Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Painful Truth?

Most people are not looking for provable truths. As you said, truth is often accompanied by intense pain, and almost no one is looking for painful truths. What people need is beautiful, comforting stories that make them feel as if their lives have some meaning. Which is where religion comes from."

- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, page 441

Obama's Faults Lead to Ron Paul?

I'm not as much of an Obama fan as I used to be. And after reading The Big Picture's rant about all of the repugnant things that Obama has either done or has allowed to continue under his watch (hint: he's no friend of civil liberties or holding Wall Street accountable for their maleficence), it's hard not to be disgusted by how far the reality of the man differs from the hopey-changey image that he so expertly built in 2008. I say this in full knowledge that I'll be voting for him next year since he's far and away better than any of the options that the Republicans are attempting to throw in the ring. However, I agree with the post in that he needs to start being held accountable for some of his poor decisions. Which is why this idea is so intriguing:
So register as a Republican for one-year only to ensure that Ron Paul gets the GOP nomination.
Even if you’ve never done so before and never will again (we all know how bad the mainstream Republican party has been!), register one time as a Republican to vote for Paul in the primaries.
If Paul gets the nomination, then he will debate President Obama in the election itself. Then 3 of the issues that are important to all of us – ending the stupid wars, restoring freedom on the Internet and in the real world, and reining in the out-of-control Fed – will finally be discussed.
Whether or not you want President Obama to be re-elected, we all want him to be forced to answer tough questions about endless war, the ongoing drift towards a police state, and the unaccountable Fed.
Helping Ron Paul get the GOP nomination is the way to do so.
Click here for state-by-state instructions.
Note: While many progressives and liberals like Ron Paul, this essay does not focus on actually trying to elect him, only to force a real debate of the issues so that President Obama has to address them.
I'm having a hard-time buying the argument completely - voting is a serious responsibility, and i'd have a hard time knowing that I put someone whose views I disagree with so close to a leadership position - but I have to admit, the idea has merit. Despite his faults, Ron Paul does come from outside the military-industrial complex, and for that reason alone sounds better than 99% of the politicians out there. He brings issues up for discussion that otherwise would never be discussed, and for that reason alone i'm glad he's running.

Songs of the Year, Con't

When compiling my Songs of 2011, I made two egregious omissions. My defense is that these were songs in heavy rotation that i took out before they were ruined. Time to revisit them!

The first is Austra's gorgeous "Lose It." While my prediction of it becoming a huge hit was flawed, the song's combination of electropop and operatic singing is an incredible combination: she simply sings like an earth angel. Her album Feel It Break was named the best of the year by New York Magazine. You can download a copy here.

The second is The National's "Bloodbuzz Ohio". Combine Matt Berninger's intense baratone with amazingly cryptic lyrics like "I still owe money to the money to the money I owe" or "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees" and you have my earworm for April and May. Listen here.

Related Posts:
Songs of the Year

i alone

Continuing the theme of Hunter's love of classic rock, he's become obsessed with Live's "I Alone" the last few weeks. He and Trey will ask "Can you play my favorite song?" and after I cue it up, lay down on the bed, loving the build up, until the loud guitars kick in.Then they jumping and screaming and play air guitar and go nuts in general.

It's a hell of a lot of fun to watch! And even though i'm slowly growing to loathe the song, I love seeing them getting into music so much. Added bonus: they're burning off a lot more energy. I just hope that they move on to another song soon!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Friend, My Enemy

"In a friend one should have one's best enemy. You should be closest to him with your heart when you resist him."

- Nietzsche

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fall Running Fragment

I recently found a fragment I wrote about running during the fall that I was going to use as a springboard for a longer post, but now that that the window has passed, i'll simply present it here without any fluff. Enjoy!
Fall has arrived, and as the leaves pile up on the ground, the sounds of far-away trains and motorways travel farther through the skeletal trees, bringing otherworldly mechanical hoots and dull hisses that fight for prominence with my breath as I run down suburban roads. I say suburban, and there are certainly traditional suburbs on my running routes – too many houses on streets named for the trees that were cut down to make way for them. But one of the reasons that I love New England is the small scale of everything, and so my runs are punctuated with small portions of wilderness as nature fights her way through the structured settlements. Hence the scene as I run through southern Framingham, and as I transition from one suburb to another I find myself, if only for a quarter mile, on a country road, a small spit of pavement between two ponds, fall colors on the trees and also mirrored back to me on the still water, with only a few ripples coming from a shockingly white swan drifting about in the first light. Or jogging up a slow hill that divides a golf course, pale light floating down all around me through the early morning mist, not a car or person in sight.

Cross Posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

For Those About to Fly

Charles Mann tests the TSA's security theater and concludes that "To walk through an airport with Bruce Schneier ["one of America’s top security experts"] is to see how much change a trillion dollars can wreak. So much inconvenience for so little benefit at such a staggering cost."

Schneier's money quote: “The only useful airport security measures since 9/11, were locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching”—ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them —“and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”

James Fallows has more. Much more.

Monday, December 26, 2011

First Lines of Aurorarama

"In New Venice, every year around February 15th, when the sun goes up for the first time after four months of polar night, it is customary for the inhabitants to gather on the bridges and embankments and take off their mittens and hats to salute the benevolent star. By this, as the Intuit do, they manifest their respect and also their hope that they will be alive at the same time next year."

- Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorarama, a beautifully-written piece of steampunk that's so far combining political intrigue, druggy subcultures, and anthropology into an extremely entertaining brew.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Nip Watch 2011

In what might be the last Nip Watch of 2011, I hauled in:
- 21 Nips, all vodka (either Absolute or Stoli)
- 5 beer cans
- 4 Plastic Bottles

Tis the season!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Protesting and the Police

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
- J.F. Kennedy

I was thinking more about Occupy Wall Street this week, along the lines I detailed in this post - mainly how what was once a peaceful protest is in many instances degenerating into a struggle between the police and the movement. What sparked this line of thought was this article about "just how powerless citizens are when accosted by police officers—even when the cops themselves are clearly in the wrong." Long story short: Both a trial court and an appeals court convicted a black man who protested a policeman searching him even though he "was doing nothing wrong before the incident, [and that the courts recognized] it was illegal for the police to stop, detain, and search him." Even more disturbing, "The trial court, the appellate court, and the prosecution all concluded that these two cops broke the law, yet still, all three have deemed that the cops’ testimony is more credible than the testimony of Crossland, his cousin, and the other witnesses—none of whom was doing anything wrong before the confrontation."

It's important to keep this philosophy in mind when pondering ways to protest against the current conditions of, well, just about anything. In other words, if saying "Fuck this shit" sparks a severe beating for which there's no legal recourse, then i'm not surprised if  citizens succumb to a bitter complacency or assume a posture of noncompliance. In America, where we are not only taught that our freedoms are special but endowed to us by our creator, this cognitive dissonance can really only last for so long. Combine this status with the increasingly powerful methods of control the state has at their disposal (see this post on The Soft-Kill Solution), and the quote at the top of this post becomes even more chilling.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The New Horror in Short Stories

...I was beat. Arguing with the children, a trip to the dentist, then endless shopping for invisible things--toilet paper, glue, salt. Things no one ever knows are there until they're gone and are then needed desperately. An invisible day where you exhaust yourself running around, doing thankless errands that are necessary but meaningless: the housewife's oxymoron.
- Jonathan Carroll, "The Sadness of Detail", page 207 of Poe's Children.

