Friday, June 29, 2012

Once More, With Loss Of Feeling...

Okay, at the risk of looking for a horse to beat in a glue factory, let's review the facts one last time.

Kill lists, murder by unmanned android, sweeping civilian deaths under a semantic rug, harshest enforcement of the Espionage Act ever, indefinite detention: a handful of "radical" leftists get upset.

Guarantee that citizens needn't go broke or die for want of quality healthcare: half the country loses its goddamn mind.

America: the fuck is you thinking.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Never Say Never

Almost exactly two months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Carl of The Impostume fame in a rank Fukuoka nightclub. He'd been kind enough to come see my band on the last night of our tour - a gig that promised to be, and indeed was, a sweaty madhouse with bodies & beer flying around the room. Not only is Fukuoka our bassist's hometown, but it effortlessly lives up to its reputation as a city of hard-drinking yet unreasonably good-looking shit-kickers.

Stumbling offstage a sweaty & smoke-wreathed mess, I joined Carl at the bar for a lively & lengthy chat that meandered from music to trade deficits and everything in between. Since we'd previously only been acquainted as brothers-in-blogdom, it was inevitable we'd wind up talking about life online and, specifically, how so many amateur bloggers are either turning pro or - more often - unplugging completely. Carl was refreshingly upbeat about this cyber-sea change: he felt that the expanse of online existence was helping crush provincial arrogance and petty indignities. "Once people get off their soapbox and take a breath," he said, "they might see that, actually, reality is far more interesting and varied than they might have thought."


I'm considerably more cynical about what's driving this shift. The thing that upsets me about the ballooning number of abandoned blogs is that so many smart, sharp voices have been steamrolled into silence by the bleating glibness of microblogging, the Book of Face, Pintrest, tumblr, Twitter, et cetera ad nauseum. It's a tl;dr world and a great many writers who refuse to reduce their ideas to bumper-sticker sloganeering have simply thrown in the towel.

Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't good writers to be found in abundance online. There's Mobutu Sese Seko at Gawker, Glenn Greenwals, Paul Krugman, and Adam Curtis, not to mention the whole of Alternet, Counterpunch and - oh yes - Cracked. But every one of those writers is a reliable shake of the left fist, as essential yet dully predictable as the coffee I sip while reading them. The writers unfettered by assignments or editors, writers with rangy & irregular interests who'd frequently delight, sometimes infuriate, and often surprise me - K-Punk, Ads Without Products, Pere Lebrun's Kasper, Owen, and yes of course Carl too - where have they all gone?

But if I'm so interested in keeping the conversation alive, why haven't I posted a damn thing in over two months? Well, because Carl is right. Every time some rant-worthy outrage would arise (Kony 2012, the coup in Mali, Marine Le Pen, Golden Dawn, HBO's Girls) I'd promise myself a moment to type some appropriate invective... and then life would intercede in all its fluid, multifarious glory and I'd just never get around to it. Gigs, band practice, playing with new microphones, learning a foreign language, perfecting my Italian sausage soup recipe. Reality is indeed interesting and varied.

So why does it still bother me that I've been so absent online? It has something to do with Hipster Runoff - a website that has rapidly degenerated from a once-amusing, affectedly disaffected pomo think-tank into the bastard of Vice magazine and TMZ. The one qualitative buzzword that HRO seems to fret the most over the most is "relevant," and that is precisely what I am guilty of as well. Social media's hyperacceleration of the nanosecond news-cycle means that, between the time that an event occurs and that I finish doing the laundry, the window for pithy au courant commentary has already closed and what I have to contribute is no longer relevant.

But relevant to whom exactly? Who am I trying to impress? What am I missing that I can't elaborate, examine, and enjoy with my friends, my bandmates, my peers, my wife?

Obviously, I need to get the fuck over myself. I should consider myself lucky that anyone outside of my tight little cohort would find anything I have to say interesting. I should also stop kidding myself that this - spewing bile into chasmic indifference of cyberspace - is a priority. That doesn't mean I'm withdrawing exclusively to meatspace. I'm sure, on occasion, something will be so irresistibly aggravating or exhilarating that I'll be compelled back here. Hell, as long as I'm here, the blog's here. Or it will be until some of that unendingly-threatened legislative napalm is dropped on the internet.

But really now: I turn 30 today. I should at least start to consider growing the fuck up.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Re-Telling Someone Else's Story

The ability to summon Asperger-ish focus upon a task is mixed blessing: on the one hand, I always manage to complete a project to satisfaction by deadline; on the other hand, everything else gets sidelined. The closer I come to completing a mammoth project, the more I become a kind of music-studio Gollum: a wretched, washed-out creature that exists to the outside world only in rumour.

