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by PopMatters Staff

5 Feb 2009

Zeth Lundy thought pretty highly of Living Things’ 2005 effort, Ahead of the Lions, giving it an 8 and called it “a punishing, accessible hard rock record, a marriage of the rock ‘n’ roll fetish of the MC5’s Back in the U.S.A. with Nirvana’s wicked decibel annihilation”. The band’s newest album, Habeas Corpus, releases February 17th on Jive. “Let It Rain” is the first single, with the video directed by Floria Sigismondi (White Stripes, David Bowie, The Cure). Tour dates below.

2/3     Belly Up Tavern—Solana Beach, CA
2/4     Henry Fonda Theatre—Los Angeles, CA
2/5     The Fillmore—San Francisco, CA
2/6     The New Oasis—Reno, NV
2/7     Hard Rock Hotel & Casino—Las Vegas, NV
2/9     Martini Ranch—Scottsdale, AZ
2/10   The Rialto Theater—Tucson, AZ
2/12   Diamond Ballroom—Oklahoma City, OK
2/13   Midland Theater—Kansas City, MO (KRBZ-FM show; not EoDM)
2/14   The Blue Note—Columbia, MO
2/15   The Eagles Club—Milwaukee, WI
2/16   venue TBA—Columbus, OH (WWCD-FM show; not EoDM)
2/17   20th Century Theatre—Cincinnati, OH
2/18   Agora Ballroom—Cleveland, OH
2/19   Mr. Smalls Theatre—Pittsburgh, PA
2/20   Phoenix Concert Theatre—Toronto, ON

by Rob Horning

5 Feb 2009

Georgia senator Johnny Isakson’s amendment to the stimulus package, which passed the Senate yesterday, is a stupid idea—call it the Realtor Creation Act, and heaven knows we need more Realtors. The amendment doubles the existing unnecessary subsidy to new-home purchasers from $7,500 to $15,000, and intends to encourage more activity in the housing market and speed recovery in that sector, which remains afflicted with a massive inventory overhang—we built too many houses, and the vacancy rate is at a record high. Of course, in practice, this is a tax giveaway to the upper middle classes—the sort of people who already can afford to buy houses rather than rent—and encourages the same sort of dangerous real estate speculation that helped create the recession we’re in.

Calculated Risk is skeptical that the historical precedent for this—a 1975 giveaway to home buyers that supposedly boosted sales—holds water. And economist Dean Baker explains that the proposal is probably going to be far more expensive than advertised:

Isakson puts the cost of his tax break at just $19 billion. Let’s break the Washington rules and try a little arithmetic. Even with weakness in the housing market, it is still virtually certain that we will sell close to 5 million homes in 2009. The overwhelming majority would qualify for the full credit. So, we get 5 million times $15,000. That sounds a lot like $75 billion. And this is before we get to any gaming. It’s hard to see why tens of millions of people wouldn’t figure out a way to buy a house from a friend or relative and get their $15k. If we can get one-third of the country’s homes to change hands (lots of jobs for realtors) that would be good for $375 billion.

Economist Tyler Cowen says “boo to the Republicans” for generating the proposal, arguing that “the supply of homes is relatively elastic right now.  The tax credit will subsidize the new buyers without propping up the price of homes.  Demand will go up, supply will go up, price will stay more or less on the same trajectory, and banks won’t be any healthier.  The subsidy goes to new home buyers and why should we be helping them above all others?”

Brian Beutler laments that this sort of policymaking is the “benefit” of bipartisanship:

I suppose if we wanted to, we could build upon the Isakson amendment by suspending environmental regulations and setting aside money for construction workers to build more Kaufman & Broad communities, and coal-fired power plants. That might even technically count as great stimulus, but with Democrats fully in charge the hope was that the money could be spent both in great quantity and in ways that, at the very least, didn’t help entrench the habits that got the country in this mess in the first place. But I guess that’s bipartisanship for you.

