Sunday, May 28, 2006

De Natura Musicae Technionis

Techno music is all like- mm-tss-m-tss-m-tss for like three hours or more. Rockist or popist, I think we might agree that this is alltogether too close to fascism for comfort. End transmission.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On the Cafe Philosopher

I'll tell you about some specifics, but in general language- in this case the specific maps well with the general types, and vice versa, so no need to differentiate perhaps.

The academician: Rarely a philosopher himself, meaning that he does not write on philosophy, but trained and tried in argument and dialectic. The academic in such cases is rarely prominent, and often either very young or very old. In either case, this seems to show itself in a particularly strong adherence to a core set of opinions or beliefs, I would think in the former case due to exhuberance and in the latter to the stolidity (perhaps senility) of age. In any case these academicians seem rare enough within the usual crowd of cafe pugilists.

The scientist/technologist: The scientists' contribution is not always prominent but becomes punctuated as one begins to explicitly discuss the sciences. Oftentimes these types seem to cling to (a naive) empiricism, and are consequently very opposed to arguments which do not confine rather narrowly to this. Their justifications tend towards the neuroscientific, the cognivist, and a great deal of early childhood behavioral studies. Genetics (either specific findings or the potentialities of the field) is crucial, and becomes conflated as and with notions of human nature, although they often exhibit a quick resistance to all things analogous with theism.

The theosophist: a not uncommon fixture in the coffee house, the believers are unfortunately rarely helpful in discussions, if only because many of them join into discussions out of a need to defend their world-views at all costs without consideration for method or discussion. I don't want to sound harsh here, so I will note that most cafe dialecticians of this variety are themselves well versed in apologetics, philosophy, and doctrine, and thus provide at their best some of the most interesting perspectives, especially when considered in contrast to the almost ubiquitous atheism of other conversants.

The amateur/enthusiast: Those with little to no experience in formal philosophy, and usually little history of discussion of the subjects and the like. We could point to their seeming inexperience, propensity to contradict themselves, and asymmetry with the rest of the conversants and conclude that they are in fact the least valuable type of member to have in any group discussion. On the contrary, however, they have the fortune of being restricted to informal (non-technical) language, and the position to force those with a tendency for jargon or terms of art to more fully articulate the points they bring up.

The specialist: Deserving mention (even though this is but a more general form of the character of the scientist/technologist) it must be noted that the specialist will almost always bring discussion into their field of expertise; at best this provides good analogistic arguments and fine insider perspectives, at worst it is a constant process of hijacking, anecdotal support, and poor metaphors. The specialist will often make claims of the form: "Philosophy is (useless/meaningless/absurd/inconsequential), it should be replaced with 'x'[speaker's area of specialty]..." They will often not recognize the latter 'x' as itself grounded in any philosophical system.

The mystic: Insufficient data exists at this point to fully articulate this character type, but the mystic is often skeptical of politics and ethics, emphasizing a mix of individualism, pacifism, and herbal teas. The well-versed mystic conforms more to the type of the well-versed theosophist.

The hobo: This is not simply the IT guy who is in between positions, the hobo is often the full-fledged derelict, who may wander into a conversation from his relative anonymity. I find this to be promising and positive, but at the same time they will not always be lucid or comprehensible (However, upon reflection this is only a degree of difference from any other cafe dweller)

The denier/sophist: Present in all classes, these people will take lines of discussion that inevitably produce prison-house type scenarios or circular logics. Upon noting that these people who most absolutely despise philosophy may in fact spend the most time practicing or employing it, we must perhaps re-evaluate our pronouncements on the sanity of the hobo

The libertarian: There's one in every group, as mandated by the government.

It would seem there are more types, but as a preliminary sketch I would hope that this provides the intrepid and inquisitive reader with the understanding requisite to engaging with, understanding, and navigating through the madness of a cafe discussion imbroglio

Friday, May 26, 2006

Good news in Palestine?