Then comes the happy day that I achieve my goal and can rush outside, arms outstretched to welcome the world back within me. Of course, this time, it was more a case of rushing outside only to jump back into a cargo van and heave away on a month-long national tour - hopscotching from one great undertaking to the next. Not that this is a problem. I love touring Japan, if only because truckstop service area food actually resembles food. But then the coffee's never strong enough. Trade-offs!

Anyway, enjoying a brief breather between jaunts, I figured it was high time I unveil what's had me waylaid for the past month: my new solo album, a collection of genre pieces & "re-scores" inspired by indelible scenes from various films I love.

Over the winter holidays, as per usual, I spent a couple-dozen hours on planes with nothing better to do than drink cheap whiskey and watch eight movies back-to-back. I actually quite enjoyed most of the movies I watched (with the notable exception Drive) yet found myself thinking, more often than not, that I could've composed a better film score. Perhaps it was the booze talking, but it seemed a wager worth taking.

Of course, unless I was content to sit around & wait for my first commission, I'd have to work with pre-existing material. The initial plan was to re-score a entire film from start to finish, but I couldn't imagine who'd want to sit through a whole movie, stripped of dialogue & sound-effects, simply to hear several variations on a single theme. Instead, I selected a handful of films that whose visual content offered a reasonable amount of stylistic leeway - films that didn't scream out for another blustering Holst knock-off or the moronic thrum of bad techno. From each of these films, I chose a scene or two whose mood & pace would benefit from musical support and set about giving it to 'em.

I continued watching movies for fun in my free time. Recently, though, I'd been revisiting the ol' poliziotteschi, those gloriously amoral Italian cop movies from the 1970s that apparently all star either Franco Nero or Maurizio Merli. So naturally, a couple of weeks into the writing process, I began churning out generic themes to the best & bloodiest of Italian B-movies, attempting my best impressions of maestros Morricone, Piccioni, Ferrio, Micalizzi and - as seen below - Cipriani.

In the end, three of these genre pieces landed on the album; the other twelve tracks, however, were are written specifically to picture. It'd be silly, of course, to compose soundtracks whose visual component would go unseen, so I've made a YouTube playlist of the songs synced with their respective scenes for all to enjoy. So... enjoy!

Friday, February 24, 2012


The following has been rephrased, re-presented, and reiterated in a variety of ways, some more scholarly than others, but Frank still said it best: if you're involved with music in any way other than making it, you are the problem.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Objects Collecting Subjects

Over ye Impostume way, Carl poses a small, concrete question which very quickly balloons into a mammoth, existential one. At the outset, I thought we were basically talking about storage media and instead we may as well be asking ourselves, why listen to music? Or even more broadly, why art?

Those questions are impossible to answer, so Carl does us the service of scaling it down:
...what is the impulse to keep hold of all that non-essential stuff, stuff you are not invested enough in to listen to more than once, yet alone pay for?
Which is still a damned difficult question, if only because I've no idea by what standard we're measuring - how much stuff? Is it non-essential by my own standards, or society's? What about the stuff we have paid for? To understand my trouble in establishing a workable baseline, let's take a look at some of my closest friends and their respective music-consumption habits.
  • One is an amateur noise-maker with a steadfast belief in the shamanic power of music - yet, as a digital Maoist, he listens to music primarily via YouTube. He occasionally buys vinyl records, but he doesn't own a turntable. (The son of an investment banker, he treats records much as speculators treat real estate.)
  • Another is a collector par excellence, who's plowed unfathomable amounts of time & money into every passing storage medium - yes, even MiniDisc - on the off-chance that this format will become the historical default. Consequent to his unyielding compulsion for accumulation, he possesses both an embarrassing assortment of obsolete petroleum-derived media and an unimpeachable record collection.
  • My band's drummer spends his waking life behind either the kit or the wheel. In Japan, every car still comes stocked with yer standard CD player, thus he listens almost exclusively to CDs.
  • Our singer approximates what I imagine is today's average music consumer: functionally computer-literate, he knows a couple of file-sharing sites that he infrequently downloads illicit MP3s from, but he relies by-and-large upon the iTunes store. He came of age during the CD boom, purchased hundreds of the damned things, and is thus uncomfortable with either going digital - divesting himself of physical musical objects - or fully embracing the frail, impermanent, totemic atavism of vinyl.
Of the above, I most closely resemble the collector, but with two heavy caveats: that I could never match his mania, and that I discard or neglect a far greater swath of music. If I may call myself, like him, a collector, I certainly can't call myself an archivist. I don't accumulate for posterity: sure, I love Ghostface, but I'm not going to buy The Pretty Toney Album just to complete the discography.

