Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!


Well worth listening to the Candy Corn Song, my friends. Thanks to my sis for sending this on. Click on the image at left, and get the comic relief you deserve today.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

What part of "Eco-Apocalypse" Don't You Understand?

It's been several months since I reviewed Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. Subsequently, I discussed the surrounding media counter-attacks on Gore and the science he uses in the film. PR firms were using YouTube to make fake indie/novice movies parodying Gore. CNN allowed Gore to be compared to Hitler, and meanwhile the my science-against-yours types were flooding the internet, hyperlinking to one another's blogs, leaving little flaming sacks of electronic poop in the comments sections of blogs, and gumming up mailing-lists with their "facts" about global warming being a myth, a scare tactic for liberals to seize power and screw up the economy, among other things.

Now the clarion call is getting louder, at a time when I wasn't sure how much louder it could get. Hardly a week goes by without a big story about it on my yahoo headlines. And this week global warming has risen to the top of the media agenda in papers like the NY Times, Le Monde, and The Daily Telegraph.

  • Oct. 31, BBC: " Climate change fight 'can't wait'": In this one Sir Nicholas Stern, a prestigous British economist argues that "taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product," but will soon risk stunting it by 20%.
  • Oct. 20, NYT: Budgets Falling in Race to Fight Global Warming, By ANDREW C. REVKIN
  • Oct. 31, Le MOnde: "Le réchauffement met en péril l'économie mondiale"
  • OpenDemocracy is a very interesting global issues publication, well worth checking out. To register you're supposed to donate whatever you can to it, and otherwise it's free.
I've decided to post this article from OD. Obviously, this is extremely serious. Those of you with young children I would think should be especially attentive. The person's whole argument is that comfortable elites work against change until they absolutely have to give in, usually by force. Meanwhile elites will structure the economy in ways that will discourage, if not make impossible, the crucial changes that must happen immediately.

Accountability: the other climate change

Simon Zadek

31 - 10 - 2006

An appeal to both self-interest and long-term thinking is essential to tackling the pressing threat of global climate change, says Simon Zadek.

------------------------------------------

The Stern Review's report on the economics of climate change published on 30 October 2006 is an impressive document that calls for action to meet a global challenge on a civilisational scale. It is also unlikely - on present evidence - to have the effect required, for one simple reason.

Today's vested political and economic interests are likely to prevent us from effectively addressing climate change, and so securing a decent future on this planet. It's ghastly, it sticks in the throat, and it's awesome to think it even as I write it. But it's probably true.

This prognosis is suggested by Jared Diamond's best-selling analysis of why societies collapse. Societies are endangered, he argues, when their elites insulate themselves from the negative impact of their own actions in pursuit of power and privilege. His paradigmatic case is of Easter Island, where the overuse of wood products in the production of competing religious totems eventually destroyed its inhabitants' survival prospects.

Jared Diamond argues that this self-destructive spiral might have been halted if those with the power to enforce the cutting down of wood had far earlier suffered the economic and political consequences of this process. As economists would have it, these leaders succeed for too long to "externalise" these costs onto the shoulders, and ultimately the lives of others.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Global Climate Change published its report this Monday. Its author Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, says:

"There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we act now and act internationally. Governments, businesses and individuals all need to work together to respond to the challenge. Strong, deliberate policy choices by governments are essential to motivate change.

But the task is urgent. Delaying action, even by a decade or two, will take us into dangerous territory. We must not let this window of opportunity close."

But surely, you might argue, this could not happen to "us" - people living in the rich, democratic countries of the world, with the knowledge we have, our many institutions for collective action and, most of all, our capacity to hold those with power to account?

Here, however, is exactly where the problem lies: a lack of accountability where it really matters. In the microcosmic areas of social life - fines for taking our children on holiday before the school break, or for allowing our dogs to do what is natural to them in the park - we are overwhelmed by accountability mechanisms. Yet on big, important, collective issues, accountability mechanisms are either non-existent or failing. After all, no rich-nation leader will pay the human and financial costs of the Iraq war, or compensate for the poverty resulting from the failure of the Doha trade round.

Jared Diamond's story shines a sad and disturbing light on our current situation. Our elite do not feel enough pain to allow, let alone lead in making the changes we need.

So what is to be done? Pragmatism and a hard-headed reading of history suggest that "the people" are unlikely to resolve our current crisis. Far from it, we are more likely to degenerate into a toxic blend of hedonism and divided fundamentalisms. Faced with an apparently insoluble problem, the citizens of the world will unite in partying until the curtain comes down.

The terms of debate

Yet there is an alternative - unpalatable but essential. If we cannot make those with power feel the pain, can we help them to profit from taking us along the right path?

This would involve rewarding political leaders who take a stand on climate change, who are willing to tell citizens the tough story, make enemies of those who would deny, and dedicate themselves to creating coalitions of the unwilling. Such political leaders must be empowered, whether by the ballot-box or the amplifying effects of global civil society and the media. And those leaders who choose to pipe an old tune, whoever and wherever they are, along with their advisors and sponsors, must be exposed in their naked splendour for all to see.

And that brings us to business leaders. Business will not solve climate change by what it does not do; compliance will only ever be a marginal part of any serious solution. Business will make a difference by what it does and does best: inventing, making and selling new products and services. (That is why our AccountabilityRating of the world's largest hundred companies measures how smart rather than how moral they are in embedding social and environmental dynamics into their business models and practices).

