Sunday, April 30, 2006

Rekkids

"Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks. This first single gives reason to be excited about the group's upcoming Rick Rubin-produced album Taking the Long Way. Stark intro, nice soaring chorus, definitely more Aimee Mann than Loretta Lynn, which is also fine. Mixed review by Sasha Frere-Jones here.

Living with War by Neil Young. Streaming on Neil's web site now. Topical but also emotionally astute, the best songs harness the most human and universal aspects of anti-Bush rage. "Let's Impeach the President," yes let's. Haahnster has it covered.

King by T.I. More drug-slang and wordplay from below the Mason-Dixon line, and hmmm, nope, variations on this theme haven't gotten old yet. Click here to download "I'm Straight" now. This track assembles the southern rap dream team of T.I., B.G. and Young Jeezy, and has a great hook. Sorry about the dumb skit at the end. Also, that title isn't a reference to sexual orientation; it's about how each MC's business empire is not limited to rap: "You can keep the game and the fame, the haters and the lames / Just gimme some cocaine and somewhere I can slang and I'm straight..." [LINK]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Elephants

It has?

The Beachwood Reporter informs me that
The media's hype of Obama continues at nauseating volume... But the backlash has begun.
but neglects to say how or where. I am not really seeing it.

Dude did get inside Paisley Park for some hoops with Prince...

And he played a poker variation with Jay-Z. So maybe I am just jealous. My review of Rolling Stone critic Touré's collection of essays Never Drank the Kool-Aid is now up at Stop Smiling.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Democracy works

The great and good American people have seen fit to vote Kellie Pickler off American Idol.

Patience is a virtue (Pt. 91)

With George Ryan guilty on all counts, U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald seems kind of invincible. Is it crazy to think everyone Fitzgerald has named an "Official A" might yet be indicted? How are Karl Rove, Rod Blagojevich and Richard M. Daley sleeping these days...

Who needs Wood or Prior?

When you have Sean Marshall...

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What are Democrats about?

Well I must say I was disappointed that Haahnster and Gordie were able to squash their beef so quickly, but perhaps we can spin off that thread into new and more contentious arguments. In his comments, Little Gordie, a left wing don't-you-dare-call-me-a-Democrat type, writes:
Democrats have no real stance on anything at all so far as I can tell. They have no backbone. What do I know about Democrats today? Well, they're generally pro-choice, pro-civil liberties, anti-gun, and vaguely anti-privatization of social services. Maybe they're vaguely anti-war too (though even our blog hospitable host claims to be a "liberal hawk").
I prefer "liberal internationalist" these days, but the point stands; I opposed the Iraq war but I'm not anti-war as such. Democrats are certainly the pro-choice party, I agree with that. Civil liberties are are sort of a mixed bag--not one of the Dems' main issues, really, though there are some vocal supporters there--but in 2006 only one party is authorizing illegal wiretaps on U.S. citizens and detaining them indefinitely without access to counsel, and that party is not the Democrats.

Democrats are clearly not anti-gun, though, and I'm not even sure what "anti-privatization of social services" means. (They are, however, the party that saved Social Security from destruction by the Bush administration.)

So what do I know about the Democrats today? In 2006 Democrats are the party of clean government, balanced budgets and an engaged, multilateral foreign policy. They are pro-choice and they are the party that opposes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. What else? Help me fill in the stuff I've left out.

This essay by Mike Tomasky takes a shot at summing up the Democratic philosophy in one broad, encompassing philosophy: "the common good." I recommend the essay. How else might we represent the Democrats' philosophy? What do the above policy positions add up to, or what underlies them?

Monday, April 24, 2006

This week in spam

Roger sort of trails off near the end:
--------
From: Roger < morven@XXXXXX.com >
Date: Apr 24, 2006 1:13 PM
Subject: isn't it time
To: Sirol < amillionmonkeys@ >

Hey,

It's been years since we've talked.

I apologize I've been so distant but I've been on this new program that has been helping me get back into shape.

I've really been trying to dedicate myself to it and it's actually working. If ur interested, you should read up about it at
http://[snip]

The. Adam smiled. .

are clever, you are well educated. And what have you done with all these good gifts? Are you content with yourself and with your life?"

wept outright.
Often, finding a copy of the Gospels in a

See ya
Roger

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sopranos open thread

Topics of discussion may include but are not limited to: a.) Artie's story: interesting diversion or frustrating distraction?, b.) True or false: The Hollywood stuff is played-out navel-gazing and a total waste of time, c.) Does this episode say anything about the season's larger arc? d.) Where is Vito and what is he doing?

Open all week!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Skillet Doux sets the record straight about an important subject.