Poe's Children is a compilation of what editor Peter Straub labels the "New Horror" - authors that strive to escape the ghettos of typical horror fiction in favor of "literature" (or at least genre mixing). Like all short story anthologies, not all of the stories are successful, even if they all are variations of a theme. So far, the ones that  work for me are the ones that provoke a visceral reaction - either of horror, disgust, or wonder. To me, that's what horror as a genre is all about - lifting you out of he mundane world Carroll describes so aptly above. For example, Kelly Link's “Louise’s Ghost” is a story that's certainly interesting and has a fun conceit - the entire story is about two women both named Louise so it's difficult to tell who is doing or saying what for a while - but it didn't present any wow moments to me (unlike the other stories she presented in Stranger Things Happen). No, the strongest stories here either shock like Dan Chaon's “The Bees” (a truly disturbing tale of supernatural redemption) or present a situation to you in an entirely new way like Carroll's story or Elizabeth Hand's “Cleopatra Brimstone” (the best story i've read in 2001, hands down).

Still only halfway through the book, but so far it's half hits, half misses. A pretty good showing in my book. Hey, hitting .500 would win you the batting title and $250 million dollars, so Straub did something right!

Cross Posted at Reading, Running and Red Sox

Just Change Something

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
- Woodrow Wilson

Monday, December 19, 2011

What's the Deal with Christopher Hitchens?

All of the blogs I follow regularly are very actively and eloquently eulogizing Christopher Hitchens. I personally don't know much about the guy, other than he was an atheist intellectual in a position to speak truth to power, something I will always applaud. Can someone fill me in on his best writings? I'm intrigued by the title of Letters to a Young Contrarian, but is there anything else I should check out?

It's Called an Open Mind

Stubborn and ardent clinging to one’s opinion is the best proof of stupidity.

- Michel de Montaigne

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Xmas Music

The missus dropped me off early at the mall today so I could finish my Xmas shopping. The nice thing was that there were very few people there so I was able to do a quick in and out. The bad thing was that with so few people, I was able to hear more clearly the banal Christmas music that was being piped into every. single. store. Call me a Scrooge, but I think Christmas music is overplayed as it is, and I find it exhausting to be forced to listen to the same songs over and over. (Someone needs to write some new Christmas songs.Where's my drum n'bass Christmas album?) Having said that, Anthropologie actually did play some good music - beat heavy, and different arrangements of the "classic" songs made the music much less mind-numbing than normal.

Friday, December 16, 2011

POV French Skiing

Time to get ready for winter!

Make Him Sorry!

"Let us live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry,"

- Mark Twain

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why no Corporate Bankruptcy Stigma?

 , writing in the New Yorker, makes a good point about walking away from debts as a corporation and as a private person:
Paying your debts is, as a rule, a good thing. But the double standard here is obvious and offensive. Homeowners are getting lambasted for doing what companies do on a regular basis. Walking away from real-estate obligations in particular is common in the corporate world, and real-estate developers are notorious for abandoning properties that no longer make economic sense.
I had never really thought of this before, but Surowieck makes some really great points. He even offers a potential corporate/private solution to the dept issue:
They could have helped keep people in their homes by writing down mortgages (the equivalent of the restructuring that American Airlines’ debt holders will now be confronting). And there are plenty of useful ideas out there for how banks could do this without taxpayer subsidies and without rewarding the irresponsible. For instance, Eric Posner and Luigi Zingales, of the University of Chicago, suggest that, in exchange for writing down mortgages in hard-hit areas, lenders would take an ownership stake in a house, getting a percentage of the capital gain when it was eventually sold.

Songs of the Year

It's that time of year when everyone writes their "best of" lists. I tend to find them annoying for many reasons: the arbitrary cut off date that tends to ignore things released earlier in the year, the notion that an entire year of a subject can be narrowed down to just a few items, etc. I could go on and on.

However, I do take the wintertime to reflect upon the recent past in order to determine what went well and what didn't. And since music is such a huge part of my life, I feel that I should share the songs that have changed my life for the better. So since I haven't been able to come up with a clever way of presenting them, i'm going to be lazy and present them as the best songs of the year.

Not all of these songs were released this year, but were new to me in 2011. Presented in no particular order:
  • Nothing Like You - Frightened Rabbit. A slice of perfect rock from this Scottish band served as the soundtrack for March and April. Still resides in my racing mix.
  • Young Blood - The Naked and Famous. A candidate for my favorite song of all time because it makes me happy every time I hear it. Thanks to K for this one!
  • zitunE by Innerfuze (unreleased). A beautiful lullaby to his young son that you want to continue forever.
  • Glowing Mouth - Milagres. Love that falsetto. The lyrics ain't bad either.
  • Manners - Icona Pop. Composed of a bunch of elements that feel like they shouldn't work together, this song sticks with you. For a while. Seriously, if you don't find yourself singing "There is no one like me" in the shower, there's something wrong with you.
  • Derezzed - Daft Punk  (Remixed by The Glitch Mob) The Tron: Legacy movie got me back into Daft Punk. SGTMT points out that you should "listen to it on your earphones whilst marching through a crowded public space, preferably an airport or large train station terminus. Seriously, stomping speedily through Victoria Station listening to Derezzed or The Grid will make you feel like the terminator, and we should all feel like the terminator once in a while."
  • Nightwatch - Acrylics. Not blown away the first time I heard this, it really snuck up on me. Now it's one of my favorites.
  • Everything by Ulrich Schnauss. Not only did 2011 present me with the magisty of Far Away Trains Passing By but the pandora station created from Schnauss' music is stunning and serves as my morning and evening soundtrack just about everyday. Some of the best electronic music you'll ever hear.
What have you been listening to this year?

UPDATE: Forgot two excellent songs, as detailed here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From One Cage to Another

"What did it mean for a person to be free? she would often ask herself. Even if you managed to escape from one cage, weren't you just in another, larger one?"
- Murakami, 1Q84, page 184

Time for another Tab Dump!

