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Commonsensical slugs

The slug-rider phenomenon in the Washington D.C. metro area is not new, but it remains fascinating to reporters as an organic response to traffic congestion and state incentives to carpool. The premise is that solo drivers need a companion in order to take advantage of the HOV lanes. (HOV equals high-occupancy vehicle; "high" being two in this case.) Drivers would pass bus stops and try to pick up riders, who became known as slugs. The article linked above connects the name to phony tokens used to bilk the subway system, but it seems an especially apt name in the way it encapsulates just how America views individuals who don't drive -- grubby, slow-moving objects. The article also lauds slug-riding as a "system of casual car-pooling that moves thousands of workers from the suburbs to the city, with no money changing hands and no official government involvement," thus enlisting it as evidence to support the libertarian fantasy of spontaneous order. But there's government involvement aplenty -- the state builds the HOV lanes, maintains them, and patrols them to ensure their utility. And they provide and maintain the "park and ride" lots for the slugs to ditch their cars. Anyway, it seems the preferred market-libertarian solution is for private corporations to maintain the road system and to introduce variable pricing according to demand ("congestion pricing"), as was attempted on SR 91 in southern California. The D.C. HOV lanes are still part of a government-subsidized transportation scheme that distributes benefits bought by tax revenues to those who live in suburbs and drive cars (this providing an incentive to buy and drive a car, to take advantage of what government has made a priority, which in turn makes roadbuilding an even greater priority for government. And on and on the cycle goes.) The slug-rider system seems less a marvel of spontaneous civil engineering than a desperate, anxiety ridden response to inadequate public transportation. When the MTA strike hit New York last winter and stringent carpooling restrictions were enforced, a slug system rapidly sprung up in the outerboroughs, but no one was convinced by this that the MTA workers could stay on strike forever. Though it initially seems cheering that strangers can work together to maximize efficiency, ultimately it starts to seem like a dismal state of affairs when you think about it, riding in a strangers car but (in some cases) being forbidden to speak, as though you had become ballast. Or waiting in the rain to be picked up and being rejected by drivers who can pass you by or refuse you passage for no apparent reason. Or finding yourself described as a bad driver on a Web site and having slugs refuse you. Slug evangelist David LeBlanc insists that in slugging, "What always prevails is common sense," but the phenomenon seems to prove that common sense has been delimited to instrumental rationality, to reducing other people to objects to be manipulated for your own convenience.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

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Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

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