I'm actually quite vicious in my musical discrimination, to the point that I'm one of those so-called "music nerds" who is somehow ignorant of even the most popular music on the planet. (Lady Gaga? Still haven't heard a full song start-to-finish.) By now, I know my own tastes well enough to know when something isn't even worth investigating; or if an artist, though unimpressive at first, could become a slow-blooming favourite. Of course, over the past forty years, artists have become ever more self-aware and adept at deploying their particular potpourri of signifiers to establish themselves as more brand than band. The sole benefit of music's infection by the marketing brain parasite is that, simply by paying attention, one becomes well-versed in the signs, symbols, satorial choices, tonsorial maneuvers, promotional stratagems, and subcultural propaganda necessary to decide if something may be worth a listen.

The upshot is that the more I know about music, the less I listen to (a paradox I've addressed before). By the time I download a given album, I've pretty well decided that I'll enjoy it - all that remains is the question of how much. This could point to a key difference between me and Carl: whereas he's fairly certain he "could happily live without 80 percent of what I have downloaded over the years," I'm not so sure I could, because everything on my hard drive arrived there as the result of research & deliberation. There's only so much copper in the ground, there's only so much storage on my computer, and I've only so much time to waste upon whimsy & poor consideration.

But even then, is all my digital music essential? Because I own almost all of it on vinyl too. Granted, the acrimony of the collector's market has kept certain albums off my shelf (I'll be damned if I can afford a copy of Rid of Me) but such exceptions are relatively few. Just about every album that's ever "meant" anything to me, I have in physical format - which helps assure that these albums will continue to mean something to me.

Though this carries the stink of the Sunk Cost Fallacy, of course I don't mean my copy of Man Overboard is merely worth the hours spent crate-digging before plucking it out of a bargain bin, plus the ¥500 I paid for it. Records imbue the music they contain with import precisely because of the format's Achilles' heel: its physical fragility. Taking proper care of vinyl can be boring and expensive; handling & playing them so as not to do damage is precarious and prudish. So if I go to the trouble of putting a record on, I damn well want to listen to it, and the act of listening itself becomes center of my attention. The palaver of playing a record also insures that it's unlikely I'll overplay any given album and prostitute whatever mystique it once held.

Music is literally nothing if we don't afford it our time and attention; the ritual around playing a record is a gesture of respect to the music - the sacrifice of our time and attention.

The difficulty is that collecting always takes place in the shadow of the Big Other. At worst, this leads to the establishment-of-self-via-consumption that Carl finds troubling:
...the weight of all that accumulated culture reassures us that we are ourselves substantial, a kind of prosthesis, we must be smart, we must be committed, we must be artistic, or intellectual because the sheer range and diversity of our hard drive, as a kind of concretization of our restless seeking and searching memorializes us to ourselves.
Now, as I explained above, I've no idea how far out of step I am with the general music listening populace, but as a collector I too consider how my collection presents itself - its depth, its diversity, its material condition. But I'm not counting on my collection to buttress my reputation or enhance my cachet: I'm counting on the fact that these records are the only possible means of sharing my own aesthetic epiphanies with another person. I'm well aware of how counterproductive a distraction analog fetishism can be, but at least the lingering spectre of a record's totemic power is far more commanding of attention than an MP3 e-mail attachment or YouTube link.

More importantly, we human are subjects only to ourselves and mere objects to everyone else - noisy, unpredictable, combatative, delightful objects, but objects nonetheless. Some of us are gifted enough to translate our feelings somewhat effectively to other people by some form of vibration: physical, aural, oral, or corporeal. But most of us aren't. Most of us are bloody useless at making ourselves understood. The best hope we have is to find meaning inscribed upon some other, nonhuman object that we can pass to another human, who luckily will read the inscription with the same surprise and passion that we did.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Déja-Vu Times Two, Part Deux

Could this little ditty, famously used as a daytime soap theme song...

...have been copied from this Italian thriller score?

It's possible: the first tune, "Cotton's Dream", was included in the score for Bless the Beasts and Children, released in August 1971... four months after the release of Una Farfalla Con Le Ali Insanguinate (a.k.a. The Bloodstained Butterfly). Of course, both of these songs inherited their harmonic spine from "(They Long to Be) Close to You". Originally released as a stiffly-performed single in 1963, Bacharach & David's famous ballad is most commonly remembered by the Carpenters' 1970 iteration, with the piano skipping daintily between the suspended-second & major-seventh chords - a motif extremely similar to that employed by the two tunes above.

