Friday, June 30, 2006

More Hamdan

Fundamentally, the case is about executive power. Walter Dellinger writes that it is "simply the most important decision on presidential power and the rule of law ever. Ever." The decision is being called a "curb" on and a "repudiation" of Bush administration's power, and hopefully its implications will be very large. In my earlier post I noted (and in comments Haahnster flagged) the lines "the Executive nevertheless must comply with the prevailing rule of law," a plain rebuke to Bush's repeated assertions that l'etat, c'est moi.

At issue is the Bush administration's plan to try Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Guantanamo Bay detainee and former driver of Osama Bin Laden, in a "military commission," aka a kangaroo court with no rules. The "military commission" is a made-up court invented by the Bush administration expressly for the purpose of trying Hamdan--it is not the same thing as a court martial and it is certainly not recognizable as any kind of real court. Hamdan would not even have the right to be present for his own trial, a baseline definition of justice in all civilized societies. Today the court unambiguously rejected this assertion of executive power, and some believe it went much further, expressly stating that the treatment of "enemy combatants" in the war on terror must be governed by the Geneva Conventions. If true, this would have huge, lasting implications for Bush and Cheney's torture regime.

Because why not try Hamdan in an already-strict military court martial? The plainest explanation is that Hamdan was almost certainly tortured by the U.S., rendering most evidence and any testimony ineligible into any legal proceedings, including tribunals. This is the path we've taken under this president, and the idea that most evidence against Hamdan might be inadmissable anywhere is only one of many horrifying consequences of Bush's decisions in the war on terror.

I believe it's possible to wage an aggressive war on terror that is also moral. This decision by the court can be the first step back from the terrible precipice to which George W. Bush has led us. Finally.

UPDATE -- Still more on the subject: analysis of what happens next.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sigh of relief

This Hamdan decision is a very big deal, in no small part because of this paragraph:
Even assuming that Hamden is a dangerous individual who would cause great harm or death to innocent civilians given the opportunity, the Executive nevertheless must comply with the prevailing rule of law in undertaking to try him and subject him to criminal punishment.
More later on this.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Toucan

What rocked and what sucked at Intonation

And let's state up front that most things rocked.

Best:
Boredoms. The festival's gorgeous sound system got the contours of this group's hypnotic repetition and sonic layers, capturing every detail of the group's three drummers + one keyboardist/shouter, its ridiculously well-honed sense of timing, its penchant for shape-shifting, transforming beats. Transcendent.

Worst:
Chromeo. "Ironic" flying V, novelty misuse of a perfectly fine vocoder, every song performed with a self-satisfied smirk. This shit has been played out at least since Trans Am went off the rails.

Mild disappointment:
Ghostface. Expectations too high? Or is it just that a set based on yelling and running around (and overreliance on hypemen) erases the subtleties and verbal play of the records? Look, this performance was still very good--and things definitely picked up after he got all those girls onstage--but I'm just saying, it had a whiff of the perfunctory.

AMillionMonkeys loves indie rock!:
The Stills: excellent rock band, one of the festival's pleasant surprises. Would I like them on record? We will probably never know...

Most slept on:
Devin the Dude, whose relaxed, melodic, funny set did not disappoint. A modest crowd was assembled, but at 2pm in the steaming hot sun the crowd for this performance was a bit sparse.

Overrated:
Dead Prez. George Bush is "way worse than Bin Laden"? Really? And is the best way to affect social change really to drop out of school and refuse to vote or participate in the political process? This is not revolution, comrades; this is schtick.

The future of rap:
Lupe Fiasco. Second-best act of the festival. Besides having a lame fluffer group come out & perform two songs before deigning to appear, Lupe's set was impeccable. The kid's got star quality, I tell you! And skillz, and an irresistable single; his record will be one of this year's best.

Not the future of rap:
Rhymefest. I mean he seemed good-natured and all, but a little lacking in the charisma department, no?

Not my thing:
Robert Pollard, The Sword, Roky Erickson. That's cool if you like them, though.