I'm laid up today, recovering from a minor surgerical operation, and you benefit because it's gives me the time to present you with another tab dump! As always, i'd love to write more about these items but just haven't been able to scrape together the time.
  • Like TNC, I'd love for the iPad to have a real competitor, if only so that the prices might drop enough so that I could afford one. Alas, Jakob Nielsen, one of the best usability experts out there (highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter!) "denounced the [amazon] Fire, saying it offered 'a disappointingly poor' experience. For users whose fingers are not as slender as toothpicks, he warned, the screen could be particularly frustrating to manipulate. "I feel the Fire is going to be a failure," Mr. Nielsen, of the Nielsen Norman Group, a Silicon Valley consulting firm, said in an interview. "I can't recommend buying it."
  • Not that I’d ever watch the show, but pulling adverts from the All-American Muslim "reality" show just because the conservative Florida Family Association says that the show is “...propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values” is just madness. Shame on Lowes for succumbing to the bigots.
  • Never underestimate the power of money when it comes to stealing personal and public property for private profit when natural resources are involved. Case in point: Pennsylvania. As Atrios says: “My first thought when I heard about the natural gas discoveries in PA was,'uh oh, we're fucked.'”
  • Harvard physicist Lisa Randall talks about extra dimensions: “There could be more to the universe than the three dimensions we are familiar with. They are hidden from us in some way, perhaps because they're tiny or warped. But even if they're invisible, they could affect what we actually observe in the universe. There are lots of things we cannot see with the naked eye that turn out to be based in reality. ... our idea is there's an extra dimension that's so warped, the masses would be big in one place and small in another. In other words, gravity could be weaker in one place and stronger in another. If so, it could be a natural explanation both for why particles masses are what they are, and why gravity is so much weaker than the other elementary forces we observe.”
  • How animals see color. The most interesting are birds:
    “Birds… possess rich color vision, in many cases better than our own. Most birds have four cone visual pigments, although this varies. In general, birds have an additional ultraviolet pigment in their cones and many more cones than we have. Furthermore the visual pigments that would be similar to ours span different wavelengths. Their visual experience is richer than our own in ways impossible to describe or understand. Not only do they see more colors, but the interpretation of colors would be different. Think of combining different colors of paint—if you combine more colors radiating from the same object, like a flower, you will see different colors. A hummingbird, then, would see a red flower as a different color because of the ultraviolet channel input.
    You may ask what good are these extra color channels in birds? Of course, it’s hard to know completely since we can’t even understand the perception of the color “ultraviolet,” but here is an example. When a mouse is being hunted by a hawk, it will often urinate out of fear and to make itself as light as possible for escape. Mouse urine radiates ultraviolet and that actually helps the hawk follow the mouse trail. Fresher urine radiates more ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet arrow will point to lunch for the hawk.”
  • Sounds Good to Me Too - one of the best music blogs out there - have started to post their best albums of the year
  • Why we invented monsters. This article is one big slice of awesome, combining a treasure trove of bizarre myths ("In Aboriginal myth, there is a creature with the body of a human, the head of a snake, and the suckers of an octopus") with an analysis of the best monster of all - the dragon. In short, "anthropologist David E. Jones argues that the image of the dragon is composed of the salient body parts of three predator species that hunted and killed our tree-dwelling African primate ancestors for about sixty million years ... the leopard, the python, and the eagle. ... ancient primates evolved alarm calls to identify each of the three predators, with each call triggering the defensive response appropriate to the nature of the attack mode of the specific predator. ... [these creatures] were merged into a hybrid creature that had the salient predatory features of each: the face of a feline, the body of a snake, and the talons of a raptor. ...Because the image combined features from three dominant predators, it could quickly send the neural message very dangerous animal."

Bio-engineering at a Massive Scale

The Dish points us towards a real-life SciFi proposal from Libya that would
 "...reverse global warming by turning the Sahara into a massive wind and solar farm." It would consist of “dozens of enormous greenhouse-like structures up to 15km in diameter built across the Sahara and Arabian deserts. Each would suck in air, that would be heated and then escape at high speed through large venting towers.
This “conversion of daylight into steady winds” would power rings of wind turbines that would, with the help of a huge global network of electricity connectors, generate enough power to end the world’s reliance on traditional fossil fuels.”
Global engineering at this scale has always fascinated me, but then I’ve always been obsessed with anything that sparks my sense of wonder. Still, while I agree with Andrew’s take that “some kind of massive bio-engineering like this will likely be humankind's ultimate way of grappling with the stress our mass consumerism is placing on the planet,” I’m also confident that our leaders won’t have the willpower to even attempt something at a large enough scale to make a difference until it’s just way too late.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Irritating Things

The passing year --
irritating things
are also flowing water.

- Chiyo-ni

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Money Man Brown

As someone who ran quite infamously as a man who drove a beat up truck (and IMO not much else), Scott Brown sure has quickly turned into quite the money man:
Next week, Brown backers are slated to hold at least two fundraisers to fill the coffers of Scott PAC and his campaign. On Dec. 7, his campaign is hosting a money bash at the National Theater, where the play “Jersey Boys” is currently running. And on Dec. 11, Scott PAC is holding a fundraiser at Fed Ex Field when the Washington Redskins take on the New England Patriots. ...
Even though Brown’s campaign had over $10.5 million in the bank as of Sept. 30, lobbyists are in overdrive to raise millions more because [Elizabeth] Warren’s campaign is off to a fast start and a new poll shows her with a slight edge over Brown.
Deep-pocketed GOP allies such as Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-founded group backed by secret donors, have sought to help Brown with negative TV spots against Warren.
Brown's been trying to paint himself as a moderate ever since he entered office, and to the extent that he hasn't been associated with the Tea Party, he's succeeded. However, he's had an unimpressive term to date and speaks the same depressingly Randian language as just about every other Republican out there.

Elizabeth Warren and her progressive policies are just about everything that I hope for in a candidate. I'm excited to vote for her. Here's hoping that enough of my Massachusetts brethren feel the same.

Related Posts:
The Social Contract

Attention Republicans

Your shtick was predicted a while back:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"

Isaac Asimov, from a column in the 1/21/1980 issue of Newsweek.

Where's the Future?

"The strange thing about the future is that it never seems to arrive. Every day you wake up and it's still the present."

- Andrew Marantz, from "A Rising Tide," an article about Tuvalu in the December 2011 issue of Harpers.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Productive Resistance

The power of an idea can be measured by the degree of resistance it attracts.
- David Yoho

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Theoretical Physicists Adventures Beyond the Multiverse

"Over the centuries science has weakened the hold of religion, not by disproving the existence of God but by invalidating arguments for God based on what we observe in the natural world. The multiverse idea offers an explanation of why we find ourselves in a universe so favorable to life that does not rely on the benevolence of a creator, and so if correct will leave even less support for religion."
- Stephen Weinberg

Alan Lightman's "The Accidental Universe" in the December issue of Harpers is a godsend for those of us who, like me, are fascinated in the theoretical musings about physics and space but don't have the time nor math skills to follow the major texts. He not only provides clear, concise definitions of the latest theories - string theory, dark energy, the multiverse concept - but he also draws them together in order to paint a picture of the current state of the field. I recommend you read the whole thing, but in short a lot of signs are pointing towards our universe, with it's scientifically improbable conditions that support carbon-based life, is merely a cosmic accident, just one of billions of universes- one that happened to have the right amont of energy needed to sustain life. It's the cosmological version of the room full of monkeys banging on typewriters until they produce a work of Shakespeare.