For a while it has seemed that nothing good would come of the Palestinian elections. Hamas won and has failed to moderate its stance, as many, including myself, predicted it would. Worse, Hamas supporters have been clashing with Fatah's in the streets. But todays news brought something good. Abbas announced his support for a proposal to recognize an Israel confined to pre-1967 boundaries. This is an excellent political move by Abbas, as noted in Steven Erlanger's Times article:

Hamas faces a dilemma, suggested Roni Shaked of Yediot Aharonot: "Saying
yes would be betraying its principles, while saying no would be going against
the public," which generally supports a Palestinian state on 1967 lines
alongside Israel.

Joseph Schumpeter and others have argued that democracy is good, not because the people get what they want or would even be able to figure out what they want, but because politicians have to engage in some form of competition in order to get and stay elected. Palestine has been a good demonstration of this concept in the past few months: Fatah got kicked out because it is corrupt, but Abbas has now placed Hamas in a position where it will have to moderate or lose some its populist appeal. All of this is a credit to Palestinean voters. If this succeeds, as it may, some credit would also need to be given to those who shaped the market, the Israelis and Western Powers--or perhaps none should be, due to their failure to allow this kind of change earlier. But we'll have to wait and see. Optimism is not often warrented in the Israel-Palestine area.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The rockism/popism debate produces my longest cultural critical rant yet!

Many people here probably saw the Slate article about Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields supposedly being a racist. There was another article in the same edition about the ongoing debate between "rockism" and "popism."

For those who don't know, "rockists" would include the "first wave" of 60s and 70s journalists like Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs, who turned their incredibly dorky love of rock music into hipster insider status. These are the people who, despite their differences, would probably agree that Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Neil Young, Dylan, the Velvets, and Bruce Springsteen belong to some sort of immortal pantheon, that guitar-slinging songwriters are far superior to commercialized pop hit-makers, that solos can be cool, that vinyl beats anything else, that live shows trump radio singles and music videos, and so on ad infinitum. If you continue to dig deeper with these types, you would probably find that they point to albums like Television's Marquee Moon, Wire's Ping Flag, the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime, Husker Du's Zen Arcade, the Fall's Hex Enduction Hour, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, and Radiohead's OK Computer as some of the greatest albums of the last 25 years. In other words, lots and lots and lots of white dudes.

The thing about rockists is that despite all this amor of all things alba, they love them some "colored music" too. I mean Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Coltrane, anyone on Blue Note records in the late 50s/early 60s, Stevie Wonder, the whole Motown crew, Otis Redding, Al Green, Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly Stone, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, Public Enemy, Outkast, up to Kanye West (perhaps with some reservations). So where's the beef?

"Popists" would argue that such music either isn't good in and of itself but must "measure up" to white rock standards or that it has simply become part of the same hipster elitist altar at which rockists worship. Sure, a rockist might go for Stevie Wonder, but what about huge-selling black pop artists like Whitney Houston, Alexander O'Neal, Bell Biv Devoe, or Boyz II Men? "Well," the rockist would answer (and I would probably second them), "now you're talking about some soulless, prefab crap that isn't fit to wipe Stevie's blind ol' ass." Busted: you're a rockist asshole.

I still haven't exactly figured out what popism's "positive" program looks like, when it's done deconstructing the rockist temple. I'm afraid it looks something like VH1. (Just as a side note, if you think about it, Vh1 and MTV are like the Master Blaster of the entertainment industry. If you don't recall, Master Blaster was the duo from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome that consisted of a big retarded dude with all the strength and a midget with all the brainpower. In the present inquiry, MTV is obviously the monster, spewing out all the product, and VH1 is the smarter but weaker one who tells you how to interpret the product. Thus "Best Week Ever," "I Love the [Decades]", etc. [Interestingly, when MTV stops showing videos--which is often--it usually tells you how to run your social life, not your musical life, with shows like "Date My Mom," "My Super Sweet 16," "The Real World," et al.]) To continue, VH1 is heavily entrenched in the business of kitsch and ephemera. They figure (and probably with some good reason), Hey, people have been talking about Elvis and the Beatles and Michael Jackson for years, let's talk about how great the "Welcome Back Kotter" theme was and how disco was super cool. And so on.

