Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Whatever We Made It To Be, Or, My Review of The Other F Word (2011)

This isn't Ralph Bakshi!

What happens to punk rockers in middle age? While I could attempt an answer to that question firsthand, I will let this review of The Other F Word (2011) answer the question. First, a little backstory as to why I saw this film at all. While on a recent sojourn in Washington, D.C., I wandered into a theater without any familiarity with any of the films on the marquee, and there beheld a poster for the above-named movie. The poster showed a cartoon rendering of a spikey-haired punk strolling through a suburban street and holding the hand of a little kid. Black Flag, Adolescents, and Circle Jerks were in the soundtrack. But so was Pennywise and Blink 182, who are not my cup-o-tea. My first impression: This is an animated feature about a contemporary suburban punk who fathers a kid. Like Ralph Bakshi's American Pop, only with more Sex Pistols-like scenes and maybe a little shmaltz. Sounds like a fine gamble.

As the film began, I immediately realized my mistake and the poster's misleading graphics. This was no Bakshi-esque feature. It was a documentary about punk-rock males who are fathers. Get it? Fatherhood. It's an "f-word" to punks. It means being responsible, or worse, being authoritarian. The film's narrative, as it were, centers on Pennywise's Jim Lindberg, who struggles to maintain a relationship with his three daughters while simultaneously touring almost year-round. The guys in the band without families don't get what's the big deal, and even if they treat Lindberg like a brother, they put pressure on him to choose band over blood.

At first, I was disappointed. I wanted animation! But I decided to just enjoy the ride. I know so little about these 90s bands. And Lindberg is a affable guy from the first scene in which he packs hair-dye and toiletries for the road, making self-deprecating quips throughout. Granted, I had no desire to sit through Pennywise songs. A few of my middle-school students in the mid-90s were into Pennywise. They'd scrawl the name on their desks when I wasn't looking. So, the band always symbolized teenagers who were out to irritate me. I didn't even know they were considered "punk." That whole style of compressed-guitar, male-bonding, sing-along punk-pop like Pennywise, Blink 182, MxPx, even latter-day Bad Religion just does nothing for me. And did Everclear ever identify as a punk band? I had no idea until seeing The Other F Word.

The film became unfocused early on, digressing from its main theme (the "F" in the title). But that didn't bother me as it has some reviewers. Part of the film was a brief visual essay on the impact of early Southern California punk rock on Lindberg, Flea, Jack Grisham, Ron Reyes, and others. Another part--or perhaps another theme--described the changing nature of the music biz. Because everybody illegally downloads and shares music these days, the only way bands make any money is through touring and putting on an entertaining live show.

Though I've always scoffed at the commercialism of the Warped Tour, interview scenes with Brett Gurewitz became meditations on the necessity for events like that to keep these musicians fed and housed. It becomes even more necessary when these guys are responsible parents trying to distance themselves from the neglectful models of parenting they experienced as kids. (I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat watching Flea start to cry, which he does in this movie.) Gurewitz used the term "uncharted territory" to describe what punk rock was. It had no dogmas, or at least it made a show of having no dogmas. According to Gurewitz, there had never been punk rock before punk rock, so why should there be a rule that punk bands should always be short-lived and never sign on to major labels? An accurate sentiment, I think, even if self-serving when expressed by the owner of Epitaph Records and member of Bad Religion through to their major-label debut. "Punk purist" is, to me, an oxymoron. In considering the aesthetics and meaning of punk, I'll always admire D. Boon's terse credo: Punk is whatever we made it to be. And it still is whatever we make it to be.

That said, I wouldn't put this move on a must-see list, except for the scene of Ron Reyes taking his teenage kids record-shopping and showing them the vinyl Jealous Again, and it seemed that they'd never heard of it before. His daughter tells him she looked him up on Wikipedia. Priceless. Otherwise, the aesthetic chasm between my tastes and the sound of these neo-punk bands is just too wide. Beyond that, here's what the film glaringly ignored: the moms. Yes, it's about fatherhood, which is to say it's about what it means to be a rebellious young man, angry at his father, who later becomes a father and has to reflect on what he'll do differently, as well as on what he's afraid he'll do the same. It's about what it means to be a caring dad while immersed in the machismo of contemporary punk rock. But interviews with the moms would have filled the movie out, made it complete. As it is, it has too much of an aura of a movie for "the fans." And what about punk rock girls who became moms? Or even punk rock parents who aren't rich and famous? There are, fortunately, more punk rock documentaries to be made.

