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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In Slate, their music scribe Jody Rosen had this recent article: Does hating rock make you a music critic?.  If you haven’t already, take a minute to read it- it’s worth it.  It’s a very good thoughtful piece but the issue obviously deserves some more debate and discussion.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More about how optimism depresses me: In Walker’s “Consumed” column in last Sunday’s NYT Magazine he profiled a young optimist who had eagerly begun “challenging consumerism by participating in it” and buying anti-branded products, as though anti-brands aren’t also brands themselves. (Just as so many major-label “indie” bands in the 1990s had “no image”.) According to Walker, such products as the anti-branded Blackspot shoe is meant to appeal to the “cynical” consumer—cynicism being the slur used to discredit anyone skeptical of the status quo or the mainstream. The accusation of cynicism shifts the blame away from structural flaws in society to the individual cynic for his discontent—he is discredited as a malcontent complainer and probably some sort of hypocrite. Walker is ultimately able to call his sample cynic consumer an optimist because he embraces consumerism largely in the individuated, atomizing form it currently takes (The practice often isolates us, alienates us from others seen as competitors,  as we really on it to draw the outlines of our unique self, and it reinforces values of acquisitiveness and greed, etc, and suggests we can only buy our way into communities with the right goods.) The shoemakers say they hope “to establish a worldwide consumer cooperative and to reassert consumer sovereignty over capitalism,” which sounds pretty good, though I’m not sure how shifting brand allegiances necessarily achieves this. Yes, it’s better to consume products that have been made with less exploited labor and resource waste, but the underlying problem—self-definition through consumption—is merely strengthened. It may be that it can’t be reversed.


In China such patterns have not yet been firmly established, and the mores of consumerism are still in flux, the sorts of lives it will foster still open to adjustment. This article details a Chinese phenomenon called tuangou, or team buying. Consumers organize to meet over the internet and descend upon a retailer en masse ad demand better deals via their strengthened bargaining power. Bargaining itself has already been eradicated from most Western economies, where the fixed price is seen as a comfort and convenience rather than an arbitrary mark set to see how much of a sucker you are. Personally I would hate to have to haggle upon every purchase, but I sure as hell would be a lot more conscious of every purchase I was making and might decide to invest my energies elsewhere. In China, bargaining is still apparently the norm, and a group brings much more leverage to bear on any negotiation. This seems a much more direct way of reasserting consumer sovereignty over capitalism to me, far better than buying special products to display how skeptical you are.


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Monday, May 15, 2006
by PopMatters Staff


FEATURED ARTIST
Casey Driessen


Driessen is an amazing young fiddler, who uses traditional bluegrass stylings as a launch pad to mesmerizing improvisational roots music.  He’s grounded in tradition, like Michael Doucet of Beausoleil, but has a broad imagination and ends up concocting a bluegrass/jazz hybrid that recalls some of the best work of Vassar Clements.  This 27-year-old, Berklee College of Music educated musician has already worked with many of the leading lights in bluegrass and country, including Steve Earle, Tim O’Brien, Lee Ann Womack, Béla Fleck, and Jim Lauderdale among many others.  3D is his much anticipated debut on Sugar Hill Records out on May 9 in the US(Sarah Zupko)

“Jerusalem’s Ridge” (A reworking of an old Bill Monroe tune off the new album, 3D) [MP3]
“My Uncle” (live recording with Steve Earle and Tim O’Brien) [MP3]
“Forked Deer” (duet with Chris Thile) [MP3]
“Working on a Building” (traditional bluegrass gospel song, often recorded by Bill Monroe and others) [MP3]
“Old Joe Clark” (duet with Greg Liszt) [MP3]
multiple songs [MySpace]


Park Attack
“Delta Smelter” [MP3]
“Tongue ‘n’ Groove” [MP3]


PAS/CAL
“Summer Is Almost Here” [MP3]


Tigarah
“Girl Fight” [MP3]


