Wednesday, May 31, 2006

By the way if Daley can pull off citywide wireless access, I will reconsider my stance on corruption... Corruption?, I will say while sitting on a park bench clicking on a laptop computer. Political hires, rigged contracts... What business is it of mine? My entire city has the internet.

Some observers remain skeptical, however...

Now let's talk about Kant's categorical imperative

Here it is:
Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law.
This is often misinterpreted to mean something like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or, as the aptly named William Gass (unbearably verbose novelist and inventor of metafiction) once mischaracterized it in Harper's:
"What if everybody did?" is the question Kant suggested we put to ourselves.
Well, not exactly. The idea behind Kant's moral philosophy was to establish rules of morality that were totally independent of the results or particulars of a given case, to determine morality in a 100% a priori manner. He called this the "categorical imperative" to distinguish it from "hypothetical imperatives" that take the form "If you want [this], do [this]." Kant's problem with hypothetical imperatives was that an individual who rejected their premises could simply opt out of them. "A healthy society cannot permit murder" doesn't have any bearing on a person who is unconcerned about a healthy society.

To make morality truly universal, Kant needed to locate its basis within reason itself. His explanation of the morality behind a prohibition such as "Thou shalt not steal," for example, hinges not on the social instability of a world in which everybody steals but rather on the logical incoherence of stealing as a universal law.

This means: The concept "stealing" depends upon the concept of "property." If stealing were permitted, it would render the concept of "property" meaningless because no individual could claim ownership of any object. Without the concept of property, "stealing" itself would become meaningless and therefore it would be impossible to steal. Because it leads to this logical contradiction, stealing cannot be morally permitted.

Okay? It has nothing to do with how bad it would presumably be for society to have everybody stealing all the time. Glad we got that cleared up.

...And of course, the question of whether it is necessary or desirable to universalize morality in this way is another matter entirely. I'm more of a virtue ethics guy myself...
Light posting I know, but I spent the weekend writing an essay on disco and listening to an en fuego Lil' Wayne mixtape...

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Humiliating 6-1 defeat for Leslie Pinney, the Arlington Heights high school board member who proposed banning from classrooms vile pornography like Beloved, Slaughterhouse 5, and, um, Freakonomics. At least she got her own vote...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The eleven best rappers of all time in order

A list is a snapshot of a moment in time:

11. Chuck D
10. Slick Rick
9. Eminem
8. Notorious B.I.G.
7. Too $hort
6. Big Boi
5. Ice Cube
4. Jay-Z
3. Missy Elliott
2. Kool Keith
1. Rakim
Soviet art on flickr.
It's true, Hillary Clinton's taste in music is wicked boring, definitely less interesting than Condi's. Still preferable to RS!

Twofer

Count 'em two book reviews by me posted at Stop Smiling today. Review the first is of Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead, and t'other is U.S.! by Chris Bachelder, a book about Upton Sinclair coming back from the dead.
Showing usual good judgment, AMillionMonkeys allied with Taylor Hicks early in the competition. Next year I am planning to bet cash dollars. Still, a few things nag. When did his idiosyncracies stiffen into manners? And although I like him on television, how is he going to sound on my car's radio?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Have you seen Awesome Tapes from Africa? Every song posted there is golden, and so is a lot of the artwork...
Mayor Daley speaks to Northwestern journalism grad student Alan Suderman, says nothing:
"Well, I hope [there's] no political hiring whatsoever in the federal state or local level," Daley said.

...Did [Daley], personally, ever give any directions on hiring? "I'm not going to comment on that," Daley snapped. "Any other questions?"

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Beef: Churchfolk v. Da Vinci Code

I have seen The Da Vinci Code and can report that it is slightly better than National Treasure but not quite as good as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Anyway it is in that neighborhood, a clever, schlocky mystery/adventure with a frisson of history and conspiracy. And when I say clever I mean fast-moving and technically proficient, not, you know, clever.

It is more than a little weird that this particular book/movie has become a massv cultural juggernaut, but isn't it always? Enough people are now entertaining its notions that the church, Catholic and otherwise, has felt the need to push back. Westminster Theological Seminary took out a full page ad in USA Today over the weekend to promote their anti-Da Vinci web site. In India there were hunger strikes!

