Thursday, December 29, 2016

20, or Rather 26 Meditations on 2016 and Modern American Politics

I’m shutting down this site, but for a good reason this time: I like what I’m doing on it enough to want to upgrade it. It’ll do the same thing, but with a longer focus, more projects, less (or shorter) politics, etc. And Conifers & Citrus will live on; I’m happy with that one, too.

Before leaving this site to drift forever in the ether (like V-ger! (aka, Voyager, Star Trek I reference; don’t see that one)), I want to leave a sort of marker at the top of it, one about the time and place in which all Americans are about to live, or already live in some ways. This is something I’ve started and deleted several times, and always for the same reason: once you start connecting the dots as to how the United States sorta, kinda elected Donald J. Trump in 2016 (e.g., nearly half the country were no-shows and less than half of actual voters voted Trump), the lines between those dots look like a frenzied spider web in very, very short order. By the time I feel like I’m starting to roll, I’m ten pages in and still have dozens of stranded dots.

(For example, the latest attempt squeezed in Alexander the Great, the idea that modern American capitalism is literally just a dick-measuring contest; technological innovation and how that’s hamstringing the holy shit out of that dick-measuring contest; the “permanent campaign;” freedom, and “freedom;” and, of course, Donald Fucking Trump. For all the good thoughts and a handful of good sentences, that attempt didn’t go any better (just four pages in this time). In all honesty, I can’t wrestle everything that’s on my mind with this into anything less than book form, but writing a book requires a completely different mindset, carries certain responsibilities to the reader, etc. And I don’t want to write a book, at least not about this shit.)

With that in mind, I am limiting myself to 20 talking points – hold on, 25, wait, 26; and 40 sentences max (now, 52; semicolons don’t count). (Shit!) Here no particular order…

Thursday, December 8, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 8: The Hives

How far to back into that one?

The first song I ever heard by The Hives was “Hate to Say I Told You So.” A boyfriend of an in-law used that and a song by The Czars that I can’t remember to pad out the rest of a CD with The Strokes first album on it. So, yeah, good day for me. Great song, too, one that worked exactly the same way any great single should (i.e., “you like that kid? There’s more where that came from.”)

I didn’t listen to that parenthetical voice. When the next chance to pick up something by The Hives came ‘round – and this was years later, a half decade at least - fate threw two albums at me: Barely Legal and Tyrannosaurus Hives. Barely Legal, as it turns out, is the band’s debut album. It also turns out it’s not easy to come by, even by today’s (or Spotify’s) standards. I want to pause here to acknowledge something people can’t appreciate in these days of “(almost) every song at your fingertips.” There was a time when some kind of essentially accidental logic sent that Swedish album to a random record store in the American town you actually have to live in. Add to that the necessity of some random person going on a bizarre music-porn quest to seek out this semi-mythical, yet documented (in fanzines) colored 45 of a European import. This was treasure hunting, people. I only did it in Seattle and in the early 90s, and very, very passively. Also, that was a time when people just threw all that shit at you. You only had to decide whether you wanted to eat the extra cost. Still have a few colored vinyl 45s. Just sayin’…

At any rate, Barely Legal came from a European label, and featured an essentially anonymous band (e.g. The Hives; no one knew who they were…maybe just outside of Sweden). Even as I barely remember how I came across it (old gypsy woman?), it’s a good debut, one filled with a healthy dose of straight punk numbers – e.g., “Well, Well, Well,” “King of Asskissing,” and “What’s that Spell…Go to Hell!” – but a couple prototypes for future songs came in, too – e.g., “Here We Go Again” and “BlackJack.”

Tyrannosaurus Hives built from the prototypes. (It felt better to use “builds” in the prior sentence because good music feels current when I hear it, but that’s why I kept The Hives’ discography close while I looked into this stuff; Barely Legal came out in 1997; their most current is 2012, for reference). It came in the middle of their run and years ago – things change, people change, hairstyles change - but it’s still the cleanest embrace of what feels like the band’s best self. Searing pace, nervously manic guitar riffs, all topped by a bellowing sociopath who knows how to use a good scream: these are a few of my favorite things, and The Hives gave them to me on Tyrannosaurus Hives. When I think of The Hives, even with the oddballs on Barely Legal, Tyrannosaurus Hives is their sound.

