Monday, October 31, 2011

Splitting (Hairs) - Sonic Youth

The future of Sonic Youth is in doubt, I gather, because members Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have ended their decades-long marriage, and history shows that interpersonal tensions immediately and irrevocably destroy every single band they touch (e.g., these doomed fellows, and these, these -- may they R.I.P. -- and these among so many others). There's no way around it: music dies the instant two people in the room aren't getting along harmoniously.

But really, it's not about them, it's about us, or the music industry, or marriage, or something, as Amanda Marcotte almost explains:

I want to write a little about the news that Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth---who have been married for 27 years---are throwing in the towel. Well, not the news itself, because even though they're public figures, this is obviously a private matter and none of us are privy to the particulars of their situation. In fact, I'm a little uneasy discussing it at all ...
Marcotte's unease manifests in ~1100 more words dissecting the Gordon-Moore marriage and its manifold implications for music, the music industry, and the institution of marriage in these uncertain times. How many words would ease have produced?

No piece of writing on Sonic Youth is complete without several repetitions of AOL keyword "Indie," a case in point being Matthew Fiander's encomium to Sonic Youth's Indie-ness, as somehow exemplified in their first non-Indie-but-still-so-heroically-Indie album, Goo:
On the heels of the acclaim for 1988's Daydream Nation, one of the most celebrated rock albums of the last 25 years, Sonic Youth went looking for a major label. They had been indie rock trailblazers, cranking out classic record like Sister and EVOL on SST, the rocker's rock label, and now they'd be on, gulp, DGC? How this happened has much to do with Enigma Records, the label that (aligned with EMI and Capitol) screwed up the distribution of Daydream Nation ...
Gulp indeed. It's not clear to me how "Enigma Records (aligned with EMI and Capitol)" was "Indie" in a way that DGC (gulp!) is not, but then again, I am already tired of the next twelve pieces of writing that use the word "Indie," or in other words, the eleven after this one.

To his credit, Fiander gets back on track to the extent that the bulk of his piece celebrates the songs of Goo, specifically "Tunic (Song for Karen)," a song so layered and brilliant that we can hardly have deserved it for having been the people walking around with stereos and spare cash when it appeared. Should Sonic Youth stop making music, it is on the basis of such works that they will be deeply missed by those of us who don't count the band members or music industry functionaries in our personal circles, but who appreciate challenging, evocative music:

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Might Have Been

A little light reading to apply as you will:

In the end we all come to be cured of our sentiments. Those whom life does not cure death will. The world is quite ruthless in selecting between the dream and the reality, even where we will not. Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting. I've thought a great deal about my life and about my country. I think there is little that can be truly known. My family has been fortunate. Others were less so. As they are often quick to point out. ... In history there are no control groups. There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was. It is supposed to be true that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. I don't believe knowing can save us. What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and love of blood and this is a thing that even God -- who knows all that can be known -- seems powerless to change.
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

World Persists. Yawn.

Thank you, Horsemen. Come again soon!
For any in doubt on the question, the world did not end on Friday, October 21 -- or if it did end, it ended in the same manner in which it ended on May 21, which was exceptionally dull by the standards of Hollywood apocalypses, let alone the vivid eschatology porn sketched by one of the founders of the genre, John of Revelation fame: 
And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.
You're not wrong to feel a little put out over having missed that movie.
This latest failed prediction is almost enough to leave me doubting the wisdom and insight of god-drunk dotards.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Too Soon

image source
The foregoing concerns everyone, albeit obliquely:
  • On Sunday I completed the Run Like Hell half marathon in 1:37:32 (7:26 mi/min, full results). I loved the changes to the course compared with the last time I ran it -- backwards with respect to the more or less standard downtown Portland area race course, which makes a bigger difference than it might seem. I didn't love that, as usual, I didn't cover the 13.1 miles as quickly as I wanted to do, and while the event was superbly organized overall, it could have done with a few more water stations along the way.
  • The trouble with Wall Street is the cheating, as Matt Taibbi explains:
    [S]erial financial fuckups like Citigroup and Bank of America overextended themselves by the hundreds of billions and pumped trillions of dollars of deadly leverage into the system -- and got rewarded with things like the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, an FDIC plan that allowed irresponsible banks to borrow against the government's credit rating. This is equivalent to a trust fund teenager who trashes six consecutive off-campus apartments and gets rewarded by having Daddy co-sign his next lease. The banks needed programs like TLGP because without them, the market rightly would have started charging more to lend to these idiots. Apparently, though, we can’t trust the free market when it comes to Bank of America, Goldman, Sachs, Citigroup, etc.
    That's not even the worst of it; read the whole thing if you are of the mind that the outrage behind Occupy Wall Street is not justified. The banksters' credo: free markets for thee, but socialism for me.
  • Here are more reasons I am not a fan-boy of Steve Jobs:
    "You're headed for a one-term presidency," he told Obama at the start of their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly. As an example, Jobs described the ease with which companies can build factories in China compared to the United States, where "regulations and unnecessary costs" make it difficult for them.
    Think different, indeed. Pointing out that China makes it easier to construct factories than the USA is the laziest, most insipid Chamber of Commerce boilerplate imaginable -- and this from the towering genius who took the idea behind the Sony Walkman and applied it to digital music files. Or maybe I speak too rashly -- perhaps more insipid was the part where Jobs, who dropped out of college after his first semester, went on to demand that Obama snap his fingers and force schools to stay open until 6pm and for 11 months of the year. Jobs apparently couldn't decide if he loves China's children more for the work they do in his factories or for the long hours they put in at school.