This is interesting enough in itself, but Lightman points out an irony in modern theoretical physics. Basically, scientists who have devoted their lives to "explaining all of the properties of the universe in a few fundamental principles and parameters"- in other words, those who want to scientifically define "laws of nature that govern the behavior of all matter and energy" - find themselves stymied by the multiverse theory. The theory answers a lot of difficult cosmological questions, but it can't be proven because there's no known way to see or otherwise prove the existence these other universes. Thus, "to explain what [scientists] see in the world and in our mental deductions, we must believe in what we cannot prove." Which sounds very much like religion.

Has all of this scientific work merely brought us back to the same spot? Do we need to accept some things on blind faith, be it theological or cosmological? It's still too early to tell - these theories are all relatively new and time will tell what new information will turn up. But it's another interesting twist that make pondering the universe so fascinating.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Why Big Companies Die

I found truth in this article by Peggy Noonan. She makes two basic points. One is from Steve Jobs:
[Jobs] has a theory about “why decline happens” at great companies: “The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues.” So salesmen are put in charge, and product engineers and designers feel demoted: Their efforts are no longer at the white-hot center of the company’s daily life. They “turn off.”
Noonan adds "accountants and the money men" to Jobs' theory:
...[they] search the firm high and low to find new and ingenious ways to cut costs or even eliminate paying taxes. The activities of these people further dispirit the creators, the product engineers and designers, and also crimp the firm’s ability to add value to its customers. But because the accountants appear to be adding to the firm’s short-term profitability, as a class they are also celebrated and well-rewarded, even as their activities systematically kill the firm’s future.
When the people that do the work aren't valued, then the products suffer, and what is a company without it's products? It's why I think Agile Scrum is such an effective software development process; by pushing decisions down to the lowest possible level, you let people who are actually informed about the subjects (the "boots on the ground") make informed decisions rather than choosing directions based on executive summaries or spreadsheets. While you have to be careful to keep the focus on the customer (don't let the Inmates Run the Asylum), Jobs demonstrated that keeping a company's focus on adding customer value - another goal of Agile Scrum - is a path to continued success.

Freeda Stations!

Alyssa Rosenberg reminds me of one of the most infuriating topics around: paying big bucks to cable companies for hundreds of stations that you never watch. Her money quote:
...younger consumers who have decided that cable isn’t worth the money at all and are declining to subscribe in the first place, so they won’t replace older ones who are exiting the subscriber universe. That should be a much scarier proposition for the cable industry, but it’s an intriguing one for networks.
I remain pretty convinced that even if it takes a very long time to unbundle cable, and even if a bunch of networks die in the process, a move towards a more flexible (if not entirely a la carte) multi-platform system is inevitable. The idea that choice is paying for precisely what you want, rather than getting an enormous number of things — some of which you want and some of which you’d gladly see die in a fire — for your money seems pretty well-entrenched in the music industry now, and has always been the case for books.
Who's surprised that young folks aren't buying the crap that cable is providing? If Nexflix carried sports, i'd say ciao to my cable box in a heartbeat. As it is, both Comcast and Verizon make me pay extra (~$45 a month) for their "Basic Plus" package in order to get NESN for the Sox games. Do I watch anything else on Basic Plus? No. So why the fuck am I paying for them? A la carte pricing is the way to go! Or some form of subscription based model; i'd pay for a X amount of hours of streaming content from a range of stations Nexflix/Pandora-style. I'd even pay-per view - at least that way I knew my money was supporting the creation of something that I enjoyed. In fact, I'd take just about anything but the awful pricing tiers that are available now. I know i'm not the only one, so when it someone comes up with a viable alternative, cable's going to crash quickly - mark my words.

A Dish reader makes some great points:

The first that "The LA Times has a story today noting how ESPN's programming costs have increased 50% in five years. Consumers are paying for [programming cost increases without a] way to discipline the market and reject the price increases without dropping their entire cable package."

He also points out that without these artificial limitations, "I think you'd see some cable and satellite companies do some creative things – Pick 10 channels from this bucket for $5 bucks. Pick 25 for $15. Buy 10 from this bundle at $10. – Buy this bundle of sports channels that includes the NFL Network instead of making me pay a dollar a month to watch the Scouting Combine in the summer."

Mental Health Break

Texts from Bennett. Gotta like any kid that names their stuffed bunny "hustla da rabbit"

Wonder Why so Many People Feel Bad About Themselves?

Because print media uses Photoshop (in the past, airbrushes) to make people look more glamorous than they really are. Check out these before and after pictures. If you click the buttons quickly, you can see boobs grow, butts shrink, and facial lines disappear before your very eyes!

Personally, I think age lines and big butts are endearing signs of personality, but then i'm not trying to sell magazines either. What I find annoying is how many people spend incredible amounts of time, energy, and money trying to live up to impossible (because faked) ideals.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Expression of Quiet Trouble

As If
By J. Allyn Rosser

How do you explain why elephants
appear to move their unwieldy hulks
with greater dignity than most humans do
in their finest moments,
as if they had evolved beyond wanting
anything but what they have?
Why does the field begin to ripple
before the wind arrives in whispers,
as if there were a communication,
as if the landscape were poorly dubbed,
and we weren't expected to notice?
What butterfly does not dart away from us
as if it could sense our latent cruelties,
and yet return to check and double-check?
Has the night not gotten recently darker,
as if to insinuate that we have squandered
the light that was there?
Have we made too much of our own?
And did you notice afterward the dawn
opening up with a tentative eagerness
as if there were something crucial to illumine,
as if we would wake up early just to see it?
I imagine you reading this now
with an expression of quiet trouble
itself troubled by currents of hope,
as if you imagined me here with you,
as if I might be able to see your expression,
and at least answer it with mine.

Hat tip: TNC

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Syllabus Porn

 IMO, this Katie Rophie article (despite it's caveats) goes a bit too far into DFW idolation, but it's still worth reading for a look at how  refreshing his approach to even mundane topics was. Money quote:
Wallace is bringing to the endeavor rigorous Salingerish standards of not lying, or not being phony, that would reproach other more ordinary people if these standards did not border on parody, and were not expressed in such a good natured and honorable way.
Most of us operate on what Wallace elsewhere calls the “default setting;” we make a calculation about what is the right expenditure of energy for a syllabus; we make a sensible adult decision about preserving analytic brio for other things, and don’t think too much about it; we use the conventions, the years of worn-out tradition, as a shortcut to speed up communication.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rock Opera!

I've never really understood the obsession with calling rock musicals "Rock Operas." Like many musical arguments, the whole premise seems like a silly exercise in nomenclature to me. However, I do agree with the premise of this article that the Who's greatest musical is not the more highly rated Tommy, it's instead the magical, grandiose Quadrophenia. The two instrumentals alone are the best composed and played rock music i've ever heard, while side three - "5:15", "Sea and Sand", "Drowned", and "Bell Boy" - contains all members of the Who firing on all cylinders for the last time on album. I couldn't recommend listening to the album in it's entirety more.