Trumpgrets: Your Saddest Happy Place

You did not win, not really.
I have to credit Dan Savage's Savage Lovecast (listen every week!) for word of Trumpgrets, a tumblr that documents tweets from anyone now expressing regrets for voting for Asshole-Elect, Donald Trump. At the first mention, I made the mistake of assuming that the collection would feature people who voted Trump despite misgivings about various things. And while that's true as far as it goes, uh...
"@realDonaldTrump seriously not pursuing charges against @HillaryClinton ? I voted for you & I will now join the protesters."
The first point is that, yes, the captured tweets come from people who are disappointed in what Trump's doing, but for...well, stupid fucking reasons, like failing to prosecute Hillary Clinton (charges won't stick, idiots), for not building the dumb fucking wall (of which, pointless and expensive), and, finally, there are those who thought Trump actually had a plan for...well, anything. And, of course, people who use the word "cucks," and who embrace the word "deplorable" without realizing it just means "white nationalist," etc. And, of course, people who are white nationalists, aka (again) what got left behind when Western Civilization failed to finish wiping its ass after World War II.

My response to all those people: stop reading Breitbart, and especially fucking Infowars, those are propaganda/conspiracy outlets, devoted to hawking (ugly) aspirations, not information, and that's a huge reason why you were caught off guard by, well, reality. So, let's try talking about what's happening in the real world, what you want, and what's possible at given levels of taxation...this shit doesn't pay for itself, governing is hard and expensive, etc.

The second point is that, while it's not how my Platonic version of Trumpgrets would read - e.g. that would be full variations on, "holy god, the man's an idiot" or "wow, he actually never released his tax returns" - any kind of disappointment with Trump is a good thing. If "Adorable Deplorable" or "Morris Otto" or "Raya Pachevurova" or (personal favorite) "Everything4pageants" never vote again, the country will improve, if by only one less vote by an easy mark (as for "Celia & Thomas," I'm willling to call it a mulligan whenever you are). Trump won office by promising all kinds of things, most of them contradictory, some of them impossible, some racist, and more than a few of them serving everyone except the communities he promised to serve. Disappointment seems like the likeliest end to the whole experience.

The thing to understand is that, no matter how long or short Trump's reign, he will leave behind him the vital business of calming everyone the fuck down.

Monday, December 5, 2016

J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. And How I Caused Trump.

I’m going to start this one with a confession. I grew up in Ohio, specifically, in a suburb of Cincinnati called Glendale. That place isn’t far from Middletown, Ohio, the place where J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, grew up. One thing that I remember distinctly from my childhood was a very secure sense of superiority over people from Kentucky. The proximity played a role, for sure, but clearest distinction grew from the idea that Kentucky was part of “the South,” while Ohio was very much part of the North. That last detail had very distinct consequences for our world view and, here, I’m making the distinction between my peers and my family. More on that later…

Race loomed large in my upbringing, or at least one particular aspect of it: Ohio fought for the Union in the civil war, a fact that meant “good white people” understood the legacy of slavery and the civil rights struggle (things like Jim Crow and Reconstruction added nuance to this picture, but that came way later). This was the era of busing, so we had a lot of black kids in my elementary school. I know that busing stirred up all kinds o’ shit across the country, but I neither saw nor experienced any of that controversy. Black kids were kids just like me and that’s all the thought I put into it.

The kids from Kentucky, on the other hand? Total and absolute fair game. We called them “grits,” at least in Glendale. One of my more vivid second-hand memories involved my sisters holing up in a phone booth next to the pharmacy down the road because they called this kid we all knew a “grit” and he lost, oh, just about all his shit (wait, “grit” or “skag-butt”? We had a couple favorites). The phone booth was the only shelter they could find and he wailed on the outside of that until he wore himself out. They got home safe in the end (side note; my sisters could fight, too), but I’ve got a dozen stories that follow the same basic plot: we went after kids from Kentucky, or Tennessee, as escapees from the lands of the former Confederacy, the mad progeny of the Hatfields and McCoys. We were sophisticates, they were scum, etc.

What I didn’t know until I read Vance’s genuinely great memoir was how baked into the culture that conflict was. Here’s one relevant snippet from Hillbilly Elegy:

Thursday, December 1, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 7: The (or the) Lemonheads

Don't get it either...