(Edited on 1/3/12 for accuracy and clarity and general betterment.)

Enjoy the Ron Reyes scene:

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas from Stars Eat Toys

I grew up watching, laughing at, and puzzling over the religious spectacle of O.L. Jaggers and Miss Velma on local L.A. television. Now, you can, too!

Around 1980, I used to see Jaggers in the elevator of my dad's condo building. This was a time after his little star had seemed to fade from the local airwaves. Little did he know, however, that I knew who he was and was even a bit starstruck by this master of high weirdness. He was a mean-looking dude up close, I recall.

"Christmas in America," Miss Velma tells us, "would not be complete without the great American Indian tribes...paying their respect to the birthday of Jesus." Oh, really? Then she shoots some balloons. Then she jams on a stylophone. Is Christmas now complete?

You be the judge:

Where Metal Drummers Go to Swing and/or Zone Out: Mick Harris

Napalm Death's Mick Harris was the rat-a-tat behind that band's early industrialized speed-metal slash crusty punk in the 80s and 90s. Listening to Scum today is still a whirlwind experience; a race through one facet of the legacy of hardcore, like the truck laden with nitroglycerine in Wages of Fear, only at 80 m.p.h. But by the mid-90s, he left Napalm Death and teamed up with Bill Laswell and, of course, John Zorn in Painkiller. He also began producing spacious "dark ambient" soundscapes under the moniker Lull. Lull's Continue is one full hour of what sounds like background noise from Eraserhead, and Moments is much of the same, only segmented into 99 some odd tracks (perhaps a tribute to Napalm Death's less-than-half-a-minute-long songs). My personal ambient favorite is Harris's duo with Bill Laswell, the Somnific Flux album.

Here's Lull's 2008 "Like a Slow River":



And Painkiller in 1993:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where Metal Drummers Go to Swing: Dave Lombardo

Perhaps no metal drummer has dived double-bass-pedal first into the world of jazz more readily, and more swingingly than Slayer's Dave Lombardo. In metal the guitar is, of course, the lead instrument. Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King provide the riffage and solos in Slayer, but Lombardo's drumming is, to me, also a lead instrument. Sometime in the late 90's, Lombardo was thusly enlisted into the Tzadik Records roster to sometimes back John Zorn:



He also did a stint with D.J. Spooky for some art-damaged hip hop on Drums of Death:



And, to my glorious surprise, I went to see Matthew Barney's Cremaster 2 years back, which featured Lombardo in this memorable scene (though "memorable scene" is a bit of surplusage when referring to Barney's vivid, brilliant, dream-like film/sculpture):


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where Metal Drummers Go to Swing: John Stanier

After the dissolution of Helmet in the late 90's, drummer John Stanier (the hardest-hitting metronome in rock) went on to collaborate with guitar-loop wiz Tyondai Braxton, son of For Alto genius/multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. The collaboration is Battles, which to my ears is loud and beautiful. I've always admired Stanier's relentless bass-drum, hi-hat, and snare interplay, as well as the seamless fills on "FBLA II" from Meantime. His drumming is both heavy and downright expressive.

Here's one of my favorite Battles tunes, "SZ2" off B EP:



And behold! This is what I'm talking about:

Friday, December 9, 2011

"Not Here to Live a Normal Life"

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Wash., D.C.

Happy Birthday, Rev. Finster! (Dec. 2, 1916 - Oct. 22, 2001.) "Paint sacred art!"



National Portraits

I'm flogging this dead horse again, but the official (i.e., government) salutes to Steve Jobs are really irking me. I paid a visit to the National Portrait Gallery while sojourning in our nation's capitol a few days ago, and in the entry hall among "new acquisitions" was a dedication to the Apple man himself, with a portrait that I breezed past...but no Fred Shuttlesworth! I ask, repeatedly, where is our national memory? OK, back to scrolling through my iPod.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Not Even Libertarians Are Really Libertarian

