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by Mike Schiller

6 May 2008

I didn’t mention it on Monday, but there was one other thing that came out this week that my eyes just couldn’t help but return to: a little thing called Crosswords DS, the not-all-that-imaginatively-titled Nintendo Touch Generations entry into the crossword arena.  Here’s a trailer:

Now, unlike Boom Blox which just looks seriously fun, and R-Type Command, which may be niche but could well be incredible, Crosswords DS is the type of title that inspires an internal struggle.  On one hand, it sounds like an incredible idea for a puzzle buff like me.  Over 1,000 crosswords?  Word searches?  A few other bonus word puzzles?  Sign me up!

On the other hand, I’ve done pen ‘n paper puzzles on the DS, in the form of the Brain Age series’ Sudoku madness.  And I’ll admit, I lost a whole pile of hours to all of that Sudoku.  Still, as someone who grew up searching for the crossword in every Sunday’s paper (after tearing through the comics of course), there’s something a little bit surreal about having a friggin’ thousand of the things in one of those tiny little DS cartridges.  And, you know, I think you lose a little something in knowing that, if you get stumped on something, even for a second, you can just move on to the next one.  A thousand times.  None of this is even to mention the sterility of the stylus-touchscreen interface for putting the letters in, and how it doesn’t compare to the scratch of pencil on paper (or the added challenge and pressure of trying to use pen).

That said, I’d be surprised if I didn’t lose days of my life to Crosswords DS (and its less-publicized, out-for-a-while-already counterpart from the New York Times) eventually, just like I did with the Brain Age Sudoku.  What do you think?  Can the DS compete with the Sunday paper?

by Rob Horning

6 May 2008

Larval Subjects, an academic blog, makes the case that difficult theoretical writing—think Deleuze, or to cite the worst I can think of, Laclau and Mouffe—is a “form of intellectual terrorism.”

I have increasingly found myself suspicious of the “difficult work”. On the one hand, I read texts in the sciences that express extremely complex ideas in very basic prose. Somehow I’m just unwilling to concede that what Hegel is trying to talk about is any more difficult or complex than what the biologist, complexity theory, economic social theorist, ecologist, or quantum physicist is attempting to articulate. This leads to my concern. I wonder if terribly dense styles such as we find in figures like Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, Derrida, etc., etc., etc., aren’t a form of intellectual terrorism. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not referring to the quality of their concepts or arguments. What I am referring to is a general writing strategy that demands so much work on the part of the reader in the art of interpretation, that by the time you’ve managed to make heads or tails of what Lacan is arguing or Hegel is seeking to articulate or Deleuze is seeking to theorize, you have so much invested that you simply cannot think critically about that figure.

Are social theorists so vain as to believe that their insights are so idiosyncratic that they must invent their own impenetrable and uneditable style to convey them? That was the sort of excuse I used to make for their unreadable prose when I was suffering from that compensatory overinvestment in what I read, what Adam Kotsko has called academic Stockholm syndrome. Then, I’d argue that the tedious hair-splitting and neologisms and abuse of erudite, Latinate vocabulary captures nuances otherwise inexpressible, rather than serving merely to scare away the skeptical. Clarity was, as far as I was concerned, a bourgeois comfort promoting intellectual laziness and capable only of expressing received wisdom and status-quo-preserving “truths.” Even now I am tempted to argue that difficult books slow our rate of consumption and thereby serve as a de facto blow to consumerism, which is predicated on perpetually accelerating it, and leaving us in ever more need of further efficiencies. As the Larval Subjects blogger says at the end of the post, “We live, we work, we must integrate superhuman bodies of information. Perhaps a little consideration is in order.” But why must we? Difficult texts that we must read at a page-per-5-minutes rate force us to consider that, at the very least in deciding whether to keep crawling along or instead switch to something faster—like blogs on an RSS feed, where I initially read the LS post.

But in retrospect, I now think that I learned to love my critical-theory tormentors after being shut in with them for too long, and came to believe on faith the truth of their assertions to the degree that I tortured myself in trying to understand them. It was an sure way to resolve the cognitive dissonance that came from spending so much time trying to assimilate what in the end were some pretty basic concepts. “Truth is relative.” “Concepts are often defined in terms of their opposites.” “Needs can be as arbitrary as wants.” “Education is a system of social control.” Etc.