According to “my sources,” The Lemonheads cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” “got them the most exposure they had had.” (Hat tip, though, for the quick reference to Madonna's "Like a Virgin.") And that’s a goddamn shame, not least because it’s not even their best cover. Here, I’m willing to entertain a debate: I’m partial to their “Amazing Grace,” but I’m sure some people out there would vouch for “My Name Is Luka.” That last one is a rare case where a male voice works better…something about vulnerability and the way men tend to suppress it…

Apart from knowing it happened at some point during high school, I can’t really say when I first heard the Lemonheads - but it happened before they, or rather he, added the definite article to the band’s name. And, “he” means the guy you’re likely to know, if you know The Lemonheads at all, Evan Dando.

However and whenever it happened, the Lemonheads put out two of my all-time favorite albums, Hate Your Friends and Creator. I played both into the fucking ground for years upon years and they somehow still make a steady appearance in my musical rotation to this day. One detail makes that doubly weird, or arguably embarrassing: the themes they address on both albums, even the way they approach to music, is decidedly adolescent – or, generously, “young adult.” Then again, that might be shortchanging just how cleanly they hit a couple major themes – among them, frustration in relationships, heartbreak, anger…I guess it’s mostly just frustration, really, a mindset that I don’t know that I’ve ever let go of. I’m not even sure that I’m capable of letting go of it. Put another way, I can listen to “Fucked Up” over and over again and still feel every word. I mean, who can’t connect to the idea of being reminded again and again and again of something that you already know in your bones – that, yes, I fucked up. And I’m real sorry.

So, yeah, both Hate Your Friends and Creator loom large in my pantheon of albums – they live in Arcadia, even Mount Olympus. They put out a couple albums after that – Lick, among them, which is where you find their cover of "Luka" – and Lick was fine, even as I had no idea at the time about where the band was when they released it (e.g, nowhere good personally, but improving professionally). Lovey came after that, and, bluntly, I’m not sure I even remember that one coming out. The only album after Lick that I remember coming out was It’s a Shame About Ray. That’s where they put “Mrs. Robinson,” along with the title track, but my opinion on it at the time of its release can best be summed up in the way I renamed it: I called it “It’s a Shame About The Lemonheads.” And I meant it.

Monday, November 28, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 6: Notorious B.I.G (and 2Pac)

Eh, fair play.

As noted way back in this series (as measured by time; the link is Volume 1; production slow), I kept current on rap (going with that over “hip hop” per a distinction heard made in this (awesome) mixtape (also, more)) in a vague sort of way, but without mucking around so much in the innards. That had a lot to do with why I knew about rap’s greatest all-time beef – 2Pac vs. Notorious B.I.G - while really knowing nothing at all about it. Still, I picked up B.I.G’s Ready to Die barely thinking about it, and, because I was going to review that, I figured that made sense of catching up (going with) The Beef.

Like most…going with white people here, even if that’s a little broad, the whole thing felt like a waste to me. Two talented dudes shot dead months apart for nothing more than talking shit about one another sounds plenty dumb; with a better appreciation of both artists’ bodies of work, it feels even more pointless. After putting in a little research on it (won’t lie; very little research), I picked up the time-lime, and learned a (weird) thing or twenty along the way – e.g. that Tupac’s Black Panther mom, Afeni Shakur, had her bail money paid in part by Leonard Bernstein and Jane Fonda, or that Tupac picked up Tony Danza as a pen pal while in prison.

As for the details, the most earnestly thorough (mildly typo-ridden) account I’ve so far read went tipped The Beef in 2Pac’s favor, and on the fairly sound metric of units moved and posthumous reputation. (It also puts the blame for 2Pac’s death on Suge Knight, founder of Death Row Records, and holder of a sizeable adverse position to the label 2Pac founded, Makaveli Records (of which, catchy)…what? Yes, yes, I know that the overwhelming majority of people reading this already know the story better than I ever will; I’m way behind, admitted as much; this is for my education, please bear with me.) Then again, the author of that post comes at the whole thing from a place of declaring 2Pac the victor, but he’s also pretty decent to B.I.G, only musing about why he didn’t say more when The Beef heated up (ew…phrasing).