Did Charles Koch try to lead Friedrich Hayek down the "road to serfdom"? Private correspondence between the two icons of today's libertarianism reveals that Koch did encourage the Austrian-born Hayek to take advantage of the United States' Social Security and Medicare programs. Moreover, this happened at a time when Hayek repudiated any last scraps of a state-sponsored social-safety net that he defended in his writings of the 1940s, and a time when Koch had founded a libertarian think tank that was the precursor to the Cato Institute, also his brainchild. Read all about it in Yasha Levine's and Mark Ames's piece at The Nation. Methinks the plot will thicken.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Shillin'

Hmm..."Beatles or Stones?" Here are Mick and the boys cashing in early on (via Dangerous Minds via Open Culture):



Not a fair comparison, really, because the following isn't "Beatles," it's just Sir Paul, 40 years after the Beatles:



The late, very great Bill Hicks said it quite frankly on the essential Rant in E-Minor: "Here's the deal, folks. You do a commercial - you're off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay?" Not gospel, but never fails to make me laugh with agreement. (Incidentally, he was talking about Tonight Show host Jay Leno's Doritos commercial...almost 20 years ago!)

Back to the clips. Hot, buttery, "filthy lucre":



Oh, that is rich. But I don't begrudge him. Lydon always did want PiL to be "a company," whatever the hell that meant.

The following clip makes me sad, it's so painfully incongruous:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good Clean Fun


Short-Term Memory Loss

When it comes to official recognition of Steve Jobs, it's not just about weighing The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth's heroic work for civil rights slightly less than Steve Jobs's innovations in computer gadgetry (and marketing). Apparently, it's also evidence of the Administration's short-term memory loss about Steve Jobs's use of LSD, his positive opinion of the experience, and the Administration's own flip-flop on medical marijuana policy (via Glenn Greenwald):

[Steve] Jobs' praise for his LSD use is what I kept returning to as I read about the Obama DOJ's heinous new policy to use the full force of criminal prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries in California.
...

Yet now, U.S. Attorneys in California will expend substantial law enforcement resources to persecute medical marijuana dispensaries that sell to consenting adults even though those transactions have been legalized by the voters of California and 16 other states

Progressives love to point out the hypocrisy of social conservatives who righteously rail against (and demand legal sanction for) the very same sexually sinful behavior in which they enthusiastically engage — and rightly so. But what about a society that continues to imprison millions of human beings for using substances that vast numbers of people in the nation have secretly used and enjoyed, or which empowers people with the Oval Office, or reveres people like Steve Jobs, who have done the same?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Where Is Our National Memory?

October 5, 2011 saw the passing of The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with Dr. Martin Luther King. This was man of unsung greatness, whom Diane McWhorter over at the NYT rightly calls "the key architect of the civil rights revolution’s turning-point victory in Birmingham, the mass marches of 1963." ("Marching in King's Shadow," Oct. 6, 2011.)

Of course, President Obama should honor Shuttlesworth's life with some recognition. Perhaps even a simple, elegant tweet to inform his 10,400,000 Twitter followers about the man's legacy. Well, I found only this:


Not to diminish the impact of personal computing (I'm writing this on a Macbook Pro right now, in fact), but come on! Steve Jobs made Obama's work possible?! Jobs's death merited not merely one, but two tweets. Here's the second:


Didn't Rev. Shuttlesworth "change the way we see the world" too, by being so instrumental in removing the albatross of Jim Crow from around the country's neck for all the world to see? And for being a proponent of nonviolent resistance at least as early as Dr. King? Where is our national memory?

At least Obama did issue a statement in memory of Shuttlesworth, in which he says "America owes Reverend Shuttlesworth a debt of gratitude." Truth! But his statement about Steve Jobs was a bit longer, and included this: "The world has lost a visionary." Maybe so, but what we desperately need now are more visionaries in the mold of Fred Shuttlesworth.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

One Dollar Post-It Art

From the mind of Patrick McGilligan:

Image from lethargicarts.com!

Keep the U.S. Postal Service alive! Send your money and SASE to:

Lethargic Artist's Studio
2110 4th St., Unit 27
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Huntsman Has a Lock on the Beefheart Independents

More Beefheart enthusiasm at Slate from Republican candidate Jon Huntsman:

Slate: Do you have a particular favorite era of Beefheart?
Huntsman: I'd have to say that I like Trout Mask Replica, which came out in '68, all the way through Bat Chain Puller -- I mean, they represent the diversity of Beefheart. I'm a fan of the really innovative spirit of Beefheart came with the Magic Band, and they really hit it off in '68.

