If you're like me, you'll find something in each of Sheila's three match.com anecdotes to get a kick out of. Out of which to get a kick? Whatever, just read 'em.
David Aaronovitch, in a column comparing Paso Robles to Bam, concludes:
Following the fall of the Berlin wall there was, as the philosopher John Gray put it, a "false dawn" of the New Age of Liberal Democracy, in which all problems everywhere could be expected to be solved by a free market and free elections. But this triumphalism has been replaced, in some quarters at least, by the equally vacuous tropes of the anti-globalisation movement and its demonisation of liberal capitalism.
What, I wonder, has Arundhati Roy to say now about the superiority of traditional building methods over globalised ones? Some Iranians might think that it's a shame there wasn't a McDonald's in Bam. It would have been the safest place in town.
This happened during the Christmas lull, so I missed it till now.
Revolutionary Cells member, Baader-Meinhof associate, and convicted terrorist/murderer Hans-Joachim Klein, whose controversial 2001 trial served as the framing device for Paul Berman's brilliant essay "The Passion of Joschka Fischer" (unfortunately not viewable without a TNR subscription), has been pardoned and released after serving two years of his nine-year sentence. The decision was prompted by "requests" from "several" unidentified citizens. There must be more to the story, but that's all I can find right now.
Incidentally, while poking around for more detail, I came across this bio, which seems to suggest that Berman's Fischer essay will be published (expanded?) in book form sometime next year. Great news if so: it is one of the most perceptive and powerful pieces ever written on the generation of '68, and among the finest examples of cultural-political criticism you're likely to see on any subject.
Check out this more or less usenet-y Christmas eve comments board snipe-a-thon between Christopher Hitchens, Sean Wilentz, Richard Wolin, Todd Gitlin, and others. (I have no idea who Irfan Khawaga is, but he wins the award for snarkiest and most effective anti-whomever polemics. Hands down. "Pray tell us, O Wise and Patriotic One..." begins one post. It isn't all that funny till you realize that the W. a. P. O. being addressed is the comparatively easily-appalled Todd Gitlin. Then for some reason, it's suddenly hilarious. There is no such award, as far as I am aware, but at minimum someone should give him his own column somewhere. Or something.)
The topic is pretty stale (basically it stems from an attempt by Wilentz to resurrect the faux-controversy over Hitchens's 9/13/01 Guardian column on "asking how" vs. "asking why"-- whatever, dudes.) But read a few entries at random for a taste of just how much all these guys really hate each other. 'tis the season.
"First of all," writes one of the Medialens commenters, "I'd have Hari arrested for inciting international crimes and for supporting an international criminal (Vollertsen)..." That's the spirit!
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
If you haven't checked out Jonathon "I Hate Bush" Chait's Dean-o-phobe blog, you probably should. I appreciate the unusual combination of apoplexy and articulateness, which continues to develop as time goes on. But here's a more temperate quote from early on:
The Dean Bubble: One of the most disturbing things about Dean and his hard-core supporters is that they give the impression that they know nothing at all of why President Bush is successful, and therefore what it takes to beat him. Read the pro-Dean blogs, and the you come away with the view that Bush is strong because he's ruthless and has lots of money, and therefore if the Democrats are also ruthless and raise lots of money, they can beat him. This ignorance is compounded by the fact that many Deanies seem to exist in a isolated cultural milieu in which everybody is secular, socially liberal, and antiwar. They can't fathom why those things might hurt Dean in a general election because they don't ever talk to or read anybody who thinks differently. Dean's Internet networking--which has had lots of positive effects on American politics--has probably intensified this cloistering, by creating intellectual ghettos on the web where true believers can interact, undisturbed by those who don't share their faith.