Random Clustering

The Melbourne Urbanist reminds us that random distributions are not evenly spread out - instead, they cluster together in groups because, as David Pinker notes in his book The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined, "it would take a non-random process to space them out. The human mind has great difficulty appreciating this law of probability".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making Monotony Interesting

I've been listening to Phil Manley's "Life Coach" recently and the phrase that comes to mind is "making monotony interesting." I mean that in the best way! The song starts off with a simple drum loop that is quickly joined by a relatively static electronic bass riff that rides out the whole song. Eventually, a guitar plays an ethereal riff for about a minute before moving to the same riff as the bass except that the notes go up and down the scale note by note. It sounds very much like Rainbow Dome Musick-era Steve Hillage (before he discovered drum kits and formed System 7).

The song itself is nothing special, but the combination of the sounds really does something to me. Perhaps it's the echo of the guitar that bounces off of the back of the soundstage of the song. Or perhaps it has something to do with Terry Riley.

 From what I understand, Terry Riley's In C was one of the first "minimalist" compositions in that it consisted of musical stasis that gradually transforms itself into something different, often so subtly that you don't even notice it until things have changed. I think of "In C" a lot, even if I find the actual recording I have to be unlistenable. The theory is sound, I just feel that it works better with electronic instruments than in a classical orchestral setting. For example, Pete Townshend was thinking of Terry Riley when he wrote the famous - and kick-ass! - keyboard riffs of Who's Next (going so far as to name "Baba o'Riley" after the composer). I also hear Terry Riley in the Orb, in particular the amazing "oxbow lakes" off of Orbus Terrarum where the static piano riff slowly changes into something else as the electronic madness takes over...

The last example that comes immediately to mind is múm's "Slow Bicycle" that rides essentially the same riff for a good nine minutes but is mesmerizing all the same. Oh, and The Days Of Mars by Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom!

I could go on and on but my main point of this rambling post is that montonous music can be interesting if the musician gives you the space to ride the groove - and you accept it. And that following musical influences into the past is really a hell of a lot of fun.

OWS and Police Brutality

I've been enjoying the story of the Occupy Wall Street movement the last few months. I think that the movement is important if only because it draws more attention to the huge issue of income inequality of this country.

However, i've been watching the increasing conflict between the police and the movement with dismay, not only because it's obviously horrible for all of the people involved but also because it dilutes the economic message of the movement. As Josh Marshall puts it:
"...something seemed to have changed in the previous couple weeks — basically that the dominant imagery had become about confrontations with the police rather than the core economic messages which had been more dominant previously. In most cases it didn’t seem to be the fault of the OWS protesters. It was peaceful or mainly peaceful protests getting met by excessive police responses. But still, at the level of imagery and message, the end result can be the same. ...

The issue of police brutality and militarized or quasi-militarized policing is a legitimate and very important issue, entirely unto itself. But the the campus police at Davis or the NYPD for that matter aren’t what’s driving the rising inequality of American society."
I hope that this trend doesn't continue, because IMO American inequality is the premier problem facing our country today. If it's not addressed soon, expect the unrest and strife to continue - and if anything, escalate.

Friday, November 18, 2011

That Demon Life

Did you ever wake up to find
A day that broke up your mind
Destroyed your ntion of circular time

It's just that demon life has got you in its sway

Ain't flinging tears out on the dusty ground
For all my friends out on the burial ground
Can't stand the feeling getting so brought down

It's just that demon life has got you in its sway

There must be ways to find out
Love is the way they say is really strutting out

Hey, hey, hey now
One day I woke up to find
RIght in the bed next to mine
Someone that broke me up with a corner of her smile

It's just that demon life has got you in its sway
- "Sway", off of Sticky Fingers by the The Rolling Stones. Quite possibly the best song they've ever recorded. You simply have to listen to Mick Taylor's guitar work on this one. Powerful each and every time I've listened to it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

So You Want to Be a Writer

So You Want To Be A Writer by Charles Bukowski
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.
- Quibble: I'd argue that even the most inspired writing benefits from some rework and wordsmithing. But the sentiment still stands, and who can argue with the great line "the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What is Music?

Music is the shorthand of emotion.
- Leo Tolstoy

Where Do You Buy Your Stuff?

Grist has been doing an expose on Wal-Mart recently, and today's installment examines the poor quality of the stuff we're buying these days. Long story short: Wal-Mart profits from selling sheer volumes of stuff, so they induce manufacturers to cut corners to lower costs. These lower costs mean people buy more, but they also mean that the quality is lessened, so that stuff wears out faster, meaning you have to buy more stuff. Buying all this stuff at Wal-Mart gives them more control over the market, making the whole thing a vicious circle:
Prices on general household goods have fallen by about one-third since the mid-1990s. Given how awash in stuff we were in those boom years, it's shocking just how much more we buy now. Since 1995, the number of toasters and other small electro-thermal appliances sold in the U.S. each year increased from 188 million to 279 million. The average household now buys a new TV every 2.5 years, up from every 3.4 years in the early 1990s. We buy more than 2 billion bath towels a year, up from 1.4 billion in 1994. And on and on.
While there are certainly factors beyond Walmart that have contributed to this ever-expanding avalanche of consumption, the company has been a major driver of the trend. Its growth and profitability rest on fueling an ever-faster churn of products, from factory to shelf to house to landfill.
In a paper [PDF] that came out last year, three business professors illustrate how inducing manufacturers to cut product quality enhances Walmart's competitive position. "Because lower quality products are usually cheaper to produce, it is often argued that discount retailers induce lower quality in order to drive down prices. Our model suggests, however, that the competitive and bargaining position effects provide incentives to induce lower quality regardless of changes in production costs," the authors write. In other words, getting manufacturers to make shoddier products doesn't just mean that Walmart can offer super-cheap wares; it also helps Walmart marginalize its competitors and gain more dominance over its suppliers.
It's one of the reasons I never shop there.

Everything is Sub-division

“It goes back,” he might have begun, “to the second Day of Creation, when ‘G-d made the Firmament, from the waters which were under the Firmament,’—thus the first Boundary Line. All else after that, in all History, is but Sub-Division.”
Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, p.360–61

The Perils of Face Time

I recently upgraded my iPhone to version 4 (not the version with Suri) and have been loving the new experience. However, one feature that I haven't even been tempted to try is FaceTime. Hell, I don't even like talking on the phone, much less doing it via video.

The FaceTime thing always reminds me of a wonderful riff from Infinite Jest where DFW details the quick rise and demise of video phones. Money quote:
The answer, in a kind of trivalent nutshell, is: (1) emotional stress, (2) physical vanity, and (3) a certain queer kind of self-obliterating logic in the microeconomics of consumer high-tech.
The whole section needs to be read in its entirety - it's easily one of the best portions of that over-long, frustrating, fascinating book - but you can read a brief  excerpt at here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Opting Out of Air Travel

TNC, with his usual eloquence, explains one of the reasons why he's choosing not to fly these days:
Finally there is the fact that, as much as possible, I should avoid supporting airline travel in its current American iteration. As I said before I don't do this expecting any kind of policy change--but The God of Policy is not omnipotent. I expect an end to that sick feeling I get whenever I see passengers arbitrarily herded into full-body scans, or stranded on runways for hours, or yanked from their seats and stripped searched. There is still value in looking oneself in the mirror--whatever one might hope to see. Thoughtful resistance, in and of itself, is valuable.
That's so well put I would only add to it the monetary factor: air travel is certainly not as inexpensive or convenient as it used to be. Given these facts, who can fault anyone for choosing to drive, take the train, or forgo the trip altogether?