But really, the sus2-maj7/min7 vamp is just an easy-listening trope in the same way every that "underground" hip-hop album starts with a B-movie or cartoon sample, you can't write a druggy rock song without the I-IV chord progression ("IV", get it?! So clever, those junkies!), and if it's got a Jew's harp it's a Morricone score.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Dead Hear No Eulogies

So Whitney Houston dies and suddenly everyone gives a shit about the foghorn-voiced cokehead who gifted us with the only vocal performance more oppressive than Celine Dion's Titanic theme. How sadly predictable; how pathetically mawkish. Why does everyone rush to recall their Edenic first impression of a once-formidable talent once that person has crashed, burned, and kicked the bucket? Is it the public's way of absolving their own guilt for having used the fallen celebrity as a feeble punchline for the final decade-plus of their life? Despite the fact that some of us had problems - both aesthetic and political - with the woman from the very start?

Please. I really like some of Michael Jackson's records and I still didn't give a shit when he died, for reasons I'll let Kat Williams elaborate upon. Oh, and dig the bonus swipe at the cadaver du jour.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Misplaced Indignation Again?

Am I obliged to comment on M.I.A.'s "finger malfunction" because my most popular post ever - by a factor of over four times its closest competitor - is my 2010 takedown of her pop-provocateur persona? Because, like, I've got shit to do besides rehash two-year-old quarrels of stage-managed mischief.

But fine, let's get into it, if only because it'll be easy. Turning first to the finger itself: really? Really! Have we backslid into such petty puritanism that flipping the bird is cause for a proper conniption fit, as opposed to the single most overused & hackneyed gesture of juvenile waggery that packs all the symbolic punch of overcooked rice noodles? She doesn't even do it well! Look at her hunched shoulders, look at how tightly drawn in her arms are: a meek & defensive posture, like a toddler who's committed to misbehave deliberately just to piss off the parents. Pathetic. This is how you give someone the finger:

Boom! Ain't no equivocatin' when you're telling someone to fuck off.

Now, with regard to M.I.A. as riotous pop shit-kicker, a lame, recycled flip of the middle finger is merely the latest in her continued reliance upon lame, recycled gestures. The chorus of her latest single is a monotone bleat of "Live fast, die young" and it doesn't get more threadbare & depleted than that hoary countercultural trope. Hopefully, M.I.A. has accepted (as most of us have) that she's utterly inept at articulating a political position so we needn't reexamine precisely why her identity-derived political aesthetic is bullshit. Of course, she still covets the currency of being branded a "political artist," but she can shoot every one of her music videos within safe distance of a "conflict region" from now on, and everyone will understand it's empty & opportunistic provocation, like Madonna fornicating with Black Jesus and burning crosses.

Which returns us to the stock defense of M.I.A.: the provocation itself was the point. As I explained before, I'd have no problem with such an excuse - heck, I might even become a fan - if M.I.A. was able to transgress the form or process of "being a pop star," but she isn't. (In fact, no one has been - not even Lady Gaga, I'd argue - since Kurt Cobain.) Because M.I.A.'s transgressions are limited to the realm of content, she is - at the risk of repeating myself - doomed to one of several failures:
  1. The provocation fails to provoke. Congrats, you're boring.
  2. The provocation succeeds, at the expense of banalising the provocative.
  3. The provocation succeeds to the point of returning the threat to the provocateur, who stands by the ever-present escape hatch of "not meaning it."
And if anything is symptomatic of art's sickly & moribund state in the post-modern era, it's an absence of meaning.

Through the Looking Glass

It's amazing how sexy & dynamic the clinical tedium of recording looks when rendered in gorgeous, smoky cyanotype.

It's also amazing how totally unaware I was that my band look like a bunch of fidgety, unshaven chain-smokers. Or that I look uncannily like Dez Cadena circa 1983.

Anyway, for those of you who happen to be in Japan this coming March & April, we'll be touring behind the split single featured above. Come check out one of the shows. You shan't be disappointed.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Propping Up a Papier-Maché Diety

Where oh where to start? We've got the reignition of unrest in Egypt; fresh massacres in Syria ahead of a potential UN Security Council resolution; Russia fucking with said resolution whilst insisting others stop fucking with Russia (an imperative with which not even Russians are content to comply)... so much going so terribly wrong (as though that's news), what shall we examine & precisely curse this day?

