate result can be that clumsiness of expression, especially when treating of difficult or touchy matters, is deliberately miscast as malevolence, without a serious attempt to understand or engage with what the author might have been getting at. Sentiment, outrage, passion masquerade as analysis. Such word association-driven rants can be extremely entertaining, and may even touch on general truths, even when they don't necessarily correspond to reality all that closely. That's pretty much what happened with the weird response to Easterbrook's weird essay, by my lights.

As Weiss points out, the fact that antisemitism is so bloggable reflects the fact that there's so much of it out there, and the fact that there is a perception-- justified, in my view-- that it doesn't get enough attention in the mainstream media. Noting and criticizing it when it turns up in the media is a worthwhile endeavor, one for which the blogosphere is well-suited, and I've done a fair bit of it myself; and indeed I've been accused of being overzealous and finding antisemitism where it may not really exist on occasion. I tend to defend overzealousness as preferable to its alternative, generally, though that's not a foolproof method for correctly assigning or removing the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, even in debatable cases on which reasonable people may disagree, even "mere words" can be genuinely disturbing on their own, as the speaker or writer ought to have known the implications of that choice of words, and their not knowing (or not caring) seems to hint at something darker, more sinister than the literal content. The reasonable case against Easterbrook falls into that category. (The extrapolated claims about his blaming the Jews for their own persecution and the like seem pretty fanciful, on the other hand.)

At any rate, I can see why, as fodder for the "genre" of outraged-by-antisemitism-in-the-media posts, Easterbrook's original essay, poorly written, ill-conceived, including bizarre elements from the phrasebook of "classic" antisemitism (to paraphrase the New Republic's apt characterization), was just too difficult to resist. Easterbrook certainly should have known better than to use such terms. Whatever his intent, it sounded terrible, and it's pretty weird that he didn't realize it. As Krauthammer says, the same words from someone like Pat Buchanan, who has a proven antisemitic track record, might have a different, more disturbing set of implications. But it's not that hard to see what Easterbrook was getting at, and I don't believe it was truly antisemitic, though I'd say it was a bit stupid. The bad words were there, and were rightly condemned and apologized for, but it was, it seems to me, a real stretch to find actual Judenhass therein.

The prominent bloggers who hit the roof most spectacularly over the paragraph (all of whom I respect and admire) were certainly sincere about their outrage in the general sense (that is, about the general phenomenon of antisemitism and the regularity with which it turns up uncontested in public discourse, an outrage I and every decent person share); but they seemed to be faking it a bit with regard to Easterbrook in particular. Their commenters joined in to the spirit of the thing, taking the whole denunciation trip to an even more extreme level, comparing Easterbrook to Julius Streicher and the like. So you wind up with the bizarre notion of a "real antisemitism" (the prime minister of Malaysia, Buchanan) as opposed to what might be called "antisemitism for the purposes of this particular fisking," which is bad, but is not quite as bad as real thing. ("Creating a false category that doesn't require as much condemnation," in Weiss's phrase.) Hence the eventual strange blogospheric consensus, a moral of the story which went something like: put this guy on trial at Nuremburg for crimes against humanity but for God's sake don't fire him from ESPN.

(What was Easterbrook getting at? It only makes a kind of sense if you accept the underlying premise-- I don't-- that movie violence "begets" actual violence. He was saying, in view of this dubious assumption, that Hollywood should be more responsible, mellow out the violence even if it means losing some profits, and thus make the world a better place; and he tries to give his point depth by a banal invocation of the need to "learn the lessons of history," and still further by appealing to the ethical demands of Judaism-- and Christianity as well, it should be noted, though that alone isn't a relevant defense. He was wrong to make an issue of Eisner's Jewishness in that regard, and wrong to cast the argument the way he did. In fact, I disagree with every bit of the essay from premise to conclusion and with every single one of its implications that I can discern. However, it's pretty clear that it really wasn't intended as an attack on Jews, bad as it sounded.)