The cleverer Bubble People-- or the more polite ones-- realize that the first step towards "progressive" electability is keeping this snobbery to yourself, and distancing yourself from those who can't or won't. That often appears to be easier said than done. Thus far, the Dean people don't seem to be doing too well on that score, even though Dean's actual positions on many matters are said to be far more moderate than his reputation suggests. But politics per se is only part of the issue: even if he were to balance things out by changing emphasis and pandering to those holding vague right-ish fantasies rather than or along with those clinging to left-ish ones (as he will presumably try to do in some fashion in the general election), he'd still find it hard to shake the cultural problem. Andrew Sullivan recently wrote that the Dean campaign is all about "blue state upper middle class anger," a nasty, perhaps unfair, line-- it's not the whole story, by any means. And maybe living in the loopiest end of the loopy loop has warped my own perception just a bit (in other words, maybe the Dean Bubble is in fact more inclusive of normal people and ultimately less alienating than the San Francisco Bubble with which I'm most familiar.) Nonetheless, the formulation does capture something of the true character of the cultural-political challenges facing the Dean campaign. There is in the end no silent majority of Frasier Cranes, and certainly not enough closet San Franciscans to replace all those who stand to be alienated. "Likeability" plays a big role in electoral politics, and the Bubble People, whatever their virtues, are handicapped by their long-standing tradition of collective self-adulation: they are taught and conditioned to overestimate just how lovable they and their cherished pretensions are outside the bubble. Perhaps, as I say, the analogy between the two bubbles isn't perfect or exact, but at minimum both groups seem similarly ill-suited to perceive their own weaknesses.
Is there a similar "echo chamber" effect, an approximately equivalent current of self-satisfaction, a sense of being Precious Special People, and a disdain for all supporters of every opponent among Republican partisans? Sure there is. Partisan Republicans are as insular and nasty as they come. But they're not currently the ones with the electability problem. You can complain all you want about Tom Delay, Fox News, Ann Coulter, et al., but for some reason they don't seem to be alienating their own voters. Because they're all morons, right? Keep saying it if or until it makes you feel better...
Unlike Chait, I don't hate Dean. He'd probably be a decent enough president, in the unlikely event that he ends up with the opportunity to give it a shot. I enjoy the prickly persona and the feistiness for its own sake, just because I like that sort of thing. (I enjoyed Alan Keyes's candidacy in much the same spirit last time around.) I don't think it's realistic to discuss the particulars of the agenda at this stage, as I'm sure they're all going to change (be "clarified") once he's nominated, but I imagine I'll agree with a fair few of them in the end. If he somehow were to manage to transform himself into a convincing fiscally responsible, tough-on-Saudis, religious faith-respecting, competent anti-terrorism strategist, JFK-like liberal hawk, he might even have a shot, in fact, given Bush's weaknesses. He'd get my attention, anyway. Yet as to persona and "likeability" and cultural politics: in theory, being a more convincing "regular guy" than GWB shouldn't be too difficult. Yet, all else being equal, if it's going to be Niles vs. Martin, Marty wins, and broadly speaking there's not much doubt about who looks more like Niles as things currently stand. That's pretty funny, and a caricature, to be sure, but elections often, maybe even always, turn on caricatures. Anything can happen, of course, but at this point it looks like Niles is going to win the nomination and lose the general election in consecutive landslides, the second of which the Bubble People will find utterly mystifying. Yet again.
(btw, here's a Chait-o-phobe blog.)
Hang in there, babies.
Madeleine Bunting on the Christmas Conspiracy-- sounds like the Bunting family is in for a swell time this year.
Tony Blair will seek to use the diplomatic breakthrough with Libya to secure similar concessions on weapons of mass destruction from Iran and Syria. Ministers believe that his New Year offensive will restore his fortunes.
Secret "back channel" talks, which have been going on for months with both countries, will be stepped up as London and Washington try to capitalise on the surprise U-turn by Col Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator.
The capture of Saddam Hussein and Libya's announcement on Friday that it would dismantle its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes were being seen in Downing Street as vindication of the Prime Minister's strategy for tackling the threat of WMD.
The formidable Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings has an interesting article in the American Spectator, asking whether a Democratic administration really would have the ability or the inclination to "fix Iraq better" than the Republicans, as all the credible candidates claim. This from the perspective of "right wing doves," that is, those libertarians who tend to view the war as yet another doomed, wasteful government program. I don't share Henley's pessimism about the prospects for a further degree of success in Iraq and the middle east (and recent developments in Libya would seem to confirm that inclination) but he makes a couple of good, well-argued points: (a) "we'll get more international help is not a policy, it's a hope"; and (b) like it or not, the broad outlines of the war on terror have been drawn and are unlikely to be altered radically no matter who wins in 2004, and no matter what they're saying now. (See Robert Kagan's recent comments on Howard Dean's supposed McGovern-esqueness.) The difference will be of manner, style, comportment, rhetorical emphasis, etc. Of course, those things matter in diplomacy, and it's certainly possible to argue that some different administration might be better equipped to handle the entire situation more competently. (Though, in truth, none of these guys inspire overwhelming confidence on that score. Thus far, no campaign has managed to figure out how to exploit Bush's two most obvious weaknesses: Saudi-coddling and fiscal profligacy. That's competence?) The war on terror can be tweaked, but it won't be abandoned. Those who imagine that replacing the Bushies will lead to the isolationist America of their dreams are bound to be disappointed. Anyway, if you're looking for a fresh spin on a spectacularly overspun topic, Henley's your man.