Another one of my sources, a 2011 article in (what?) The Guardian (yep, that The Guardian), comes down on the same side that I did in the end. An uneasy part of my mind keeps whispering, “not a coincidence,” in my ear, but, since I made the mistake of reading that article, and since their phrasing both captures and improves upon any formulation I arrived at so far, I’m just going to quote it:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chuck Klosterman Reimagines The Matrix

Another layer peels away...
“So think how this might alter the memory of The Matrix: In some protracted reality, film historians will reinvestigate an extremely commercial action movie made by people who (unbeknownst to the audience) would eventually transition from male to female. Suddenly, the symbolic meaning of a universe with two worlds – one false and constructed, the other genuine and hidden – takes on an entirely new meaning. The idea of a character choosing between swallowing a blue pill that allows him to remain a false placeholder and a red pill that forces him to confront who he truly is becomes a much different metaphor.”
And, suddenly, the whole (gross, weird, pathetic) “red pill” concept gets hit from another angle.

That quote came out of Chuck Klosterman’s interesting But What If We’re Wrong, a work on nonfiction that digs into the idea that just about everything humanity believes today will look just as stupid as, say (my go-to example), phrenology in 100 years’ time.

And, for those who don’t know, yes, the Larry Wachowski became Lana Wachowski (better name; good on ya, girl!) and, later, Andy Wachowski became Lilly Wachowski (eh, neutral on the name, but I got yer back either way), and, yes, that really does slip a couple pieces of subtext into The Matrix, at a minimum…even as I’m not sure what those larger details mean for smaller details like the slow-mo-dodging-bullets ballet for which the movie is famous.

At any rate, I’m only part way through But What If We’re Wrong, about mid-way through a chapter that poses the question of which of today’s writers will be tomorrow’s Franz Kafka – a point that’s interesting because not even Kafka thought he’d be Kafka. In fact, he semi-strenuously tried to avoid being Kafka by way of fire. Maybe. By which I mean he might have known exactly what Max Brod would ultimately do with this work.

The essence of Klosterman’s book, though, interrogates the idea that we can’t know the present until it’s been judged/weighed on the scales of the future. He starts that argument with the critical reception/subsequent early anonymity of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. So, yeah, call Klosterman’s book a good read for a certain kind of person…

…and, here, I’m starting my personal bid to elevate Billy Budd over Moby Dick. The former feels like it would package better for Hollywood, if nothing else (or at least we’ve got one failure to go by). 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 5: The Pixies

Gets at the tone pretty cleanly...

The first song I heard by The Pixies was “Debaser.” This makes linear sense in that someone dropped the needle on Doolittle, and that was the first song, so…

It was love at first listen. I was just…18 (? - look, I’m shit with linear time), I knew nothing, and still know nothing about Luis Bunuel, I don’t know what Un Chien Andalou is accept a corrupted lyric (I think The Pixies phrase it “Chien Andalousia,”), but the hyper-drive drumming and thudding bass with that soaring guitar hook playing over it hooked me right away. I went on to listen to the rest of Doolittle – probably several times over the next week – to figure out what it was about it that hit so cleanly. Later, I went back to Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa, the first an EP, the second a full album (maybe?). Back when that sort of thing happened.

The Pixies made for a fantastic companion for life after high school. They covered all the big ones - sex, art, relationships (or, rather, artistic sex, creative violence, and fraught relationships) – and with the right portions of ambiguity and a sort of saucy, disarming humor. Better still, they droned those puzzling lyrics over actually superb compositions. On top of that, they added sneaky-clever little chop-cuts (see, the adorably relatable lead in to “I’m Amazed” and the goofing around before Surfer Rosa’sVamos,” which, tragically, doesn't make YouTube's video) that sounded enough like stuff you did with your friends. It hardly hurt that, at that time, just about everyone in the places where I lived either were in bands or wanted to be. (Related: If I can figure out a way to explain/do justice to Pullman, Washington’s tidy little rock scene, I will.)

“Debaser” gets at the way The Pixies leaned into “art” concepts, but without getting too far from traditional rock/pop approach and structure; I think the word/backhanded compliment for that was  “accessible” back then. Their sound lurked on the “poppier” edges of the college rock scene – which may or may not have been what people called the genre back before people started using the grab-bag vague term “alternative rock”; forgive the faulty memory – which made it stand out from the heavier stuff breaking through around the same time (think grunge, which would soon swallow too much), but without being music that everyone could tolerate or listen to. Against a subculture on persistent high alert against selling out, that mattered too. Even if it shouldn’t have.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 4: The Rolling Stones, Less Hot Rocks

What is that...has a really strong fiber note...