AMillionMonkeys solves the penny dilemma

It's unpopular to say so here in the Prairie State, but it's true: we should phase out the penny. So as not to disrespect Abraham Lincoln, I propose that we bump George Washington off the quarter.
Mickey Kaus is right to be suspicious:
Are you as suspicious as I am about the current well-publicized crackdown on employers of illegal immigrants? It would seem to serve two political purposes: 1) It's a cheap attempt to reassure anti-illegal forces who demand that the government actually get serious about enforcement; 2) It's an attempt to panic business owners who worry that the government might actually get serious about enforcement--so they'd better start lobbying [for Bush's] guest worker program.
Link and emphasis in original.

Friday, April 21, 2006

George Saunders interviewed in Stop Smiling.

Concert review haiku: Jamie Lidell @ Empty Bottle 4/20

Beatbox loops laid down
and old soul vocals out front
sonic poetry

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Old weird Houston

Check out these old publicity photos from Rap-A-Lot, most of them promoting forgotten acts. There's one of the Geto Boys' Bushwick Bill, and also one of Houston's other midget rapper, MC Bar-None, pictured with his group Too Much Trouble. How hard it must have been for poor Bar-None, being the second-best midget rapper in Houston, Texas.

A. Yes, she can.

Well Kellie's safe, that's too bad. But now we know that the interest group theory works. And Ace is out, which is good...

Can Kellie Pickler survive a performance that bad?

JakeOx has a good run-down of last night's American Idol. The performances were pretty much as expected--Katherine McPhee in front by a mile, trailed by Elliott and Paris, who was favored by this week's theme. At the bottom were Kellie and Ace and Taylor, actually, whose subpar performance this week probably won't hurt him that badly.

Recently my friend Lindsay (who is going to start a blog soon, I'm quite sure) suggested that interest group politics plays as much of a role in Idol voting patterns as song selection or the quality of the performance. By this theory, last week's elimination of country-rocker Bucky should consolidate the country demographic and boost the number of votes that go to the loathsome Kellie Pickler.

The complicating factor here, though, is that Kellie Pickler's performance last night was not just subpar, it was unequivocally the worst of the season. She missed notes, lost the rhythm of the song, looked confused and uncomfortable throughout. She apologized after finishing, and even Paula couldn't spin it positively. So the question becomes, how does her voting base respond? Are country fans going to vote for her no matter what, based purely on her persona? Or might some of them be swing voters, persuadable by Elliott or Paris or Katherine?

...And if so, then what wedge issues can other contestants use to peel away the natural constituencies of their competitors? Can rocker Chris find some twang somewhere in his voice? Can Paris angle for Ace's teen voters? Perhaps the Alabama-bred Taylor could start a whisper campaign that Kellie is actually a latte-drinking urban sophisticate...
Yes, but with Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld in place, any White House "shakeup" is purely cosmetic...

Monday, April 17, 2006

George Ryan: super-guilty.

Sopranos open thread

Topics for discussion: a.) Tony Soprano, humanitarian, b.) Silvio is right, so what next?, c.) how lame is Finn?, d.) etc.

Donald Rumsfeld is the new Michael Brown

The cover story of the April Harper's Magazine is a roundtable discussion with military thinkers on "The American Coup D'Etat" (no link). Someone in the discussion made the point that American military leaders don't really need to stage a coup in the U.S. because the military has "learned to play politics in order to achieve its interests." Consider the growth of the Pentagon's budget over the past half-century and you start to understand what he means.

This is why I think the the Bush White House is kidding itself. Donald Rumsfeld's days are coming to a close.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Depending on the photo I use, I look Ashton Kutcher, Alec Baldwin and Gael Garcia Bernal or Johnny Depp, David Hasselhoff and Freddy Prinze Jr. Or so say these people, whose face recognition software now provides the valuable public service of telling you which celebrities you most resemble. I am planning to style myself after each of these gentlemen, starting just after Easter.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Not hypertext, not pictures, not tricky sounds

Here is Walter Kirn talking about his online novel:
The Unbinding is...a novel that's not just being published on the Web, it's being written there. The whole idea seemed gimmicky at first (oh no, not hypertext; not pictures; not tricky sounds) but now I'm realizing that it's not at all. It represents a return to fundamentals. Much as blogging is returning journalism to its arresting, imperfect, assertive origins, spinning a tale before one knows the ending... The only direction is onward.
I am not sure The Unbinding is really working, though; still a little early to judge but it feels too fragmented to me. The question of how to sustain a long narrative on the web remains open...

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Flaming Lips will save rock and roll

What a highwire act are the Flaming Lips! Improbably, the group's proggy, goofy songs have turned it into one of rock music's biggest acts. Their live show is a festival of psychedelic weirdness, all flashing lights and dancing bunnies and relentless optimism. On record, they are the creators of some of the most interesting textures in pop music, placing the sunny, open melodies of their AM radio influences (James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Brian Wilson) within densely layered, often jarring sonic landscapes. I believe the group is the world's biggest weird band, or maybe I mean weirdest big band.

