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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2007
by tjm Holden

Source: Oldmind

Have you ever had this experience? . . .

You are waiting in your car to enter a full-up parking lot and the guard at the gate has held you back from the opening about a healthy car length to afford passage along the pedestrian by-way, and suddenly . . . into the enticing gap swoops a souped up automobile which, once it comes to a complete stop, is now not only blocking foot traffic, but has magically managed to crown itself head of the line!

As in, occupying


rightful spot.

Yeah, me either. Well, until today. Imagine me, your beloved, beleaguered, (now bewildered) socio-cultural tourista-blogger:  having dashed cross-town (and in a prickly mood, for it) trying to make it into an administrative office before closing time, feeling the beads of sweat percolating above my brow, mentally working through the mechanics of getting that essential form found, filled out, and filed before deadline, and suddenly, my calculations becoming multiplied by a factor of two.

What would you do?

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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2007

Blogs reveal how much we are unwitting stenographers of hip talk and marketing speak.

In the new n+1 is an editorial about blog that, judging by the excerpt here, has an interesting point to make about the way our consciousness is saturated with marketing language.

The accident waiting to happen to blog was most visible when they turned their attention to literature and ideas. The hope had been to democratize the intellectual sphere. Freedom of the press is for those who own one. But now all you needed was a laptop and some time on your hands. The idea was especially attractive in light of the consolidation of media holdings and the destruction of intellectual life in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when people began to work longer and harder for less, available public spaces and quiet cafes dried up, and argument in the academies gave way to ‘respect’.

The blog salved this ennui and created nourishing microcommunities. Yet criticism as an art didn’t survive. People might have used their blog to post the best they could think and say. The could have posted 5,000-word critiques of their favorite books and records. Some polymath might even have shown, on-line, how an acute and well-stocked sensibility responds to the streaming world in real time. But those things didn’t happen, at least not often enough. In practice, blog reveal how much we are unwitting stenographers of hip talk and marketing speak, and how secondhand and often ugly our unconscious impulses still are. The need for speed encourages, as a willed style, the intemperate, the unconsidered, the undigested.

Encouraged by the “need for speed” and the way it privileges spontaneity, blog reveals that our spontaneous thoughts are often not windows into our soul but regurgitations of convenient prefab word chunks we have assimilated from our culture, in which marketing hype and the pseudoreasoning and posturing of advertising is ubiquitous. But that’s not blog as a medium’s fault and not characteristic of the many, many highly interesting blog out there providing articulate amateur art criticism, free expert news analysis, opinion, advice, reading suggestions and primers in virtually any subject. The extent of blog is far too vast to be surveyed and dismissed as glibly as this editorial appears to (“Criticism as an art didn’t survive”?!?!), which leaves the writer seeming a bit reactionary. The writer seems affronted by the mass of limp and unoriginal opinion-mongering out there as though it were sullying the public sphere and stifling the true voices of genius we should all be listening to. The writer condemns the fact that blog is “not often enough” up to her high standards—well, how much would be enough to vindicate the medium? (Also, how many fewer crappy pseudoacademic journals would have to exist for the generally excellent n+1 not to be tarred with their mediocrity?) It seems to me that the second-hand jargon of lit crit in academic writing is often more stultifying, “unconsidered” and prohibitive than blog shorthand. Often blog are able to take theoretical ideas an apply them to pressing issues in a lang general-interest readers can understand, thus giving them wider currency and efficacy. Isn’t this preferable to the most likely self-indulgent 5,000 word critique of one’s favorite book?

Perhaps the objection is that the “microcommunities” online have disintegrated the public sphere altogether. But is a public sphere that depends on the market to constrain it to a manageable shape worth having in a putative democracy, or does such a public sphere (e.g., one dictated from the top down by mass media controlled by a few players, as things were in the early days of TV and social critics fretted about enforced conformity) nullify more localized discourse communities (e.g. a MySpace page) that many people would find more personally rewarding (if not uniformly mind-expanding)?

Implicit in the n+1 writer’s argument is a belief that only writers who undergo the rigors of print publication deserve recognition, should be allowed in the public sphere. Lurking behind that also is a rote championing of originality, which is not all that different from the marketing world’s ceaseless celebration of novelty for its own sake. Would n+1 want would-be blog to have to pass some sort of licensing test that would permit them to speak in public and share their opinions? Would they want, say, their editors to be responsible for everything the public is allowed to see, so our brains won’t be damaged by unwitting stenography? The upshot of n+1‘s complaint seems to be this: “This sucks. All these damn blog are out there spewing so many of their trivial, second-rate opinions that no one is paying attention to our own.”

