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Friday, Jun 30, 2006

The Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld against President Bush’s notion that the commander in chief’s wartime powers allow him to rule the country like a dictator without Congressional oversight. (See this Glenn Greenwald post for a good explication of the decision’s significance.) But Bush doesn’t think much of the Rule of Law (caps. per Hayek’s usage). He said in response, “At any rate, we will seriously look at the findings, obviously. And one thing I’m not going to do, though, is I’m not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. People have got to understand that.”

That sounds very reminiscent of something another leader who was very concerned about his people’s destiny once said: ““If anyone reproaches me and asks why I did not resort to the regular courts of justice, then all I can say is this: In this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge of the German people.” That, of course, was Hitler speaking after the Night of the Long Knives, where he authorized the execution of Himmler’s rival, Ernest Röhm, and hundreds of others deemed state enemies. That decree effictively meant the end of the Rule of Law in Germany, and replaced it with rule by the dictator’s whim.

As far as we know, “Edgar” Cheney and his dummy have not assassinated anyone—they have just detained people without trial and without accusing them of anything specific, done away with the Geneva conventions, and monitored people’s communications and financial activities without court approval or congressional supervision. And they have routinely asserted the principle of the “unitary executive” and issued signing statements explaining that they intend to disregard laws they don’t care for. We can hope that this court decision is the first step back toward democracy in a country now held to be in a state of perpetual war against terror, global extremism, Islam, Oceania, drug users, immigrants and any other unpleasant emotions or people out there. But there’s not much reason to believe that the ruling Republicans will put any limits on the president in his effort to “protect” America for “real” Americans. And fear, nationalism and demogoguery (consider the recent right-wing offensive on perceptions of Iraq and depictions of reporters as treasonous) seems likely to keep enough of those Republicans in power. Liberal blogger Digby is probably right when he argues that the Hamdan decision will just help motivate the conservative base while Democrats remain apathetic and/or defeated: “This decision will ultimately feed into conservative boogeyman number 438: judicial activism. Look for Justice Sunday IV: Vengeance is Mine Sayeth Delay. And expect many more calls to spike John Paul Stevens’s pudding with arsenic. This is the beauty of the conservo-machine. When your primary political tools are both intimidation and victimization, you can spin anything to your advantage. “

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Thursday, Jun 29, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

White Whale —"The Admiral"
From WWI on Merge Records
In White Whale’s maiden voyage, WWI, all glory and honor is theirs. Amassing the power of the Big Star with the fury of the Sabbath (Black) and the mesmerizing wiles of the Badfinger, the gentlemen of White (F-in’) Whale are not afraid to ask the musical question “What’s an Ocean For?” Beware ye Decemberists and those who would set the Arcade (a)Fire, the Okkervil River can not contain the enormity of White Whale.

Sufjan Stevens —"The Henney Buggy Band"
From The Avalanche on Asthmatic Kitty
As 2005 came to a close, Sufjan returned to the old, forsaken songs on his 8-track like a grandfather remembering his youth, indulging in old journals and newspaper clippings.  The gathering that followed would become the setting for the songs on The Avalanche: Outtakes and Extras from the Illinois Album.

The Charlatans UK —"Blackened Blue Eyes"
From Simpactico on Sanctuary Records
Simpatico. finds The Charlatans UK returning to the sound that made them UK chart toppers and festival headliners for many years, proving once again that they are still a vital force. No longer using his falsetto, lead singer Tim Burgess is in fine form as he continues to find the sweet spot where Dylan-inspired diatribes meet unstoppably contagious melodies – both obsess him.

Camera Obscura —"Let’s Get Out Of This Country"
From Let’s Get Out of This Country on Merge Records
Kicking off Camera Obscura’s brand new CD, Let’s Get Out Of This Country, “Lloyd” sets the table for nearly 40 minutes of pure pop bliss.  A wide variety of influences are in play – from Jimmy Webb to Lloyd Cole, from Connie Francis to Skeeter Davis; from the Supremes to the work of David Lynch - with the band crafting each into a sound that is uniquely their own.

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Thursday, Jun 29, 2006

What’s the most disturbing music news of the week?  Is it that EMI and Warner Brothers are trying to gobble each other up in a cannibalistic feeding frenzy that would make Axl Rose jealous?  Is it that after pinning their hopes on music downloads making up for declining CD sales, it may turn out that label-approved downloading is now in a slump itself? (thanks to the fact that people don’t dig copying restrictions and have already bought the music they want)  Nope, not even close…

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Wednesday, Jun 28, 2006

Caution, what follows is pretty reactionary. But seriously, people. Grow up.

This Salon article about the puerile trend of playing elementary school sports as an adult is precisely why I hate when journalists invoke “fun”—they tend to use “fun” to beat out the last remnants of intellect left in their readership and leave them malleable and imbecilic, ready to do whatever infantilizing thing is recommended to them. “Fun” equals “I’m sick of being critical” and “Go along, get along.” But here’s how Christopher Noxon evokes it to justify adult regression into childishness.

Remember fun? That’s that engrossing, anarchic thing that began seeping out of most professional sports around the time of free agent drafts, merchandise tie-ins and doping scandals, the thing that comes so naturally to kids and that adults lost sight of the moment recreation became all about competition, self-improvement and status-accrual. After all, no matter how much money and meaning we invest in our tennis serve or whether the Patriots make the playoffs, we all know that none of it actually matters. All sports are ultimately ridiculous. The beauty of kid games is how they make a mockery of all attempts to take any of this shit too seriously.

You wouldn’t want to take anything in life seriously, would you? That would make you silly and boring and old. Don’t be a big stupid-head, all like boring and dumb and stuff. Come play kickball instead! And then we can watch Scooby-Doo! And maybe we can have some Scooter Pies for supper and top that off with a big glass of Hawaiian Punch!