Me too, Huntsman. Me, too.

See previous post, Jon Huntsman, Stealth Weirdo.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Grisly Absurdity

Troy Davis was executed in Georgia tonight. What a waste. If you, dear reader, haven't initiated or re-upped your financial support of the Innocence Project, now is the time. In the meantime, watch this, if laughing at the grisly absurdity of capital punishment during this dark time is just what the doctor ordered:

Penn & Teller's Bullshit, Season 4, Episode 3: "The Death Penalty"



Best line: "Manson sucks as an artist; sucks as a human being." But the death penalty is still bullshit.

Reagan Tackles Dean



I saw a clip of this a few days ago at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. I'd never heard of it before. Ronald Reagan rasslin' with James Dean? A must-see. Above is a longer clip than what's at the library, or maybe it's the full thing. It seems edited, which makes for a great jump cut at about 2:55 when Dean cries out and flees the room, only to reappear a second later where a stationary Reagan and movie-wife just stand there. Despite the stilted script, Dean's performance reveals what he was capable of as an actor: digging deep into emotional wells to produce convincing personal agony. And, y'know, Reagan wasn't bad delivering his own "Go ahead, make my day" -type moment when he calmly tells Dean, "If you're not lucky, that bullet isn't gonna stop me." But Dean is the real force of nature here. Had he lived longer, he surely wouldn't have gotten into politics.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Existentialism Explained in Song



Life is just a bowl of cherries;
Don't take it serious;
It's too mysterious.
You work, you save, you worry so,
But you can't take your dough when you go, go, go.
So keep repeating it's the berries;
The strongest oak must fall.
The sweet things in life
To you were just loaned,
So how can you lose what you've never owned?
Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh at it all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crackpottery, Republican-Style

The U.S. has a record number of millionaires, according to the Wall Street Journal ("U.S. Has Record Number of Millionaires," WSJ, June 22, 2011). In 2009, there were 2.86 million Americans who had $1 million or more in investible assets. In 2010, that number went up to 3.1 million. Incidentally, 3.1 million is almost the same number as millionaires in all of Asia! Looks like the bank bailouts, deregulation, and pro-business policies of the Obama administration have paid off, for a relative few.

Yet somehow Newt Gingrich can still get away with calling Obama a "socialist" without getting laughed off the national stage: 

And Paul Ryan can say Obama's waging "class warfare" for proposing a modest tax increase on the wealthiest Americans, and yet the mainstream press doesn't call Ryan a crackpot:

Yet it is crackpottery to only call it "class warfare" when Obama's policies might inconvenience the rich a little bit, while all of Obama's job-creation for millionaires is miraculously not "class warfare" against the poor and working class.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dream Journal: I'm Not a Trekkie

I was in a Starbuck's by the cream and sugar table. In my hands was a gallon-size "ziploc" plastic bag in which I had two Star Trek books, or novels based on Star Trek characters. Each book was a slightly used paperback; they were doorstoppers. I also knew they were valuable. I left the bag on the table and walked over to the counter, in order to buy a coffee. Convinced that someone was going to steal the books, I kept glancing back at where I had left them. I also thought, "I'm not a trekkie. People are going to think I'm a trekkie." Sure enough, I glanced back at one point to see my plastic bag of books had disappeared.

I then found myself in a large auditorium, attending a parenting class taught by none other than Patrick Stewart in his Capt. Picard costume.

Friday, September 9, 2011

So Damn Tough

Mel Brooks has it right in the most recent Newsweek. He was asked "What do you think of the job Obama's doing?" Brooks answered:

You got to be so damn tough to get what you want, and he's not that kind of guy. The common man is in a lot of trouble. That's all I can tell you. I sound like The 2000 Year Old Man now.

Here's Obama giving Brooks a Kennedy Center award in 2009. Obama's in his best form doing less formal, PR-type events like this, in which he doesn't discuss policy:


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Summer's Waning: Meat Puppets' "Swimming Ground" (Circa 1985 - Good Quality)



This looks like the Pups when I would've caught 'em, so my best guess is 1985. No description comes with this video, but whoever uploaded it is yet another video-sharing hero. One of the greatest strengths of this great band was the melodies Cris Kirkwood pulled out of his four-string Steinberger bass, an 80s icon-instrument that was never put to better use than in the Pups' tunes.