The greatest hits album, the Cliff Notes of a musical act’s career, the gateway drug to said act’s oeuvre. It takes some amount of relevance plus time in the cultural spotlight to merit a “Greatest Hits” album. Only bands of a certain stature and longevity receive the pop music world’s commercial equivalent of a Lifetime Achievement Award: multiple greatest hits Albums.

When it reaches the rarefied air of the retrospective, a musical act achieves godhead, presumably, but that’s neither here nor there. Here.

For this volume, I want to talk less about The Rolling Stones – because I’ll do that later – than to talk about what I’ve always regarded as one of the greatest, greatest hits collections of all-time, Hot Rocks. But even that’s just a path to that collection’s famous sequel – and I mean sequel in every meaning of the word – More Hot Rocks. Just like any actor who picks up a life time achievement award, a band that’s lingered long enough to be worthy of serial releases of greatest hits albums has, frankly, squeezed out some amount of shit while pushing out the good stuff (graphic; sorry; it’s what came to me). Like the sawdust that pads your cat’s food, it has a purpose; it’s just that your cat isn’t eating that and thinking, “I taste the pork, but, oh my god…is that sawdust? C’est magnifique”!

The Greatest Hits Album falls into some neither-here-nor-there category between shortcut and advertising. By that I mean a lot of people buy a band’s greatest hits album and stop there, maybe even more people than most. Honestly, I have no idea; but that’s the “shortcut” iteration – i.e., a long introduction that leaves everyone with good memories, but not deep attachment. On a commercial level, though, I have to believe that at least one mission of the greatest hits album tracks the same logic as Discover Weekly does for Spotify, only it’s a much more specific pitch. Either way, the idea is the same: here are a bunch of songs; if you like that, why not roll over here and buy “Band X’s” other albums/get more eyeballs on our app.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Calm Blue Ocean, Calm Blue Ocean, Calm Blue Ocean...

Seriously, take some time.
I want to wrap up a week that feels like Liberal/Progressive 9/11, aka, the Election of Donald J. Trump, on the highest note I can hit. And, again, yes, I know people are various degrees of nervous, panicked and shattered and that’s a reasonable reaction among a lot of groups given Trump’s campaign trail rhetoric and some of the shitty, shitty people who are excited by his election.

The best news I can deliver is this: just 27% of the country voted for Trump. (The actual winner of Election 2016 was the ticket topped with “Fuck It” running as President, and “I Have No Fucking Idea” as Vice President; 43.1% of Americans did not vote.) Any time you feel like the country is irredeemable racist, or that it hates women, just hold tight to that 27% figure. Then take the next step and consider how many of that 27% voted Trump out of: party loyalty; a mania for giving others the “freedom” to do exactly as they say in their own bedrooms; a longing for change, any change; disgust with Hillary (whether displaced or not), etc.

That thought in no way minimizes what just happened – e.g., America did just elect a race-baiting, sexist, atavistic asshole, one with awful plans in his head and a capacity for passing some of them – but it does put it in perspective. Clinton was more popular than Trump;

And, if you need a little more comforting, check the polling data that tops David Wong’s most recent column for Cracked. Yeah, yeah, polls have a shitty rep right now, but I do believe those numbers, as well as the idea that the country is more progressive today than ever before. The trick comes with mobilizing those sentiments and getting them to the ballot box next time ‘round. I’m not claiming that’s easy by any means – again, the country just elected Trump, even if by a plurality that should make him blush – but the potential is there. There's more reassuring stuff in that column, too, so I'd encourage people to give it a read.

The best advice I can give right now is this: go home this weekend, relax and don’t give this shit another minute’s thought. Savor the last days of the Obama presidency, a man who, contrary to online vitriol, was persistently decent, honest, and who had the patience of a handful of saints. Take this time before Trump can do any real damage to relax, re-center and recharge. This is a marathon, people, not a sprint.

