April 24, 2007

Read, read on.

most of all the world is a place where parts of wholes are described
within an overarching paradigm of clarity and accuracy
the context of which makes possible
an underlying sense of the way it all fits together

despite our collective tendency not to conceive of it as such
The Books, "Smells Like Content"

"Sample-folk" duo The Books performed at the Great American Music Hall last night.

Experimental violinist Todd Reynolds opened for them, his style what the NYT has described as "impassioned violin soliloquies." He used the same live track layering technique Zoe Keating does to create intricate soundscapes. One of the most memorable parts of his set was "Outerboroughs"--his soundtrack to filmmaker Bill Morrison's old edited public domain footage of a cable car going over the Brooklyn bridge. He recommended Morrison's nostalgic Decasia--old film being played for the last time while being burned into oblivion by a light projector.

When The Books took to the stage, Paul brought out what looked like the hollow shell of a cello--he dubbed it the "celleton." Gorgeous. And travel-friendly, too!

from Pitchfork

They did a cover of Nick Drake's "Cello Song," one of my favorites to along with play at home. The visuals were stunning--for a new song entitled "8 Frame" included in their newly released DVD Playall, the video was timed so each frame lasted for a quarter note. At the very end of the song, they did a gradual time lapse of a water balloon bursting into a thousand shimmering water droplets. Breathtaking. Their music and images are so meticulously coordinated that even the slightest hiccup in rhythm or intonation forces them to start a song over. At one point during "Smells like Content," Nick hit a flat, stopped, and apologized, explaining that if they kept going, everything would be off, and it would be "really bad." We were happy to oblige.

I think what's even more striking than their precision is their ability to create something that is at once provocative, innovative and still accessible, with universal emotional charge.

Pitchfork review writer Mark Richardson nails it:

...the Books have plucked sampled voices from their original context and arranged them inside simple compositions for sliced-and-diced guitar, banjo, and cello. They've taken moments of contemplation-- when one understands something on an emotional level but can't quite articulate his thoughts-- and dressed it up in a melodic frame
[It's] a fantastic reminder of the musicality of the spoken word, an idea that lurks constantly inside the music of the Books.
The Books' achieve this sound through their own wholly independent production:

We do all of our own sample collecting, composing, writing, recording, mixing, and mastering in our home studios using pc's running cheap software and the ragtag equipment that we've pieced together over the years. What you hear on our records is exactly how it left our hands, with no producer, engineers, or sweetening in between. We are completely independent, beholden to no corporations and we have funded all of our music entirely ourselves.
Some videos from last year's tour, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia:

Cello Song

An Owl With Knees

The Classy Penguin--about Nick's brother Mikey

"I want all of the American People to understand, that it is understandable that the American People cannot possibly understand."
--The Books, "An Animated Description of Mr. Maps"

April 19, 2007

Alternatives to sensationalism & scapegoating

Some significant dialogues that mainstream outlets have sidestepped in order to deliver their breathless, sensationalist coverage of the tragedy at Virginia Tech:

Let's not make this about race. Already Korean-Americans (or Asians in general since the many races are often lumped into one category), are anticipating the backlash to come. When teenagers shot up Columbine and when Timothy McVeigh bombed babies in Oklahoma City did we blame white males?

Does race play a role in all that goes down in this country? Of course. Discrimination, cultural values and norms, race is one of many things that contributes to who we are, the good and the bad. But there are actual substantive issues to deal with here, issues that don't lead us to easy, bigoted conclusions.
DKos: A Setback for the Blame Islam First Crowd

In the first hours after the Virginia Tech shooting, the internet was rife with frothing speculation about the "Asian connection" with Islamic jihad, as in the following typical instapinion:

First it was Johnny Muhammad, now it was Cho Sueng Hui aka Ismail Ax. Precisely how many mass shooters have to turn out to have adopted Muslim names before we get it? Islam has become the tribe of choice of those who hate American society.

Alas, the "tribe of choice" may have turned out to be ... well, let's just take a look at today's Bloomberg headlines:

Virginia Shooter Compared Himself to Christ in Video
By Nick Allen

April 19 (Bloomberg) -- The Virginia Tech university student who killed 32 people in modern America's worst mass shooting compared his own impending death to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

"I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people," Cho Seung Hui, 23, said during a rambling video message that he mailed to NBC News after killing his first two victims.

Somehow I don't think we're going to see a lot of speculation from the same sources in the coming days about whether Jesus Christ is a Rambo role model and Christianity is the "tribe of choice of those who hate American society."

Perhaps the dynamics of a tormented mind are little more complex than being reduced to a simple religious categorization, yes? Perhaps we can hope for a little more restraint – and information – before we leap to sweeping "evil doer" conclusions in the future?
(Note on breath: Don't hold.)