Norm Geras presents two conversations about Israel and Jews that will probably be familiar to any American who has spent any time in London. I've heard them, practically verbatim, dozens of times.
Either you love those articles which trot out and denounce examples of Bad (Academic) Writing or you don't. I do, and fervently, but I admit that such denunciations tend to resemble one another and rarely make points you haven't heard before. I tend to scan them for the garbled "get a load of this" quotation, laugh heartily, and move on; skimming the rest is optional. That may be why I almost neglected to read Ophelia Benson's latest article on the subject in the Guardian all the way through to the end; and almost missed this priceless Lewis Carroll-ish quotation from the introduction to Critical Terms for Literary Study, an anthology edited by Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin:
Theory set out to produce texts that could not be processed successfully by the commonsensical assumptions that ordinary language puts into play. There are texts of theory that resist meaning so powerfully - say those of Lacan or Kristeva - that the very process of failing to comprehend the text is part of what it has to offer.
(via Crooked Timber.)
From Rebekah's MTXStarship.com page updates section, God bless her:
The dates for the tour will be up as soon as I find out what they are. Make sure to tell all of your friends about the exciting MTX news! Hell, tell people that aren't your friends. For example, this week I tried to convince my dental hygienist and some guy at the airport that MTX are the best band ever.
Thanks for all the song requests: it looks like the clear favorite is "I Believe in You," so consider it done. It's at least theoretically possible that we can do most of the others, too. One tip in advance: the best time to ask for a particular song on a particular night is before we play; raising the issue afterwards doesn't make much sense. You'd be surprised how many people seem to get caught by surprise by that one. Just trying to help.
Anyway, here is the initial list of dates for the Yesterday Rules tour. There are still some holes to fill, some other activities to fit between even the stuff without holes, and a gap at the end that will soon be filled. But there, or rather here, you have it:
01/18/04 Chain Reaction Anaheim, CA
01/19/04 Casbah San Diego, CA
01/20/04 Troubadour Los Angeles, CA
01/31/04 Slim's San Francisco, CA
02/08/04 Meow Meow Portland, OR
02/09/04 Graceland Seattle, WA
02/11/04 Climax Lounge Denver, CO
02/12/04 Bottleneck Lawrence, KS
02/13/04 Gabe's Oasis Iowa City, IA
02/14/04 Maintainence Shop Ames, IA
02/15/04 Warehouse La Crosse, WI
02/16/04 Triple Rock Social Club Minneapolis, MN
02/17/04 Fireside Bowl Chicago, IL
02/18/04 The Shelter Detroit, MI
02/19/04 Grog Shop Cleveland Heights, OH
02/20/04 Club Laga Pittsburgh, PA
02/21/04 Bug Jar Rochester, NY
02/22/04 Middle East Cambridge, MA
02/23/04 The Space Hamden, CT
02/24/04 North 6 Brooklyn, NY
02/25/04 Talkin' Head Baltimore, MD
02/26/03 Cat's Cradle Chapel Hill, NC
02/27/04 Lime Light Myrtle Beach, SC
02/28/04 Will's Pub Orlando, FL
02/29/04 1213 Rock Shows Anniston, AL
03/01/04 The Earl East Atlanta, GA
03/03/04 Sin 13 San Antonio, TX
03/04/04 Emo's Austin, TX
03/05/04 Ft. Worth, TX
03/06/04 Green Door Oklahoma City, OK
Several bizarre tidbits in this account of Saddam Hussein's presumably final novel in today's Telegraph:
Saddam Hussein spent the final weeks before the war writing a novel predicting that he would lead an underground resistance movement to victory over the Americans, rather than planning the defence of his regime.