Blogs remove the filtering mechanisms of the market, which allow all that sort of junk the n+1 writer mentions to freely circulate, but that doesn’t mean anyone needs to waste their time reading it. It’s pretty easy to avoid bad blog (you could click away right now, for instance). But free of the market, a new form of writing is free to evolve, as CR at Long Sunday notes in the comments of this post:

One thing that’s interesting about blogging, in this day and age especially, is the relative absence of need to satisfy market demand, and the effect of this fact upon the form of the writing. I don’t blog under my own name. Unlike my “real work,” I don’t expect any financial compensation (direct or indirect) from this work. And that is one of the leading causes, I think, of the differences between the shape of my writing here and over there in the real world.

Absent market pressures, blogging seems sensitive instead to different kinds of pressure—that of attracting and keeping an audience in a market with infinitely elastic supply. One approach is to adopt au courant superficialities that the n+1 writer deplores. This slangy slackness is often a product of an another audience-attracting gambit, which is to post often (with a not fully reasoned reaction to the chosen topic and in whatever language is already at hand)—this is where the “need for speed” derives from, a desire on the blogger’s part to feel an exchange going on with an audience, to procure recognition on a steady basis. The more you post, the more you have a chance of seeing how readers are responding (if they respond at all) and that exchange is at the heart of the form, once the money aspect is removed. (It may be that the money one can earn by writing is a flawed proxy for this kind of recognition; those who write for money become hacks when they confuse the two.) What may be bothering n+1 so much is that attention can be secured by adopting the language and approach of advertising and not necessarily by having smart and interesting things to share. This may have an incantatory effect, making ad gibberish seem even more powerful and oppressive, making intellectual conversation seem even more beside the point culturally. What’s left, then, if you accept that logic? A Baudrillardian fatal strategy of silence?

Incidentally, a search for “Baudrillardian fatal strategy of silence” yields this quote from his In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities

The mass absorbs all the social energy, but no longer refracts it. It absorbs every sign and every meaning, but no longer reflects them… it never participates. It is a good conductor of information, but of any information. It is without truth and without reason. It is without conscience and without unconscious. Everybody questions it, but never as silence, always to make it speak. This silence is unbearable. It is the simulation chamber of the social.

Is this an apt description of the blogosphere as a totality?

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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2007

Why is anyone surprised that substantial portions of America’s sub-prime lending market are starting to default now that interests rates have risen and the housing market has stalled? Skeptical economists who had been warning of a housing bubble had been predicting this scenario for a long time, but you don’t have to read Econometrica to know that when you give complicated loans (ARMs, Interest-onlys, etc.) to people basically on faith and allow them to pay little up front and a lot later on, many of them won’t be able to do it. As Justin Lahart put it in his WSJ column yeasterday: “Nobody seemed to realize the risks inherent in extending mortgages with loose standards that left borrowers with little skin in the game. The question worth asking now: Where else has lax lending been going on?”

This chart, from Mike Shedlock’s blog suggests that in mortgage lending lax lending was almost everywhere.

A commenter on Dean Baker’s blog explains how we reached this point:

Buying a house used to require coming up with a down payment or going to war and qualifying for a Veterans Administration loan guarantee. You had to have a certain amount of skin in the game, literally or figuratively. And in return you would get a loan with some relation to the Prime Rate. But it has always been possible to get loans with credit that is sub-Prime, in worse case scenarios you go to Tony Soprano and your collateral is your knee-caps. Now over the last decade or so the housing market has appreciated in such a way that lending to schlumps who may or may not pay off still makes you money. You get your interest money and at the end of the day can take the house back and still get your principal out. When this action was limited to the hard money guys (a technical term in my biz) this was a rough and tumble thing usually understood by both sides. But when Wells Fargo and some other big institutional players jumped in, well, Katy Bar the Door. Anybody could get a loan. You could simply state your income, you could simply state your assets. We call this stated-stated. As opposed to Full Doc where you actually have to prove that you have income. Well this is a two-edged sword. Lenders can use these programs to get good people with reasonable jobs but shaky credit into houses, and given any reasonable rate of housing appreciation have that appreciation gradually save the day. Or you can use that same lending instrument to put somebody in a house you know they can’t afford long term. It’s tough to know where to draw the line, and when it comes down to it lots of people in my industry don’t care: we collect the commission and sell off the loan. The foreclosures down the road aren’t our problem.