Weiss's other, more intriguing observation has to do with the role of religious-ethical discourse in the public arena. I think he's really on to something there. "Secular people," by design or inadvertently, have a great deal of difficulty engaging in discussion with those whose arguments derive from or invoke religious teachings or spiritual insight, or which take religion seriously as something that can legitimately inform discourse on temporal matters. Weiss:

Nearly everyone who has been analyzing his argument has found that he's primarily criticizing Weinstein and Eisner on Jewish grounds. In truth, his criticism rises from a generic moral outrage that is initially expressed as such and is only subsequently refined with an appeal to something specific about them. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Slate folks, and bloggers all have trouble with this because morality is so foreign to their territory, and particular trouble when religion is added to the mix. Journalists have their "ethics," and lawyers have their law (the leading bloggers are almost entirely journalists or lawyers, often both), but it is rare to see the kind of morality that concerns Easterbrook discussed by either.

Weiss believes that, as a journalist who takes religion seriously, "Easterbrook's presence is immensely helpful to Jews." I don't feel I have the standing to comment on that one way or another. But it is not necessary to agree with this, or to share Easterbrook's outrage, or to sign on to his line of argument about what makes movies "bad", to recognize the truth in this observation. Easterbrook's moral argument, in this case, is unconvincing (to me) but failure to engage with it solely on the basis of an effective technicality (i.e., superficial rhetorical resemblance to certain other expressions of what we now must refer to as "real" antisemitism) reflects a degree of intellectual corruption. Or so it seems to me.

Oops, I've touched it with some kind of pole. Bracing myself...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:45 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

October 25, 2003

I would have to say that the most important issue in the area of international affairs to me in the world today would be world peace...

I've never heard of the Miss Earth Pageant till now, but I'd say I'm as impressed as anyone with Miss Afghanistan, even if she has lived in California for the last seven years and attends Cal State Fullerton. America 100, Taliban 0, indeed.

Not to lose sight of what're really important by focusing on trivia, you understand, but a small part of me is wondering if there's a reason why Miss Afghanistan's sash says "Miss Earth 200" rather than "Miss Earth 2003" like those of all the other girls. I don't have a theory-- just seems a little weird.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

More Title-ological Free Association Football

It's a long-standing tradition for songwriters to snatch titles from novels-- "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" are the most famous examples I can think of now. You don't necessarily have to read the book, nor even really know what it's about: in fact, it helps if you don't. I've done it many times, that's for sure.

A great title (of a song, book, movie, anything I suppose) is one that implies a story or a set-up that sounds interesting enough that it makes you want to find out how everything turns out. Or, with regard to songs, it could simply be one that makes you wonder "how the hell did that guy manage to get a song out of that?" Most of the "how to songwrite" books that are out there eventually get around to suggesting that blocked writers take a trip to the library and browse for free titles. It often works, and I imagine it happens quite a lot.

I'm guessing the reverse situation (i.e., a novel or other sort of book written from the title of a song) is a bit less common. But I'm not sure. Sometimes, of course, it's just coincidence. Some small, mischievous part of me would like to think that there's a deliberate Ann Coulter-Naked Raygun connection, but I don't so. Not really.

In that regard, it can be another angle on the "Another Yesterday Club" phenomenon I've written about before. Songwriters who share titles are connected in what you might call a suggestively superficial way. I just checked Amazon to see if there were any books with the title Another Yesterday. I didn't find any, but now that Amazon searches content, I did turn up a few that contain the phrase. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron. And Shibumi ("he survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world's most artful lover and its most accomplished assassin..." There's definitely at least one additional song in there somewhere.) I don't think the Extended Another Yesterday Club should properly include this, even though the reference to "local musician Ted Nicely, another Yesterday and Today alumnus" is too great not to quote. I mean, obviously.

I once wrote a pop song called "The Dustbin of History." Greil Marcus wrote a book with that title. They are otherwise totally unconnected with each other-- they don't refer to each other in any way, but rather to something else. (I wouldn't rule out the possibility that there might have been a similar bathetic intent behind the choice of title, but I'll admit it right here: his is better than mine.) I very much doubt Mr. Marcus has ever heard my song; I've read the book, but that's neither here nor there. The fact is, though, that we are in a little Dustbin of History Club now, comprising anyone who ever thought that "The Dustbin of History" would be a cool title for something or other. So every time anything to do with Greil Marcus pops up, however briefly, in my mind's front window, there's a little grayed out tab somewhere in the background that says "Dustbin of History Club Member since 1995." A distant echo of the tune swells up, fades out, and disappears when my scattered mind turns to some other piece of trivia, as it is wont to do.

