There is, unsurprisingly, much that is wise, practical, subtly hilarious, and prescient about film critic, Pauline Kael’s insights in this interview. among them her extended words of advice to young writers. I’ve transcribed my favorite part below because it resonated, albeit uncomfortably, with my own struggles and those I observe in my peers. 

"The terrible thing is that most people who write now don’t read, and so they don’t know how much of what they’re trying to do has already been done. There is a sense in which a lot of kids kid themselves about not reading by saying they don’t want to spoil their originality, and what it really means is that they repeat all the mistakes of the past because they write the same story that a million other students have written and submitted. And it’s only if you know what other people are doing that you don’t repeat the same mistakes. So I would say that reading is probably about the most important thing a writer can do. Certainly as important as living which is always talked about but living doesn’t do you any harm either. But if you’re going to try to make a living as a writer you’re probably going to have a lot of living to do anyway."  

On a stylistic note, I get a kick out of how Kael improvises on the multiple meanings of the word ‘living’ in pointing out that a writer likely acquires the ragged life experience necessary to produce interesting material because of the profession’s precarious economic returns.

As for prescience, Kael’s clear and unequivocally phrased point about culture becoming captive to advertising in lieu of criticism functions today as one of the more articulate indictments of our digital-age devaluation of journalism and cultural gatekeepers that I can recall. She says:

"Even when it [criticism] is strictly judging the work, it is still a necessary function because of course the alternative is simply advertising. And somebody in a society has to make these judgments or else people will simply go where the advertising money is."  

"Fools Gold" by Brooklyn-based band, manicanparty in collaboration with horn trio, Too Many Zooz, is a stomping, raucous pop anthem that integrates the tropes of the past to say something immediate about the present. Featuring Betty Boop-style vocals and muscular big band horn arrangements, the Depression-era swing aesthetics perfectly express the themes of the song, whose cautionary refrain, ‘Don’t fall for the fool’s gold’ resonates in our Great Recession era of debt and economic struggle. A plea for generational solidarity amidst false idols and false discouragement, “Fools Gold” is also a fully realized pop production, sparkling and popping in all the right places. The track boasts ear candy like plushly layered close harmonies and a punchy dialog between brass motives and gang vocal shouts that recalls Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” But even as the handsome production values encase the song in a ready-radio sheen, the thumping and animalistic tom-heavy percussion renders “Fools Gold” anything but sterile, and Too Many Zooz’s experience as stalwart subway buskers shows up in the track’s boisterous even scrappy charm. “Fools Gold” overall mix of studio polish and raw acoustic instrumentation make it a welcome antidote to the abundance of Top 40 that sounds anti-septically auto-tuned and rhythmically captive to the ProTools grid. A brief but energizing song that clocks in at under 3 minutes, “Fools Gold” gets in and gets out quickly, and appropriates the retro to formulate a vital zeitgeist-y call to arms. 

Obama’s December 4th, 2013 Speech on the Economy

Kim Hill’s Thomas Friedman Interview

Kim Hill, apparently one of New Zealand’s most venerable radio journalists, interviewed NY Times columnist/notorious buffoon Thomas Friedman in October 2011 and the nearly-hour long interrogation is inspiring and illustrative. The interview refutes Friedman’s elitist assumptions and exposes his deep ignorance, holding the clearly unapologetic billionaire-by-marriage accountable for his advocacy of terrible policies over the years including the Iraq War (see his infamous Charlie Rose interview where he told the people of the Middle East and critics of the Iraq War to ‘suck on this’). You don’t have to know much about Hill or Friedman to appreciate Hill’s courtly yet relentless interview, where perhaps the most devastating questions she poses to Friedman are simply “why?” or “…meaning?” in response to Friedman’s particularly incoherent or disingenuous statements.

Here’s Glenn Greenwald’s take on Friedman which also compiles many other Friedman critiques. Matt Taibbi’s’s classic take-down of The World is Flat is also a must-read. I naively sourced the book for a freshman year college paper in 2006 arguing the benefits of globalization so the Friedman backlash that has occurred over the years has been edifying to me and perhaps to others who were also suckered by the porn-stachiod charlatan. 

Hat tip to this Sam Seder video for pointing me in the direction of the Kim Hill interview.

A solution to social ills: film everything

The Karen Klein bullying case presents an innovative template for addressing the social ills of our day: film everything. 

It works like this: everybody takes video of potentially abusive interactions he or she experiences or witnesses and posts it on YouTube. Then the users vote with their views and comments on the moral harm of the filmed behavior. If an overwhelming consensus emerges that someone has been victimized and the subsequent outrage leads to fundraising on behalf of the victimized, society has thus self-corrected. This process can spur civil and criminal legal action but its primary function is social and extra-legal.

Of course, in the Karen Klein case, the middle school bullies posted the footage that spurred the controversy, exemplifying the fact that those doing the filming often self-destructively come across the worst (see: the very concept of a sex tape). But never mind that the bullies pointed the weapon at themselves. This incident proves the capacity of that weapon to right social wrongs. 