So far as I can tell, "popism" is basically the postmodern, postcolonial answer to the liberal tradition of "rockism." Critics in the 60s and 70s thought they had found the true, honest way hiding beneath all the bullshit of shiney happy Vietnam/Johnson/Nixon America. Later, when the New Left didn't really pan out, rock critics thought that if rock 'n' roll didn't bring the revolution, listening to it at least made you a Better Person. Popism, on the other hand, is a typical sign of the late capitalist times (by the way, I'm not just saying this, I actually sorta kinda mean it). Pop music, in all its fleeting, 15-minutes-of-fame, easily digestible and more easily forgotten glory, is to be celebrated. We are now supposed to consume music for the love of the consumption, listening to it through our iPods as we sip a tall latte, schedule our lives on our blackberrys, talk on our cell phones, etc. It is the stuff of yupsters, people wearing Chuck T's and faux-retro clothing to investment banking jobs and profitable dot-coms.

Popism is postcolonial insofar as it recognizes the rockist, no matter how liberal or turned on to black music, as a misguided white ideologue who can't see past his own soft-liberal racism. This is nowhere more apparent than in the case of Stephin Merritt. The guy dared to question the popularity of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Outkast and he is declared a hater of women, people of color, and the music of people of color...? The underlying assumption is that all of the four above named artists must be doing something artistic or worthwhile. Racism must be the true cause behind Merritt's dislike of them, not their musical merit. (Jesus Christ I used the term merit. I must be against affirmative action or something.) And if it were a question of merit, Merritt (ha!) would be guilty of subscribing to rockist notions of it. Who's to say Beyonce doesn't make good music? Doesn't it have a good beat, and you can dance to it? (This air-headed teeniebopper disco phrase, once the mocking putdown of rockists, has been turned into some popist's rallying cry.)

I've seen the downsides of rockism, to be sure. I've worked at a music store where there could be four guys on the job who all know the second solo record put out by the lead singer of Thin Lizzy, but not know last year's American Idol winner. But the extreme opposite is to suppose that we should abandon all the obscure music collected and hierarchized by the rockists and lose ourselves in the mindless pop of the present. Please note that these are half-finished and incomplete thoughts, intended to start discussion. I don't go for the reactionary rockist backlash found especially here, which tries to use the argument as an excuse to pan hip-hop wholesale and say how low and depraved (i.e. how black) it is. ("How boring is hip-hop?" asks Andrew Sullivan. Just like those Muslims are so sex-crazed...) My point is that the extreme of popism is dumbness masquerading as hip, clued in savvy. It's learning to love your masters.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


<-Focault finger puppet In my quest to generate mass interest in "Philosophy" I have come across many crazy professors attempting to popularize their own disciplines. One such anthropology profesor, a woman, had called the Oprah Winfrey show in a desperate bid for stardom. She believed Oprah would be fascinated by "anthroplogical theory" and "the lens [it provides] for an explanation of our world." I wanted to tell her it was ridiculous but she had an incoming call on her bluetooth headset. The problem is that the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, a startup company founded by unemployed academics that speciazlizes in gimmicks for the cutesy intellectual is making millions. Last year their annual return was over 16 million dollars(their most popular item is the Screaming Scream). A lot of their products are sold in museums and art galleries including the MET and MOMA.

This serves to highlight a burgeoning industry - intellectualism. Its everywhere. I would tell you all about it if I didnt have this bartender babe sitting right behind me. All I can say is, lets not fall behind the curve here, guys. We may be able to make money, and that is what matters the most.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Where the hell were you people in 2004? It would have been fine if Americans did not care about what happened in Iraq, or were willing to give up anything for the war on terrorism, but the current polls just make them look like dumb assholes. Bush has not changed his policies in the slightest since he was reelected. I find myself trusting the American public less and less as its opinions near mine.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What the Democrats can learn from Revenge of the Nerds

First let me clarify. This article references the first installment of the film franchise, Revenge of the Nerds. (Do not mistake this film for Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation, or Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love. This will only confuse you.)

So, Revenge of the Nerds starts out with this stereotypical alcoholic-jock-asshole-fraternity, called Alpha Beta, accidentally burning down their own frat house. Major bummer, bro. To deal with this, the Alpha Betas take over the nerd-laden freshmen dorm and make that their new frat house. (The Alpha Betas are allowed to do this because they control the Greek Council and are therefore above Adams College law.) The freshmen nerds are banished to the gymnasium, where they sleep on crappy cots, and awake to the sounds of basketballs at 8 every morning.

