Sunday, May 21, 2006


Techno hybrids

Five albums, each the bomb:

Techno Hip-hop: Prefuse 73’s Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives
Techno Country: Stop the Panic, by
Luke Vibert and B.J. Cole
Techno Soul: Jamie Lidell’s Multiply
Techno Jazz: Squarepusher’s Music is Rotted One Note
Techno Metal: King Crimson’s The Power to Believe

As if that’s not cool enough, the last two albums on that list are performed live! (Okay, Squarepusher’s only one guy, so he had to multitrack -- but each of those tracks was live.)


This ought to be a smackdown

It won't, but it ought to be.

In an open letter to the President and Congress, Alex Tabarrok, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, describes the “consensus opinion of economists” regarding the question of immigration's effect on the US economy.

The entire contingent of economists at GMU are usually labeled conservative, but this letter comes out strongly opposed to the current rash of Republican xenophobic bill-passing. The apparent mismatch arises because Republicans are pandering to workers who mistakenly believe that their jobs are being stolen.

I believe that hardly anybody will listen to Dr. Tabarrok, because, as with so much of politics, the immigration debate is not a rational debate.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Innumeracy and self-deception

I have had the privilege of tutoring a number of people over the last year who claim to understand the concepts of their economics classes, but not the math. I can sometimes, with difficulty, formulate such a distinction to myself, so I do not reject the claim on its face. But so far, everyone to make it has been wrong – they’ve turned out not to understand the underlying concepts.

Their lies generate my income, and do not bother me. I’m just writing to marvel at the human capacity to deceive itself, which so regularly boggles me.


Three brief things

My mother writes: “Just heard on the news that the Catholic Church is objecting to The Da Vinci Code because it ‘mixes fact with fiction.’ Like the Bible doesn't!”

Opening a CD. There are typically two membranes of disposable plastic separating the purchaser from his music. One is a wrap of cellophane. The other is a slender sticker wrapped along the top of the case. I just found the quick way to remove the second obstacle (peeling which can take quite a long time otherwise). Open the case before it’s off! It rips right in the middle, and then peels easily. (You have to brace the hard plastic parts in such a way that they don’t fracture, but it’s not hard.)

“Voter cynicism.” This is an abuse of language. It foists the opinion (manifestly common among reporters) that voting is somehow worth most people’s time. The foist is probably unintentional, but a foist nonetheless.


Artists apologizing

The first “group” (one dude) I saw at the Knitting Factory this Sunday had a habit of making statements to the crowd such as, “There’s more … sorry.” He wasn’t very good, so it’s hard for me to separate causes, but I feel like some of our unenthusiasm resulted from those apologies.

Audiences give explicit respect to artists, by allowing them to dominate our attention for a while. We do it because apparently we’ve got nothing better to do, but that doesn’t mean we don’t value our time. When an artist apologizes, he implies that he doesn’t feel like whatever he’s doing is valid. The artist knows the art far better than any of us; if he feels that way, who are we to disagree?

Audiences are suggestible. We don’t really know what we want, and we hope to be shown things that we didn’t realize we would enjoy. Musicians who don’t recognize and exploit that feature basically suck.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Finding meaning in the public sphere, despite one’s intuition

I’m a fourth of the way through Madness and Modernism, by Louis Sass. Sass’s thesis is that schizophrenia can be seen as a somewhat logical extension of 20th century social and artistic trends.

On p. 100, he quotes French philosopher Nathalie Sarraute (1900-1999), who I had never heard of, in the following: “Sarraute … is a harsh critic of conformity to the ‘impurities’ of social convention and tradition. She associates such conformism with a focus, in novel writing, on ‘literary types’ and on ‘tiresome descriptions’ of public events, which she dismisses as ‘but large empty carcasses’ when set beside the ‘wealth and complexity’ of the inner life.”

This attitude strikes me as intuitively appealing and highly undesirable. Value is among the trickiest of mental phenomena. A few of our values (e.g. food, company) are inborn, but most of them have to be learned, if not deduced. Having evolved in tribal situations, our brains are in particular unlikely to correctly valuate, based only on immediate stimuli and impressions, events from the unbelieveably huge “public sphere” of modern Earth. (I mean, when you were a kid, did you enjoy watching the evening news?)

I agree that public events can fell pretty lame. And sure, some of the blame can usually be placed on an event’s planners. But just as much responsibility lies with the audience. We can’t rely on any neurologically pre-coded value to fire in the course of such events. The challenge we face is to actively find and experience meaning in the public sphere, however unnatural it may be.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Inverting division

Recently I was listening to someone talk about “divisive factors”– race, class, religion, that sort of thing – and the contrarian in me wondered if “divisive” might be a mischaracterization. The question of whether diversity helps or hurts a nation’s political environment is an empirical one, and I can think of examples that point in either direction.

Perhaps people will find things to hate each other about no matter how similar they are. Perhaps broad categories like race or religion actually serve to organize and mollify what would otherwise be a more chaotic and frightening melee.

Just a thought.

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