Which is why filming everything has a great potential to empower victims and concerned citizens.  Armed with a surreptitious camera, a YouTube account, and the moral imperative to reset the karmic balance of the universe, everyday citizens can rake the muck off of all kinds of abusive behavior committed by everyday citizens. Major political figures and elected officials ought not be the only targets of aggressive guerilla videotaping/public humiliation. We are all targets. If we dare to be dicks to each other. 

Publicly posting videos of abusive interactions can be viewed as analogous to suing someone, with crowd-sourced donations functioning as the equivalent to the damages won in a lawsuit. A Kickstarter rival can and likely will emerge that aggregates fundraising efforts for victims. (Paythebullied.com has not been registered as a domain yet). Of course, because the pay-outs are crowd-sourced, the victimizer pays in his reputation alone. For the middle-schoolers in the Klein case, part of their punishment has included being called a ‘monster’ by a journalistic moral authority like Matt Lauer on the Today Show. 

Society needs precisely this kind of measure as a supplement to traditional channels of ruining reputations and gaining sympathy for those that have been wronged. Verbal person-to-person communication like gossip tends to add undesirable layers of context and perspective while minimizing the immediacy and injury of a particular controversial incident. This and it’s simply too private. Public text-based web communication like Facebook and mass emails also do not compare to the way in which video conveys the full pathos of a particular victim’s suffering and the heinous cruelty of his victimizer. (It’s like reading about the movie Salo vs. actually seeing it). There is an added retributive power as well at confronting victimizers with a permanent recorded loop of their regrettable behavior. We all know that everything on the web can never really be erased; some site will host a video or offer it as a torrent. If memories of regrettable actions can haunt, I imagine that videos of regrettable actions can destroy, and this is why I believe spying/broadcasting can function as both a potent deterrent against bad, stupid, and/or cruel behavior as well as a severe and novel form of social punishment.

Capturing and broadcasting video also addresses the inadequacies of our criminal and civil courts. Our system is hampered by all kinds of process-driven rules that delay the fast and obvious judgments society needs to quickly purify itself. It’s also dominated by slick attorneys and crusty elitist judges who feel entitled to negotiate the world of torts and laws just because they earned a law degree and have professional experience. Not to mention the fact that the legal system still clings to such antiquated and irrelevant notions of precedent, habeus corpus, and individual liberty. This kind of analog thinking can’t - and thus ought not - survive in the digital age.

Of course, the ideal would be if everything were filmed all the time. From all camera angles. Then we’d really have a grasp on who the bullies, the victimizers, the freaks, the amusing oddities, the sexual deviants, the prodigies, and the heroes in our society really are. And we could allocate funds via Kickstarter on the behalf of the deserving and/or aggrieved. I believe anonymous commenters on YouTube and social media aggregate sites are the best equipped to make these judgments, and only a steady stream of footage can ensure that people behave morally. For these reasons, I can easily see camera phones and YouTube  forging an imminent social utopia.

9/11 memorial reaction

Visiting the apolitical, haunting 9/11 memorial recently was a strong start for me to finally contemplate a tragedy that the media sensationalized and turned into a theme park thrill ride and that the Bush Administration manipulated to justify catastrophic political decisions and the most vile of rhetoric. The memorial is devoid of pomp or grandiosity and enables contemplation, meditation, quietness. For the first time since it happened (I was in eighth grade) I felt that I had a vessel into which I could remember the victims and craft my own metaphors, engaging my own feelings of morality on an intimate level. The memorial returns the event to its simplest and original context and is hence universal and apolitical. The tears I cried at the memorial were out of sadness for the loss of life and the horrific suffering the victims endured, but they were also tears of appreciation that our country had finally found a way of bringing a sense of honor - after so many years of dishonor - to what had happened. 

On Obama and liberal trolls

I question Obama’s toughest liberal critics because, to begin with, all Americans of all ideologies ought to be sighing in relief rather than dismay that we have a competent leader. But Obama, unlike our last decent president, Clinton, has been more than merely a competent steward of the government; he has responsibly and honorably addressed the disasters he inherited - the recession and the two un-winnable Middle East wars - as well as begun to advance a liberal agenda - the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Society. The achievements of his Administration are not procedural nor intuitive; they were forged through political shrewdness, courage, and patience, and will affect people positively for decades.  

Yet there are a certain wing of liberals who view Obama’s presidency as, on the whole, a failure. To these critics, his achievements either did not go far enough or were not achievements at all: he compromised too much on health care by not passing the public option; Osama Bin Laden’s murder was, if not falsified, then barbaric, possibly illegal and disgracefully celebrated; torture remains an issue on which Obama is as bad as Bush; who cares if Obama ended combat operations in Iraq and is poised to do the same in Afghanistan? - he surged troop levels and we remain in Afghanistan; the commitment of U.S. troops in Libya was not authorized by Congress which makes him as bad of a flouter of the constitution as Bush; the stimulus was not big enough and therefore Obama is just a pawn of Wall Street; and the list goes on. To these critics, Obama’s undeniable achievements on gay rights and immigration are calculated and cynical political ploys for votes and campaign cash.