The nerds soon realize that the only way they can get their dignity back, or at least a nice place to live, is to band together and form a fraternity of their own. Consequently, many different nerds (a fat alcoholic slob, a gay black guy, a 12 year old pseudo-masculine kid, an Asian, and others of varying nerd-ness) join together and form the fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (or the Tri-Lams as they are affectionately called).

At first the Tri-Lams struggle to gain respect from the school community, as they are seemingly just a bunch of pussy misfits. But as time passes, they focus their energy against a common enemy: the Alpha Betas. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the film, the Tri-Lams win the homecoming carnival against the Alpha Betas, who were until now the perennial victors, and are hence awarded the prize of leadership of the Greek Council. To our surprise, the Adams College student body is happy with the change, as they were all sick of the corrupt reign of the Alpha Betas.

If you don’t see what I’m getting at here (c’mon, it’s pretty darn obvious), it’s that the Democrats are the Tri-Lams and the Republicans are the Alpha Betas. The Republicans are in control (and have been since 2000, arguably since 1994), and the Democrats have been banished to the crappy gymnasium of loser-dom, without really putting up a fight. The Democrats will remain there until they form a fraternity of misfit pussies and unite against a common enemy: the Alpha Betas… I mean, the Republicans.
It will not be until the fat slob (Ted Kennedy), the gay black guy (Barak Obama), the pseudo-masculine boy(Hillary Clinton), the Asian (Russ Feingold is the best I could do here), and others of varying nerd-ness (Kerry, Dean) work together and win the United State’s homecoming carnival (wink, wink), that the Adams College student body (wink, wink) can be celebrating the end of the corrupt reign of the Alpha Betas (wink, wink).

Tevye + Techno Beat = Solid Gold

Some girl has made a sattelite-radio-friendly dance version of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, which is now playing at Coffee Cartel. The lyrics are different but methinks this little musical gem may be thematic inspiration for the next "Now" music CD compilation....

The Resistable Rise of Hugo Chavez

Chavez proposes referendum on holding office until 2031:
"Speaking at a stadium packed with supporters in central Lara state, Chavez said he would hold a referendum to put the question of his remaining in office to Venezuelans if the opposition pulls out of upcoming presidential elections.
'I am going to ask you, all the people, if you agree with Chavez being president until 2031,' he said.
It was not clear if Chavez was talking about holding a legally binding vote to eliminate term limits or proposing a plebiscite."

Hugo Chavez is a burgeoning dictator, and if you're not convinced by his latest manuever, I'm not sure what evidence can convince you. I've argued with Robot and others about this before, but I doubt that anyone will say that this latest move and Chavez's attempts at restricting criticism of his government mean anything but a grab for personal, unaccountable power. It seems like many left-leaners want to support Chavez on the principle that the enemy of my enemy (Bush) is my friend. This inclination is increased into actual support by the fact that Chavez uses his country's oil wealth to help others: for instance, Chavez's reduction of the cost of heating oil in a deal with Massachusetts and his offer of oil for the victims of Katrina. Chavez is also active in helping Venezuela's neighbors through the liberal distribution of oil and profits from its sale--e.g. buying $2.5 billion worth of Argentine debt. Interestingly, it is always Chavez that seems to be the one who is giving these gifts, not the Venezuelan people, who could well use the money that Chavez is giving to citizens of other countries. The amount that Chavez's government has given out is not public, an interesting and somewhat frightening fact in itself.

So liberals should apply the same rhetorical filter to Chavez that they do to Bush and his cronies. If I supported the war in Iraq on the basis that it helped people, I acknowledged at the same time that it had other causes in terms of increasing Bush's domestic power and securing a base for cheap oil. We should do the same with Chavez--even if we agree with his support for the poor and needy, we should ask if there are multiple reasons for his actions. Something is going on here: Chavez is continuing to consolidate his power within Venezuela at the same time as he is increasing his and Venezuela's international power. The probability that he is committing all of these senseless acts of kindness out of the goodness of his heart is low, and such an enormous concentration of unmediated power in the hands of anyone is a threat in itself.