We Are the Robots

My son Hunter has become obsessed with robots. If you've spent any time at all on this site, you know that that makes the SciFi nerd in me very happy. We've recently spent a few happy hours looking at the robot pictures in Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiad and talking about the different mecha in my old copy of Robotech Art 1. But in perhaps the happiest development i've discovered that I can head off tantrums by putting on Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine. Now we roll by marching around the house chanting "We are the Robots." It's a good life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Not a story?

"But this is not a story. We're talking about the real world."
Tamaru narrowed his eyes and looked hard at Aomame. Then, slowly opening his mouth, he said, "Who knows?"

- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, p. 326

Morphing Starlings

An incredible morphing collection of startling formations. Thanks to the Dish for pointing it out!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Time

Time flows in strange ways on Sundays, and sights became mysteriously distorted.
- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, page 153

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Whether Announcing Despair or Affirmation

Whether announcing despair or affirmation, American Realist art in the 20th century is a persistent effort to discover what position man occupies in a world he has brilliantly transformed but often seems unable to control.

- William Kloas

Friday, November 4, 2011

Six Months After

Incredible photos of northeast Japan during, 3 and 6 Months after the terrible earthquake and tsunami.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Refreshing the Tree of Liberty

“God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
- Thomas Jefferson

It's a powerful quote that speaks truth but has been used dangerously over the last few years. In the case of Greece and the decisions being made by the European Union without the explicit consent of the governed, I fear that that the people are about to take to arms and remind people about the inherit messiness of democracy.

Update: To clarify, i'm not advocating revolution. I just don't understand how the EU can continue to dictate terms to its member states - each ostensibly with their own sovereignty! - without going to the people for accountability. The collapse of the Greek Referendum today shows that it's not going to happen anytime soon, which, as Andrew Sullivan writes:

"...there are also profound long-term risks in pushing for the deeper European integration required of this crisis without popular, democratic consent. ... We're already seeing the paradox of accelerating the loss of sovereignty past the popular national will: you actually increase nationalism and division, rather than ameliorating them. In other words, the EU begins to defeat its own reason for existing."

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pictures of Halloween Past

A wonderful collection of pictures from old Halloween nights. Beautiful in it's artlessness.

Halloween as Religion

Starhawk reminds us of the pagan traditions of this most excellent holiday:
For Witches, for those who practice the renewal of the ancient, pre-Christian Goddess religions of Europe and the Middle East, Halloween is our most sacred holiday, our New Year. In Celtic Ireland, Wales and Scotland, Samhain, pronounced ‘sau-in’, was the time when the sheep and cattle were brought down from the summer fields, when the harvest was gathered in and the dark time of year began. The fruits of the harvest, the blessing of the year’s abundance, was shared with the ancestors in the form of offerings which have come down to us in modern times as the candy we give to children-who are the ancestors returning.
Harvest is a time of ending, but also a time of beginning, for the Goddess stands for the great regenerative powers of nature. Out of darkness, light will be born anew. Out of the time of cold and dormancy, new life will return. Death is part of a cycle that brings about rebirth.
In that sense, the witches celebration of Halloween is very Buddhist: not to become too saddened by death, for out of every ending arises yet another beginning, regardless of how difficult it is to see at the time.

And what a celebration it is! Easily my favorite time of year.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Who Controls Trick or Treat?

I always just assumed that Trick or Treating was something that just happened, not something that was organized by someone. Well, according to the Boston Globe, many communities around Boston are cancelling or postponing Trick or Treating due to the damage wrought by this weekend's snowstorm (at least 500,000 houses were without power as of 9:00 this morning).

Something tells me the older kiddos will be outside regardless of what their local governments say. Regardless, i'm happy my town's festivities are not on the list - i'll be putting on my vampire makeup shortly after 5:00 PM!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Mystic Withdraws into Danger

"By withdrawing from the world, the mystic, far from escaping from temptation, opens himself to the encounter with evil in its purest form: as it arises from within."

- MacGregor, writing about Henry Darger

Saturday, October 29, 2011

First Lines of 1Q84

"The taxi's radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast. Janáček's Sinconietta--probably not the ideal music to hear in a taxi caught in traffic. The middle-aged driver didn't seem to be listening very closely either. With his mouth clamped shut, he stared straight ahead at the endless line of cars stretching out on the elevated expressway, like a veteran fisherman standing in the bow of his boat, reading the ominous confluence of two currents. Aomame settled into the broad back seat, closed her eyes, and listened to the music."

- Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Loving what I've read so far!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Lines of Negotiating with the Dead

Writing, Writers, The Writing Life--if this last is not an oxymoron. Is this subject like the many-headed Hydra, which grows two other subtexts as soon as you demolish one? Or is it more like Jacob's nameless angel, which whom you must wrestle until he blesses you? Or is it like Proteus, who must be firmly grasped through all of his changes? Hard to get hold of, certainly. Where to start? At the end called Writing? Or the end called The Writer? With the gerund or the noun, the activity or the one performing it? And where exactly does one stop and the other begin?

- Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead

For more on this fascinating woman, you have to see her take on the hockey goalie.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Only the Best SciFi a site that compiles the most critically acclaimed SciFi out there.

Of the top ten, i'd love to read China Miéville's Kraken, although i've heard its humor is a bit obscure, and William Gibson's zero history, because there's always something interesting going on in a Gibson novel.

I haven't heard of any of the rest - i'm not as up on my SciFi as I used to be! - but judging buy the covers and titles, Tricia Sullivan's Lightborn, Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death? and Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe all look good, although the latter has the possibility of being too postmodern for it's own good.

Writing Fiction in Four Easy Steps!

Teresa at Making Light has a a simple four-item formula for turning story into fiction:

  1. Move and keep moving.
  2. Make it consequential.
  3. Recycle your characters.
  4. See if you already have one.
Details here. Like anything complicated, this simplifies the matter entirely, but could serve as a good jumping off point. Plus, as a commenter notes, it's usually a good idea to know what the rules are - or to at least think about them! - before deciding to break them.

Tough Phantoms

"It is far harder to kill a phantom than reality."

- Virginia Wolff. Perspective and full quote here.

Related post: "I have done that"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Capitalism vs. Too Big to Fail

I love Tim Carney's argument:
These banks' credit is rated higher than they would be in a free market, meaning they profit from the expectation of a bailout, if necessary. So banks profit largely through activities that do not create value or efficiencies. They profit through financial games that rest on government favors. Many Occupy Wall Street protestors demonize all profit. Conservatives defend profit-seeking as the engine that creates prosperity for all of society. But the big banks have rigged the game so that they profit without creating value. In fact, they profit from activities that weaken the economy by creating instability.
Hat Tip the Daily Dish.