Rising tensions with Iran! The sabre-rattling grew to a cacophonous din this past Thursday when a Washington Post piece revealed concerns within the Pentagon that Israel "will strike Iran in April, May or June" - to which Israeli officials replied by complaining about how itchy their trigger finger is getting.

This comes mere weeks after the absurd geopolitical blind item, "Which U.S.-baked Middle-Eastern spy agency is murdering Iranian nuclear scientists?" Mossad has shrugged off these accusations with the deflection that, while it may or may not have blown up a scientist or two, Iranian agents are definitely attacking Israeli covert operatives in retaliation.

Of course, clever commentators will note that Iran's nuclear program is the MacGuffin within this tangled yarn: the real engine of all this amplifying hostility is oil. After all, America & Israel can abide other potentially hostile nations possessing nuclear technology (Pakistan, China, France) but neither America, Israel, the EU, nor any other Occidental nation can allow any one nation a stranglehold upon the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the global oil supply is exported.

And yet that's still just the skin of the issue, not the bone & meat. The biggest war drum being beaten is the survival & primacy of the Petrodollar. For over four years already, Iran's had the gall to establish its own oil bourse and sell crude in currencies other than the dollar. Japan, the world's No. 3 consumer of crude, signed up immediately (a decision which seems very prescient given the dizzy heights to which the Yen has recently risen). Less than a month ago, Russia (the world's fourth-greatest consumer of oil) and Iran announced that they'd ditched the dollar to conduct bilateral trade in their respective national currencies.

But the real game-changer came days later when Indian officials opened talks with Tehran to purchase Iranian oil with gold. Many observers think this move ostensibly gives permission for China - second only to America in oil-consumption - to follow suit. That would mean four of the six oil-hungriest countries on earth had abandoned the dollar as fiat currency. This could become the first domino to tip in the eventual collapse of the American economy. But the choice of gold as the new default currency is what has excited the fertile, frayed imaginations of conspiracy-spinners & online paranoids:
The sale of Iranian oil for gold is a mortal blow to any plans by the globalists to replace the fiat dollar with some other “new and improved” fiat currency. If India and China are allowed to start paying their debts with gold, the next “world reserve currency” could only be gold. No more fiat currencies. No more “spinning money (fiat currency) out of thin air”. No more big governments. No more central bankers.

...I doubt that the globalists will allow the gold-for-oil deal to go through. They won’t attack China or India, but the deal would be easily terminated if Iran were invaded, destroyed and stopped from selling its crude oil to anyone for anything.

...With or without pretext, the globalists will invade Iran as a matter of survival.
Of course, visions of a gold-paved future unshackled from the N.W.O. are as much cotton-candy fantasy as the dollar's worth. The only value that may be assigned to gold that cannot be assigned to any paper currency is physical scarcity, but gold's exchange-value is no less phantasmic.

What is real, what will not evaporate into smoke overnight, and what will put up a motherfucker of a fight is the American empire. Remember, this is a country whose citizens have been known to shoot gas station attendants rather than pay after pumping when prices peak above $4 per gallon. Now imagine what this country would do to avoid the pant-soiling mayhem that would result in hyperinflation & a flood of useless T-bill trash, were certain other nations to buy oil with alternative currencies.

For a succinct (if somewhat maddened) history of the Petrodollar & its geopolitical victims, please read Michael T. Winter's essay over at RT - my personal favourite site for anti-Neoliberal muckraking, though fuck if you'll find a word about any domestic Russian unrest.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Pope, Funny Hat, Bear, Woods, Etc.

Sweet merciful crap, a man whose net worth is between $190-250 million said he doesn't care about poor people? And people are shocked & appalled? My god, we should be applauding the man for his honesty! About fucking time someone came out and said it.
The law, the public authority: is it not established to protect weakness against injustice and oppression? It is thus an offense to all social principles to place it entirely in the hands of the rich.

But the rich, the powerful, have reasoned differently. Through a strange abuse of words, they have restricted the general idea of property to certain objects only; they have called only themselves property owners; they have claimed that only property owners were worthy of the name of citizen; they have named their own particular interest the general interest, and to ensure the success of that claim, they have seized all social power. And we! oh human weakness! we who aspire to bring them back to the principles of equality and justice, it is still on the basis of these absurd and cruel prejudices that we are seeking, without being aware of it, to raise our constitution!