Anyway, Michele has decided to use the title of my song "Everybody Knows You're Crying" for her NaNoWriMo novel. I remember when that title materialized, with a little mental picture of a character and an entire life story and self-perceived relationship to the world suddenly snapping into focus almost as soon as I said it aloud. I showed a tiny edge of it by condensing a small scene into three verses and a bridge, in the form of a sad young woman addressing a sung soliloquy to herself in the mirror. (Or it could be a character study by a third person who "gets" the character's self-view better than anyone else-- good character studies usually have a fluid point of view, because even when they are attacks, they have to begin with a kind of empathy.) There's much, much more that didn't make it into the song. I imagine that character will return to narrate or appear in other songs. I'm interested to see what Michele does with her or some other character related to her only by title.

As far as I know, the Everybody Knows You're Crying Club is currently only me and Michele and this guy. We are an elite group, but the membership requirements are pretty lax, so join if you want.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 24, 2003

From Pollack or Whoever

I have certain questions for the candidates that only TV campaign ads can answer. Such questions as:

Have you ever had a picnic with minority schoolchildren?

Do you like to quickly walk down hallways while surrounded by people holding clipboards and laws?

Can you go to a factory, put on a hard hat, shake hands with other people in hard hats, and look at a blueprint while pointing off into the distance as if you know how to extrapolate things from a blueprint?

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:20 PM | TrackBack

Stick to your guns, if you dare

Ben tells a typical tale of song licensing sleight of hand, with a rather atypical happy ending.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:42 PM | TrackBack

Trots on Telly

Quote of the day:

try not to come across as a hate filled dogmatist no matter how much that might reflect your real personality!

(via Harry's Place, from a Socialist Alliance tip sheet on how to "use the press better.")

Posted by Dr. Frank at 02:43 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Our Old Pal Neil

Eccentric British journalist and tireless defender of totalitarianism Neil Clark returns with another weird column in the Guardian, on the "neo-con induced Arabophobia" which he affects to believe is driving Anglo-American Middle East policy.

It is of a piece with his previous work, which we've noted before. Just as Slobodan Milosevic was an innocent "prisoner of conscience" whose "worst crime was to carry on being a socialist," so are Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden merely "the latest in a long line of Arab bogeymen," unjustly demonized by the rapacious Western powers for their own nefarious purposes. And just as, for Clark, genocide in the Balkans had a silver lining in Belgrade's fabulous "self-service restaurants and state-owned department stores," so too with Iraq:

independent Ba'athist Iraq, although a dictatorship, had the most developed infrastructure, the best healthcare and the best universities of any country in the Middle East.

Well, that's all right then. Nice infrastructure; shame about the mass murder. Like any good totalitarian apologist, Clark knows you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs; and believes that a Stalin-esque dictatorship ought not to be judged upon its mass graves alone. True to form, in another echo of the previous Milosevic piece, Clark worries that, post-Saddam, shopping in Iraq will never be the same again. And, most amusingly, perhaps, he regards Jeremy Paxman's impoliteness (towards a Syrian diplomat) as a kind of cultural barometer with universal significance.

Now I wouldn't rule out the possibility that something like "Arabophobia" (vaguely defined though it may be in Clark's article) exists or may play a role in the Western approach to Middle Eastern diplomacy and post-war reconstruction. Clark's quotations of various British servicemen do reflect a disagreeable ethnic caricature, to be sure. (A bit of a stretch, though, to attribute these sentiments to Tony Blair, however.) Yet the grounds for his assertion that such anti-Arab prejudice is the chief motivation behind the Iraq-American conflict as well as the spirit that animates the reconstruction plan are rather shaky.

According to Clark, we are being told that post-Saddam Iraq is rife with violence, chaos, anarchy and criminality because "... er ... terrorism, anarchy and criminality are what Iraqis do." He doesn't say by whom we are being told this; but if, as he seems to imply, this theory on the inherent, irredeemable criminality lurking in the Arab soul is being propounded by the US or British governments, I can honestly say I have missed it, even though I'm a semi-regular Fox News viewer. I thought the government's line was that the "resistance" was supposed to be Baathist remnants augmented by an influx of al Qaeda irregulars and a tiny fringe of domestic religious fanatics; or, more recently, that the violence and chaos wasn't as bad as it was cracked up to be. If anything, it's the opponents of the Anglo-American policy who tend to claim that violent opposition to the occupation is a more generalized phenomenon reflecting the attitudes of the population as a whole. Right? I confess I don't really have any idea who is right on that, or the degree to which any of it may be true or slanted, but I daresay I'd know if I were being fed a line about bred-in-the-bone Iraqi moral inferiority. Clark's article provides no evidence for the existence of such an unlikely (and, I'd say, quite stupid) propaganda campaign. It looks as though he just made it up.