Up on the Sun was the record to cool you off in the hot summer of L.A. in '85. The title song, "Hot Pink," and "Swimming Ground" especially. This goes on my top ten list of albums that blew my mind and remain impeccably listenable. Yes, timeless is the word. When the band later got its due from Nirvana's memorable MTV Unplugged set, I was happy for them.

However, when I started teaching middle school in 1994, I intercepted a note one of my students passed to another. (I spent considerable time intercepting notes.) This one was a songlist from a mixtape she had made. I'll never forget the first two songs, credited as follows:

1. "Plateau" - Nirvana
2. "Lake of Fire" - Nirvana

My head screamed, "Noooooooooo!" I thought, kids across the country may be led astray by only fleeting awareness of who was sharing Nirvana's stage. But the Pups gained success, and with that some demons were unleashed. See this moving, engrossing profile of Cris Kirkwood's descent into hell...and back...from ABC News (embedding not allowed): Part 1 and Part 2. It's not all darkness; you may find yourself, as I did, laughing with (at?) Curt Kirkwood's disdain for punk rock and punk rockers.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Heavy Metal Video Interlude, Part 4: "Why Is Nobody Thinking?"



The term "skyclad" refers to the ritual nudity of Wiccans and neopagans. But the band Skyclad appears to be fond of wearing plenty of fabric and boots and leather and, well, puffy shirts (to make Jerry Seinfeld cringe). They are almost pirate-like more than pagan. Is there "pirate metal"? If not, there should be. But I digress. I am just thinking aloud. Isn't thinking allowed?

I give kudos to this band for asking an important question that seems constantly on my mind, too: "Why is nobody thinking?" The shots of the singer in the library stacks ostensibly touting the pleasures of reading sends a good message to the metal militia. I also give them kudos for utilizing the P.O.V. shot on the drumstick hitting the snare at about 0:50.

The mandolin's nice, too.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jewel of the Central Valley

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to take myself on a little field trip to the Cambodian Buddhist Temple in Stockton, California while there on business. It may sound like I am channeling my inner Huell Howser right now when I say that it's truly an amazing place. A jewel in the Central Valley of California. Just incredible. You have to be there to see and appreciate the colors.

But why take it from me? Here's the actual Huell Howser saying, "You have to be here to see and appreciate the colors!"



Gassho.

Did the Pet Shop Boys Subconsciously Borrow Just a Little From the Bee Gees?

I heard the Bee Gees' "Lonely Days" song for the first time, I think, two days ago. Great song. But it sounded familiar. Had I heard it before? It took me a little while, but I think the familiarity may have come from the [gag] Pet Shop Boys' "Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)." The choruses of the two songs seem awfully similar. Operative word: awfully.

You decide. Here's the Bee Gees (chorus come in at about 1:20):


And here's the Pet Shop Boys (chorus comes in at about 0:45 and repeats ad nauseam):

Election Fatigue

It's 435 days until November 6, 2012. That's the date we will elect our next president. I have been watching and listening to news about who is in and out of the Republican presidential race. That guy Christie was talked about, then he dropped out. Then there was that Donald Trump scare a few months ago. Then he dropped out. Sarah Palin's been cagey about her intentions but has been gorging on the publicity. When we she just enter the race, so she can drop out, too? I watched the Republican debate in Iowa and followed the straw poll results a couple of weeks ago. Michele Bachmann has always troubled me, but now Rick Perry is the assumed frontrunner for the Republicans. And, incredibly, he's scarier than Bachmann.

And, of course, I've watched Obama's campaign-style presidency, including his basing decisions, seemingly, on what Independents will supposedly want in 2012. But the Independents are tilting Republican. Point is, it's 435 days away, and I am tired of it, the election. I don't even have cable and I've already got election fatigue.

This isn't supposed to set in until much, much later in the election cycle. But here it is. Why are we even talking about "frontrunners"? Why are we giving credence to the results of the Iowa straw poll? What will the Supreme Court do with Obama's single biggest achievement, or maybe his only achievement domestically, and that is the health care law? If the Court sinks it at the end of the Court's session in summer 2012, what successes will Obama campaign on in the last few months before November? The extension of the Bush tax cuts, now the Obama tax cuts? The creation of the congressional super committee? I guess just the killing of Bin Laden, and maybe that we were backseat drivers in the war to topple Gaddafi. You see: fatigue.