One of the main points of the push-backers centers on a point raised by Ian McKellen's character, a Holy Grail obsessive named (get this) "Sir Leigh Teabing." Larry Hurtado summarizes this argument in Slate:
The belief that Jesus is somehow divine was not invented by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, as Brown and movie director Ron Howard have Teabing say. Instead, this belief is attested in first-century Christian texts, such as the Gospel of John, and dates back even earlier to the letters of the apostle Paul, whose New Testament writings between A.D. 50 and 60 are the earliest Christian texts we have.
The early Christians thought of Christ as "somehow divine" all right; the question is what they thought this meant. Without the concepts omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent, "divine" in 50 A.D. would not have been much like divine in 2006. Consider the Roman gods: though powerful, they were strictly confined to their bodies. Call this one a draw. The heterodox early Christian sects didn't think of Jesus as "just a man" (as Teabing puts it), but that doesn't mean their idea of his divinity was the same as the one Christians have now.

The argument about The Da Vinci Code is not really about The Da Vinci Code, it's about the permanence and authenticity of objects of faith. When the Concerned Women for America list the story's "10 false claims," #9 is the "claim" that "The Bible is an ever-changing, living document, not the established Word of God," as if the things are opposed: nothing that changes can be true. Religion writer Laurie Goodstein puts it this way in the NYT:
It is not that everyone has swallowed whole the story's sexiest heresy — that Jesus married his favorite apostle, Mary Magdalene, and fathered a line of royal offspring who still live today in France. It is that "The Da Vinci Code" reinforces doubts that some modern Christians already have about the origins of the Bible and the authenticity of the Jesus story.
The pretend-heresy may be what titillates, but the point of a mystery is that the mystery is solved, and the movie follows a tight, conventional, predictable logic. It is all about stamping out ambiguity, tying up loose ends. (And if you are wondering whether any of the clues come in the form of rhyming riddles, you will not be disappointed.) Some of Ian McKellen's lines may get you thinking about the Bible's historical construction or whatever, but the story ends neatly, with no apparent change to any hierarchy. Still, I left with some questions: Why would Jesus's heirs be a royal lineage? And after 2,000 years can any one person be the "last of the bloodline"? And, finally, where's the beef?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Good point. Since Rudy Guiliani has no chance whatsoever of winning the Republican nomination in '08, his candidacy in the primaries would be most damaging to John McCain (splitting GOP moderates) and most helpful to whoever the "establishment" Republican candidate turns out to be. Since Democrats want anyone but McCain as the nominee, if he runs Guiliani could turn out to be the Dems' best friend.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Congratulations friends. And a shout out to Columbus, Ohio's MoMo KTV, the place to be this past Saturday night. Following my electrifying karaoke performance of "Nights on Broadway"--including attempts at some of the falsetto parts--I have come to realize that singing is what I born to do. Even as we speak, I am looking up the dates of the next American Idol Chicago auditions...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

David Byrne on packaging and music. He's optimistic about the possibilities downloads will offer in the coming post-CD age.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Does that make me crazy? Possibly.

So I love St. Elsewhere even though I am not totally sold on Danger Mouse in general. (Liked Ghetto Pop Life, liked The Grey Album, meh to the beats on The Mouse & the Mask, meh to many of the Gorillaz beats...) As a producer he's a precisionist: his samples don't knock against one another, the surfaces are smooth but a bit self-conscious. Precious, even! At worst, he is all pizzicato strings and focus-grouped flute samples, stuff that sounds good but a bit uptight. This especially showed on the DangerDoom project, and the problem is not all-the-way solved on St. Elsewhere, the sonic landscape of which could use a little roughing up. A song with as great a concept and vocal track as "The Boogie Monster" should sound at least three times as dirty and grimy and funky as it sounds here, should it not? (Happily, thanks to people like Danger Mouse, our society increasingly accepts the creation of unauthorized remixes. So everybody open up Frooty Loops and get to work.) But the hyper "Go-Go Gadget Gospel" is a real treat, as is the stuttery "Just a Thought," and most of the rest. I am not completely decided on the new wave stylings of "Gone Daddy Gone" but I think it's very possible that I like it a lot.

Enough about beats: Cee-Lo is the the attraction here. Cee-Lo Green, soul machine, slept on for many moons, now heard on the mp3 phones of every third chav on the London tube. Just another portly-Atlantan-rap/soul/R&B-hybrid-makes-good story, yawn another Internet phenom I guess. AND he has pipes. He is verbally articulate like a rapper, but also has a full vocabulary of emotional expressions conveyed by melisma, improvisation, grunting, sighing. His voice is high-pitched, a little froggy, all the way enveloping, often multitracked, often harmonizing with itself.