Does the administration have an explicit policy of "'de-Arabising'" the Middle East? Clark says so, as though it were common knowledge, but neglects to cite a source, or to explain what on earth it may mean. My best guess: Clark regards his own unreconstructed Cold War anti-Americanism as the essential, non-negotiable, defining characteristic of the true, proper Arab consciousness as well, and thus the rather unsurprising American intent to wind up with a secular pro-American government in Iraq amounts to a desire to purge Iraq of "real" Arabs. That's no less culturally chauvinistic and paternalistic than the sentiments he attributes to the "neo-cons" in Washington, but it hardly matters as the entire "de-Arabisation" topic seems to have no other source than his own imagination. The same might be said for his eccentric view that the neoconservative approach to Middle Eastern politics is typically characterized by an over-riding pessimism regarding the ability of Arabs to govern themselves responsibly according to liberal democratic principles. For better or worse, the usual criticism leveled against Wolfowitz et al. in that specific regard is nearly precisely the opposite, as far as I've observed.

But Clark is no usual critic. It's one thing to suspect the motives or sincerity of those who have championed the idea of liberal democracy in Iraq, or to question the practicality, desirability, even the morality of attempting to "impose" something like it upon an occupied non-Western country; to maintain that such a program is a sham, or a bad idea, or that its architects are knaves or madmen. It is quite another actually to prefer, and to insist that potential and erstwhile victims ought to prefer, a variety of Stalinism to liberal democracy in theory and in practice. As near as I can figure, that is Neil Clark's view. And whatever else you might say about that, it is spectacularly weird. If indeed he is serious. Who knows?

The kindest view of Clark's work is that his apparent admiration of this or that totalitarian mass murderer, and the accompanying indifference to the suffering of their victims, is merely a rhetorical pretense constructed to provide a context within which to express the anti-Americanism about which he is genuinely sincere. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. Harry comments here, and Jackie has a detailed fisking, if you like that sort of thing.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 23, 2003

Quotable

A good one from Howard Kurtz:

From the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he 'didn't want to see any stories' quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used."

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:13 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

October 22, 2003

Get Ready to be Kissed, my dear

Good news for "song poem" people: a Song Poem Christmas album from Bar None. There are a couple of sample mp3s on the promo page, as usual. "The New Year Song" is pretty great, if you enjoy the sound of mind-numbing banality orchestrated beyond all human decency. And I certainly do. I guess I'm just going to have to wait till the album arrives to hear "Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile" by Heather Noel, but I'm not sure I can wait that long...

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:33 PM | TrackBack

Boycotting the boycott

As H.D. Miller points out, maybe somebody ought to explain to all those who are buying Michael Moore's latest book at Wal-Mart that they're screwing up the BfC Wal-Mart boycott promotion.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:39 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Decomposing

Back when I started posting and pre-releasing demo versions of songs in progress, Dave Bug of Geek Life had an interesting suggestion: post lyrics without music, discuss, then post the actual song and examine how it compares with the "head version" constructed by readers. So I posted the lyrics to my most recent song to date at the time,"She Runs out when the Money Does," intending to cyberbusk the actual song at some point. But with one thing and another, I never quite got around to it. I'm still intending to do it, even though, as it turns out, the song didn't end up being recorded for the album as planned. (I'm sure it will be on the next thing I put out, whether that's a band or solo thing.)

Anyway, in the meantime, various people have mentioned that they've come up with music to these disembodied lyrics. I think that's a pretty cool idea-- the lyrics alone suggest how they might be sung and how the accompaniment might be played, but you never know how the inherent "musicality" of ordered, rhyming, scanning, conceptually coherent lyrical content will take shape in the hands of people with different reference points.

Kudos to the British band 100% Cotton for being the first to participate publicly in this weird experiment: you can download their version here. It doesn't sound anything like mine, by the way, though certain cadences are similar even if they don't sound that way because of the different harmonic context. Anyway, check it out.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:09 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

It doesn't get much better than this

I have this song on several different albums (and I've even been known to "cover" it from time to time) but I'd never seen the video till now. Wild.