Those who thought Obama would usher in a new regime of ideas and end the pandering to the suburban bourgeoisie are finding out they were wrong, and really, this should be no surprise. Obama didn’t campaign as a progressive urbanist, even if his life experience suggested he might govern as one.

Anyway, housing economist Ed Glaeser (no progressive—you can find him on today’s WSJ editorial page calling for more tax cuts) in this TNR book review, details the distortions of the subsidized lending schemes that Isakson wants to extend:

The popularity of subsidizing borrowing has led some to advocate a new round of federally subsidized lending, perhaps at an interest rate of 4.5 percent, aimed at pushing housing prices back up. But nothing is going to bring back the boom days of 2006. On average, housing prices go up between 3 percent and 5 percent when interest rates fall by 1 percent. A big loan program that pushes lending rates down to 4.5 percent would probably lead to a price boom of less than five percent. Such a modest impact would be barely noticeable in markets that have lost more than one-fifth of their value in the last year. It certainly would do little stem the tide of foreclosures. Housing in America is a $20 trillion market. It is no more plausible that the government will be able to bring housing prices back to bubble-like prices than it was for Herbert Hoover, or Franklin Roosevelt, to bring stock prices back to their 1929 levels.
I doubt that the government should try to make housing more unaffordable to ordinary Americans, even if it could manage that trick. Higher prices would just mean more overbuilding in places such as Las Vegas, which already have a glut of homes. In almost all cities, prices are still far above 2000 levels. Why is unaffordable housing now a national desideratum? The most recent housing boom made some of America’s most economically dynamic and beautiful places unaffordable to ordinary Americans. Higher housing prices made it difficult for young and middle-income families to get by in America’s costly coastal regions. There is much to like about housing’s return to reality, not least its increased affordability, and much to dislike about artificially trying to make homes expensive.
Moreover, credit subsidies can be quite regressive. The Home Mortgage Interest Deduction is poorly targeted toward lower-income Americans who are on the margin between renting and owning; its benefits go mainly to the rich. In markets where housing supply is more or less fixed, subsidizing borrowing just pushes up prices, which means capital gains for existing homeowners, not increased housing affordability. In more flexible markets, the deduction encourages over-building and over-borrowing.
In the midst of today’s housing crash, certainly, subsidizing borrowing looks particularly foolish. The government essentially encouraged Americans to leverage themselves to the hilt and bet on housing markets. Now a lot of those erstwhile owners have lost everything. Why exactly does it make sense to subsidize gambling on home prices?

Glaeser then details how homeownership subsidies basically mean that the government is encouraging us to live in single-family homes. That means when we make attempts to expand home ownership, it leads to more inefficient, energy-wasting, low-density development, perpetuating the stranglehold of suburban anomie for yet another generation.

by PopMatters Staff

5 Feb 2009

Of Morgan Geist’s Double Night Time, PopMatters’ Timothy Gabriele wrote that it is “an album that sounds best set against the iridescent scrim of city lights. It’s filled with Geist’s signature cosmic disco, which expectedly pits icy techno against warm synths. But the album also has a pulsating pop heart to it. He is teamed this time around with Jeremy Greenspan of the Junior Boys, one of the most affecting voices in pop today. The combination of Greenspan’s constrained white boy soul elocution and Geist’s slick compositional physique makes Double Night Time easily Geist’s best work since Metro Area.” Here’s the latest video from that release, “Ruthless City” directed by Noah Conopask.

by Mike Deane

5 Feb 2009

I feel like I make this proclamation every three months or so, but I’ll say it again: This new Cam’ron song shows promise. Though I say this quarterly, Cam’ron rarely follows up.  The pattern I’ve noticed is that a single is released, it’s weird but promising, it gets no radio play, then Cam fades away and releases another single with the same results.