So let's go no further without stipulating that "Crazy" is the best single so far released in 2006, better even than Ghostface's "Back Like That." (And what is it, May?) Lilting falsetto, female 'ooh' backing vox, Curtis Mayfield strings, and Cee-Lo alternating confessional mode ('I remember when I lost my mind/ There was something so pleasant about that place') with world-weary advice ('ha ha ha, bless your soul, you really think you're in control?'). The swell into the song's chorus is like when you go airborne in your car over a hill.

Click here to listen to "Crazy" at Gnarls Barkley's myspace page.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A little bit more

The British critic Simon Reynolds goes way deep, imagining a future with neither rockism nor anti-rockism:
Rather than reject "content" altogether and in a spirit of inverted snobbery set up a new hierarchy that values music in ratio to its contentlessness, deracination, artificiality, lack of depth or substance, etc, the way to go is to recognise the value and the efficacy (past, present, future) of the older notion of content and its related apparatus (the auteur, the album, etc) while also expanding one's net to catch all the instances of intensity that bypass content in that traditional restricted sense of the word. An approach that treats "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Chime", "One In A Million", "Who Am I?", "___", as equally exceptional--flashes of form that may or may not carry content in the traditionally valorized sense as part of their arsenal of impact, but that always create content through the audio-social ripples and cultural shockwaves they trigger.
Condoleezza Rice's favorite music more interesting than Rolling Stone's.

It could happen to you

Look out Tampa, look out St. Petersburg, look out Clearwater, look out Sarasota: "This is the time of year for attacks by alligators."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Fluxblog has Cam'Ron's "I.B.S." (from Killa Season, out tomorrow)
and yes it is indeed a true story about Cam'Ron's struggle with irritable bowel syndrome, and no it is not especially gross or inappropriate. Seriously.
It's rumor, it's hearsay, it's unsubstantiated and unconfirmed, it contains not a single non-anonymous source...but still, it is possibly true...

UPDATE -- No big surprise, some problems with the story's specifics:
Bottom line: I believe Jason's sources told him what he reported. Were the sources accurate? Were they basically right but just mistaken on a few of the legal technicalities due to an unfamiliarity with the jargon? Time will tell. If they lied, Jason has promised to disclose their identities.

And it don't stop

Okay I think I am going to make a post of this instead of a comment to my man Jake's comment here. I doubt it's productive to get into what exactly everybody's definition of rock music is, and it is all love anyway...

While it is true that my ears are not well attuned to rock guitars and good solid riffs, I do not dispute their importance. Well sometimes I do, but only in jest or hyperbole. Riffs are what rocks in rock! Riffs are what moves the crowd!

Thing is, rock riffs only move one particular crowd. Put another way: even at their best, what they do is not the only thing or the main thing that music does. Rap, country, heavy metal, techno, Afrobeat, Kyrgyzstani mountain music... Each has its constituency and each its own internal rules of awesomeness. We should talk about and delimit these things, because it is fun to do so.

What we should not do is make ridiculous lists like this one from Rolling Stone--stiff, official, imperious, unfun! The list has some token inclusion of nonrock genres, but its overarching message is that these are strictly second-order to the old-school album rock and that nothing will ever be better than the 60s. (Yes, I am still annoyed that the highest ranked rap album on the list, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, comes in at #48...) Beating back this basic attitude is more or less the point of anti-rockism as I understand it.

But I don't want to sound like I'm asking for some sort of genre quota system; I'm not. It isn't really about fairness. It's about thinking and writing about music in a way that takes into account your own tastes AND the tastes of others. Both! The problem with rockist criticism is that it is too self-important--it's too interior, too centered on the critic.

Music writing is like any other writing: it has to be able to look outside itself as well as in-. To my ears, some of the shit that a lot of other people like is hot, some is not. What makes me like one and not the other? Where do I agree with the people who like Rihanna, and where do I disagree with the ones who like Daniel Powter? Other way around? And we're off...

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Scooter Libby is screwed

Is it me or is Patrick Fitzgerald's perjury case against Libby like 100% airtight? Fitzgerald has just entered into evidence handwritten notes made by Dick Cheney in the margins of Ambassador Joseph Wilson's NYT op-ed. (Wilson had been sent on a fact-finding mission to Niger, and his op-ed argued that the administration had made false claims about Iraq attempting to purchase uranium there.) In his notes, Cheney muses on ways to discredit Wilson. "Do we ordinarily send people out pro bono to work for us?" Cheney wrote. "Or did his wife send him on a junket?" (Emphasis added.)