(Thanks for the tip, Dale.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:16 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Hooks R Us

OK, my friends, here we go.

The album is called Yesterday Rules.

Here's the track list:

01 She's not a Flower
02 Fucked Up on Life
03 Oh, just have some faith in me
04 Big, Strange, Beautiful Hammer
05 Sorry for Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night
06 The Boyfriend Box
07 London
08 Elizabeth or Fight!
09 Everybody Knows You're Crying
10 Jill
11 Shining
12 Institutionalized Misogyny
13 Take all the Time You Need

"Disaster's Recipe" was left off-- it was a close call, but it just didn't sound "finished" enough in the end. Two other contenders ("She Runs out when the Money Does" and "...and for my next trick") didn't make it to the mixing stage. Versions of five of the thirteen were on "eight little songs." A few of the others have been played live by the band and solo; some have only been heard as yet by us and a handful of others.

I can usually tell whether I'm going to like an album just by reading the titles, though the title test isn't foolproof by any means. Sometimes the songs don't live up to the titles' promise, and other times surprisingly good songs will hide underneath unexciting titles. I think this is a pretty good list, but what do I know? At this point, it has lost the vital element of surprise where I'm concerned.

Matt Welch has heard it and, in backyard party mode, said it was like a punk rock Pet Sounds. Even now, in the cold light of day, he's sticking to that assessment, bless his heart. I have a feeling that claim may have been made a time or two before on behalf of this or that record; but a fledgling meme like that (if fledgling meme is the term I want) isn't the sort of fledgling meme that I'd dream of strangling before it had a chance to flap around a bit. Of course not. So thanks, Matt, and keep on flappin'.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:56 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Hackers eight my brian

It looks like this site was affected by the big denial of service attack on Hosting Matters. Looks like we're back up now, at least temporarily. I was all ready to post something, but I couldn't log on, and now I seem to have forgotten what it was. More later, when I clear the brainlock.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 01:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 18, 2003

Listening to Stuff

One of these days I'll have a free moment and enough presence of mind to write a little something about the whole mini-tour. In brief: some of the shows may have been a bit more "intimate" than we might have liked, but still, it's been great fun playing with TV Smith. He's very smart, very funny, and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. And his shows are great, very intense. He's definitely working and glorying in the angry folk singer tradition, but with an endearing sense of humor you don't often find in that idiom. He plays all sorts of songs, including a handful of Adverts songs (GGE, One Chord Wonders, Safety in Numbers, even Bored Teenagers and No Time to Be Twenty-One.) I've seen him do it several times now, but it's still a thrill for me. Those songs are etched into my brain, a feature of of my consciousness, and hearing them performed so intensely and in such close quarters, by a guy who I suddenly know personally, is amazing and not a little surreal.

More surreality: our good friend Rebekah drove down from Portland to Sacramento and ended up staying with us at Bobby's house. The following morning (we couldn't say no) we let her listen to the new album on a boom box in the kitchen. With TV Smith seated over by the window sipping coffee with (I think) a quizzical expression from time to time. How weird is that? When "Fucked Up on Life" came on, he even said "I like that one, you know." It seemed to get a good review from Rebekah, which was reassuring, though she'd have been too polite to give it a bad review in mixed company I'm sure.

Another listening party happened the following night in L.A. Matt Welch and Ken Layne couldn't make it to the show, which was very early, as they had to practice for the debut Corvids gig tonight. But afterwards I went over to Matt's and Emanuelle's place for a kind of back yard party, during which the guy from the studio brought by a CD of various mixes of the new Ken Layne and the Corvids album. So we stood in the patio drinking beers and listened to the whole thing. It sounds great-- very "alive," if you know what I'm saying. I can't wait to hear the mastered version. Rootsy, honky-tonky, Stonesy, alt country, you probably have an idea of the general thrust. But it really rocks. Jumps out of the speakers. The guitar sound is crisp and punchy, even while the whole thing has a sort of lazy feel. Great drummer. Great songs, too. Dr. Frank says check it out. When it comes out, that is, whenever that is.