For this reason, I plan to extricate my mind from the election until October 2012. If the world was just, the election cycle would start then. My mind's extrication, though, probably won't last long. It'll probably be over by the end of the day. And I'll be tired, so tired.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dr. West's Plea

Dr. Cornel West is a one-of-a-kind public intellectual. He refers to all people as his brothers and sisters. He even called Robert P. George, fellow Princeton professor and brain behind the movement against marriage equality for gays and lesbians, a "white conservative brother." Now that's Christian charity. He was not afraid to tell Chris Hedges that he considers Barack Obama a "black puppet of corporate plutocrats" (Whoa!), excoriating the president for opportunistically using his association with West publicly during the election, only to continually snub him after the election. Here is Dr. West's plea in The New York Times for radical change in the name of Martin Luther King, whose anti-poverty and anti-imperialist views are relatively little-known by many who otherwise admire him for his achievements in civil rights and nonviolence:
 
[T]he prophetic words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel still haunt us: "The whole future of America depends on the impact and influence of Dr. King."

Rabbi Heschel spoke those words during the last years of King's life, when 72 percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks disapproved of King's opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to eradicate poverty in America.

And:

The absence of a King-worthy narrative to reinvigorate poor and working people has enabled right-wing populists to seize the moment with credible claims about government corruption and ridiculous claims about tax cuts' stimulating growth. This right-wing threat is a catastrophic response to King's four catastrophes; its agenda would lead to hellish conditions for most Americans.

King weeps from his grave....

King's response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

(Source: "Dr. King Weeps From His Grave," NYT (August 25, 2011))

Friday, August 26, 2011

Speaking of Monorails

From Monorails and Satellites:



(See previous post for reference.)

Living in Disneyland

William Gibson writes about the future of urban life in the latest Scientific American:

That's the danger of choice reduction, of top-down control. And the curse of gated attractions, the ultimate fate of every Disneyland: you can't repurpose a theme park. Cities, to survive, must be capable of extended fugues of retrofitting. Only the most pubescent of cities have never witnessed, to whatever extent, their own ruins.

(From "Life in the Meta City," Scientific American, September 2011.)

He goes on to describe Paris, New York City, and London as culprits of "Disneylanding." I wonder what Los Angeles's Disneylanding will eventually look like. Yes, there's Hollywood Boulevard. It's a cartoonish exhibit of past glory, but current blight never fails to soak through everywhere. L.A. sprawl seems to mitigate against Disneylanding, since everything becomes absorbed into the seemingly undifferentiated sea of concrete and glass, Home Depots, shopping centers, fast food outlets, and on and on.

Elsewhere in the issue, Edward Glaeser writes about the tragedy of "urban renewal," with the striking image of the futuristic, human-friendly People Mover still functioning over Detroit's barren cityscape. The connection between the images of Disneyland and its Monorail and the image of such technology hovering over a wasteland seems prophetic. I've recently been lamenting the lack of a Monorail type network in L.A. Maybe I'm deluded into thinking that would actually help things. Cities are indeed as beautiful and thriving as the people within them. Then again, maybe Monorails would help bring us together more, and save energy at the same time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

R.A. Wilson's Libertarianism

The Ludwig Von Mises Institute has produced a podcast that profiles Robert Anton Wilson as a member of the "libertarian tradition." If you're a devoted fan of all things R.A.W., then it's worth a listen. But the author, Jeff Riggenbach, spends an an inordinate amount of time describing the agrarian self-reliance theories of Ralph Borsodi, whose magazine Wilson edited for a time in the early 1960s. There are several lengthy excerpts from Borsodi's writings, which are indeed fascinating and worthwhile, but none from Wilson's writings. Odd.

There's scant little about Wilson's own libertarianism, which stemmed in part from Borsodi, but also from, of course, Discordianism, psychedelic culture, esoteric spirituality, General Semantics, and James Joyce, among other things. In other words, there's much more to link Wilson to, say, Benjamin Tucker than to Leonard Peikoff, whose name is dropped in the podcast in a very tenuous link to Wilson through their mutual attendance at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (at different times, no less). Riggenbach holds Wilson in high regard, but I'm not sure why. Has he ever read much Wilson?