...what is the source of that extreme inequality of fortunes that concentrates all the wealth in a small number of hands? Does it now lie in bad laws, bad governments, and finally all the faults of corrupt societies? ...I envy not at all the advantageous share you have received, since this inequality is a necessary or incurable evil: but at least, do not take from me the imprescriptable property of which no human law can strip me. Indeed, allow me to be proud sometimes of an honourable poverty, and do not seek to humiliate me with the vainglorious pretension that the quality of sovereign is reserved for you, while I am left with only that of subject.
Maximilien Robespierre, On the Silver Mark (1791)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Change The Channel

A dozen time-zones away from Washington, DC, I happened to wake up in time to catch both the State of the Union and the Republican response this morning over breakfast. Yeah, over breakfast, what kind of a ludicrous glutton for punishment am I. At least it was all pathetically predictable, with Mitch Daniels painting modern America as some litter-and-body-strewn hellscape that the Republicans will somehow miraculously cure through the alchemy of deregulation & cracking down on gayness, while Obama laid out his platform for re-election thusly:
  1. I killed Bin Laden, yo!
  2. Support the troops!
  3. Jobs 'n' schools 'n' shit!
  4. Iran, we will fuck you up.

By the end of it, I felt mildly drunk as I was physiologically incapable of determining what possessed me more, anger or boredom. Boredom won out in the end, as I realized I could've skipped both Obama and Daniels' speeches and simply watched the keystone speech from Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion on loop for two hours. In fact, I recommend you doing precisely that instead of watching the SOTU every year from now until the bloody erosion of the American empire is complete.

Of course, the fundamental difference between the SOTU and Investigation is that Gian Maria Volonté's police inspector, loathsome fascist that he is, has more integrity than any American politician in office today.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Threshold of the Lift Hill

The presumptive, lumpen fantasm of the internet - typically referred to as "we" - did it, folks: SOPA and PIPA are D.O.A. Following the massive online blackout that terrorized digital natives and the late majority alike, the legislative tide has swung overwhelmingly against the inoperable & draconian bills. Let the celebratory fist-pumping & occasionally smug self-congratulation begin!

But hang on a moment. For such a media-savvy throng, the triumphal netizens appear to be totally ignorant of the classic horror movie narrative dynamic. Want to know what happens next? The moment that the protagonist relaxes, having apparently dispatched the villain, said incarnation of evil is hideously resurrected, more powerful than ever before, and attacks anew!

Thus it was that the FBI shut down Megaupload yesterday and has arrested four of seven people (including the site's founder) indicted for copyright infringement and conspiracy. Almost immediately, Anonymous went beserk with retaliatory shut-downs of just about any website operated by an acronym: the DOJ, the FBI, the MPAA, RIAA, UMG, EMI, WMG, and both the American & French copyright authorities. It appears to have been Anonymous' largest online attack ever.

But believe it or not, Anonymous are late to the party. The Megaupload raid is actually the second major development regarding a copyright-related international incursion by an American agency within the past week. Last Friday, a British court decided that British undergrad Richard O'Dwyer may be extradited to the U.S. where he faces a potential 10-year prison sentence:
US customs agents are seeking his prosecution over a website O'Dwyer set up when he was 19 called TVShack, and ran until his arrest last year. This provided links to other sites hosting pirated versions of TV shows and film. It was so popular that the student earned £15,000 per month in advertising revenue, US prosecutors claim.

O'Dwyer's lawyers said the site was little different from a search engine like Google and was thus most likely not illegal under UK law.

However, Purdy noted that visitors to the site had to register, and could post their own links. He ruled that the case met the test of so-called dual liability, also dismissing arguments that extradition would be a breach of O'Dwyer's human rights.
The real story, however, comes at the tail end of the article:
Separately, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has faced criticism for perceived over-reach, targeting websites which, like TVShack – which had servers in the Netherlands – have no direct link to America.

In July the agency's assistant deputy director told the Guardian that ICE would now actively pursue websites similar to TVShack even if their only connection to the US was a website address ending in .com or .net. Such suffixes are routed through Verisign, an internet infrastructure company based in Virginia, which the agency believes is sufficient to seek a US prosecution.
Read that last paragraph again: any website registered as either .com or .net is subject to the full extent of American copyright law because those suffixes are routed through Virginia. A website's administrators, staff, servers, even users & advertisers can all be outside of America and it doesn't matter because the suffix alone is sufficient ground for prosecution. Hell, compared to the O'Dwyer case, shutting down Megaupload must have been a slam-dunk since Megaupload actually maintains servers on American soil.