Boring live:
Annie.

The British:
All good.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

See, it's not just me who thinks Lee Siegel is wicked lame...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

In an article titled "Besieged Daley isolated as never before" the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman provides a handy list of the officials and advisors who retain cloakroom access to hizzoner...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

One reason I'm excited about Intonation Fest...
Devin the Dude is performing.

Last Sunday's television on Saturday!

I think Deep Fat is following these a little better than I am, but I have a couple of generalish observations on the HBO shows I watched last night.

Entourage elicits from me a big yawn. When its writers summon the aesthetic balls to complicate Vincent Chase even a little bit, then I will give it my full attention. Vince's affable sense of entitlement can be charming, but does he have no other qualities? Is he never vain, striving, egomaniacal? Even a comedy has to work as drama, you know...

And it's also important that comedy work as comedy. Which is why I ask: What the fuck is with Dane Cook? I watched an entire episode of Dane Cook's Tourgasm in a kind of disbelief. It is a marvel of obviousness and obliviousness, right down to the Real World-style confessional booth. Its confrontations feel staged and its comedy, well, it isn't funny.

Because he lacks self-awareness to a bizarre degree, it's especially weird to see Cook wax Freudian, which he does surprisingly often. One of the other comedians is late to breakfast or something, and Cook opines that "When someone is late, it is about power...It is that person showing power over you." That's true "even if it is subconscious," he informs us, and actually he probably has a point about that...

In another scene, speaking to the camera, Cook confesses that growing up he "never felt like [he] could be part of the pack." "Now here I am with these guys," he continues, "saying, 'Let's all be the lead dogs here.'" Yes, it's a level playing field for the comics on Dane Cook's Tourgasm, produced and directed by Dane Cook!

This or that comic gets onstage and tells jokes about fortune cookies, public restrooms, fruit baskets. Fruit baskets! They seem to be describing experiences I have had, but somehow I don't recognize a thing in them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dabrye does what Prefuse couldn't do: makes a good record with other people on it

Dabrye is a hip-hop producer with a classical sensibility. He likes symmetry in his rhythms and melodies; his tracks are clean, minimalist, sometimes jazz- or even lounge-influenced and sometimes synthetic like he's Timbaland's nerdier cousin. His new record Two/Three is the first time he's worked with vocalists on a full-length and it does everything that a rap-producer-record ought to do: features known and unknown MCs; peppers instrumental tracks among the vocal ones; is sonically varied but not scattered or indulgent. It is real fucking strong basically, and if it's not exactly wall-to-wall summer jamz, it sure doesn't sound like musically staid backpack-rap, either.

Every song on Two/Three has at least one great tone in its beat, a keyboard trill or electroclash analogs, the aquatic sounds of "Bloop" or the long cello sample ridden by MF Doom on "Air." Most of the MCs are underground-inclined (Doom, Wildchild, the late great Jay Dee) but also charismatic enough that their verses don't devolve into technically obsessed wanking.

It ain't all hot, of course: Beans manages to ruin "Nite Eats Days," and while there are some real discoveries among the unknown MCs (Finale and the Jewish female MC Invincible both count as finds, are both from Detroit and are featured together on two tracks) some are just not that good.

In other incarnations Dabrye is Tadd Mullinix, and he's also released techno records as James Cotton. He is a composer, but ultimately what makes Two/Three work is that he's not an auteur: he is capable of meeting his MCs halfway, molding tracks around them, making songs and not just twiddling knobs.

Download "Viewer Discretion (feat. Invincible and Finale)" here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Red v. Blue America on the Roberts Court

There is something depressing about how many Supreme Court decisions, like yesterday's Clean Water Act ruling, have come down with Scalia/Thomas/Roberts/Alito voting as a bloc on the right, Stevens/Ginsburg/Souter/Breyer voting as a bloc on the left and Kennedy swinging the vote. Depressing not only because Kennedy is closer to Scalia than he is to Stevens, but also because it makes the Court look hackish when its decisions are nothing more than a mirror (or a symptom) of political polarization.