Lord knows I won’t take my own advice – I have a minimum of three posts percolating in my head – but I still think it’s sound.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On Putting Election 2016 Behind Us

Like any animal, he's better off in his natural habitat.
“The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Government makes laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”
- George Orwell
The New Yorker’s David Remnick dropped that quote into an article that’s blossomed into a familiar genre since Donald J. Trump got elected. I call them “panic pieces,” basically, lurid imaginings of the very worst things that will come out of a Trump presidency. I wrote one myself too, so I’m not pretending I’m exempt.

Also, and I want to underline this point because I know that someone will stumble on this post and dismiss it due to my privileged position as a white, straight male in American society. And, to be clear, I acknowledge the hell out of not just that reality, but also that I genuinely do fear the worst from a Trump presidency, and not for me, but for all communities of color, the LGBT community, and for any faith that is not mainline Christian. (My only claim to be a victim of discrimination of any kind grows from my strong leanings toward atheism. Trust me, that kind of “victimhood” wears light if you let it.)

There are protests happening in Portland, Oregon tonight, big rumbling marches that are locking up traffic and that grow from the premise that Donald Trump is “not my president.” Silly as I find that idea, I don’t mind the protests. Hell, my own mom is going “full Kaepernick” (i.e., she has no intention of standing during the national anthem for the length of the Trump presidency), and that’s her right, just as the protesters own their protests.

With all that going on, with all the raw emotions and anger going on across the country, I just want to pose one question: is this permanent state of high agitation making anyone calmer or happier? Is the eternal state of political mobilization doing the country any good, or is everyone just more pissed off all the time?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election 2016, Bound Together in Separate Bags, Thrown in the Same River

Just typing thoughts as they come to me on last night’s election.

First, I’ve read only one example of the “he’s not my president” thing so far and, bluntly, I think that’s stupid. It was stupid, even childish, when Red Staters said the same about President Barack Obama, or when they mulled over a “revolt” if Hillary Clinton got elected (“Sir, the peasants are revolting!” “I know!”). It announces a delusion. If you live in the United States and if you’re a U.S. citizen, Donald Trump is your president. Dealing with that reality is Step 1.

For what it’s worth, I think The Daily Beast got it essentially right. The only way the entire system fails is if everyone starts treating the nation’s institutions and fundamental rights with the same, short-sighted contempt as movement conservatives.

All that said, yes, I honestly believe Donald Trump will be a terrible president. He might even prove a destructive one, but fingers and every ass hair tangled and holding one another for comfort. Setting aside emergencies – e.g., international crises, an unexpected natural disaster (again, imagine the man who wrote this letter to John Travolta attempting to comfort you (he will not succeed)), any and all manners of Trump scrambling when (not if, when) the shit hits the fan – a review of his stated, preferred policy agenda reads to me like a List of Terrible Ideas, most of them based on a combination of denial (see: global warming) and false premises (see: what’s happening to U.S. jobs). In run down of “winners and losers” from Election Night, Vox rolled a couple of the worst ideas under each category and, chillingly, their chances for getting through a federal government that Republicans now control, along with most statehouses.

Among Vox’s list of “winners” is among the most noxious ideas that festered throughout the 2016 campaign, white nationalism. (And we had several from which to choose.) As I was tweeting away my angst last night – and watching that poor Barron Trump kid fidget/quietly die on stage – I posted a pair that read like so:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

One Last Pick Through the Bins, Volume 3: Ty Segall (and his various inspirations)

Just wanted to go with something grotesque. That wasn't the album cover.
I used to frequent a site called It was mostly an outlet for (my understanding of) EDM (electronic dance music, yes?), or it might actually have been nothing more than a space for remixes of popular pop songs. I never read the site’s mission statement and resentment that I had to get on Facebook to download their content formed the strongest thought/emotion I had for it, but I’ve bent all kinds of dumb ways for free/cheap music. Anyway, amidst all the Skrillex and Deadmau5 and DJ Bahler (hey, it was 2012, Year of Mayan Death), I came across Ty Segall. Or I might have found his song, “I Bought My Eyes,” on Pitchfork, back when that site offered up more free downloads. Again, I’m very, very cheap.