That's Wilson's wife Valerie Plame, covert CIA operative. Libby has claimed under oath that the first time he ever heard that Plame was CIA was from Tim Russert of all people, about a week later. But Cheney wrote it down on July 6. These margin notes weren't some private journal Cheney was taking, they were active political engagement with Wilson's op-ed. It is beyond improbable that this information somehow didn't make it to Cheney's own Chief of Staff.

Ergo, Scooter Libby perjured himself.

UPDATE -- See Cheney's notes here.

Calling the fight

Reading Jody Rosen's concurrence with Kelefa Sanneh's famous rockism essay and state-of-play on music writing, it occurs to me that the argument is basically over; we won. (Rosen observes that "Most pop critics today would just as soon be accused of pedophilia as rockism.") Rosen at Slate, Sanneh at NYT, Sasha Frere-Jones at the New Yorker, Tom Breihan at Village Voice and Pitchfork. Anti-rockists are everywhere! If god forbid Rolling Stone ever gets one there will be no easy targets left...

Friday, May 12, 2006

According to this flash-poll, domestic spying is still not a winning issue for Democrats. I believe that the left can drive the administration's favorability numbers on the issue down by tying it to Bush's other failed policies, but the numbers show that the subject that needs to be approached with care. This means you, Feingold.

UPDATE -- Not so fast, maybe. Newsweek's poll is much harder on the administration, perhaps because the ABC/Washington Post poll was too fair.

Hate me now

Birthday threads, plus a little bit of my birthday bookshelf in the background. Thanks to all well-wishers, and especially you, Laura.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I forgot to mention

I have un critique bref of the Aceyalone/RJD2 concert in the current issue of Urb. No link, tho.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Disco monkey

OMG my new 2xCD of disco remixes is the best thing I have ever heard. An eleven-minute remix of "Keep on Truckin'" by Eddie Kendricks! Six minutes eighteen seconds of "More More More"! Ten minutes even for "Moonlight Loving" by Isaac Hayes! Tom Moulton is a super genius!

Music critic fight: accusations-of-racism edition

Speaking of calling other people racist, here is a Slate piece by John Cook defending songwriter Stephin Merritt (of Magnetic Fields & etc.) against the charge that he's a racist because he doesn't like black music. His accusers are/were Sasha Frere-Jones and Jessica Hopper, though both have qualified their charges in one way or another. (In these posts, they both seem blindsided by Cook, and agree that they weren't really on a "campaign" against Merritt or anything...but whatever, I say beef is beef.)

I am familiar with only a small amount of Merritt's work, though in theory I am interested in his project, which is to reach back past rock 'n' roll to Cole Porter and Tin Pan Alley. And I myself have even made comments not too far away from "Rock should have consisted of only the Paul McCartney branch, not the Lennon/Jagger/Richards one," as Merritt said in an old interview quoted here, which I will come back to.

Let's agree with Cook that racial quotas should not be extended to people's iPods and that Merritt's aversion to black music doesn't make him a racist. Still, not liking "Hey Ya" is a pretty serious error of judgment; not to have ever heard any Justin Timberlake is to be pretty cloistered; and dismissing all rap after Run DMC is, well, super-ultra-mega-cloistered. Assuming that these things don't come from racist attitudes, what would lead Merritt to such sweeping judgments?

Simon Reynolds, whose interview contained the "McCartney branch" comment, summarizes Merritt's thinking this way:
Being fervently anti-rockist entails, for Merritt, resisting rock’s long-running privileging of/emulation of black music: there's a history of projection towards blackness-as-authentic that's tangled up with white heterosexist "identifications" with/distortions of black masculinity (or at least theatricalized representations thereof, from blues to rap), and this entire apparatus is something that Merritt, as a gay man, has an interest in challenging (hence the disparaging of the raw-and-rasping, swagger-and-snarl Lennon/Jagger/Richards lineage in favour of the melodious/dulcet-toned/arrangement-oriented/decorative McCartney one). Indeed authenticity itself is something he wants to discredit...[and it] just so happens that almost the entirety of black popular music is bound up with these very ideas of authenticity.
That's why Merritt also says that "white blues" is "fundamentally racist," and why the entire direction of popular music since the 50s feels wrong to him. The problem with this reasoning is that by avoiding any and all white participation in black popular music it still buys into the blackness-as-authentic mythos, only in the opposite direction. By denying white people access to black music, the blues becomes just another Heart of Darkness--unknowable and untouchable by whites, cut off (segregated?) from the rest of culture.