The Court's credibility rests on its ability to deliberate independently. When so many opinions feel scripted, it doesn't inspire confidence that each case is being considered on its particulars, free of partisan lens. SCOTUS has never been above partisanship--Bush v. Gore is the starkest example--but so far the Roberts Court has been stiff, uninteresting, predictable.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Steve Rhodes of The Beachwood Reporter on what is wrong with the Cubs. And it's not just Dusty Baker...it's Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dennis Fitzsimmons, too...

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Jessica Hopper's Reader piece on the Latino punk festival is good and also it reminds me about Los Crudos and how they are one of the greatest hardcore bands ever. I saw them once at the Fireside Bowl when I was 17 years old, visiting Chicago from Bloomington, Illinois... Crudos made my ears bleed, caused me to cry tears. I was rendered mute for three days. Yes they could make quite an impression...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rap & Showtunes

"Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)" by Jay-Z
...Samples "It's a Hard Knock Life" from Annie...

For some reason Laura has a problem with this song. I think she just hasn't given it a chance.

"Large Amounts" by Ludacris
...Samples "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" from Oliver!...
In which Luda discusses his preparations for retirement.

"Dream" by Dizzee Rascal
...Samples "Happy Talk" from South Pacific...

Loose ends and corrections and follow-ups...

  • T.I.'s King has officially overtaken Ghostface's Fishscale as my favorite record of 2006. Of course it is early yet...

  • At War with the Mystics fell off my turntable pretty quickly after my initial infatuation. Its Prince/Pink Floyd/Yes jamminess is still appealing and I still love "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" and "Mr. Ambulance Driver" and several others, but I have been less & less able to make it through "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" or "It Overtakes Me" or yes "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song."

  • No significant change in my warm feelings toward Gnarls Barkley, but I did find out sometime after I posted the review that "Gone Daddy Gone" is a cover of a Violent Femmes song. How about that...

  • My New Year's resolution has suffered the fate of every New Year's resolution ever. I learned a few artists' names, found out that I like Gretchen Wilson a lot and that is pretty much as far as I got... Though I didn't really think the Dixie Chicks' new album is that great (and not as good as its lead single), so maybe I am a true country fan at heart...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I like a lot of TNR's political writing, but man the back-of-book arts coverage sucks! And Lee Siegel has got to be the most boringest arts critic ever... Please, Lee, tell me all about your afternoon with Kitty Carlisle Hart, the "doyenne of Manhattan high society"! I am eager to hear more about "the deep entwinement of the American musical with American foreign policy"!
I heard this weird exchange between President Bush and a reporter named Peter Wallsten in this morning's press conference:
Bush: You gonna ask your question with shades on?
Wallsten: Yes...
Bush: But there's no sun out here.
Wallsten: It depends on your perspective.
Bush: Touché.
Turns out there's a kicker: The shades-wearing reporter is blind.

Buffalo or Goat?

I say goat.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Life on the Prairie

Some photos of the Prairie Material concrete factory at Chicago & Halsted.


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This sucks, no indictment for Karl Rove.

UPDATE -- Some strained left-wing optimism here...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Or, things could go another way:
Rather than moderate its behavior, the latest string of events may have tipped the balance in Hamas towards the hardliners. Those within Hamas that had argued for restraint and some form of coexistence with Israel — not to mention warned that permitting ongoing rocket fire from Gaza was a road to disaster — are now being drowned out by those calling for a resumption of violence. The images of the family destroyed by the Gaza beach explosion have darkened the mood on the Palestinian street, where there is a growing appetite for revenge for Hamas to tap into. And as long as the financial stranglehold over the Palestinian territories persists, the prospects for the more pragmatic element winning the day will become even more remote.
My concert review of Jamie Lidell's performance at the Empty Bottle (slightly longer than my haiku but only slightly) can be read in the new ish of Urb or online right here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Beef: Mahmoud Abbas v. Hamas

If Bin Laden's deputy is against it and Hamas is afraid of it, it is probably a good idea. The referendum proposed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would ask the Palestinian people to decide whether they are willing to recognize Israel's right to exist and in principle accept a two-state solution. If successful, passage of this referendum would weaken Hamas's position and perhaps force some sliver of moderation into their Islamist platform.