Chances are theorists are merely too lazy to find clearer ways to express themselves (or they have cowed all potential editors), especially when opacity also serves a beneficial end casting the aura of difficulty over their works to make it seem more profound, and the scholars that pursue it to comprehension more ascetic. With that in mind, it’s worth remembering what Nietzsche said about asceticism in The Genealogy of Morals: “For a very long time the ascetic ideal serves the philosopher as the sole phenomenal guise under which he could exist qua philosopher.” Writing difficult prose is a will to power in the face of impotence, futility, death, indifference. This can prompt a grandiloquent egotism: “Whoever, at any time, has undertaken to build a new heaven has found the strength for it in his own hell.” Difficult prose may be just as difficult for the writer as it is for the reader, but necessarily so, because the ideas must seem tortuous to feel true. I am really a philosopher if I use words like noumenon and being-for-itself and velleity. “What, then, does the ascetic ideal betoken in a philosopher? … Asceticism provides him with the condition most favorable to the exercise of his intelligence. Far from denying ‘existence’ he affirms his existence, and his alone, perhaps even to the point of hubris.”

And those following the “ascetic priest” are, as far as Nietzsche is concerned, a “vast flock of defeated, disgruntled sufferers and self-tormentors.” Yes, that sounds familiar—a lot like my graduate seminar in Critical Theory.

(Update: Carl Dyke touches on some of cultish and ascetic aspects of theory—in a far more theoretical way—here.)

by Jason Gross

6 May 2008

From the people who brought you Harp, this press release:

BLURT is coming. Scott Crawford, founder of HARP, along with Managing Editor Fred Mills and Senior Editor Randy Harward, will unveil BLURT digital magazine and the accompanying BLURT-online website in June. In addition to the Joan As Police Woman cover story, artists featured in the BLURT debut will include My Morning Jacket, Ray Davies, My Brightest Diamond, Sally Shapiro and many others.

Brought to you by the creative team behind the lauded HARP magazine (called “America’s best music magazine” by NPR’s Bob Boilen and “the best music magazine in the country and the one that musicians always read” by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl), BLURT will raise the bar for online modern music and entertainment magazines by combining insightful interviews, dozens of no-holds-barred reviews, and top-notch design standards. Its green-minded, digital-only format will set the standard for how digi-magazines can heighten the consumer experience by offering fully interactive content including videos, MP3s, podcasts and more. The publication will be available free 10 times annually at

“While the print world continues to struggle, launching a magazine in this format allows us to explore the music community just as comprehensively but without many of the handicaps that burdened HARP,” says Editor-in-Chief Scott Crawford. “It’s a new world out there, but creatively, I’ve never been more excited about the possibilities.” 

The digi-mag will be hosted at — soon to be an essential one-stop for enthusiastic music and culture fans with exclusive content including daily news and concert reviews, humor, industry insider and political blogs, exclusive videos and interviews, podcasts, hundreds of reviews, and much, much more. Prepare yourself: Blurt-online goes live this June.

by Rob Horning

6 May 2008

According to the logic by which the fiscal stimulus package was passed in February, Americans are supposed to go out and immediately spend the $600 or so we are due to receive over the next few weeks. That way we’ll be stimulating demand for American-made goods and services, helping keep the country out of recession. Do your part and shop!

I, for one, will be doing no such thing personally; faulty withholding left me owing that money (and then some) in taxes. And judging by this Bloomberg article (via Yves Smith), I won’t be the only one defying the logic.

Consumers are being hit by a triple whammy: rising prices, increasing unemployment and shrinking wealth. Companies have cut payrolls for five straight months, by a total of 326,000 workers.
House prices in 20 metropolitan areas fell 12.7 percent in February from a year earlier, the biggest drop since S&P/Case- Shiller began tracking the data seven years ago.
``We’ve had a very significant deterioration in the financial position of households in the past year,’’ Sinai says. ``Consumers can’t tap their housing equity any more.’‘
Household debt has risen more than 85 percent since the middle of 2001—the last time the government handed out tax rebates in a bid to spur the economy. That has prompted some on Wall Street, including David Rosenberg, Merrill Lynch’s North American economist in New York, to conclude that consumers will spend less this time, paying down debt instead.

That makes you wonder if this money wouldn’t have been better spent on programs meant to reduce mortgage debt; that $125 billion or so could have been used as money to take the sting off government-mandated cramdowns.  That way, foreclosures might be forestalled, and the housing market—the source of much of the economy’s problems—would have a chance to find its bottom. Instead, perhaps out of some notion of fairness, everyone is getting the free money. The ones likely to spend it on consumption are probably those who least need the cash or the items they will buy. That doesn’t particularly seem any more fair when you think about it. People like me shouldn’t be given flat-screen TVs by the government.