The Language of Visual Symbols

I've always been interested by good design, both in the real world (The Design of Everyday Things is an incredible book) and in the use of symbols to depict data, and so I read a NYTimes review of newly published design books called "The Design of Symbols" with great interest. Without this, I never would have known that  one man laid the foundation for an innumerable amount of instantly recognizable graphic icons: Otto Neurath, who developed a “system of sign symbols, which became known as the International System of Typographic Picture Education (Isotype)". Money Quote:
Neurath may not be a household name, but he is a major figure in the world of visual statistics. [Each of his] primary concerns: community, democracy and globalism... contributed to a narrative that Neurath believed could be made more transparent by the application of his pictures. Man “receives his education in the most comfortable of means, partly during his periods of rest, through optical impressions,” he wrote. According to Vossoughian, he believed that “the dissemination of images or pictures could foster Bildung, that is, education and self-actualization.”
One of the best examples of how Isotype symbols were used to raise popular awareness is to be found in “Modern Man in the Making,” Neurath’s opus, published by Knopf in 1939; it beautifully demonstrates his means of presenting otherwise impenetrable data in bite-size, though not dumbed-down, nuggets, with layouts that are clean, crisp and easy on the eye. In his own book, Vossoughian makes clear that Neurath was the father of the current trend in information graphics, in print and on the Web, and that the prototypes he created are still as timely as ever.
This sounds incredible, and could be really useful to me in my everyday work as an Instructional Designer. Also, as I get older, I'm fascinated about the back stories of everyday items that people all take for granted. There's a huge amount of hidden history in just about everything. Here, the review notes that iconic symbols like the CBS "eye" and the IBM corporate logo achieve their power partly due to the foundation that Neurath laid. I'll have to read up more on this, and regret that I don't have the time to learn about all of these backstories!

First Lines of Idoru

“After Slitscan, Laney heard about another job from Rydell, the night security man at the Chateau.  Rydell was a big quiet Tennessean with a sad, shy grin, cheap sunglasses, and a walkie-talkie screwed permanently into one ear.
‘Paragon-Asia Dataflow,’ Rydell said, around four in the morning, the two of them seated in a pair of huge old armchairs. Concrete beams overhead had been hand-painted to vaguely resemble blond oak. The chairs, like the rest of the furniture in the Chateau lobby, were oversized to the extent that whoever sat in them seemed built to a smaller scale.”

- William Gibson, from Idoru

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Baby has No Subvert Life

"A baby has no subvert life, and by comparison everyone else you know seems cloaked, muffled, and full of sad little tricks."

- Michael Cunningham, from A Home at the End of the World

Generation X is Sick of Your BS

A wonderful rant from Mat Honan.

Owl Attack!

I've always been very impressed with the visual appearance of owls ever since I was a 12 year old walking alone in the woods and witnessing - and being scared witless by! - an owl silently snatching a mouse 20 yards away from me. All I heard was the snapping of the mouse's neck. And this is what the poor mouse must have seen in the last minutes of its life.

Complementary Tastes

For you cooks out there, a ginormous graphic depicting all of the complementary cooking flavors. I think i'm going to use this as wallpaper for my kitchen.

Who are We?

“Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.”

- Italo Calvino, espousing the idea that we're all a mash-up of our experiences, a viewpoint that I do not disagree with.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


“Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased."

- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Murakami's Boundaries

I’ve often read that a good deal of Haruki Murakami’s writing is powerful because it evokes many unconscious trends of Japanese society. Without knowing much about Japan, it’s hard for me to speak to that, although it might explain away the strange underpinnings of his more abstract books. Personally, I find the subtle dark undertones of his writing to be mesmerizingly suggestive, but find that it's powerful because of this lack of specificity, not in spite of it. It's with this in mind that I ponder his obsession with boundaries. Boundaries between the real and the imaginary, boundaries between good and evil, boundaries between the certain and the uncertain.

His most famous boundary is the doorway that exists between the bottom of a dried up well and the mysterious hotel room in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, but it doesn’t take a lot of deep reading to find equivalencies in his other books. The most obvious one is spelled out in the title of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World in that most of the novel is about the journey between those two realities. I won’t bore you with more examples but pick up any one of his books and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

His 2007 novel After Dark is no exception. In fact, this short novel almost explicitly deals with the barriers between two states of being. These include:
  • The city before and after trains: “Between the time the last train leaves and the first train arrives, the place changes: it’s not the same as in daytime.” (p. 55)
  • Eri’s journey out of the “sleep coma” that she’s been in for the last few months
  • Takihashi’s speech about criminals vs. non-criminals: “[The criminals] live in a different world, they think different thoughts, and their actions are nothing like mine. Between the world they live in and the world I live in there’s this thick, high wall.” (p. 91)
  • One side of the mirror vs. another: Both Mari (p.63) and Shirakawa (p.127) occasionally have reflections that stay in the mirror after they have left the room – and Shirakawa’s reflection even does things that he does not!
  • Takahashi’s music: “You send the music deep enough into your heart so that it makes your body undergo a kind of a physical shift, and simultaneously the listener’s body also undergoes the same kind of physical shift. It's giving birth to that shared state.” (p. 88)
  • Night vs. Day “The new day is almost here, but the old one is still dragging its heavy skirts. Just as ocean water and river water struggle against each other at a river mouth, the old time and the new time clash and blend. Takahashi is unable to tell for sure which side – which world – contains his center of gravity.” (p. 173P
I could go on and on. The entire book is almost a meditation on complimentary opposites, ying and yang swimming both with and against each other. He even writes very evocatively of what it might take to truly be transported from one side to the other (a description of Eri’s journey through the TV screen that starts on page 102). All of these musings come to a head during this remarkable passage:
“What we see now is a gigantic metropolis waking up. Commuter trains of many colors move in all directions, transporting people from place to place. Each of those under transport is a human being with a different face and mind, and at the same time each is a nameless part of the collective entity. Each is simultaneously a self-contained whole and a mere part. Handling this dualism of theirs skillfully and advantageously, they perform their morning rituals with deftness and precision: brushing teeth, shaving, tying neckties, applying lipstick. They check the morning news on TV, exchange words with their families, eat, and defecate.

With daylight, the crows flock in, scavenging for food. Their oily black wings shine in the morning sun. Dualism is not as important an issue for the crows as for the human beings."
So what is it about Japanese society that fuels this obsession with boundaries? Again, I don’t feel qualified to speak: I’m on the far side of yet another boundary in that Murakami’s message is coming to me not only across cultures but also through the filter of a translator. It's a fascinating obsession, and I'm in awe not only that so much of his message gets through, but at how powerful it remains after repeated readings.

Cross-posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rock n' Roll Marriage

Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have split. Well, crap. A somewhat pretentious take in Grantland here.

