Friday, November 11, 2005

Dancing with Who Brung You

Here and here are stories in today's papers about the new White House offensive to try and stabilize dWarf's political fortunes from precipitous to merely moderate collapse.

Here's the shorthand: Democrats who couldn't believe that a President of the United States would deliberately mislead the country into war are hypocrites for first believing the President and now NOT believing the President. Once Democrats screwed the pooch dWarf gave them, they can't wake up in the morning and unscrew that pooch.

And while I disagree with that argument in the particulars of this case, it's certainly true for the US electorate. Three more years, schnauzers.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Qs 2

I was in Tower last night purchasing the new CD by my once Goddess (and Goddess again? I feel the spell welling, but, as always, am queasy to judge under the thrall of spells).

As I was browsing, I saw the current edition of Gramophone magazine, and, thumbing though it there, and then later at home since I bought it, I got to wondering. I fully understand that the purpose of music mags, from Gramophone to Rolling Stone, is to push product. And it seems to me that every issue I see of Gramophone - not that I subscribe and see every one - announces new award winners, new best of year, new best choral or best chamber. And hardly anything gets panned, at least in this issue.

What is the general opinion of Gramophone? How reliably independent is it from recording companies? Payola = great review, rewards? Is it particularly good at reviewing particular periods or genres? Is it good at reviewing music that interests the readers of S21? And are there particular reviewers writing in Gramophone that are especially shrewd, whose judgments are considered sound?

Also, Sir Arnold Bax: a friend is urging his symphonies, especially #2, on me - I should be getting a copy of #2 this weekend. Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This Week's Picks 2

In 1980 I attended a show at DC's first 930Club. The headliner of the sold-out show was the long-forgotten Human Switchboard, and the opening act was the producer of Human Switchboard's first ep, David Thomas, the heart, brains, and (some of his ex-bandmates would say) the asshole of Pere Ubu. Thomas, frumpy, grumpy, fat and sweating, stood defiantly on midstage and improvised free verse. No band, no music. Free verse. He was mercilessly taunted off the stage.

I had gone to see Thomas. Pere Ubu was and is one of my indispensible bands. They influenced, back in the late 1970s, my cultural politics as much as my musical tastes. Their unblinking examination of industrial America and the lives of industrial America's workers in combination with music riveting in its confrontational soundscape I found uncompromisingly original, urgent, anthemic, and energizing. The first five albums (collected now in the box set over on the left, *Datapanik in the Year Zero*) I think are essential listening both for their own sake but also to understand the wellspring from which flowed bands such as Fugazi and Dismemberment Plan and Guided by Voices.

In the late 80s, early 90s, Thomas led them in a much more melodic direction, and albums such as *Story of My Life* and *Worlds in Collision* and (especially) *Cloudland* show Thomas working on introducing pop elements into his music, focusing on the quirkiness of hooks, in essense exploring both what's fascinating and what's terrifying about the concept and marketing and manipulation of hooks. Though the songs are brighter and less menacing than the early work, they are more ominous in that they are concerned not as much with the industrial environment in which we live as how those who run that environment indoctrinate us into and innoculate us from that environment.

The later albums, starting with *Raygun Suitcase* and running through the latest, *St Arkansas,* is a melding of all that came before, and are remarkable cultural period pieces as well as totally original music. They sound like all that came before and totally new, and the inventions and complications and implications of technology's exponential growth and influence over our lives - as industrial America continues to decline - has given Thomas, the musician and poet, new impetus. Word is that they are now in studio recording their next album, tentatively titled *Electricity* and tentatively scheduled for release next September.

BTW: I hope to alternate Top Picks between new releases and my own idea of essential music. Though who knows? This is all new. BDR

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Tortured by Incompetence

Everyone knows that humans torture humans. People of all colors, all genders, all religions, all ethnic groups, all nationalities, all countries, torture. Have, are, will.

Americans are hardly unique in their belief in their exceptionality or virtue, though we are particularly athletic and obnoxious about it. I like to think the best about me. You like to think the best about you. We’re kind folk, generous, big-hearted, peaceful. But my daughter is kidnapped, I capture the kidnapper? I’m going to blow torch his torso until he reveals the cellar he’s stashing her. So would you yours. Most people would rather not think about torture, though they accept its necessity no matter how much shocking a man’s testicles with jumper-cables attached to a car battery is the antithesis of turning the other cheek.

Which is why the whirlwind over torture is not about the torture, it’s about making us think about torture and our own discomfort with our own ambivalence towards torture and our own hypocrisy over torture. Step beyond the moral arguments - and moral arguments can be made logically in both major directions: the current maelstrom is not a product of Bushco zeal for torture and not a product of Liberal pacifist agitation. The debate over torture needs constantly to be waged, but right now this is all about Bushco incompetence - these dumb bastards can’t even torture correctly.

We have a deal with our government: we trade our innocence to protect our innocence, and the government does the necessary dirty work cleanly. Our illusions are maintained, the government’s power is maintained. We can pretend we’re nobler, more enlightened, more exceptional than other countries, and the government protects those illusions by any means necessary by all means quiet.

And right now we can’t pretend. We are ruled by raving, delusional incompetents. The build-up to war, the prosecution of the war, the aftermath of the war, the failure of the war; the continuing strengthening of Al-Qaida, the continuing existence of Osama bin Laden, the continuing groundswell of anti-Americanism; the budget, the deficit, the national debt; New Orleans. And now we got to think about American torture chambers again?

Bush is at 35% not because of his policies, not in spite of his policies, but because he’s an embarrassing reminder of the unexceptionality of America. We are torturers: have been, are, will be. Debates against torture may be largely disingenuous in the scheme of political realism, but they reveal the basic disingenousness of the cult of American exceptionality. And that’s what’s pissing of Americans right now.