Naturally, lenders will tighten their standards in response to the default rate, removing prospective buyers from the market at a time when the vacancy rate is at an unprecedented high. This would seem to suggest further depreciation in housing prices, kicking off more problems.

Who you blame for all of this probably depends most of your political persuasion (perhaps since there is so much blame to go around): Greedy banks? Bubble-fueling speculators? Ignorant and overreaching borrowers? An ostrich-like Fed? A tax system skewed toward home-buying? Picking up with my middle-class hating from yesterday, I wonder if the bias toward home ownership (as a symbol of arriving in the middle class and becoming a stakeholder in society’s stability) makes us collectively tolerant of bad loans—in the grand scheme of things in America, bankruptcy seems more dignified than being a renter, even though spending more than you’ve earned seems to me a way of stealing from posterity.  We’re willing to underwrite this fantasy that everyone’s middle class with more and more exotic financial instruments, making the real extent of risk more and more obscure, as Gretchen Morgenson explains here. What happens when we can fantasize no longer?

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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Neil Young: Live At Massey Hall (release date: March 13), produced by Young and the late David Briggs, is the second Reprise Records release in the Neil Young Archives Performance Series, following last year’s Live at the Fillmore East album. Both are in anticipation of the Archives Volume I collection, due this fall. That eight-CD, two-DVD audiobiography will include Young’s music from 1963 to 1972, and feature a treasure trove of previously unreleased recordings, both studio and live, along with concert footage and rare memorabilia from the first decade of Neil Young’s long and unequaled career.

“This is the album that should have come out between After the Gold Rush and Harvest,” Young says now. “David Briggs, my producer, was adamant that this should be the record, but I was very excited about the takes we got on Harvest, and wanted Harvest out. David disagreed. As I listen to this today, I can see why.”

Official Site


Tagged as: neil young
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Tuesday, Feb 20, 2007

In much the same way he mined hip-hop culture for his acclaimed debut Hustle & Flow, writer/director Craig Brewer turns his attention to the blues for his equally musical sophomore effort Black Snake Moan. A newly slimmed down Christina Ricci plays Rae, a young, white trash tramp whose horniness possesses her like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, which leads her into the bedroom of any willing man in the county. After a particularly rough night, she is dumped on the side of a road and left for dead, only to be found and subsequently held captive by ex-bluesman and struggling Christian Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson).

Up until this point, Black Snake Moan presents a fantastic concept; a god-fearing man looking to reform someone of their wicked ways, and by force if necessary. Wrapped up in the trappings of blues mythology, it promises some intriguing developments. But Brewer’s script never finds the right tone. Both over-the-top and deadly serious, ironic and earnest, Jackson, Ricci and the rest of the talented cast give excellent performances despite writing and situations that at times are laugh-out-loud ridiculous. Worse, Brewer seems to try and alleviate the problem with supporting characters and plotlines that enter and leave the picture on a whim. Rae’s relationship with her longtime boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake), Lazarus’ fledgling romance with local pharmacist Angela (S. Epatha Merkerson) and Reverend R.L.’s (John Cothran Jr.) efforts to bring Lazarus back to the church are largely underdeveloped and leave more questions than answers.

If there is any bright spot in this otherwise pointless exercise in Southern exploitation melodrama, it is the music. Samuel L. Jackson’s singing, particularly his stunning version of the traditional blues cut “Stagolee”, is far more evocative here than the puerile “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” that became the center of Hustle & Flow. But like that film, Brewer addresses and even embraces African-American stereotypes but can’t transcend them. Black Snake Moan amounts to nothing more than another picture in which damaged white characters find healing in the ways of slightly off-the-radar African-Americans and their culture. That certainly isn’t to mention the film’s preoccupation with African-American male’s genitalia - a source of constant wonder for Rae.

I wish I could say Black Snake Moan was simply poorly made and inconsequential, but Brewer’s film goes a dangerous step further. Rather than turning stereotypes on their head, by the film’s truly cornball ending, he practically embraces them and tries to sell them as authentic drama. At least for myself, and the audience I was with, we weren’t buying it.

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