BoingBoing reader comments

I agree with BoingBoing reader Doyle's comments about predicting the religion of the shooter. Speculating him as Muslim, based on the finding of wording "Ismail AX", leans toward the islamophobic thoughts. The character Ismael belongs not only to a single but to various Abrahamic religions i.e. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc, and most of these religions predates Islam. More news is surfacing about the shooter's social interactions, which could lead to the fact that he was a psychotic, and may not have had much religious influence at all. Perhaps he just took the story of Abraham in a mythological way (even if it is remotely related). Has anyone thought or come up with a non religious explanation of 'Ismail AX'? It is amazing to see how people quickly connect anything bad with one religion. It's like they are looking for an excuse, not the answers.
And finally, Juan Cole provides some international perspective:

The profound sorrow and alarm produced in the American public by the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech should give us a baseline for what the Iraqis are actually living through. They have two Virginia Tech-style attacks every single day. Virginia Tech will be gone from the headlines and the air waves by next week this time in the US, though the families of the victims will grieve for a lifetime. But next Tuesday I will come out here and report to you that 64 Iraqis have been killed in political violence. And those will mainly be the ones killed by bombs and mortars. They are only 13% of the total; most Iraqis killed violently, perhaps 500 a day throughout the country if you count criminal and tribal violence, are just shot down. Shot down, like the college students and professors at Blacksburg. We Americans can so easily, with a shudder, imagine the college student trying to barricade himself behind a door against the armed madman without. But can we put ourselves in the place of Iraqi students?

April 09, 2007

UC's corporate bedfellows

From the LAT Blog--"Mixing Business with Government":

But now, there is more criticism over an agreement between the University of California and BP, the oil-producing giant. BP has committed to spending $500 million on alternative fuels research at UC Berkeley. Jennifer Washburn with the New America Foundation says it's a bad deal that "dispenses with numerous traditional safeguards designed to protect the university's independence. It grants BP unusual control over the institute's research agenda, makes no mention of peer review, downplays commercial conflicts of interest and contains provisions on publication that would violate UC's written policies."

"As such, the alliance would undermine the university's academic freedom, its ability to perform independent research and broadly disseminate results. And, possibly, it might undermine the public's trust. ... In short, for $500 million, the plan would allow BP, a company valued at $250 billion, to turn an academic research institute into its own profit-making subsidiary."

Schwarzenegger has done several events that have burnished BP's image as environmentally conscious. The UC agreement, announced by Schwarzenegger on Feb. 1, could provide a cautionary note as regulators begin implementing global warming legislation under AB 32. California business has a huge stake in the regulations, and just how embedded they become with government will be closely watched.

BP and Schwarzenegger are both experts at greenwashing their campaigns. But BP goes beyond the pale, doing far more environmental damage than good.

Using a respected institution like the UC as a fig leaf for its dubious projects is dangerous, blurring the divide between for-profit and public sectors. It's right up there with the UC's partnership with Bechtel to manage the nuclear weapons labs. The UC effectively lends corporations credibility and legitimacy in the public eye that they lack otherwise, and affords them greater latitude in their projects and less demand for accountability--it's all in the name of research and education, right?

Nuclear hype

A skeptical reading of Iran's announcement that it's expanding nuclear enrichment to reach "an industrial scale":

Michael Levi, a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, was skeptical of the Iranian claims. He said by his calculations, the capabilities Iran has just announced would provide 10 percent of the material needed to run its plant.

"To me, that's not industrial scale," Levi said. "An industrial-scale facility is a facility that can support your industry."

On the other hand, "from a political perspective, it's more important to have them in place than to have them run properly," he explained since the announcement stirs up support and patriotism at home, and the international community has almost no way to verify how well the program is working.

"Iran looks to be moving its nuclear program along on a political schedule rather than a technical schedule," Levi said.

Levi marveled that Iran has the power to cause such a stir with an announcement. He noted that most of the time, world leaders complain they can't trust Iran, "except when they say something really scary, we take them at their word."

April 03, 2007

$4 a gallon

From Oil Watchdog:

Dow Jones Marketwatch online predicts today that U.S. gasoline prices could reach $4 a gallon. Bulletin: In San Francisco they already have, at some stations. Where are the politicians who should be screaming?
They're too busy kowtowing to the oil lobby, whose spending in CA has more than doubled in recent years, to the tune of $12 million during the 2005-2006 legislative session.

If there were any doubt about the quid pro quo relationship between politicians and oil money, here's a startling graph of gas prices over the last year in CA:

Our "no special-interest money" governor accepted $2 million in campaign contributions from Big Oil . After he called for an investigation of price-gouging at the pump this time last year, the Alliance for a Better California replied, "Arnold's latest slick stunt, pretending to care about soaring costs of gas prices, rings hollower than a Krispy Kreme doughnut.''

Campaign finance reform, anyone?