As the article notes, retailers are trying hard to get their piece of the checks: It cites a Sears incentive of offering a 10 percent premium on checks converted entirely into Sears gift cards, and an unspecified plan of Wal-Mart’s to lure shoppers. By the logic of the stimulus package, they are doing their patriotic part, trying to encourage citizens to do what they are supposed to with the checks instead of saving them, which would be horribly detrimental to the purpose of the checks. (Maybe the government should have purchased goods and services directly—start building roads and such, WPA style. Then we could really get deep into the Depression-era nostalgia.)

It all seems insane. When you remove the macroeconomic blinders, it’s hard to see the problem with the U.S. economy as being that people don’t spend enough. Nonetheless, in order to get debt-ridden consumers to spend even more, the government has handed out money to these overspent people, which has had the effect of ramping up the marketing schemes of some of the largest retailers to get them to continue to ignore underlying economic realities. Wasn’t the problem that people spent more than they had, and they went into debt they had no hope of repaying to be able to spend even more? If anything, aren’t Americans virtually addicted to shopping, and unable to conceive of any other course of actions to satisfy their needs, which are all supposed to be solved with the act of buying some product? Are we trying to protect the economy or the ideological superstructure of the consumer society, that enshrines such spending as the most essential civic and self-fashioning act? Is the stimulus package an admission that we can’t even pretend to separate the economy from the consumerist value system any longer?


by Sean Murphy

6 May 2008

The last thing I want to be accused of is venerating the same sitcom that, it seemed, virtually everyone who was not a teenager in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s felt certain signaled the end of the world as we knew it. But we felt fine. Hey, I lived through those dangerous days and survived. I watched Three’s Company and not only enjoyed it, then, I certainly don’t regret it, now. I regard that show kind of like I view my Catholic upbringing: it was probably not necessary and it’s likely that those hours (in church, in front of the TV) could have been better spent. But, for better or worse, they helped make me what I am, so I’ll make no tardy attempts to excommunicate Cardinal O’Connor or Jack Tripper from my memory bank. In this much-maligned shows defense, and unlike the Catholic church, it never pretended to be something it was not: an enterprise that puts profit above product and always answerable to a higher authority.

Not sure, in hindsight, if Father So-and-So’s sermons gave me more nightmares than Joyce DeWitt’s curious allure, or who was the worse actor—my divorced CCD teacher or Suzanne Somers (I’m pretty sure Somers wins purely on aesthetic points). We can point to Don Knotts’s (R.I.P.) floral crimes against fashion, but at least he was a product of the times, unlike the enduring sartorial styles still in vogue at the Vatican. And let’s get real: if Jack Tripper (R.I.P.!!) were, well, real, and he was running for president, which candidate would you rather have a beer with at The Regal Beagle?

But special props must be set aside for the immortal (yes, I said immortal) Norman Fell (R.I.P.!!!). If there was ever a “sixth man” award for TV shows, Mr. Roper would be a lock. In fact, it should henceforth be known as “The Norman Fell Factor” when a minor—but indispensable—character is given props by fans in the know. His sardonic asides to the camera were revolutionary in their own understated way; breaking the fourth wall to make inside jokes with the audience, edging toward something approximating postmodern long before, say, movies like Ferris Bueller or subsequent TV shows like Moonlighting made it an almost obligatory—and far less subtle—device. Of course, this strategy already existed on TV, dating as far back as stories have been told to audiences, and are recurrent in Cervantes, Shakespeare and Sterne, not to mention Melville (call him Ishmael) and the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. In other words, Fell was neither the first nor the most effective practitioner of this tactic—he was simply one of the funniest. In his relatively quick moments on screen, he could throw the audience, and himself, a bone each week—his antics would not have been nearly as amusing if his role were larger.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. Check that: did any women ever watch Three’s Company? Stanley Roper’s self-satisfied mugging was a highlight of each episode, and while the mere name Ralph Furley prompts a chuckle, by the time that bug-eyed, pants suit wearing rascal came on the scene, the shows best days were behind it (bet: that is the first time the words “the shows best days” have ever appeared in any appraisal of Three’s Company). And don’t kid yourself: I’m not about to forget our favorite used car salesman, Larry Dallas. Larry was more than just Eddie Haskell grown up and acid-tested; in many ways he anticipated both George Costanza and Cosmo Kramer (in other words, he was the original poor man’s Larry David). Okay, that’s stretching it, but one thing is for certain: while the Ropers got their chance to grasp the brass ring, the biggest crime Three’s Company ever committed was not spinning off Larry’s character for his own series. Just kidding. Sort of.

//Mixed media

Beyoncé and When Music Writing Becomes Activism

// Sound Affects

"The overall response to Beyoncé's "Formation" has been startlingly positive, but mostly for reasons attached to political agendas. It's time to investigate this trend.

READ the article