I have only just listened to it for the first and second times last night, but the new album At War with the Mystics is oh just another studio masterpiece, the Lips' third in a row. It's an embarrassment of riches--dense textures, overdriven amplifiers, digital tweaks. There are more fuzzy guitars and feedback than there were on The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; especially in the jammy middle section the album can recall the group's earlier independent records (albeit with a massively increased studio budget). But then again, not really--these songs are both lo-fi and futuristic, analog keyboards and tape manipulation and digitized shape-shifting echoes, a sort of space-funk/rock that makes me think maybe Christmas on Mars might actually be kind of good. (Well let's not get carried away...)

As a frontman, Wayne Coyne's innovation is to present himself as emotionally forthright and vulnerable, more like a crooner or one of those AM radio heroes than like a rock singer. The two main modes of the rock singer are Dylanesque concealment and Jaggeresque swagger, so Coyne's open persona is a risk--the risk of turning into Chris Martin, basically. But risk in one form or another is something the Lips have always been comfortable with, and Coyne isn't Chris Martin: even his most personal songs avoid narcissism and self-pity.

This is probably not the sort of record that's well-suited to instablogging--I haven't said anything about the lyrics or the record's themes, and the density of the sounds demands that you spend more time with them than just a couple of listens. So maybe I'll have more to say later. Right now I think I'll just throw on "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion (The Inner Life as Blazing Shield of Defiance and Optimism as Celestial Spear of Action)" a few more times...
Publicprivate sets the record straight about an important issue...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Sopranos back on track?

Tony's show of force at the end of the episode was pretty interesting, as was his own physical response to it. Does he have the stomach for his job? Consider this an open thread for Sopranos discussion.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

More sweet mbira music

Konono No. 1's Congotronics was a beautiful, discordant record that amplified thumb piano into a crisp, guitar-like tone, and laid down thick, layered rhythms. Crammed Discs has now released Congotronics 2, a compilation album that includes Konono No. 1 plus likeminded artists like Kasai Allstars and Masanka Sankayi. I have a short review of this album in the new issue of Planet, but sadly it is not on the interweb. Perhaps you could listen to samples at Amazon, that is something.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

American Idol blogging

Boy Kenny Rogers has really gone L.A. hasn't he?

Last week's Topic A today

Am I too late to do something on immigration? If so I am late in internet-time only, as I am pretty sure the issue is ongoing. Let's start by stating the obvious: I am revulsed by nativism and disgusted by Bush's plan to create a permanent underclass of "guest workers" with no path to citizenship.

Immigration policy is one of the thorniest issues going. But stating unambiguously that illegal immigration is a bad thing doesn't make one a wall-building nativist. Illegal laborers live and work in the United States but lack basic legal rights--they can't go to court if an employer fails to pay them, if they're injured on the job, etc.--and this situation is morally untenable. It's also bad for economic reasons: plentiful illegal labor badly harms the job prospects of low-wage American workers, who get crowded out of the only labor markets available to them.

The people most obviously at fault in this situation are not illegals, though--who are just feeding their families--but the employers who knowingly, intentionally profit from the use of illegal labor. President Bush tacitly pats these people on the head when he says that illegal immigrants "take jobs Americans won't." They won't? Says who?

The most logical starting point--morally and as policy, though obviously not politically--for dealing with the problems of illegal labor, then, is with employer sanctions. This post by Mark Kleiman makes the case well. Still, the only conversation you hear is the one about whether or not we like the immigrants themselves. Right-wingers want the borders sealed or whatever, left-wingers want to embrace diversity or whatever. (Bush's position is remarkably incoherent even for Bush: he wants a porous border that allows a lot of immigrants in, but then they become guest workers with some rights but no chance of ever becoming citizens.) Instead, shouldn't we be having the conversation about the lawlessness and parasitism of the people who employ illegals?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Monday, April 03, 2006

Publick notice

Okay it's real, starting around the end of June I will be going here to do this.

Alone in the universe

Turns out prayer doesn't help heart patients. "In fact," says the AP, "patients who knew they were being prayed for had a slightly higher rate of complications."

The Sopranos isn't working anymore

and I'm pretty sure the reason is the cutesy self-referentiality. A show about the mafia should surely not be boring, correct? But tonight instead of power stuggles and gang wars, we got hippie philosophy and corny rap parody. Needless to say, these are not strong suits.

By now The Sopranos has become as mannered and claustrophobic as The X-Files in its exhausted, campy later seasons. Because we're so familiar with the show's characters--and because so many key figures have been killed off--the writers have focused on putting them into increasingly outrageous scenarios. See Tony watch boxing with a gangsta rapper and a Daoist; see Tony consider evangelical Christianity. The revelation of Paulie's mother was potentially of interest, but his reaction was precisely what you'd expect from him, right down to the television set thrown out the window. Autopilot Sopranos, out-of-ideas Sopranos.

The worst episode in the history of the show was last season's "The Test Dream," aka the one with the interminable dream sequence. This season too has been overindulgent of dream sequences, and it's a symptom of a larger problem--too much philosophizing, too much self-referentiality (Christopher's new film project, the rapper subplots), too much abstraction. Let's have the Sopranos back, not this airy Sopranosland.