“I Bought My Eyes” led me to Slaughterhouse, the album it came from. When I plugged in my earbuds to get reacquainted with it, I realized that I’d never actually got acquainted with it before. By that I mean, I picked it up based on that one song, which is pretty good if you ask me, but then I listened to the rest maybe once and never went back again. If you’ve ever got too ambitious on collecting music, this shouldn’t sound strange at all – I mean, who hasn’t over-bought at some point (or, in the modern era, over-subscribed)? – but things got (mildly) weirder after. I hopped over to Spotify to confirm that I could find it there, because why (intentionally) tell you about something you can’t find and listen to (then again, youtube)…only I couldn’t find it. Spotify has plenty of Ty Segall stuff – good stuff, too – but Slaughterhouse didn’t pull up. From there, I went to The Lazy Man’s Encyclopedia (Wikipedia) to see if I couldn’t figure out why. So I read his entry, and, like most music stuff, it’s interesting, lousy with other avenues to explore, both with Ty Segall, in particular, and his related projects, etc.

As I read, though, something caught my eye:
"Segall has stated in interviews that his favorite band of all time is Hawkwind.”
I only mention to explain the delay between volumes in this series.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The First Rule of Republican Politics

Warp the thing a little more, and voila! Scalia!
If there’s a general rule about modern conservatism, it’s that they’re almost certainly doing whatever it is they accuse their opposition of doing, and typically more of it. Examples abound: railing against President Obama for “dividing America” while identifying their partisans as “Real Americans” and speaking only to and for them; claims that Democrats lie to voters against the backdrop of Donald Trump lying daily and brazenly and an infotainment infrastructure that promotes ignorance among its own voters; extolling a definition of “freedom” that, again, defines “freedom” as being and thinking conservative; labeling Democrats as “extreme” as their party explodes a new societal norm every other week.

And then there’s voter fraud, the whole idea of “rigged elections.” Yes, elections are being rigged, and all over the country. As with all of the above, it’s conservatives who are doing the rigging:
“From 2011 to 2015, after Republicans gained control of many state governments, legislators introduced 395 bills in forty-nine states designed to make it more difficult to vote, and half the states, nearly all under Republican control, adopted such restrictions.”
Reports on all this stuff come in daily and from all over the country (and was this good news?), but David Cole pulled a lot of them together in one good, intellectually honest review that The New York Review of Books ran back in mid-October. I note the honesty of the piece because Cole carefully separates actual fraud – e.g. voter suppression and gerrymandering – from tactics to challenge bad laws through the courts, etc. I tell ya, quality comes through when one looks for it…

All this is of a piece with other nefarious scumbaggery, like refusing to fill judicial vacancies, not just in the Supreme Court, but throughout the federal judicial system. These are the actions of a party that does not have popular support. Unable to win the arguments on the merits, conservatives go with changing the rules. While totally scummy, it’s basically understandable: they’re fighting to preserve the world as they want it to be and, in a lot of ways, conservatives lost their last institutional firewall when Justice Antonin Scalia went down. In that setting, what’s there left to do but tear down the institutions?

Cole’s piece, which is good, especially the second half when he’s explaining what aren't end-runs around democracy, ends on this hopeful note:
“Instead of modifying their policies to address the interests of new voters, however, the Republicans have sought to suppress those votes. The strategy, profoundly antidemocratic in the small ‘d’ sense, can swing elections in the short term. But in the long term, it will not only damage American democracy but will be self-defeating for the GOP.”
Maybe. One assumption implicit in Cole’s argument is that the institutions will survive the monkey wrenching and carry on in some restored state. It also glosses over the potential for chaos to alter the trajectory on how the public sees the world and, therefore how it votes. Which seems odd, seeing as the country has endured a real-time social experiment of this in real time since…when’d that piece of shit descend from his chintz elevator to let us know he’d be ruining our lives? Was it last June?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Roger Stone and the Tragedy of Donald Trump

Transmission received...provide instruction...

I want to start this post by admitting that, yes, the whole interview really could be nothing more than a dirty trick, one last little con from a man with a lengthy history of pulling them.

For all that, cognitive dissonance set in by the first answer in’s interview with long-time Donald Trump confidante/enabler Roger Stone. It’s a challenging piece to read, in all honesty, and that has everything to do with the many, many areas where Stone’s politics line up with mine – again, assuming this entire interview isn’t a long con designed to help me stop worrying and love The Donald. Assuming it’s true, those include: gay marriage, the essential stupidity of the Iraq War (more on this later/elsewhere), a more circumscribed foreign policy, challenging all the political/corporate elites, etc. It’s not a perfect match – we split on supply side, and by a long shot, plus on some, ahem, other stuff (more later) – but two questions came to me by the time I got to the end.