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Monday, May 15, 2006

Americans reading this probably understand by now that their government is spying on them and logging their calls, and likely also monitoring their financial transactions, e-mails, medical records and so on. As billmon explainsthis is all reminiscent of a Defense department program called Total Information Awareness, a project led by Iran-Contra notable John Poindexter, designed to, in his words, make the government “more efficient and more clever in the ways we find new sources of data, mine information from the new and old, generate information, make it available for analysis, convert it to knowledge, and create actionable options.” (Read his description of the project here and be amazed at some of the most leaden, cliche-ridden speechifying imaginable. It’s the totalizing, abstract and institutional language of the Whitney Biennial wall card applied to national security and privacy issues, rendering them opaque, nebulous, limitless. It’s probable that thinking to yourself in this kind of language makes any bureaucratic nightmare possible; this is Orwellian Newspeak made horrifyingly real.) The public was led to believe that program was spiked, but apparently it was broken into smaller programs scattered throughout the government, presumably ready to be reassembled whenever the Decider needs to smear some enemies of the state, wage preemptive war on whistleblowers or bully some reporters who haven’t yet become Pravda-style stenographers. Some Americans (somewhere between 40 and 60 percent according to polls) apparently take comfort in the surveillance security blanket, perhaps they regard being spied upon as a kind of reality-TV cameo, with the government as a rapt, interested audience. It’s pleasant to be paid attention to, after all. So even if your neighbors ignore you, considering how adverse to strangers we generally are, we can rest assured the NSA is interested in our special lives. Billmon suggests white-collar corporate environments accustom many Americans to petty spying and invasive bureaucracies.


We know our phone calls and emails may be and often are monitored, that company net nannies will stop us from visiting certain web sites (and not just porn pages: I’ve been blocked out of labor union sites, progressive political sites—even that notoriously subversive left-wing web magazine, Slate.) We know that if we say the wrong thing to a company snitch it could be reported to our supervisors, that those reports could end up in our personnel files, and that really serious thought crimes could cost us our jobs. We know the security cameras may record when we walk in the door and when we leave. We know we can’t make certain jokes or raise certain topics because they might be construed as sexual harassment. We know how to smile and feign enthusiasm when the pointy-haired boss has a really dumb idea. We know what a cult of personality looks like, because it looks like our CEO.


I would add that it’s also familiar to many of us through the increasingly invasive style of commerce, wherein our habits and preferences are stored so that we may be surprised by unwanted recommendations and targeted ads. The surveillance society will in the end likely remain a commercial one, because the nexus of advertising, shopping, identity construction and consumer preferences is where surveillance can be sweetened and made benevolent.


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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Way behind in my media coverage (lots of other projects eatin’ up time) but I just wanted to give a brief shout-out to this stalwart article in Slate:Blacklisted.  Racism is an ugly thing indeed but throwing around the term recklessly is ugly and hurtful also.  The tabloid smearing of Stephin Merritt isn’t something you’d expect from writers that are usually much more thoughtful (Jessica Hopper, Sasha Frere-Jones) but the piece lays out the details quite nicely.  As an addenda to that, Sasha F.J. offered something of an apology based on that article.  Hopefully, in the future, JH and SFJ will be a little more careful before they tar someone with a tag like that and other scribes will take that as a warning too.


Speaking of unwarranted behavior, if any 1st ammendent supporters are shedding a tear for fired-then-arrested NYC radio DJ Star for threatening a rival DJ and his family on-air (including putting a bounty on their head), I’d ask if any supporters would feel as sympathetic if they were being called out on the radio and having their family threatened.  Star likens himself to Lenny Bruce but I doubt if he himself thinks that he’s a sly provacateur who’s toying with society’s conventions.  He’s an egotistical ratings-hound who wanted to push his rivalry up another level and get a response.  He did but not the type he probably anticipated though his joly demeanor after his arrest means that he knows something.  This notoriety is going to help his rep as someone else will no doubt hire him eventually.


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