Still, I learned a few things from the podcast. Such as:

As Wilson later told the tale in Down to Earth, his grandfather "had left the Austro-Hungarian Empire to avoid military service, and … was proud of the fact, as a sign of his sagacity. The best thing about America, he told my mother, was that we had no compulsory military service here." Wilson admired his grandfather, he wrote, because "the old guy was brave enough to be a draft-dodger and sail across the wild Atlantic in a crude wooden ship to try to find a free country. I wish there was still a free country here, for others like him."

And:

[Wilson] also showed up now and then at libertarian gatherings of various sizes and types. I still remember how startled I was one day in 1981, when I was chairing a panel on civil liberties at the national Libertarian Party convention in Denver. I had been chatting with my fellow panelists and letting them know how I'd be managing things, and I hadn't been paying much attention as the room filled up. So when, at last, I stood to make a few introductory remarks and looked out at the crowd that had gathered, I almost jumped out of my skin when I realized that the man sitting in the middle of the front row, virtually under my nose, was none other than Robert Anton Wilson, then in his late 40s and at the height of his fame.

Interesting, but it gives me absolutely no insight into Wilson's own libertarian theories. For a better treatment of it, read the section on Wilson in Brian Doherty's Radicals for Capitalism. Some of it is excerpted in Doherty's obit for Wilson at Reason's Hit & Run from January 2007. In that obit is this great quote from Wilson: "Ideologically, of course, I should have voted for Ed Clark, the Libertarian Party candidate [in 1980]; but I am not that kind of Libertarian, really; I don't hate poor people."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rick Perry, Overt Ignoramus

Good grief!



A child asks Rick Perry how old he thinks the Earth is. A great question for political candidates: simple, elegant, and revealing. Perry answers, "You know what? I don't have any idea. I know it's pretty old, so it goes back a long, long ways."

Really? He's never even had a thought about how old the Earth is? He has "no idea"? He doesn't even have a creationist's estimation? That reveals even less intellectual curiosity than G.W. Bush had. Frightening. Perhaps he was just giving an answer that reflects the pedantic, condescending tone with which he felt it necessary to speak to the child. But then Perry adds this zinger:
 "I'm not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how [old] the Earth is."
No one knows? If by "completely and absolutely" he means that scientists should be able to specify the exact number of years, minutes, and seconds the Earth has been around, then he's "completely and absolutely" deluded. Does he presume scientists are as ignorant as he is? But scientists have actually painstakingly calculated a fairly close approximation for the age of the Earth. I refer Citizen Perry and his staff to the U.S. Geological Survey. For that matter, check out Wikipedia (where I got the link to the USGS). Spoiler: It's about 4.5 billion years old.

I never thought I'd say this, but have at 'em, Karl Rove!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Jon Huntsman, Stealth Weirdo

So rare in elections does a presidential candidate bring avant aesthetics into play. Last time around, antiwar Democrat turned Libertarian Mike Gravel made an inexplicable video in which he talk-sang "Helter Skelter" over some industrial electronica, while hamming in front of a green screen a la Public Access. Sure, (almost) no one saw it. And no one these days seems to really know who Mike Gravel is. But that's beside the point. Why did he make the video? It's a somewhat oblique comment on the the way history repeats itself: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan...here we go again? Certainly, the video didn't hurt his chances.

This time around, it seems Republican bottom-of-the-Iowa-straw-poller Jon Huntsman has decided to let his freak flag fly on Twitter:

"I wonder if a tweet where I admit how much I like Captain Beefheart will make the followers skyrocket even more!"

Then he linked to this video of "Electricity":



Not that this persuades me to vote for him, but it is a breath of fresh air, nonetheless. Especially true when on the heels of his tweet about evolution:

"To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

Sad commentary that if you are a Republican who "believes in evolution," it then requires a disclaimer that you're also not crazy, but what a relief. (Hat tip to The American Book of the Dead.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ben Stein's Wildly Unintelligent Design

In writing elsewhere about Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth, I stumbled across Ben Stein's anti-evolution documentary, Expelled, on YouTube. I started drafting a whole essay to review it, but nothing I wrote seemed to satisfactorily sum up how obnoxious it is. Then I found this review at Scientific American that states my own thoughts about the deep problems with this movie quite clearly, especially regarding Stein's spurious equation of "Darwinism" with Nazism. (Yes, yes, he has David Berlinski in there saying that Darwin's theory is not a sufficient precondition for National Socialism, but it is "necessary" for the existence of it. I guess Berlinski forgot about the numerous other human atrocities and mass murders that occurred throughout the centuries before Darwin was even born. Ever heard of Genghis Khan, for example? Did he "need" the idea of natural selection before enacting his wholesale slaughters? Also, does Berlinski ever consider for a moment that the Nazis' might-makes-right ideology involved a gross abuse of the theory of evolution?)

A few thoughts to emphasize how plainly awful Expelled is:
  • For someone who seems so passionate to discredit evolution, Stein neither tries to explain Darwin's theory, nor does even a half-assed job of explaining the hypothesis of Intelligent Design. He focuses, rather, on the suppresson of ID in academia. But the question arises early on: Who cares? If Stein can't even provide a simple explanation of how ID is scientific and if it has been scientifically tested, then maybe the "victims" of the "scientific establishment" he parades in front of us deserved to lose their jobs, grants, and credibility. Stein did them no favors by glossing over their substantive claims.
  • And what, exactly, does Stein believe? Is he a creationist? Does he accept the ID hypothesis? He can't even articulate his own beliefs adequately or coherently. He seems bent on only one thing: dismissing naturalistic evolution out of hand. He included a clip of Berlinski calling Dawkins a "reptile" followed by a shot of Stein himself, chuckling. This is not a movie for serious thinkers.
  • Stein attacks, of all people, Eugenie Scott. She heads the National Center for Science Education. When she says in the documentary that she works with people of faith to defend evolution in K-12 science curricula, Stein cuts to Dawkins saying that evolution led him to become an atheist. Dawkins also says that he's more honest about that than others Stein has interviewed. Cut immediately back to: Eugenie Scott. I guess Stein is trying to say that Eugenie Scott's dishonest, and he uses Richard Dawkins as his authority! How disingenuous.
  • In one segment, Stein argues that America's pro-evolution apparatchiks are more repressive than other countries. His one...ONE!...example is Poland. The official he interviews accuses the U.S. of political correctness in its treatment of Intelligent Design. Pardon me, but last I checked, Polish authorities still prosecute people for blasphemy. Read all about it here and here and here. Talk about "political correctness!" Was Stein really that ignorant before interviewing this guy?
  • Stein also sandbagged skeptic Michael Shermer to interview him. Read about that and Stein's other Michael Moore-like manipulations here.
  • The final montage shows Stein himself speaking about the dangers of evolution to an auditorium full of people, intercut with footage of Ronald Reagan speaking to a crowd about tearing down the Berlin Wall. I guess Stein didn't think that was a bit self-aggrandizing. In fact, there's a glib equation of science with Stalinism that runs throughout the movie. Ben Stein apparently wants to save us from the new Red Menace. Maybe the theory of gravity, too, is Illuminati propaganda. Why not?
  • The underlying tragedy is that Stein is no dummy, but his powers of perception and explanation are clouded by a fearful, desperate ideology in which the end (blaming evolution for all our ills) justifies the means (slippery editing and ham-handed melodrama).
  • Why did Stein not interview theistic evolutionists, like Francis Collins? Collins is no slouch. He led the Human Genome Project that mapped humans' DNA. He accepts all the factual evidence for evolution and believes that Jesus Christ is his savior, too. Is that so hard? Such thoughtful balance, perhaps even compartmentalization between science and faith seriously undercuts Stein's willfully naive idea that evolutionary theory generally leads to immorality, and that it specifically led to the Holocaust.
  • Why do these creationists and Discovery Institute folks act as if this "new" concept of ID is being persecuted by the "scientific establishment?" It's as if science is the millenia-old, moribund, power-mad worldview that won't give way to new and exciting ideas. But science is the real newbie, historically speaking.

      Tuesday, March 29, 2011

      Say The Word 2011

      My friend Darren's putting this together where he teaches. Looks good, I say:



      I've also decided to add "poetry" as a category here. Hard to believe I didn't have it here already. Also, "events."

      To see books I'm reading and what I glean from them (less reviews/criticism, more unfolding details), see my contributions over at Appendix A. "The Future of Reading."