Merritt's taste in music and his interests as a musician are his own. It's when he tries to telescope those tastes into broader conclusions about popular culture that he runs into trouble.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

It sure sounds like Rep. Luis Gutierrez will challenge Mayor Daley in 2007. Good luck Luis! And good luck to the Gutierrez campaign's closest ally...

Not the territory

"Of Exactitude in Science" by Jorge Luis Borges

...In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda

Monday, May 08, 2006

Recent searches that have led unsuspecting web surfers to AMillionMonkeys:

- 3 monkeys cafe
- are monkeys illegal
- midget rappers
- dixie chicks not ready to make nice
- pamela anderson

Rahm Emanuel has a point

We've talked about the IL District 6 primary, which Iraq vet Tammy Duckworth narrowly won against Christine Cegelis for the Democratic nomination. Duckworth is a great candidate--good for the district, good for the Dems' national image--but there's no mistaking how she got there: DCCC chair (and IL District 5 Rep.) Rahm Emanuel handpicked her and funded her campaign against the more "grassroots" Democrat Cegelis.

Today Emanuel defends this decision to MyDD.com with his usual snippy touch:
[I]n 2004, John Kerry got 47 percent. Right? ... And Cegelis got [44 percent]. So she ran below Kerry in that district. Correct? ... So okay. I'm into a general election against Peter Roskam. And that's a suburban district. It's a district that's going to be won with independents, because there's not enough Democrats to win it. Okay?
Okay by me.

Wait, what makes Roberts the guy?

Speculation on Gen. Hayden from ABC's The Note:
Those with a sense of the long game will glance at the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Note [sic] the following names: DeWine, Lott, Snowe, and Hagel, and realize that, even with those names, it's all about the Chair — if Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts is for Hayden, game over.
Well Pat Roberts has a history of covering up and carrying water for President Bush and is likely to support Hayden. But even his most obvious ally on the committee, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, has said that "The fact that [Hayden] is part of the military today would be a problem." DeWine, I think, lacks the spine (or the political future) to dissent from the Bush administration on this or any other substantive issue, but Lott, Hagel and especially Snowe have shown willingness to go off the reservation.

Here is the full list of Senate Intelligence Committee members; here is the House equivalent. Republicans are more heavily favored in the House, but there the committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) has already come out against Hayden. Consider the long game: Hayden's closest ties are to the phenomenally unpopular Rumsfeld and Cheney, the president is at 32% and it is an election year. So, uh, why exactly should we assume that Roberts holds all the cards?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"We have simply never seen a president this unpopular going into a midterm election."

Keep it concrete

We are still waiting to learn if Porter Goss's resignation was all about hookers or if he had "other problems." Naturally, I am hoping it's the hookers.

There is no such mystery or intrigue to the White House's coming appointment of Air Force General Michael Hayden to Goss's position. Hayden, "a visible and aggressive defender of the administration's controversial eavesdropping program," is intended to provoke Democrats into attacking Bush's illegal wiretapping program. It's an issue on which the White House believes it has the advantage--because having Democrats lecture on legality and constitutionality plays into the image of Bush as cowboy, Bush as Jack Bauer from 24. "Illegal" is an abstraction, but catching terrorists is a concrete, desirable thing, and so what if the government intercepts a few phone calls, they're doing it to catch terrorists, and after all I have nothing to hide... As Ross Douthat has pointed out, the legal argument
add[s] to the existing perception of the GOP as the party that sometimes goes too far and skirts the law in the pursuit of national security objectives. And it's almost always better to be tagged as "the party that might go too far" than as "the party that won't go far enough" - which is how the Democrats are perceived these days.
But Americans don't trust President Bush the way they trust Jack Bauer! The argument that the Democrats can win is this one: We don't trust this administration with these powers. Avoid the abstract question by personalizing the issue. This isn't Lincoln and habeas corpus! We know from polls that the American people doesn't trust the president's judgment. So why argue legal abstractions? For Democrats, the specifics are persuasive enough.

Friday, May 05, 2006

No immigration backlash in sight...

At least not yet. The Tribune's Eric Zorn offers a treasure trove of recent polling data on the issue--different sources, different questions (with full wording), and the percentage of favorable responses. Zorn's conclusion is that there is a "strong sentiment in this nation for allowing illegal immigrants to earn the right to stay here legally." The devil may be in the details, but pretty much down the line the polls Zorn compiles indicate over-50% support for legalization programs, and sometimes closer to 75%...