By the above legal logic, the government has the authority to shutter any file host, any private web host, any website to which material can be uploaded of which users claim ownership - in other words, everything from YouTube to Flickr, from Facebook to 4chan, from Wordpress to BoingBoing to Blogger to Twitter. This is strictly according to current law regarding copyright & intellectual property. It doesn't matter that neither SOPA nor PIPA will pass, because clearly the government doesn't need them.

Also noteworthy is that, on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Congress had the authority to remove works from the public domain. The real shocker of the 6-2 decision is that the dissenting justices, who felt the ruling was against the public interest as it discouraged the spread of knowledge, were Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito. Yeah, Alito - appointed by Bush, condemned by the ACLU, guardian of Guantanamo and concurrent of Citizens United. Since when does Alito make decisions that would prohibit further bloating of corporate power & profit?

Anyway, the Golan V. Holder ruling allows U.S. policy to comport with the Berne Convention, a European copyright treaty first introduced way back in 1886. It can hardly be argued that the Berne Convention has been legal strangulation depriving the French, Germans, Italians, or Swedes of easy access to each other's cultural wealth. This has much to do with how liberal the Convention's language is, especially within Article 2.3:
Translations, adaptations, arrangements of music and other alterations of a literary or artistic work shall be protected as original works without prejudice to the copyright in the original work.
However, the main factor at work is the massive discrepancy between how Europe and America value the arts. Despite how fundamental art is to cultural identity, America has evermore lost sight of art's symbolic value and assigns it exchange value accordingly only to its sign value. This means that all art is subject to the whims of the market: the only art that deserves to survive is that which excites the market. This cultural Darwinism blends with a libertarian phobia of propaganda ("You know who else favoured public funding for the arts?") to ensure that the government does little, if anything, to support the arts.

This is why public-domain material is indispensable to the livelihood of orchestras, performers, publishers, and repertoire cinemas in America. Over half of the average nonprofit arts organization's income is contributed - 13% publicly and a whopping 43% privately. Art, therefore, is less a common good than a private investment, and its investors obviously want a handsome return. This means artists have to make a hit to reward their investors' faith; but creating something new is dangerous & uncharted territory, and few artists have the cash to license performances of established favourites. Therefore, it's back to scavenging the public domain for tried-and-true yet free-to-use materials. The public domain is what gives permission for orchestras to perform Stravinsky's Petruschka, for arthouse cinemas to screen Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and for publishers to print new editions of Dracula, Ulysses, or Pride and Prejudice.

So how can European artists continue to perform, screen, and publish if all the material is still protected under the Berne Convention? Public funding. European governments understand the immaterial worth of art in daily life, and so there are subsidies and grants to ensure the public's easy access & steady engagement with their and others' culture. Were similar funding available in America, then orchestras could afford to license Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf if its copyright were renewed. But as it stands, the social dimension of art is a communist conspiracy and art is only worth something if it's for sale.

Finally, on a more prosaic note, now that Megaupload's been deep-six'd, all the various MP3 mixes I've uploaded over that past few years have been likewise erased. Would anyone like them back up? Are there any special requests for a particular mix that's missing? Does anyone give a toss?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Paper Napkin Chicken Scratch

Errant observations and imprecise opinions hastily scribbled over the course of three weeks bouncing between several countries...

It takes most directors and screenwriters three-ish films to arrive at either their apogee or the plateau along which they'll comfortably cruise for the rest of their careers. Taxi Driver was Scorsese's fourth film and Paul Schrader's second script. Blue Velvet was David Lynch's fourth effort as writer/director. By the release of The Royal Tenenbaums, you knew a Wes Anderson film would be wealthy eccentrics shot in diorama-style mise-en-scène over an old Kinks song. It didn't even take until Eternal Sunshine to realize that all of Charlie Kaufman's films are basically Annie Hall if Woody Allen had grown up reading French post-structuralists instead of German psychoanalysts.

J.J. Abrams' films follow a reliable formula: one part Spielberg, one part lens flare, and one part daddy issues. (Some would argue, therefore, the proper formulation is two parts Spielberg to one part lens flare.)

Drive is a terrible goddamned movie - the kind of faux-arthouse poppycock that portends to work that style-into-substance alchemy when it's merely a spitwad of smug artifice transubstantiating up its own ass. The pacing would put Jim Jarmusch to sleep, there's as much teal-and-orange colour correction as a Michael Bay movie, and the characters are so stock they're listed on the NASDAQ. (It takes all of two lines before Albert Brooks' jowly Italian mobster says "Wuzzamattawichoo?") Man of the Moment Ryan Gosling spends about 15 seconds of the film acting, and the other hour-forty-minutes-and-twenty-five-seconds playing a mannequin with a fake Brooklyn accent whose "principled" refusal to carry a gun is kind of undercut by the drownings, stabbings, and beatings he delivers unflinchingly throughout the film.