According to the author, the Iran-Iraq war began when Ezekiel convinced the head of the Iraqi tribe to invade his neighbour. The Iraqis, led by a doddering old Sheikh, are quickly defeated and Ezekiel seizes power in the country.
Enter Saddam as the resistance fighter Salim - "a pure, virtuous Arab. Salim is tall and handsome with a straight nose", he enthuses.
The 1991 Gulf war is portrayed as an ambush by Ezekiel, which Salim shrugs off, driving him out of the country with the words, "Be gone demon." But Ezekiel returns instead with Roman allies.
In the ensuing battle Salim "fights the Romans like a hawk". The onslaught proves irresistible and Ezekiel and the Roman king flee, only to discover the twin towers of the Roman capital in flames...
"He lost touch with reality," said Saad Hadi, a journalist who was involved in the production of Saddam's novels. "He thought he was a god who could do anything, including writing novels."
Then Ezekiel Hescel and the king of the Romans saw the twin towers of the Roman's city on fire. Ezekiel Hescel was beating his face and saying, "Everything I've collected is gone."
One of the Romans was laughing at Ezekiel and advised him: "Try building another two towers and sell the one and rent the other to the Roman king! Both you and the Roman king will rot in hell."
Arabs had set the towers on fire. How adventurous they are when they become nervous! The Roman watched the blaze and wondered who had done it. The king said: "Our enemies are great in numbers." Ezekiel Hescel answered no. "Such a fedeyeen attack could only be carried out by the Arabs." Ezekiel Hescel and the Roman leader ran away after because they had lost their power and money.
Check out this hobbit-sploitation hip hop group. I like the video.
...I love you in real life, not just in this song that's coming out of me
you fall around me in a perfect harmony, so meant to be...
...I know I've seen you somewhere in eternity or paradise,
a flower growing in the ice...("One L")
...all the ghosts in love with you, they crane their sorry necks like a Viennese machine that's just discovered sex... ("Idonia")
I was going to try to write a little review of it, but when it comes down to it, I just don't think it would be worth much. It is possible to be such a big fan that you can't rely on your own critical faculties, and that's pretty much the situation for me with regard to RH. Even the albums which are generally regarded as artistic low points (say the Queen Elvis album or Groovy Decay) are cherished and gloated over after a fashion. It gets worse: I even, somewhat perversely, particularly prize those moments which don't work all that well, as valuable keys or hints to a deeper understanding of what makes the other stuff great. And anyway, Queen Elvis arguably contains some filler, but "Superman" alone makes it better than just about any other album by anyone else you could name. See what I mean? I'm an Appreciator, not a critic. I have faith, that I may understand; rather than the other way around.
Plus, I've learned not to jump the gun on that kind of criticism. And I learned it the hard way. I have to admit, I didn't much care for Respect or Moss Elixir when they first came out, only to realize after I got over myself a couple of years later how wrong I was. They're now two of my favorite favorites that I don't think I could live without. And, looking back, I count that time of estrangement as senseless, wasted years. Much better to register your devotion at the very beginning as a given, and spend the next couple of years trying understand it, rather than alienating yourself for the present, whilst sentencing yourself to standing there, at some future but inevitable date, like some indie-rock Fonzie saying "I was wr-wr-... I was wr-wr...", filled with regret. The enjoyment to pain ratio ends up much, much more satisfactory.
So I don't think I'm wrong when I say that Luxor is just about the most beautiful, brilliant thing I've heard; but I have to acknowledge that if I was wrong I'd have no way of knowing it. It is astonishing, even though I was bracing myself for astonishment. No one else on earth could manage, as RH somehow does in "Penelope's Angles," to make the line "I am not a yam, I am not a yam" moving and relatable, that's for sure. Leaving aside such conjuring feats, "You Remind me of You" is more or less traditional-minded in theme and structure, and among the loveliest love songs he has ever written, which is certainly saying something:
You remind me of you when I reach for myself
deep in the water below
you're the reflection and I am the self
self in a hurry with nowhere to go.