I’ve found Cam’ron really confusing since his post-Purple Haze drop-off five years ago.  There was his weakish follow-up, Killa Season, and the accompanying movie that he starred in, wrote, directed, and produced (and it’s glaringly obvious on all accounts); there were the beefs with Jay-Z, and 50 Cent; there were a bunch of weird singles, a promising double mixtape, and a general absence from any sort of hip hop media (and one bizarre video as explanation) and his embarrassing appearance on 60 minutes following his shooting.

With this as a brief overview, it’s safe to say that in the past five years Cam’ron has become one of the strangest and more mysterious characters in hip hop.

Still, I’m always caught off guard by Cam’ron’s newest songs; perhaps it’ll be one head-scratching line, or a view-point that makes no sense. Whenever a new Cam’ron song comes out I can rest assured that it’ll be half-way entertaining and even if it’s not very good, Cam’ron always steps it up with at least one WTF moment.

The latest release, “I Hate My Job”, does away with much of the braggadocio, confusion, and messiness, giving a well-made, thought out, relevant and catchy Cam’ron song – something that hasn’t been seen in quite a while.  This is his only release since a spate of ‘almost good’ songs in the autumn of 2008 – which included the exercise in practiced stupidity that was “Bottom of her Pussy Hole”.  This song begins with Cam’ron’s atypical hip hop role playing: a woman working a dead-end job.

by David Pullar

5 Feb 2009

Everyone has a novel in them, they say.  That particular idiom doesn’t make any judgement on whether it’s a good novel people contain.  If you have ever dabbled in fiction writing, you’ll know how much harder it is than you could have ever expected.  Great writers make it seem so natural and effortless.  How could we anticipate the hard slog, lack of inspiration and ease with which we slip into cliché and banality?  Think about how a good idea suddenly seems thin and flimsy the moment you try and write a chapter on it.

It’s not surprising that many people’s early (and later) efforts at writing are terrible in one way or another.  “How Not To Write A Novel”, a new book by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, is something of a prescription for bad writers, setting out “200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them”.  From the Guardian’s review, it sounds clever and insightful:

It will have a ludicrous plot, of course, or none. It will have characters who are unbelievable or extremely tiresome, or both. It will be studded with clichés and riddled with the author’s prejudices. Newman and Mittelmark make up typical examples of dreadful prose, often so accurately that even the vainest are likely to recognise their own howlers and lapses of taste.

Naturally, this is going to be hard medicine for most of us to take.  Such a brutal assessment is pretty confidence-destroying at the outset.  Should this book have really been titled How To Not Write A Novel?  Is there any point writing at all?

If you have any pride in your writing, you might get a little defensive.  Aren’t your efforts at least as good as the appalling dog turds that adorn bookstore shelves everywhere?  Think of all the risibly bad books that make it past the publishers for a variety of reasons—celebrity authorship, easy categorisation, general trendiness.  Let’s face it, though.  You and I are not celebrities and no self-respecting publisher is going to take a chance on a self-indulgent, badly-constructed debut novel.  You need to write something good.

There is a point, however, when it all becomes a matter of personal taste.  What Newman and Mittelmark consider inessential digression may be another reader’s climactic scene.  We’ve witnessed this before, in countless works on what novels are supposed to be like.

James Wood, acerbic critic par excellence, recently published “How Fiction Works”.  It’s full of Wood’s own unique prose style and fuelled with his intense literary passion.  It’s also heavily biased towards Wood’s own preferences and tastes—in particular a love of description and characterisation over plot and story.  As Louis Bayard in Salon points out, characterisation and description alone do not great novels make.  Even the most sublime writer needs a plot or story to give the words purpose and shape.  In the end, we’re free to regard or disregard Wood’s (or any other critic’s) opinion at will.

There’s undoubtedly a lot to be learnt by reading about novel construction and learning some basic dos and don’ts.  But in the end, you’ve just got to chance it that someone else is going to like what you do.

//Mixed media

How a Song By Unknown Newcomer Adam Johnston Ended Up on Blondie's New Album

// Sound Affects

"Adam Johnston of An Unkindness wrote a song at 17 years old and posted it online. Two years later, magic happened.

READ the article