Could it pass? Maybe so. When this poll was taken in 2004, 57% of Palestinians said they supported a two-state solution. The second-most popular solution in that poll, a single bi-national state, was supported by 24%. Since most bi-nationalists, faced with the choice of a two-state solution or nothing, would not choose nothing, potentially the referendum would sail through.

This is why Hamas is aggressively posturing against it, and why they've asked Abbas to call it off. This disconnect between Palestinian public opinion and Hamas's basic philosophy seems kind of weird given that Hamas just won a landslide parliamentary victory in January, picking up 74 seats to Fatah's 45. But one factor in that victory was the deep-rooted corruption and inefficacy of Fatah--Arafat's legacy. In other words, not all Palestinian votes against Fatah implied ideological alignment with Hamas.

Since that election, international aid has been frozen by pretty much every country not named Iran or Russia. This has meant civil servants going unpaid, government services (already scant) drying up and an economy in collapse. Palestinians voting on a referendum would have strong economic incentive to accept a largely symbolic concession, one they by and large already accept. There are still many reasons that the referendum could fail, not least of them continuing Israeli brutality. But if Abbas succeeds in knocking some of Hamas's Islamist legs out from under them less than a year into their rule, he could turn out to be a hero of Middle East peace.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Big changes coming for me, and not long now. I have received as a gift a baseball cap that supports my new school. It pleases me, however I am not sure what to think about a school whose color is purple. I am looking forward to writing about new subjects, in a new way. But still I wonder what kind of journalist I'll turn out to be...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Check me out

My disco essay, a write-up of A Tom Moulton Mix and Journey into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story, is now up at TinyMixTapes.

Hey let's try this. What is your favorite disco tune/artist/group? Your least favorite? Leave your opinions, manifestos & sweeping generalizations in comments...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Al Gore gives the best PowerPoint presentation ever

Also saw An Inconvenient Truth this weekend and found it very good both as rhetoric and as film. The action pretty much consists of Al Gore standing onstage giving a slideshow, but it is graphically dazzling and well-told, a narrative with lavish visuals and an easy-to-follow argument rather than a political stump speech or a scientific lecture.

Gore is conversational and avoids truthiness. He briskly runs through his high-tech slides and powerful graphs, allowing the evidence in favor of global warming to accrue. The ultimate decision of what to believe "about" CO2/global warming is of course the viewer's own, but to my mind Gore's argument is very strong, overwhelmingly strong. Photographs of glaciers taken over the past 60 years provide dramatic visual illustrations of global warming's impact, and putting the argument that way is no less accurate than putting it this way.

It may occur to savvy consumers that Al Gore stands to gain from this movie's success. But consider the hysterical reactions among those who stand to lose. Here is the laughable/loathsome pro-CO2 ad ("Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution, we call it life") produced by oil industry stooges. Here is some highly truthy junk rhetoric from a right wing think tank, and of course here's the wingnut reaction, which ties An Inconvenient Truth to "anti-Western, anti-capitalist programs advocated by socialists looking to use environmental issues to support a broader, unspoken political agenda."

So I think Al Gore should run for president in 2008. An Inconvenient Truth succeeds on its merits, but it also succeeds at reframing Al Gore, putting his life into a wider frame, acknowledging 2000 and then moving on.

[LINK]
Good luck Master P, it's a great idea. Missy's show was pretty good, but if viewers get to vote for their favorites this one will be 1,000 times better.
Attn. CHICAGO RESIDENTS: If you are stuck in traffic right now, it is Dick Cheney's fault.

Hustle & Flow is not very good.