So then, I'd had a few and was feeling kind of good and so, to my own surprise, I have to say, offered to let 'em hear mine. We stood in the patio and listened to the album from beginning to end. They had a lot of nice things to say, which was encouraging. I'm still at the stage where it sounds extremely different to me every time I hear it-- and I have to admit it sounded weird on that kitchen boombox. Maybe it was the Pacificos, or maybe it was just the result of my own neurotic randomness, or maybe it was the soothing words of encouragement from Welch and Layne, or maybe it was something I haven't thought of yet, but it sounded pretty great on Matt's little stereo. Anyway, there was a surrealness about that experience, too. Very few people other than the band, engineers and label have heard it. Anyway, it was a good time, one of the most enjoyable instances of subjecting a captive audience to my "music" that I can recall in some time.

Anyway, check out that Corvids album when it comes out. It's a hit.

Oh, by the way, about my show tonight at X Records in Norco: supposedly you get 50% off record purchases with paid admission. Sounds like a good deal to me, even if you have to sit through some bumbling singer-songwriter stuff.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 07:59 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 14, 2003

Show Update

That TV Smith/Dr. Frank mini-tour I mentioned earlier starts today in San Jose. I just talked to TV on the phone to make arrangements-- a mildly surreal experience. Seems like a nice guy. We're going to be traveling down the coast in a rental car for the next week, which also seems a bit surreal.

Anyway, there's an additional, last-minute all ages show in San Diego on Sunday Oct. 19. It'll be TV Smith, me, and some local punk-related folks (Jay from Spazboy, Chris from John Cougar Concentration Camp, and others) playing acousticy stuff. Tell your friends, if you've got any.

It's at the Muse, a record store/art gallery in the North Park area of San Diego, 2004 University Ave. Show time 7pm. Cheap door (I think it'll be $3.)

Following that, the 21+ show at the Brick by Brick will start at 9pm. The only thing I know about that is they claim there will be cheap beers, which, if true, is better than a kick in the teeth, as they say.

In other news, it turns out the LA show at the Echo Lounge is an early one, as they're having some kind of disco thing afterwards. (There was some talk of trying to get Ken Layne's Corvids to close, but once again, it looks like Disco killed the rock. They're playing the following night, however, at the Thunderbird Saloon.) Anyway, at the Echo, my set is at 7pm and TVs is at 8.

As long as I'm updating, here's the whole list of shows:

Tuesday, Oct. 14 -- Thee Blank Club, San Jose. 44 S. Almaden Avenue, San Jose Doors 9pm. Me at 10:30, TV at 11:30.

Wednesday, Oct. 15 -- Cafe du Nord, San Francisco, with Penelope Houston.
2170 Market St., SF. 18+ show. Doors 6. Show 9. me at 9pm, TV at 10, Penelope Houston at 11.

Thursday, Oct. 16 -- The True Love, Sacramento, with Kevin Seconds.
2406 J Street (at 24th, next to Relles Florist) midtown Sacramento.
Two sets each, times to be determined, but the doors are at 8:30.

Friday, Oct. 17 -- Echo Lounge, Los Angeles.
Early show. All ages. Doors at 6pm, show 6:30, me at 7, TV at 8, followed by dancin all night.
1822 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

Saturday, Oct. 18 -- X Records, 2484 Hamner Ave., Norco, CA, (909) 270-0999
Show is at 8pm. $5. (Just me on that one-- TV Smith is playing across town at the Showcase w/the Vibrators.)

Sunday, Oct. 19 -- As above:

The Muse, 3004 University Ave, San Diego. All ages. 7pm show.

The Brick by Brick, 11:30 Buenos Ave, San Diego. 9pm. 21+. Cheap door and cheap beer.


See ya there.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 08:38 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Auto-entranced

Vaguely apropos of Open-mindia, here's a pretty interesting article on Bay Area political exceptionalism. Why is the Bay Area the only sub-polity in the state that still wanted Gray Davis to be the governor? The article tries to answer in historical and socio-geographical terms.

Andrew Sullivan is riled up about the quote from the UC Berkeley journalism dean who says that educated people tend to be "more liberal." What, there aren't any educated people in L.A.? Even if it's true (on which I have no data), as an explanation for the Bay Area Status Quo Preservation Society, and as a reflection of the best reasoning the journalistic profession has to offer, that analysis seems a little weak. But as a Bay Area native, I feel pretty certain that most people around here firmly believe it to be true (i.e., that our quirky brand of "liberalism" or "progressivism" is a mark of superior intelligence, education, virtue and sophistication which truly sets us apart from the knuckle-dragging rabble over yonder); and that they believe it with that depth of conviction that doesn't even allow the question to arise or to be comprehensible.