In my mind, criticizing Obama for any one of these policies is fair unto itself, but to view the Obama presidency through a predominantly negative lens is misguided at best, trollish at worst. It’s misguided because it fails to recognize how much he has accomplished in just one term - given the catastrophic state of domestic and foreign affairs that he inherited and the opposition he has faced from the other two branches of government (lest we forget the 5-4 Republican majority on the Supreme Court). It’s trollish because labeling even his undeniable achievements as politically motivated is both obvious and irrelevant; of course he’s a politician - that he is able to achieve anything through the political process doesn’t degrade him; it elevates the process and proves it can indeed work sometimes.

Sarah Palin: a political horror story

If you want to spend an hour realizing, with mounting horror, how close America came to having a reckless, deeply pathological figure a heartbeat from the presidency, listen to this interview with Sarah Palin biographer, Joe McGinniss on Australian radio. Detailing her rise to power as mayor of Wasilla, AK, Joe McGinnis reveals Palin’s pattern of vicious retribution against any and all perceived opponents, pathologic propensity for lying, religious and moral extremism, and boundless ignorance. 

Gig Reviews Wrap-Up

A wrap-up of some shows I’ve gone to in May so far. 

Wedneday, 5/9 at Webster Hall: AM to AM 

AM to AM have all sorts of shiny gizmos in their high-tech arsenal — none more eye-catching than frontman, Will Tendy’s guitar-as-MIDI-pad. But this quintet really stands out in their muscular, tactile musicianship and the humility, even vulnerability with which they sweatily rock out, sans ego or preening. They play the shit out of their instruments, processed or raw. And their most gleaming centerpiece remains their capacity for the mammoth sing-along chorus hook, as heard on standouts songs - ‘Spot of Light” and the aptly named “Pop as Science.” The unabashed hugeness and glamour of early to mid 90’s era alt-rock (aka: Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana) is brought into the twenty-first century. 

5/11 at 92YTribeca: Annie and the Beekeepers, Kelly and the Hermanos, Lexi Roth 

Annie Lynch and her band of Beekeepers performed a raw, no-frills set - all captivating songwriting and four-part vocal arrangement laid admirably, mesmerizingly bare. As far as pop songwriting goes, it doesn’t get much better than “My Bonneville,” a sexy, playful, and funny 60’s-style romp about “the things we did” in the titular, and ironically grandmotherly, car.

Kelly and the Hermanos play nostalgic, romantic country music in the vein of legends Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline; in other words, the country music of yore (before it disintegrated into the morass of auto-tune, coquettish tween sex-bombs, jingoistic machismo, and plaintive old-men-with-feathered bleached hair that presently dominate mainstream country radio). Kelly and the Hermanos are a band where every instrument knows its role; from pedal steel to bass to guitar to drums, which manifests itself in arresting dynamics - the quietest, most subtle moments played with the same intensity and singularity of purpose as the loudest and most raucous. The music draws upon the iconography of both Western music and movies - and frontwoman Kelly Bartley recalls a Howard Hawksian heroine. They are releasing their record tonight at Rockwood II.  

Lexi Roth opened with a solo set of evocative, memorable vocal melodies, impressively ambient guitar finger-picking, and an engaging stage presence that was unexpectedly funny and wholly disarming. 

5/24 at Pianos: Vassals

Vassals outclasses the majority of the buzzy Brooklyn indie rock pack with their tension between thoughtful, Elliott Smith-ish melodies and noisy, balls-out trio arrangements. Shay Spence’s distinctive vocals range from a soft whisper to a seething scream, and the lyrics and wordplay remain front and center, even as the guitars and drums create carefully measured chaos. Their refusal of gimmickry, capacity to sound huge as a trio, and the sense that these songs indeed really mean something makes their sound both timely and timeless. 

cliche subway rant

the new york subway proves the point that being inconsiderate, rude, and insufferable spans all races, classes, religions, ethnicities, and other social distinctions. we really are one people. a people that will steal seats, cut in lines on the stairwell, not move too inches to make room for anyone, use the morning commute as an opportunity to test every possible ringtone in our phone, and have inane loud conversations for seemingly no other purpose than to exercise our vocal cords and herculean capacity for injecting the word “like” into every possible pause…though the absence of headphones makes such observations more harshly felt, listening to music too can be a finely sharpened, double-edged weapon wielded on the subway to abuse both the health of our ears and those around us. For those who occupy that precarious space between malevolence and cluelessness (aka: New Yorkers; aka: humanity), the subway train car becomes a proverbial DJ booth upon which we spring a cacophony of tinny dance beats of various styles into the ears of an exasperated, grumpy, and wholly nonconsensual audience who, increasingly provoked, responds with acts that further bludgeon any hope of karma. Foreign policy experts call such reactions blowback.