I've always been amazed with musicians that could work so closely with people that they are close to. Bands like the Kinks, The Black Crowes and the Cowboy Junkies always seemed to feed of the intense connection between the siblings and the tension that arises from all of their history together. I certainly could never imagine embarking on any creative endeavor with anyone from my immediate family. But this pales in comparison to a marriage, where you don't have that bond of blood between you - just what you have in common (or not!) and this crazy little thing called love. In the few instances that I can think of, married musicians or lovers have flamed out quickly (while often leaving impressive results, like Richard and Linda Thompson's Shoot out the Lights). Thurston and Kim always seemed like they would survive that, having been married for 24 (!) years while working together in a relevant band, raising a child, and (from what I understand) serving as unofficial music patrons for Northampton. I'm sad to see that their relationship didn't survive.

Presented without Comment

Decades Old Calvin and Hobbes Strip Succinctly Explains Occupy Wall Street Movement

Monday, October 17, 2011

Self-Publishing through Amazon

Check out this fascinating article in the NYTimes about how Amazon is partnering with authors to publish their books directly to readers - without publishers. To wit:
Amazon will publish 122 books this fall in an array of genres, in both physical and e-book form. ... Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.
In short, not content with killing off bookstores, Amazon is going after the publishers as well.

Quote of the Day

Nurture the darkness of your soul
Until you become whole.
Can you do this and not fail?

- Tao Te Ching, verse 10

Friday, October 14, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Well, I think there has to be something like reincarnation. Or maybe I should say I’m scared to think there isn’t. I can’t understand nothingness. I can’t understand it and I can’t imagine it."

"Nothingness means there’s absolutely nothing, so maybe there’s no need to understand or imagine it."

"Yea, but what if nothingness is not like that? What if it’s not the kind of thing that demands that you understand it or imagine it? I mean, you don’t know what it’s like to die, Mari. Maybe a person really has to die to understand what it's like."

- Haruki Murakami, After Dark, p. 157

Our Shit's Fucked Up

Business Insider has a great primer on why the Occupy Wall Street movement really has something to complain about. The economic disparity in our country at the moment is truly disheartening.

Fun fact: Title a reference to both this instantly classic sign and the great Warren Zevon song.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve Kilbey's "Narcosis"

I’ve never understood the allure of Heroin. I don’t get what it is about a drug that has killed so many people that makes other people say “Hey, I’ve got to try that!” It’s a tragedy that some deep need inside certain people drive them towards such a destructive thing – from what I understand, it’s such a powerful opiate that it just takes over your life to the point where nothing else matters. But without disregarding the drug’s power, it does seem to spark an incredible creativity in some artists. I can think of many musicians just off the top of my head that have made fantastic music despite – or because of? – their Heroin additions, including Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley, The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, Eric Clapton, and Kurt Cobain. In all of these instances, the drug seemed to exasperate their best and worst tendencies, but since their best was often close to genius, the results were often stunning.

For Steve Kilbey, heroin was a mixed bag. On one hand, he and the church used the drug to inspire the incredible sounds and atmosphere on the 1992 Priest = Aura album. Unfortunately, this creative spark didn’t entirely translate into other albums; as his drug addiction took over, it also resulted in a number of sub-par albums, the first of which is his solo album Narcosis. This isn’t to say that it's all bad – despite what I’ll say below, it’s really not! – but a lot of the music here is opaque and missing the moments of pop clarity and catharsis that so effortlessly popup elsewhere in his work.

(Note that most of the Narcosis tracks were released under that name in 1991 ("Somna" through "Space"), and then Kilbey introduced four more tracks in 1992 (along with a truly horrific album cover) as Narcosis+ More. This review will cover the whole group of songs as presented in the monsters n’ mirages box set.

Musically, I find this album to be rather static. Most of the songs find a mood or riff and ride it for the entire song. For example, "Somna" kicks off the album (starting a trend of excellent openers on his next three albums) with a with a wonderfully uplifting guitar lick. But as great as it is, the song never takes off to the next level, making it in the end nothing more than an interesting mood piece. In fact, for the first time in SK’s output, some songs just do nothing for me, including “Space”, a plodding instrumental notable only for the excellently evil bass, the groupie song “Linda Wong”, and “Sleep with Me”, an aimless song with a metronome guitar lick among other awkward rhythms. Other songs are merely average, like “Midnite in America” with its perfectly nice chorus and piano, or the trancey groove of “Over”. Other than “Somna”, the musical highlights are “The Egyptian”, a gorgeous ballad, and “English Kiss”, one of the first examples of the space-lounge music that SK would do much better in his work with Martin Kennedy (listen to the background touches: a simple piano lick, keyboard flourishes, something that sounds like a flute; all contributing to the feeling of smoking hashish in some muhamaadeen’s tent outside the bazaar).

No, what really makes this album stand out are the lyrics, which are mainly focused on the death of inspiration as a result of his Heroin. SK was well aware of his predicament: his biographer Robert Dean Lurie writes that “Narcosis captured Steve at the tail end of his smack honeymoon: still reeling from the creating possibilities that his new drug of choice offered but also well aware of the darkness ahead.” (p. 221) And Kilbey himself noted that “I realized that this was the same path a lot of other low-life people… had taken. I was becoming that—and at the same time I could still stand back and see that I was. Yea, and seeing how it was going to end up.” So he was creatively inspired by and aware of his situation, and this is perfectly captured in “Somna” which lyrically and musically describes the allure of the drug. Next comes "Limbo" which powerfully describes the plight of those corrupt souls that are not evil enough to be truly punished (being a Pynchon-nerd, I read these as the preiterate in Gravity’s Rainbow – those foax who are neither beneath or below but merely cannon fodder in life’s game):
Jesus does not love you
Lucifer does not want your soul
Made a mistake—
No one will forgive you
The servants you love to dismiss
All will outlive you
The most fascinating words here are from “Fall in Love,” which is an  extremely repetitious song (perhaps to underscore the story?) but tell the story of a man slowly losing all of his passion:
I knew this man, he had some kind of fatal affliction.
Each day, a tiny particle, a small drop of his soul, leaked or escaped into the air,
out beyond the insipid gray sky and into dead space. ...
Who can describe the agony of this gradual soul depletion?...
Eventually he could derive pleasure from nothing,
the most lurid pornography or the most holy scriptures
failed to arouse him from his stupor, his boredom.
Unfortunately, in truly perverse SK fashion, he drowned out these lyrics in double-tracked talk-speak, making them extremely hard to understand. Yet another “what if” moment in the man’s career!

The album closes with SK reading, Rimbaud’s  "Night In Hell" (part of the larger A Season In Hell) over some freaky ambient sounds.  And with this, SK’s uneven Narcosis draws to a close. It would be another ten years until SK was able to kick the smack and find the inspiration into the studio by himself to record Dabble.

(This post is one of a series of reviews of all of SK’s solo albums included in the monsters n mirages box set. Previous post: Remindlessness. Next up: 2001’s Dabble.)