Right or wrong, we are an Area of snobs. I don't see how anyone who has ever been here, or who reads this article, can dispute that.

I'm sure there's something in all that stuff about the exceptional history of the Bay Area as a real and/or self-perceived contrarian island. At any rate, intentionally or not, the article really does get across one aspect of what it's like to live here: whatever your views on this or that, no matter whom you vote for (or more often, no matter whom you say you would have voted for if you had actually bothered to vote), everywhere you go you're always surrounded by a crowd of people who continually, ceaselessly, tirelessly, tediously, and loudly congratulate themselves on how intelligent, educated, independent, tolerant, tasteful, rebellious, superior and just all around wonderful they are. God love 'em. Er, us.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:44 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 12, 2003

The Blogosphere Deepens

The great Johann Hari has now joined the blogger group over at Harry's Place, debuting with a comment on North Korea, stepping off from this much-linked and -critiqued Gary Younge column.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:15 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 11, 2003

30 Days to a More Bowdlerized Vocabulary

Diana Rigg, introducing tonight's Inspector Lynley Mysteries episode, described the stormy personal relationship between the Inspector and sidekick Sgt. Barbara Havers, mentioning that she will occasionally even go so far as to call him a ponce. Which, she explains, "is a British slang expression meaning 'upper class twit'".

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:30 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 10, 2003

We Have Nothing in Common with Them

I'm not entirely persuaded that it isn't a "troll" or a joke or something, but nevertheless, this post from the Democratic Underground forum cracks me up:

In order to win we must understand the way the average American thinks. I'm afraid WE have nothing in common with them.

I came to the two following conclusions when I saw the large number of people who voted for Bush back in 2000.

#1 - I would dare to assume that most of us here [on the DU board] are in the upper 1%-20% of the population intelligence-wise.

We must come to the realization that the majority of the population is in the lower 80% to 99% percent of the bell-curve.

WE are not the norm. The Republicans understand that the average American is not very bright. They cater and pander to the masses. The Democratic Party tries to appeal to the population about "issues" that these people just don't understand...

In addition, people of average or lower intelligence tend to not be as logical or reasoned as those of higher intelligence - they deal with emotion. Therefore they are more likely to get riled up about someone burning a flag rather than a illogical tax cut.


Later on in the thread, the same poster gets down to specifics ("we must tell Dean, Clark and the other candidates to dumb down") but cautions: "we don't need to broadcast this-- just keep it in mind."

Pass it on.

(via Taranto.)

UPDATE: I know it's an easy laugh, and it's hard to be absolutely certain whether or not your leg is being pulled in this situation, but I can't resist quoting one more. Here's a response to the post quoted above, with the caption "How Right You Are." The author sees a troubling future, where the maroons continue to multiply, becoming unmanageable and leaving the geniuses isolated and in need of their own homeland:

We have very little in common with average idiot on the street. To them we might as well be from another planet. Pandering to the masses is going to take some time, do we have that much time left in this country? I am doubtful, look at what just happened in CA.

Is it about time we start looking for a state, country or someplace on earth where like minded (or open minded) people can live in relative peace and contentment? The dumbing down of the american individual continues, and we will be amoung it's first victums as we become more and more isolated from the general population.

Hail Open-Mindia!

ANOTHER UPDATE: In the comments, Spacetoast points out this article about a plan to establish a Libertarian Open-mindia in New Hampshire. (Or maybe that should be Fire-armia?) Live free or die, baby.

Here's a followup DU thread of reactions to the fact that the original post had been quoted in the Wall Street Journal's weblog. Certainly, as many posters complain, Taranto took the quote "out of context" in a sense, linking to the thread, but failing to mention that many of the DU commenters challenged the "Geniuses R Us" premise. And, indeed, many of the commenters did.

As well they might. One rarely encounters such a perfectly, obviously self-refuting utterance, along the lines of "I is real gud at gramer and spellen." That's why I suspected it might be fabricated flame-bait in the first place. However, as Michael Totten points out in the comments, many people really do think that way when they're young and dumb. I know I did. And many of the commenters did chime in in support of the "Normal People are way too Stupid to See how much Better than them We Are" ethos, even while a few of them warned that it might be best not to mention it too often if you're interested in securing much of the Idiot vote. (A couple of classics from the followup thread: "I admit we sometimes do overestimate our own intelligence, but even by the most conservative estimates we still are superior to the right wing neanderthals..." "I, for one, am not ashamed to be intelligent and I refuse to allow them to insist that I be dumb like they are... I will not become intellectually lazy and hateful and uncaring like this trash insists I become.")