    None of which should be construed as a defense of President Chickenshit, who can fuck off.
  • Windows or Mac? Wii or PS3 or XBox? Is Death Cab for Cutie the very best band you've never heard about? Was the USA within its rights to participate in the removal of Qadaffi from power in Libya? Delight in these and other powerful troll vacuums at Outkube, as inspired by The Onion.
  • Even huge stacks of money can't change the fact that climate change is real
Too soon?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2011 Blue Lake 15k - The Glory

I just completed the Blue Lake 15k in a time of 1:05:44 (7:03 min/mi pace, official) and while this isn't the first time I've done this event, it is the first time they gave out medals for our trouble -- and nice medals they are!

Trouble, I say? There's no trouble. This course begins and ends in Blue Lake park, and when it's outside the park, it's along a calm stretch of road leading out to the Troutdale Airport. This is a lovely spot on a bad day, but on a near-perfect Fall day like today, it's nothing short of glorious.

It's the kind of flat course that most people love more than I do -- I prefer some hills along the way -- but it would be an exaggeration to call it easy no matter the terrain. Easy is a modifier that sits awkwardly beside any 9.3 mile footrace.

I made a point of personally thanking every volunteer I saw today -- those keeping us safe from traffic, those who prepared the generous post-race food, those who handed out drinks along the way,  those who marked the course and kept the records, and all the others -- but I want to take this chance to thank them all again. As always, I congratulate all the runners who came along with me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

No Bottom

I am the scarcely over 0% typing this list:

photo from GeekFill
  • It's never the wrong time or place to enforce laws against child pornography:
    Kansas City's Catholic bishop has become the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic official indicted on a charge of failing to protect children after he and his diocese waited five months to tell police about hundreds of images of child pornography discovered on a priest's computer, officials said Friday.
    More like this!
  • Ron Paul recently appeared on The Daily Show to promote his brand of ahistorical Social Darwinist twaddle, claiming inter alia that strict private property rights would forever prevent pollution and that anti-pollution laws never, ever work because government tends to collude with wealthy interests in shaping the laws and their enforcement. He didn't pause to explain the nature of the state that would enforce these strict property rights, nor how these strict private property rights would differ from the ones we already have -- you know, the very ones that have been carved to pieces by the collusion of wealthy interests and government. Like the good glibertarian he is, in other words, he advocated reducing the scale and scope of firefighting as a means of controlling arson.
    All that's the bad news; the good news is that Ron Paul's eyebrows remained in place for the duration of the interview.
  • The Republican party sees, on one hand, the whining of blastocyst enthusiasts in medical professions and, on the other hand, women who might die without medical treatment, and they choose the whiners:
    Today the GOP-led House of Representatives, with the blessings and encouragement of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and extremist religious groups such as the Family Research Council, passed a bill in a vote of 251 to 172 that would, among other things, allow doctors and hospitals to "exercise their conscience" by letting pregnant women facing emergency medical conditions die.
    GOP to women: bear children or die trying.
  • Some idiotic parasite thinks he is oppressed because he has to pay taxes. Yawn.
There is no bottom.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy PDX and Portland Marathon - To Each According to Need

Two things I cherish are happening in the same time right now -- the Occupy Wall Street movement against the excesses of corporate power, greed, dishonesty, and corruption, and the Portland Marathon.

I totally support the Occupy movement -- I have spent a little time as a participant in Occupy Portland and hope to do so again -- and while I am not running it this year, I also love the Portland Marathon and hope to see it go smoothly and safely for all.

For Sunday morning, I hope Occupy Portland picks up and moves just a few blocks away and continues as before. By design, there is no centralized authority to which to appeal, but I did find a communique from an official-enough looking web site, OccupyPDX:
Occupy Portland wishes to welcome Portland Marathon to Lownsdale and Chapman Squares on this beautiful Friday morning. 
We look forward to working together to ensure that our events run as smoothly as possible. 
This outcome is achievable only through civil discourse and is rendered impossible by threats or use of force. 
Therefore, we are eager to discuss with Portland Marathon the constructive ways we can help and support their event while we remain in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.
Meanwhile, the Portland Marathon is saying much the same:
We understand the intention of those protesting at Occupy Portland. We will find a compromise that meets the needs of both parties. We are working closely with the City and representatives from Occupy Portland to reach a solution.
Perfect. That's all anyone can ask. Please do that, and find that.