1) Why the fuck does this guy spend even one minute on the utterly odious InfoWars, an outlet that I really believe needs to be utterly discredited and shuttered (by way of people ignoring it, thereby forcing them to shut off the lights, not via censorship, still, fuck those guys)?

2) How easily would Trump have won this election if he sounded anything like this?

From here, we need to wade through the second half of the blessing/curse reality that is the internet: because this is Stone, and given the company he keeps (lots of assholes; plus, InfoWars, a wart on an asshole), I had to check into other sources for background on Stone. And, yeah, it’s pretty much what you’d imagine – not just dirty tricks, but a lot, like, a fucking library's worth of just pointlessly awful things he’s said about other human beings, because…no, there really is no excuse to (short list): to call people “quota hires” or to call Herman Cain “Mandingo” (srsly, WTF, shithead?), 9/11 Truther shit….and, suddenly, the InfoWars thing makes perfect sense. And goddammit. Goddammit.

Consciousness Ain't Always False

Different Time, Different Ideas. (And, yes, different technologies.)
“The story of [Wright] Patman’s ousting is part of the larger story of how the Democratic Party helped to create today’s shockingly disillusioned and sullen public, a large chunk of whom is now marching for Donald Trump.”
- Matt Stoller, The Atlantic, October 24, 2016
One detail that repeated through many of the personal narratives of the interviewees of Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land was a personal or familial history of voting Democratic before shifting, often out of a sense of betrayal, to Tea Party. A lot of what I’ve read and heard over the past couple decades as the American Right has grown more and more radical parses that concept of “betrayal” by way of social issues – e.g. abortion, gay marriage, sanctity of the family, etc. etc. As much as those same interviewees sometimes spoke to those issues, they directed their hotter grievances toward feelings of 1) being ridiculed for questioning the new social order (which brings up a rule of thumb: making fun of Southerners really pisses them off), something more than a few hinted that they could take or leave, and 2) feeling forgotten economically.

It’s dawning on much of the country that #2 actually forms the Gordian Knot at the center of rural America’s grievances. The sense of insecurity, even desperation, flowed under almost every aspect of Louisianans' lives in Strangers in Their Own Land; it formed the spine of the “deep story” that Hochschild read back to her friend/subjects (sorta like sister/wives, only less complicated, and no sex). Both Hochschild’s book and the Stoller article quoted above form the basis of an argument that “the betrayal” was, and is, economic at root.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On the Silent Majority

An antidote for our never-ending national nightmare?
“She would say, yes, life is unfair, but don’t be one of those people who think the deck is stacked against them.”
- J. D. Vance, interview with Sean Illing on

"Are you assholes listening now?"
- The most vividly meaningful line from an article all progressives should read.
I’m not clear on why I chose those two quotes to top a post that will talk about something entirely different. My best guess lands somewhere in the contrast between two lines of thought that are equally valid, but where one has more real-world value than the other.

The idea of the “Silent Majority:” has been in my head a lot lately. Donald Trump tried to appropriate the phrase (from Richard M. Nixon....think about that for a minute), but, appropriation being what it is, and math pointing where it does, Trump can’t claim he speaks for a “Silent Majority” – not least because the people he leads are fucking loud. Also, not a majority. That’s true regardless of the poll you consult.

I think Slate ran a piece on what the real Silent Majority sounds like. In a word, it’s sad. Probably more than a little sickened. Well, maybe sickened, then sad. Y’know, the feeling you get from eating an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting? Sucks, right?

Anyway, the existential nausea of the unfocused focus group (hat-tip: Rocky Horror Picture Show, if I’m being honest) captures where I think the actual majority of Americans live these days. What else is there to say about a world where public officials – e.g. people who, in a better world, should feel more qualified than you to run….anything – talk to you like elementary school teachers caught stealing your lunch money? That article was described as sad, but all I could think for as long as I read it was that I was “Fellow travelers!” I mean, these were my people! Who can no longer wrap their heads around the perverse dog ‘n’ pony show that has become every Presiden…scratch that, every camp….never mind, they really never, never stop campaigning, do they? Pretty goddamn sure that’s not the point of democracy, but it’s the sick, stupid world we live in and, yes, I blame Iowa and New Hampshire for all of this.