Chavez's increasing power seems dangerous. But I am not sure what we can do about it. The United States' huge demand for oil and supply shortages elsewhere will continue to increase the power of countries like Venezuela; our only reasonable hope is that these countries will not be led by dictators. Unfortunately, the huge profits from oil give Chavez the tools he needs to maintain his power. Because the amount of oil revenue that Chavez actually controls is not public, his use of the funds will remain unaccountable. The international community should demand more openness from Chavez, but only the Venezuelan people can hold Chavez accountable. Chavez faces reelection this year. It will be interesting to see how and if this reelection actually occurs. The Venezuelan people should not make the same errors of many before them.

Living without Numbers or Time

Chomsky has academic debates, too:
"The language is incredibly spare. The Pirahã use only three pronouns. They hardly use any words associated with time and past tense verb conjugations don't exist. Apparently colors aren't very important to the Pirahãs, either -- they don't describe any of them in their language. But of all the curiosities, the one that bugs linguists the most is that Pirahã is likely the only language in the world that doesn't use subordinate clauses. Instead of saying, 'When I have finished eating, I would like to speak with you,' the Pirahãs say, 'I finish eating, I speak with you.'"

I make hói blog post about Piraha. You read article. I happy jump.

Friday, May 05, 2006

10,000 Kids on "Myspace" Look Like This Horse

Exhibit A: Indy Rock Kids on MySpace

Exhibit B: Indy Rock Horse (Loves "Deathcab")

There is a dissertation to be had on this.

So Funny

Richard Cohen has an essay, So Not Funny, on why Stephen Colbert's act at the White House press dinner wasn't funny. I'm not really sure who Richard Cohen is, but he is dead wrong. Here's the meat of his argument:
"Why are you wasting my time with Colbert, I hear you ask. Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders -- and they are all over the blogosphere -- will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences -- maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or -- if you're at work -- take away your office.
But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States. Colbert just did it, and he will not suffer any consequence at all."

Where has Cohen been for the past 6 years? The reason Colbert was funny isn't that he ran some huge risk, but that he was one of the first people to be on camera with Bush without a script in hand, and he took it to the motherfuckin house. Bush's idiotic leadership has rarely been criticized to his face, and never in such an unexpected way--even the "debates" are scripted. If the things that Colbert said weren't funny in themselves, and I think they were, the sheer randomness of the situation was.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dig those backdrops, man

The first time I might have blinked twice but didn't really take notice. The second time I noticed but didn't say anything. But the third time, I've just gotta come out and say it: Iran has some nutty-ass press backdrops. For instance, Exhibit A: President Ahmadinejad at the "World Without Zionism" conference:

Second (and my personal favorite), this one featuring Iranian dancers in native garb holding what are supposed to be containers of nuclear fuel in front of a backdrop of doves:

And third (which I just saw today), my man Mahmoud striking a rather silly pose in front of a hand holding a huge glowing orb:

I figured the only true contenders in this category would be George Bush, Silvio Berlusconi, or Hugo Chavez, but none of them yielded good results. (Disturbingly, when you Google image search Berlusconi you get a naked picture of him as your first hit, even with Moderate SafeSearch on.) So be proud, Iran: you are the current title-holder of "World's Zaniest Press Backdrops." Even if you won't be able to make nuclear weapons for 10-15 years, your flair for anti-Semitic and/or just plain crazy imagery and your tireless provocation will get get you bombed into the ground.

"Mr. Uribe, who weighs as much as five baby elephants..."

Ever wonder what the fattest person in the world looks like? Meet Manuel Uribe.

He may be going to Italy soon for gastric bypass surgery.

As my father usually says about obese people, "He probably has a gland problem."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

"They Can See through the Bullshit"

Check out this awesome article from yesterday's Times about how people (Republicans included) are seeing the $100 gas rebate for what it is: useless pandering. My faith in the American people ebbs and flows, but recent developments -- social security, response to immigrant protests, Bush approval ratings -- and now this have given me some hope. The highlight has to be:

"Angry constituents have asked, 'Do you think we are prostitutes? Do you think you can buy us?' said another Republican senator's aide, who was granted anonymity to openly discuss the feedback because the senator had supported the plan."