One of the things about adulthood is that you have the rational capability to enjoy doing something that is also socially productive, and it is not necessary to pacify you with harmless preoccupations to keep you out of harm’s way. You can be entrusted to keep yourself busy in your own way, and the expectation that you contribute something actually supplies the meaningful fulfillment that comes from helping the species. (This is what achieving what Marx somewhat cryptically calls species being is all about—doing meaningful work, etc.) But consumer society would prefer that we all be children, entirely engrossed with frivolous distractions and preternaturally afraid of rational thought or skepticism or even the thought the work can be rewarding.  The problem with adults is that they think. If adults can be led to believe they should act like children, they’ll stop thinking and start shopping. Just as culture lionizes youthfulness as a moral value, it encourages us to fetishize our own childhood, because we can be induced to make purchase after purchase trying to recapture the one thing that is without question forever lost. But youth is not a moral state, and adults surrender childish things because the challenges of adult life yield exponentially greater rewards. But perhaps this most recent generation of shopping-mad, attention-starved juvenile wannabes is so accustomed to shallow instantaneous pleasures, that they can’t be made to take an interest in anything sophisticated. They are so used to self-mythologizing and identity as public performance and “reality” as something created by TV cameras that they can’t imagine anything more fascinating then reliving their own experience, even if that means eating Alpha Bits and playing four square.

Noxon may not like it, but status-accrual is recreation for most adults, and that’s not because they have fled from childhood but because they’ve embraced it—its shallowness, its acquisitiveness, its playground hierarchies. The luxury to play at childhood as an adult is an especially conspicuous signifier of the frivolousness Veblen identified as the leisure class’s chief source of distinction. And it isn’t a matter of taste; I’m not trying to impose some hierarchy on leisure activities. Playing tennis is different from playing kickball, because tennis is an activity you adopt as an adult and invest mental energy in mastering—it allows you to grow, it makes living the next day relevant. Kickball is surrendering to the notion that your best day came somewhere around your eighth birthday. The alarming issue here is the unwillingness to go beyond the narrow horizons of nostalgia. It’s probably good that these leagues of kickball players bring people together who are usually isolated, at home watching Nick at Nite or whatever, but to choose to relive the glories of fifth grade rather than discover and indulge new interests, to read Harry Potter books and get together with other fun-loving profligates on the flight from maturity to play tag rather than challenge yourself to make something or give something back to the world is kind of pathetic.


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Wednesday, Jun 28, 2006

It is tough to know what beer to drink when taste is not the guiding principle. The beer you drink says something more than “I’m itching to get drunk.” Like your clothes or car, it shows exactly what kind of person you think you are. It’s an occasion for you to communicate important facts about yourself to anyone who reads the label (never have it in a glass—no one will know what it is and what would be the point of that?). And if you are cool, you should already be aware of this: Pabst Blue Ribbon is no longer cool. AdPulp cites another advertising blog, which broke the story.

Budweiser has been sinking millions into new logos and a big ad push for the last 18 months or so, as we noted here about a year ago. Here on the ground in Philly, we’re starting to see it pay some dividends. This Memorial Day weekend, the King of Beers has tall boys sitting in coolers and pint glasses where one year ago you would have found Pabst Blue Ribbon. What happened to PBR, you ask? Some say they succumbed to the Acronym Rule, which states that as soon as your customers know you well enough to shorten your name to a few letters, things are nearly over. Others say they tried to cash in on their hipster status by sponsoring local bands and taking out cheesy ads in alt weeklies. Why couldn’t the brand just sit still, shut up, and allow itself to continue to be discovered generation after generation? They took the short view, tried to cash in, and scared away the flighty trucker-hatted Strokes boys who hate, above all else, to feel like they’re being sold to. And now solemn old Bud sopping up the macrobrew froth PBR left behind.

The AdPulp blogger doesn’t believe the company should be blamed: “Maybe the ‘trucker-hatted Strokes boys’ are constantly in need of something new to define as cool. Maybe no brand need bother themselves with attempts to appeal to this group. Maybe PBR never did bother with this group, other than to acknowlege their ‘flighty’ existence.”

If only more companies would realize that they needn’t bother marketing to hipsters, maybe hipsters would suddenly vanish. Their very fickleness will render them socially invisible. (In a sense, this is already true. No one will actually admit to being a hipster, so it’s almost as though they don’t exist.) When ads stop trying to appeal to you, you lose one of contemporary society’s most power tools of self-recognition along with the primary source of social recognition. Suddenly no one is trying to integrate you into the spending machine; suddenly your dollar no longer seems a vote for the shape your cultural landscape will take.

But it seems as though hipsters are only too visible. But I tend to agree that marketing to hipsters scares them away. Hipsters tend to work by ironizing ads designed for others and trying to subordinate the brand’s intended narrrative to the story of how cool and clever the hipster has proven himself to be. One must use a little reverse psychology to appeal to them—make a really bad beer and market it to the permanent underclass, then the hipsters will come running. Act as though you, the advertiser, are in on the hipsters joke, and you will lose them. The hipster’s most important brand is his self-image, so he can tolerate no other brand that seems to have anticipated that—it feels like competition rather than marketing synergy. When PBR was outré, it provided synergy with the hipster’s image of being a subversive. (Look, he takes products not made for him and uses them anyway!) When PBR tried to promote its capability for subversion, it competed with the hipster on his own turf.  Budweiser’s ads, by contrast, are still allowing the hipster to speak his own language and reappropriate Bud for his own purposes. That act of reappropriation to the hipster is a grand expression of creativity, and seeming creative is one of the hipster’s prime directives. Budweiser’s long tradition offers the hipster ample material for public acts of meaningless subversiveness.

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