Best of the Web is as partisan as they come, and in fact Taranto comes up with stuff every now and then that is every bit as silly as the other stuff he ridicules, often in the same item. In terms of raw, insensate partisanship, Taranto and the DU types are often pretty much in the same boat, though Taranto (mercifully) is able to write in complete, clear sentences, and is often quite (intentionally) funny. At the risk of revealing my own shallowness, I'll admit that usually is enough for me. But Lord knows the intended implication of his post probably was in the end that all "liberals" are stuck-up poseurs who like to imagine that mental deficiency is the only possible explanation when anyone disagrees with them. That contention (if it's there) isn't even worth wasting a single pixel to refute, though it's undeniable that such folks exist even if they're not "representative." I have no doubt that they're right that you could find posts every bit as silly on Free Republic. However, the DU folks are nevertheless still missing the point about that particular entry, which is that, "unfair" or not, in context or out, unrepresentative though it may be, it's still freakin' hilarious.

Plus, I learned a new word: up with sheeple.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:34 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

October 09, 2003

Type Casting

Did you know that Sheila Kuehl, uber-feminist, Santa Monica state senator, and now freshly-embittered Schwarzenegger antagonist, is the Sheila James who played Zelda on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis? I didn't, till Richard Bennett mentioned it, but then I don't get out much.

I don't know if it's a case of life imitating TV, or the reverse, or both (or neither). But would Kindergarten Cop have been an even better film if there had been a Zelda-figure nipping at Arnold's heels throughout? The answer is yes, of course. And it looks like that's pretty much what we're going to have in the statehouse and on TV for the next few years. "You eat other peoples' lunches? DON'T!" (Cue reciprocal Governor-Senator scrunch-face.) Just when you think every last drop of entertainment value has been wrung out of the California/show biz political dishrag, you still find an occasional, wonderful dribble every now and again.

Senator Kuehl also was in a 1972 Love American Style episode called "Love and the Security Building," played Sally Ragsdale in an episode of Petticoat Junction, and appeared as the character Ginny Jennings in three Beverly Hillbillies episodes, including one called "Jed Foils a Home Wrecker."

But the coolest part of her TV-ography (and one which looks like an even better allegorical match for the current drama than Dobie Gillis) is a 1971 TV movie called The Feminist and the Fuzz:

Through unforeseen circumstances, a male chauvinist cop and a dedicated feminist become roommates.
The Feminist is Barbara Eden; the Fuzz is David Hartman. They meet at a protest rally. The Senator plays one of several "Liberation Ladies" along with Penny Marshall. The cast also features Jo Anne Worley, Julie Newmar, Farrah Fawcett and Harry Morgan. If that doesn't sound like a good way to waste 90 minutes, I don't know what it does sound like a good way to do. Keuhl seems to think Schwarzenegger is miscast as governor; on the other hand, he seems to fit right in.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 10:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 07, 2003

Cyberbusking, etc.

Todd A., whose Popshot.net zine morphed into Americanzine.net while I wasn't looking, is doing some major cyberbusking: thirty songs in thirty days. Apparently written day by day and from the looks of things mostly inspired by various hot girls he observes in daily life. A brave and honest man. The latest is an ode to Fox News presenter Laurie Dhue. He's trying to raise $3,000 for a worthy cause (his own personal use.) He certainly deserves something-- go on and check him out. Good luck, man.

As for my own cyberbusking, I know I said I'd cyberbusk "She Runs Out When the Money Does," and I still have the vague intention of doing it if I ever get my act together. A few usual suspects (including this guy, whose official live debut I'm truly sorry to have to miss) have claimed they worked up their own versions of the song based on my lyrics, but recordings have yet to materialize as far as I know. It might be more interesting to hear theirs before unleashing mine; on the other hand, neither may ever happen. I mean, let's be honest. I was also thinking I might cyberbusk some acoustic versions of some of the album songs that didn't end up on "eight little songs." Ambition struggles with lethargy, as so often. Watch this space.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 06:11 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack