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Friday, Nov 10, 2006

Painful goodbye’s to two journalists who brought sobriety and scholarliness to their work: Ellen Willis and Ed Bradley (aka Teddy).  I particularly loved Willis’ essay about the Velvet Underground in Stranded not to mention the stalwart work she did as a Village Voice editor and a writer for the Nation. As for Bradley, aside from his cool, calm interview style on 60 Minutes, he was a constant booster of New Orleans music not to mention the host of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Robert Pollard —"Supernatural Car Lover "
From Normal Happiness on Merge Records
On the heels of From a Compound Eye, Dayton, Ohio resident Robert Pollard‘s much-lauded first post-Guided By Voices effort, comes Normal Happiness, a stylistic hopscotch-jop from F.A.C.E., but no less coherent, fully-formed, and accomplished.

From THX JHN on Excelsior Recordings
The use of superlatives in music is rarely justified, but in the case of Johan, it is an apt way to describe their sound. This is real music…plain and simple. It is popular music elevated to an art form. You can feel it in your bones when you hear Jacco De Greeuw sing. The melodies soar, and the emotions are worn on the sleeve.

South—"Up Close and Personal"
From Up Close and Personal on Young American Recordings
This fall, London’s indie rock heroes South returns with a career spanning double-disc DVD and CD package entitled Up Close and Personal. The DVD portion features over 60 minutes of live concert footage taken from their last tour, new music videos, and a slew of behind-the-scenes footage. The CD portion features new versions of some of their biggest singles, including OC favorite “Paint the Silence,” and “Loosen Your Hold.”

Summer Hymns—"Pity and Envy"
From Backward Masks on Misra Records
Fans will recognize Backward Masks as the Summer Hymns record you always thought they’d make, the one they’ve hinted at for many moons. It is a record that emerges as if fresh from the womb, untainted. The songs don’t hide behind reverb or elaborate production-in fact, it’s as if they’re pure enough that they wouldn’t even know to hide their real, raw beauty. Instead, subtle orchestration cradles simple, remarkable melodies so familiar and well-crafted they might be the sound at the end of the tunnel.

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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006

Remember how, a few weeks back, we here at SE&L warned you about getting a hobby and avoiding the weekly offerings posted by your favorite premium movie channel? Well, we hope you heeded said sage advice since the selections up for grabs this weekend are about as poor as the Republicans’ showing on election night (rimshot, if you please). From another chance to see how Hollywood views the South to incredibly bad kid vid, it’s a bad bet all around. Those who still believe that there is magic left in a certain Mr. Lucas’ slowly evaporating space operatics, will probably be pleased by the day long celebration of his fiscal fame on Cinemax. And believe it or not, a certain German director who is more than happy to put his boxing gloves where his talent isn’t, has a few demented defenders as well. But when it comes right down to it, unless you’re willing to wait until mid-week to see some stellar presentations on the lesser-known pay cable channels (read; IFC and Sundance), you’re stuck with some mighty mediocre fare. The flaccid foursome making your Saturday, 11 November night noxious are:

HBOThe Dukes of Hazzard*

Ouch! Here’s a film so painfully pathetic that SE&L has a hard time even THINKING about it, let alone discussing it. Marketed to make money by trading on Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass fanbase, as well as Jessica Simpson’s dumbass personality, the end result was a one note novelty that proved the potential of the adolescent male demographic to show up for almost anything. Following this formula, it won’t be long before someone supes up Nanny and the Professor with the Pussycat Dolls as a determined group of barely dressed babysitters, and Bam Margera as the lonely widower teacher desperate for help raising his wee ones. Now just add Li’l Jon as the nutty next-door neighbor and you’ve got another hap-Hazzard style payday. After soiling Cinemax, it’s now HBO’s turn. (Premieres Saturday 11 November, 8:00pm EST).


CinemaxStar Wars – a.k.a. Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope*

Apparently, Cinemax has stumbled over to the dark side of the filmic Force, joining up with that money-grubbing maniac George Lucas in the continual raping of the entire Star Wars legacy. Not only will the channel by showing all SIX of the Wars films, in order, in HD, for the first time ever, but they are apparently featuring the “Special Edition” versions of the original trilogy, confirming that, when it comes to cinema, commerce supplants before art every time. If you love the latest prequels in all their hideous Hayden Christensen hackwork, by all means, break out your simulated light saber, a package of sugar-coated midichloreans and your Chewbacca underoos and settle in for some lame sci-fi escapism. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars made some movie magic. Now, its creator is just concerned with merchandising this mythology to death. (Saturday 11 November, 10:00pm EST).



How does an independent film company without its own animation department compete with the studio big boys in the ultra-competitive (and costly) world of computer generated junk? Why, you import a sappy French revamp of a British kiddie ‘classic’, re-dub most of the voices to maximize the mandatory stunt casting conceit of the genre, and fool the wee ones into thinking its another Shrek sequel. This mediocre mumbo jumbo about magical diamonds that can freeze the sun and a dog-led gang of heroes hoping to thwart evil is so faux hip, so wannabe cool that it collides with its own pointlessness to create a black hole sized void of ineptitude. It is possible that some of the more mentally challenged members of the intended demographic could look at this lousy CG cartoon and find something to celebrate, but with so many superior efforts available elsewhere, why even bother? (Premieres Saturday 11 November, 9:00pm EST).



Dr. Uwe Boll may be able to kick some online film critic buttocks, but he is still incapable of making a professional grade film. Part of the problem is that he continually focuses his careless cinematic efforts on adaptations of subpar video games. The other reason, however, is that Boll is basically inept when it comes to putting a narrative together. This scattered, slipshod attempt to fiddle with the vampire mythos contains nothing but lame action sequences, non-existent characterization, and enough disinterested acting nods (from Ben Kingsley, Billy Zane and Michael Madsen, specifically) to guarantee a bad time at the movies. Then Boll works his own Teutonic talentlessness on the entire process, and what was merely a bomb becomes an abomination. Making House of the Dead look decent is a hard feat to accomplish. BloodRayne manages to do that…and not much else. (Saturday 11 November, 9:15pm EST)



The Cream of the Crop

In honor of IFC’s month-long celebration of Janus Films, SE&L will skip the standard daily overview of what’s on the other movie-based cable outlets and, instead, focus solely on what it and the Sundance Channel have to offer. Beyond that premise, however, we will still only concentrate on the best of the best, the most inspiring of the inspiring, the most meaningful of the…well, you get the idea. For the week of 11, November, here are our royal recommendations:


: Every Tuesday in November is Janus Films night. For the 14th, the selections are:

The White Sheik
Before he was the master of the absurd, Fellini was creating, warm, witty fables like this one, revolving around a newlywed, her honeymoon, and the actor she idolizes.

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
Combining slapstick with satire, French film legend Jacques Tati created the classic title character for this unflinching comedic look at how the leisure class lives.
(10:30PM EST)

Loves of a Blond
As part of the “Czech New Wave” future Oscar winner Milos Forman came to the attention of the West with this wonderful ensemble comedy.
(12AM EST)

Sundance Channel

11 November - Fahrenheit 451
Though somewhat flawed, François Truffaut’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s topical sci-fi novel still has plenty of prescient bite.
(11PM EST)

13 November - Pink Flamingos
The film that turned director John Waters into a Midnight Movie icon, this masterpiece of contemporary cynicism is just as joyfully jaded 34 years later.
(2:40AM EST)

14 November - Brazil
Mired in studio politics and misunderstood upon its initial release, Terry Gilliam’s future shock send-up is today one of the director’s most beloved and brave works. 
(10PM EST)

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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006

One of the depressing thing about economics is its attempt to provide a system (a flawed one, albeit, but still recognizably predictive) to assign a price tag to virtue, to assign numeric value to things we prefer to think are magnanimous gestures that transcend all forms of petty calculation. Economics primarily concerns itself not with ethics (beyond matters like the economic efficiency of trust) but with what you have to give up for what you want to get. What this reminds us of—what we generally don’t want to countenance—is that a “socially responsible” world isn’t a product of mere well-wishing and ethically sound intentions. It comes from tangible sacrifices, from making difficult choices among many theoretically desirable outcomes, from using power to guarantee outcomes that benefit certain groups over others. (At Cato Unbound, economist Bryan Caplan looks how this impacts voting here—his conclusions are that we vote to flatter our own ignorance rather than to pursue a rational course.) No good deed happens in isolation; it has a cost that others may be unwilling to pay. Chris Dillow’s post about the subpar returns for “socially responsible” stocks—you know, no polluters, firearms, booze, tobacco, etc. His explanation for this is dour but apt:

So people who prate about “socially responsible” investing have lost out to proper investors; it’s almost enough to make you believe the world is just.
There are two reasons why we should expect this:
1. “Unethical” firms like tobacco and arms companies face regulatory and litigation risk. If investors regard these dangers as non-diversifiable, they’ll require a risk premium for holding them. So “unethical” stocks will deliver higher returns, if these risks don’t materialize.
2. Investors equalize total risk-adjusted returns. And some of the returns to “ethical” investing are non-financial - the warm glow of sanctimoniousness. That means financial returns are lower.

In other words, we get paid in self-satisfaction for investing “repsonsibly” (it’s a definition of responsible that most investors woudn’t accept; responsibility usually means profit maximizing)—just as, say, our recycling as individuals makes us feel better rather than helping the world in any measurable way. It’s a deft economics move that, in the name of making our behavior suceptible to modeling, invalidates our altruisitc intentions and tries to make what we’re doing seem irrational, selfish, or in some way beside the point. A price tag makes our noble gestures assimilable to greed. It reduces the wish to make a difference to something that you are purchasing for yourself, a consumable good like an organic carrot or chemical-free dish detergent. That you can actually make a difference to anything but your self-regard is virtually ruled out. Sometimes I am attracted to this perspective because it clarifies that we shouldn’t assume that investment—a passive deployment of capital—is the appropriate means for enacting social change. Social change is ultimately a matter of politics rather than finance, though money certainly plays into it. But Dillow’s right that it’s sanctimony to think that all one needs to do is by some green-oriented mutual funds and you’ve done your part for the planet. This is just a dodge—a way to launder one’s own (natural?) accumulative impulses. It’s just strange to choose investing as a means to accomplish what are ultimately spiritual goals. You can prefer to see altruism as a means to selflessness, as a way out of the box of identity that so much of the consumer economy hinges on (foisting lifestyles, etc., on us), but skeptical ecnomists regard altruism as nothing more than a lifestyle choice, a luxury, a practice of charity that assures that the existing relations of dependency remain in tact.

Of course, one could refuse to accept these methods of assigning meaning to an action, and reject the underlying assumptions of what is rational and what effects incentives have, and to what degree human behavior can be meaningfully analyzed. Many people are perfectly functional and happy without having any apparatus for analytizing their behavior whatsoever, preferring to approach the zero degree of totally spontaneity and randomness (the one thing that’s impossible for a machine to accomplish, iPod Shuffle be damned). Here’s how Caplan defines this kind of behavior: “My view is that these are symptoms not of ignorance, but of irrationality. In politics as in religion, some beliefs are more emotionally appealing than others. For example, it feels a lot better to blame sneaky foreigners for our economic problems than it does to blame ourselves. This creates a temptation to relax normal intellectual standards and insulate cherished beliefs from criticism — in short, to be irrational…. Irrationality, like ignorance, is sensitive to price, and false beliefs about politics and religion are cheap. If you underestimate the costs of excessive drinking, you can ruin your life. In contrast, if you underestimate the benefits of immigration, or the evidence in favor of the theory of evolution, what happens to you? In all probability, the same thing that would have happened to you if you knew the whole truth.” Likewise, there’s apparently no cost to you for believing in your own altruism in the face of doubting economists. But as Caplan points out, this attitude has a social cost, if not an individual one.

The appropriate question then is perhaps this: If we resist the analytical viewpoint of mainstream economics to preserve altruism and significance for our individual selflessness, what amount of marginal utility have we gained? At what point to we retrieve better returns for our individual happiness by adopting a more “realistic” perspective on our pseudoaltrusistic deeds?

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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006

With this historic U.S. election, the pendulum has swung back and another party now controls Congress.  What they’ll be able to do in the next two years and beyond is still a big question mark though they’ve laid down an ambitious agenda.  Granted that issues like Iraq, health care, minimum wage and education are good ones to tackle first but after those things start to get addressed, there’s a few more issues in the music biz that are worth engaging as well.

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