Roughly 99% of rappers claim to have sold drugs at some point, and DMX used to be a stick up kid. But has there been an actual documented case of a real workaday pimp who became a famous rapper? Snoop Dogg wasn't one (though some in his entourage were), Ice-T wasn't, Luther Campbell wasn't. I don't think even Too $hort ever really pimped. Rap listeners accept pimping as a metaphor for swagger and sexual power, but to a much greater extent than drug-related hustling they don't expect it to be a part of a rapper's actual autobiography.

This puts Hustle & Flow in the strange position of being more lurid and fairytaleish than the rap fairytales that inspired it. That's not a problem in itself, but this film seems to want to be gritty urban realism--not, you know, Fame/Glitter/Honey/etc, but something more "serious."

Terrence Howard plays Djay, a struggling pimp with a stable of three hos, one of whom is out of work for the duration of her pregnancy. If Djay is not especially successful, perhaps it's because he's sort of a gentleman pimp, one who doesn't use or sell hard drugs and who never outright strikes a woman. Probably pimps who operate this way do exist somewhere, but Djay is never put into the milieu of his profession--he never interacts with other pimps, his whores don't measure themselves against other whores.

If Djay seems sort of whitewashed compared to a "real" pimp, compared to a "real" rapper he is an absurd exaggeration of "the street." He's so street when the movie begins that he's never even imagined another life for himself--never made a demo tape, never taken part in a cipher on the corner or otherwise honed his freestyle flow, never spent hours working out rhymes with a pad & pen. He seems to have no real awareness of the rest of the world at all until he has what he calls a "midlife crisis" in the film's first act. This is a problem because it requires viewers to accept that he goes from zero to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" in the space of only a few studio sessions. But surely you can't just snap your fingers and become Three 6 Mafia... [NOTE: Or maybe this is the whole problem, that this film's view of rap is that you can...by Saxdrop's useful breakdown, Hustle & Flow only values category #1, "content/ethos," forgetting about all the other things that go into making a great rapper...]

Good stuff about the movie? There is some. Anthony Anderson as the straitlaced producer puts in a fine, nuanced performance (yes, this Anthony Anderson), and Terrence Howard's accent is complex and musical. The Three 6 Mafia songs are dope, and the scenes in the studio work well. But the story's problems are already glaring by the time things fall apart completely at the climax.

Another movie about rap aspirations, Get Rich or Die Tryin', is also not very good--def. worse on the whole than Hustle & Flow. But one thing 50's movie did relatively well was to dramatize the awakening of "Marcus"'s interest in making music, the way the character began seeing himself as something other than a professional hustler. The entire movie depends on dramatizing that transformation, but Hustle & Flow never pulls it off.

The Don in winter

Sopranos season finale open thread...

Friday, June 02, 2006

The eleven best rap producers of all time in order


11. Kanye West
10. Madlib
9. The Neptunes
8. Prince Paul
7. Bomb Squad
6. DJ Premier
5. J Dilla
4. Marley Marl
3. Dr. Dre
2. Rza
1. Timbaland

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rush Limbaugh off his game without OxyContin?

I'm not a regular listener, but I actually sort of like Rush Limbaugh's radio program. He sure can talk! But Rush Limbaugh getting verbally trounced by a left-wing blogger who somehow made it past the show's screeners--now that's good radio. El Rushbo doesn't engage with the caller's anti-war questions at all, and still he gets reduced to word salad:
I don’t have to address anything. I will address things on my own time in my own way, but I am not going to allow some low-life to put me on the defensive and make me assume the position of defending a position that I don’t even know is true based on just your simple assertion.
I think the first rule of political debate is if you say "I'm not going to go on the defensive," you are on the defensive... (h/t ThinkProgress)
Olympia Fields Mayor: R. Kelly is "not neighborly."

Domo arigato Mr. Nogatco

Today I joined forces with "a group of concerned world citizens that are calling for transparency and acknowledgement of a secret agency also known as NOGATCO (National Objectives for Governmental Astral-Terrestrial Covert Operations)." More later on this important project...