My wife and I are utterly baffled by Ryan Gosling's apparently universal appeal. His much-heralded sexiness eludes us ("He just looks like he's from rural Ontario!" says my wife) and we've yet to see any acting chops above the standard of, say, a guest appearance in an HBO series. Also, his phony Noo Yawk accent just pisses me off. I addressed this specific complaint in two separate conversations with two friends, each a young, cosmopolitan French woman. Both immediately cited Gosling's tenure on the Mickey Mouse Club as the possible source of his aberrant accent. Ah, but that was shot in Florida! If Gosling had effortlessly sponged up the local dialect, he'd sound more like Hank Hill or (if he was really overachieving) Tony Montana. But no, he sounds like a truck driver on the BQE, so how can his accent be anything but fake? To this, both of my friends - separated by three days and 380 miles, totally unaware of each other's reaction - quietly shrugged and said, "Well, he might just be quite stupid."

Do they think Gosling is an idiot because he's a blond pretty-boy Disney alum? Because he's an actor? Or, indeed, because he sounds like a grease-monkey from Gowanus? Whatever the reason, let it be known: sophisticated, worldly French women think Ryan Gosling is a dumb-ass!

Overinflated New Yorker also happens to be Jon Stewart's go-to accent for impersonating morons, con artists, and garden-variety assholes. A canny choice on his part: tough & streetwise though it may be, the New York accent doesn't particularly appeal to many people outside of New York. Still, it isn't as ugly as the native Baltimorean accent, which sounds like a hillbilly crack-baby. Come to think of it, almost every accent is saddled with negative stereotypes. Received Pronunciation is the accent of the learned, the elite, but also the cosmically evil. In the UK, Brummies are idiots and Scousers are thieves. In the States, southerners are gregarious racists, Bostonians are either moneyed pricks or thuggish drunks, and mid-westerners (and by extension Canadians) are benevolent folks so simple they border on Autistic.

As much as I've love to tour its splendid whiskey distilleries, I don't think I'll ever get back to Scotland. My wife says the accent - despite being intermittently incomprehensible - poses a very real threat to our marriage.

Lots of people have a pet accent, one they find ineffably sexy & sensual. Not me: I might find a woman of another mother tongue alluring, but that has more to do with the woman than how she blends her vowels. At least that's what I thought until I saw Marion Cotillard in Les Petits Mouchoirs, swearing a blue streak like she was Linda Blair in waterwings. I can't begin to explain why, but woo lawd was that hot. Of course, I find French women generally fascinating: their faces are like fountain-pen caricatures and their hair is like choreography. The Golden Ratio - thought to be integral to our perception of beauty - seems to elude French features more often than not, which has the unfortunate effect of making many French men look like big-nosed, unshaven pimps. But it also makes the women so much more interesting to look at than their geometrically-regular, Teutonic neighbours.

Of course, it's inaccurate & unfair to suggest that Germans meet some mathematical ideal of physical perfection; that's only half of 'em. The other half look like the mustard algae staining the bottom of the gene pool.

There was a billboard in the Munich train station for a large commercial bank - I think it was Sparkasse - that posed the question, "Which bank is doing what's right for Germany?" in a friendly, white, sans-serif font. Next to the text was the image of a platinum-blonde, blue-eyed young girl, hands planted firmly on hips, eyes fixed sportively on the middle distance. Now then... I understand that as EU leaders (especially German chancellor Angela Merkel) attempt to balance the wildly discrepant economic health of its constituent countries, mutual mistrust and resurgent nationalism is rampant across the continent. But I wouldn't have guessed that a commercial bank in King-of-the-Hill Deutschland would appeal so baldly to some latent Aryan arrogance.

However, if you're intent on discussing Nazi architecture, then only do it after a minimum two mugs of mulled wine so your vocal chords are warmed up and your inhibitions have been properly shellacked. After all, buildings so bellicose & humourless that they look like clenched fists deserve to be discussed only in equally belligerent terms.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Singularity, European Stereotypes Edition

I believe I've found the point at which total self-consciousness and zero self-awareness fold back upon each other Moebius-like. At least as far as the French and Germans are concerned.

A brief translation of that last bit:
Reporter: When are the regional elections?

Kindly old lady: I've nothing to say to that. I'm an anarchist and I want to fucking destroy all of capitalist society.
I swear, that is what she actually says. As for translating this next item...

None required. Or perhaps none possible.