You remind me of me when I stand on the deck
feeling the wind in my hair
out on the ocean I'm only a speck
speck of existence with nobody there
You remind me of angels that come in the snow
melting like candles that diamonds blow
see all the water go, see all the water go by
You remind me of me when I reach for the hand
suddenly taken away
clutching you I could drown on dry land
I'm left with my fingers on a good day
You remind me of you when you're down in the hold
I'll have your babies if you'll have my cold
see all the water go, see all the water go by
And it also fascinates me in a totally different way, as he certainly could have come up with something more convincing there, and this song is so obviously composed with great care. Why didn't he? Or maybe it's not a bad line and I'm just too dim to get why. That question, or more precisely the general issue, illustrated by this particular example, with the echo of the gorgeous melody almost driving out the sense of the question, is going to be hovering in my background for the foreseeable future, maybe forever.
Anyway, that and "Idonia" are two of my favorite tracks.
With the possible exception of all the other tracks.
I'd say Christopher Hitchens has a pretty clear understanding of his own role in the public debate on Iraq:
Most of the leftists I know are hoping openly or secretly to leverage difficulty in Iraq in order to defeat George Bush. For innumerable reasons, including the one I cited earlier, I think that this is a tactic and a mentality utterly damned by any standard of history or morality. What I mainly do is try to rub that in.
Yeah, so I let this blog go dark again for a little while there. It's not so much that I've been that much busier than I've been during many of those times when I have been able to keep up with it; it's more like the blogging frame of mind and the post album/tour preparation mode are, for me, contestants for the same little block of mental energy. Sometimes a day of fretting about the ins and outs of what you need to do to try to prevent your already-finished album from flopping unnecessarily upon release can leave you with a free evening, yet incapable of doing much with it other than to watch cartoons. Sorry. That may be the crummiest apology you've ever heard, but it will have to do.
I'll be back with more details on tour plans, band activity, album news, etc. In the meantime, here are a few scraps: We've got our San Francisco record release show on Jan. 31st at Slim's (bill to be announced), and a full-on US tour in Feb. and March. Rebekah has recently started updating her celebrated, massive MTX Starship page. Lookout Records is running a contest for a "MTX prize pack," the first of several contests, I believe. (That's item #2 on the news-- I can't figure out how to link to the individual pop-up. You know, I'm all thumbs when it comes to this stuff.) The CD, artwork, and enhancements all got finished up somehow and I'm told we'll see actual pre-release promos soon. (Weirdly, the CD ended up being quite "bloggy"-- it has more of those studio photos, interlinear guitar chords/"tabs", the studio journal entries from this blog, and a dedicated comments/discussion routine for each individual song. These last and all the journal posts comments should be live links-- it'll be interesting to see what kind of comments we get. If any.) The release date is still Jan. 13, but if you want you can pre-order it from Amazon.
Meanwhile, we're trying to learn as many of our own songs as we can, with an emphasis some of those that have rarely or never been played live. Usually, this involves coming up with entirely new arrangements, since many of those on the records quite often, let's be honest, tended to suck. Also because, as I've written several times, live playing and recording playing have nothing to do with one another, and in a sense any set in the end amounts to playing an hour's worth of covers of your own songs. At its best, this process can result in an opportunity to right the wrongs of history, correct the mistakes of the past, free an otherwise fine tune from its previous inept or ill-conceived low-budget-recording prison, or to rediscover the kernal of coolness that presumably inspired you to write the song in the first place. Essentially, you smash the song apart and then try to put it back together with all new tools and materials. Or words to that effect.
Anyway, I'm open to suggestions on which songs to run through the destruction-regeneration machine, though I can't promise anything. Leave a note here if there's some song other you're dying to hear live for some reason.
I'm with Jackie and Natalie: say what you want about Donald Rumsfeld, his statement about "known unknowns" is quite plain, and perfectly comprehensible. What's confusing is how an organization that calls itself the Plain English Campaign can have failed to recognize it.
(By the way, I took a bit of time off there, so I failed to note that Jackie's au currant has a new url.)
Noam Chomsky attacks Johann Hari, with some typically bloated, semi-coherent sludge-prose posted on Medialens (comparing him unfavorably to a Stalinist commissar and accusing him of being incapable of comprehending "moral truisms.") As Johann says, it speaks for itself, and I don't have a comment. But, incidentally, it seems to me there's something a bit funny about NC's use of the word "truism."