Times to immigrants: Not so fast

On the May 1 rallies against the House immigration bill, Michael Miner of the Chicago Reader makes a pretty persuasive argument against moderation, at least as defined by the New York Times. (The Reader, which only recently acknowledged that the internet exists, has actually made this article available in html, not just the dumb .pdf files they've posted since first going online last year. [CORRECTION: Music reviews and other content is newly available in html, but I'm told that the "Hot Type" column has been published in html for years.]) In a paternalistic "go slow" editorial published on 4/29, the Times sternly advised immigrants that "sleeping giants...should tread carefully" and should "strive to avoid damaging their worthy cause."

Writes Miner:
This kind of fretting is nothing new. “The risks in massing so many people on an issue so emotional and so explosive need no underscoring,” said the Times just before the great [civil rights] march on Washington in 1963. Though planning had been meticulous, “all these precautions may prove unavailing, with results that could prove permanently hurtful to the civil rights movement.” The Chicago Sun-Times made it known in ’63 that it “of course, approves of the fundamental cause of civil rights. It does not, however, approve of the march as a method to dramatize that cause.”
There is such a thing as going too fast, but May 1 is not it. The rallies were peaceful, cheerful and well-organized: no police aggression and nobody throwing bottles or rocks. The demonstrators didn't threaten law and order--why assume that a backlash is imminent?

In the elevator at my office on Monday, a guy remarked that he'd had no traffic on his commute that morning. "I hope they keep protesting all week," he said.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Usually ships within 5 to 8 weeks," wtf? I want my 2xCD of disco remixes now!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

House passes sham ethics reform.

American Idol: in need of sweeping electoral reform?

A while ago my friend Jessica and I had an argument about American Idol. Her position was that obviously the fix was in and I was crazy to think otherwise. Fox chooses the American Idol the way the Bilderberg Group chooses the president, end of story. It's true that besides the "bottom three" the network doesn't release the contestants' numbers from week to week. But television shows are dependent on ratings, and it's not clear to me how Fox stands to gain by choosing contestants other than those who get the most votes.

[NOTE: This doesn't mean the producers don't try to influence the outcomes... One hobby of all American Idol fans is spotting the ways that the show favors different contestants from week to week (by genre, by order, by a mysterious anti-Katherine bias on the judge's panel).]

Boosting Jessica's argument is this article from 2004 discussing structural problems with the show's voting process--clogged phone lines, busy signals, an unfair advantage to text-messagers. A concern! But do these things really give one contestant an advantage over another, or do they pretty much affect all contestants equally? Would fans of Taylor Hicks get more busy signals than fans of Chris Daughtry? (Maybe so, if phone lines in Alabama have less capacity than phone lines in North Carolina...)

A text message can't get a busy signal, so younger voters who are more likely to text their votes are overrepresented. This is an easy explanation for the artificially inflated scores of the Kevin Covaises and John Stevenses and for that matter the Clay Aikens of the show. But American Idols are made to be teen idols, and it's hard to begrudge the young'uns this privilege.

Any competition that allows multiple voting is not a democratic referendum, it's a contest of wills. American Idol rewards devotion and enthusiasm, and that's part of the appeal. Sure, I voted for Katherine a few times tonight, but have I done enough?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Jamie Lidell = John Edwards?

Choosing opening acts must be a bit like choosing a vice presidential candidate--you want somebody good but not too good. In particular, Beck's upcoming tour with Jamie Lidell promises to be one long upstage-a-thon... Radiohead, canny as ever, has avoided this pitfall by selecting Deerhoof and the Black Keys; now there's a show to be fashionably late to...

Rock over London / Rock on Chicago / Metra, the way to really fly

Sorry suckers we're not going anywhere, and certainly not to some lousy apartment just because it happens to sit on the Red Line. I have found (or been tipped off to) the answer to all my Evanston-related transportation woes.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Sopranos open thread

This week I watched it a day late. A strong episode for sure, with some fruition of the long-percolating A.J. storyline and some new facets to Vito's storyline. Discussion questions: a.) The Godfather in The Sopranos, b.) David Chase, I implore you, leave the Vito storyline alone, I don't want to watch this character chewed up in your machinery of death, c.) Jamba Juice is delicious, what is your favorite flavor?...