By way of further background, I note that OccupyPDX is (loosely) located at miles 25 to 26.2 of the run, and that means the following: everyone coming in will be at his/her limits if not beyond. There is no 'dodging obstacles' by that stage of the race. There is no 'oh, I can see these people just ahead so I'll just alter my path a few clicks to the right' -- that sort of adjustment approaches to physically impossible. An out-of-place pebble can create disaster, let alone people 'occupying' the course.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding all the bleating to the effect that 'these protesters don't have a message,' we are a movement rather than a message, and the movement is directed at upholding the primacy, rights, and power of human beings over and against assertions of corporate power. But if it's a unified message you want, this statement, as read by Keith Olbermann a few nights back, will do well enough as a starting point.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gray in the Head

John Gray claims faith, properly understood, doesn't have much to do with belief, concluding as follows:

We'd all be better off if we stopped believing in belief. Not everyone needs a religion. But if you do, you shouldn't be bothered about finding arguments for joining or practising one. Just go into the church, synagogue, mosque or temple and take it from there.
At the risk of repeating material already covered by Norm Geras, PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson, Jerry CoyneEli Horowitz, and others, suppose we unpack Gray's twaddle a tad: take what from there?

I charitably assume John Gray doesn't mean for people to show up at a church, synagogue, or mosque and begin mindlessly aping the actions of others -- which is to say I assume he can't mean what he's plainly asserting. To pick a slightly off-angle but non-exotic illustration, doing as Gray suggests would involve aping the actions of the guy who just happens to be unclogging the toilet in the church basement. Or it would include showing up at the place and expecting to be the next to speak to the assembly after the priest, rabbi, or imam finishes chattering.

Before any of that, of course, going to a house o' worship will have required more-than-aping levels of critical evaluation to select the church, synagogue, or mosque as the day's destination. It's far from clear how this decision can be made without reference to beliefs and reasons.

Suppose that as the sermon drones on, your critical faculties light up long enough to pick up on the notion of a Sabbath. Clearly, you don't want to put any reasoning or believing or (gawd forbid) arguing into it -- that would bother John Gray or something -- so eschewing details, you undertake to pursue the practice of a regular Sabbath. Suppose you choose the 24 hours between Wednesday at 11:15pm to Thursday at 11:15pm as your Holy Sabbath because it works best for your schedule -- are you doing it the wrong way? If beliefs are beside the point, what or who can decide the question?

Incidentally, under this approach, why stop at people? If it's not about beliefs but about showing up and doing the thing, surely pets can participate, not to mention stray cats, field mice, wood ants, nesting racoons, wayward sparrows in the rafters, etc. Why not zombie cockroaches? Shouldn't they be counted as participants in what John Gray counts as religion if they "just go into the church, synagogue, mosque or temple and take it from there"?


We think about what we're doing and why, and this is necessarily informed by what we believe we are doing -- reasons, societies, histories, communities, contexts, justifications, conflicts, the dramatis personae we consider to be included and excluded from minor and major roles. Religious practice untethered to beliefs is a mindless, pointless, dawdling squandering of energy. To date, religious practice informed by beliefs is likewise pointless in proportion to the quality of the beliefs, but it can claim the small virtue of distinguishing genuine believers from those who merely go through motions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Breaking Bad - WWJD?

I think I know what Jesse would do -- the Jesse Pinkman character of Breaking Bad fame, that is -- and it doesn't square with last night's dramatics. Amanda Marcotte tries gamely to justify the ways of Jesse to viewers:
With Jesse, I think the key to understanding how quickly he blamed Walt depends on a couple of factors. For one thing, the Walt we're seeing onscreen now has become more sympathetic than the Walt a few episodes ago. He had an emotional breakthrough regarding his son and his conscience is starting to creep back. He's remembered that he's a family man, and that should be more important than his own massive ego. But Jesse hasn't been witness to any of this, since they haven't been speaking. When Jesse last spoke to Walt, Walt was at a moral and emotional low point in his life. He had become quite naked with his willingness to manipulate Jesse, and for all Jesse has known, it's gotten worse. Jesse is acutely aware of how much of a control freak Walt is, and so, with a little added paranoia and emotional peaking, it's easy to see how he could leap to the conclusion that Walt would really go this far. Plus, as far as Jesse knows, Walt is the only person who knew about the ricin.
Alas, no. I think the characterization simply faltered here. The Jesse we have come to know would draw the most obvious conclusion, that the kid snuck a cigarette while he wasn’t watching --- while he was asleep, in the bathroom, absorbed in a video game, whatever -- and that it turned out to be the ricin-laced cigarette.

At that point Jesse would sink into his familiar pattern of self-recrimination and despair over all the misery, pain, and suffering his choices bring to others. He might pause to lash out at Walt, Gus, and others along the way, but he would ultimately make a beeline toward the usual guilty self-loathing that has defined so much of his character. Put differently, Jesse would have needed a good deal of ‘help’ to connect Walt to this poisoning—Gus would have needed to arrange some clues/hints to give that impression much more strongly -- and yet nothing of the sort was presented.

It was a rare but glaring misstep for what continues to be one of the two or three best things on tee-vee right now.