Simon Zadek is chief executive of AccountAbility. His books include The Civil Corporation: The New Economy of Corporate Citizenship (Earthscan, 2001); he is currently completing his next, The New Competitiveness

AccountAbility's report Responsible Competititveness in Europe: enhancing European competitiveness through responsible business practices will be launched on 23 November 2006

"China's route to business responsibility" (30 November 2005)

Co-opting those who can make, or prevent, change requires that "corporate responsibility" grows up and becomes a driver in shaping a global, responsible competitiveness between nations and regions. We need global markets where money is to be made by doing the right thing, creating value and profit by "internalising externalities" that will otherwise destroy us.

Business cannot, and will not do this on its own. Reshaping markets requires unlikely alliances between business, governments and civil society. We have proven we can do this across such diverse challenges as labour standards, access to life-saving drugs, corruption and animal rights. We can and must do it for climate change, reshaping the terms on which business is done to our collective good.

Who will take the lead?

On Easter Island, no leader emerged from any of the dozen clans to reshape timber markets. It is instructive to consider which countries or regions - today's global "clans" - will provide leadership in driving forward responsible competitiveness tomorrow.

Europe has enormous potential, with its leadership on Kyoto and its history of linking social inclusion and markets. But a region characterized (by Nick Robins) as having a "responsibility surplus and an innovation deficit" has to date failed to turn this "social good" to its competitive advantage.

The United States too is an unlikely candidate, essentially the mirror-image of Europe's strengths and weaknesses, over-innovating without focus on the things that count. Directing its business community towards long-term issues is, with some notable exceptions, a contradiction in terms. It would require a seismic shift in the time-horizons and interests of the American electorate and its investment community, unlikely although not impossible on both counts.

Perhaps then we need to bet on China for leadership. We might point today to its dirty economy in more senses than one. But China's culture and practice of decision-making is like no other, rooted in a history of long-termism. Could it be that tackling climate change will be China's equivalent of the moai in the era of their creation: a powerful symbol of emerging leadership?

This article is published by Simon Zadek, and openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

U.S. Elections 2006: The Politics of Facts and Style

For context's sake, this column you're reading is in conversation with one written by Dave Nalle, "Will the Big Lie Win in 2006?" My comments there outgrew the comments box.

Dave is the politics editor at Blogcritics, which I remind readers gets over 50,000 hits per day. I don't know how many hits the politics section gets in comparison to other ones, but his posts often have hundreds of comments. Since a considerable number of people are reading his ideas, I think it's worth asking questions about them, in the spirit of providing publics with multiple views and arguments in the most civil way possible (to avoid the blustering rah-rah cheerleading of those who simply want to see their view of the good triumph at any cost, to themselves and the publics who hear and believe them).

Basically, I want to raise questions about what it means to say the U.S. economy is in good shape and to suggest Democrats and anyone else are distorting reality to claim otherwise ( cynically for political gain). My second set of questions come from responses Dave made in the subsequent conversation in the comments section.

So, first, the column to which I'm responding invokes the very diabolical tactic/concept of the Big Lie imagined by Hitler and Goebbels. Dave offers this eternally spine-chilling selection from Hitler: “The primitive simplicity of their minds render them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies, but would be ashamed to tell big ones... the victor will never be asked if he told the truth... success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong."

His critics and mine will surely evaluate us with Hitler’s statement in mind. People always cite Hitler for emotional support of their own views while the other sides' will be sent to the insane Nazi bin faster than you can repeat "Big Lie" ten times. Thus, out of respect for our audience, we can not simply vilify our opponents through metaphors and then keep repeating what we just believe. We have the responsibility to engage respectfully those with whom we disagree. Otherwise, there is no point in this except to feed our own narcissism or to hornswoggle the reader.

The first point about which I had questions is the oft-heard common wisdom that people vote with their pocket books ("it's the economy stupid"). Coupled with that claim is the bigger one that the economy is in fact doing very well under Bush Jr., and thus the Democrats and any other critics of Republicans and the Bush Administration are distorting the actual economic reality. That alleged distortion Dave refers to as "The Big Lie."

First, Americans do not always vote with their pocketbooks, do they (despite people saying so)? Check out this Pew study of the last election in which the report reads:
"Among those offered the seven-item list, a plurality of 27% selected moral values, followed by 22% who chose Iraq and 21% who selected the economy and jobs. Terrorism was chosen by 14%; education and health care were chosen by 4% each and taxes by 3% (see chart on pg. 2).

The responses were significantly different among those who were not offered a fixed list of choices. The war in Iraq was mentioned as the single most important issue by a similar number (25%), but the economy and jobs were mentioned by only 12%; and only 9% mentioned terrorism. Notably, just 9% used the terms "moral values," "morals," or "values." Specific social issues ­ including abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research ­ were volunteered by 3%, while another 2% cited the candidates' morals."

Along these lines, Dave says Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi have been trying to contradict Bush's portrayal of a strong economy and a prosperous America. About Pelosi, he says,

"Rather than many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, savings and investing rates are rising for the first sustained period since 1982, suggesting that more Americans than ever before have excess income. Gas prices certainly aren't skyrocketing. She made this statement during a week when gas prices had dropped to a 20-year low when adjusted for inflation. Her numbers are also fishy on median family income. HUD estimates that median family income has increased by $7100 during the tenure of the Bush administration. Her number for the increase in household costs is not far off, so perhaps she 'accidentally' transposed the 7 and the 1 in the income figure."

Similarly, Dean says, "Incomes have fallen because wages — which provide 75% of income for typical families — are stagnant for most workers... Health and retirement coverage have declined for most workers and their families."

Dave says, "Yet the truth is that incomes are up and so are wages - hourly wages alone are up by about 14% in the first four years of the Bush administration. What's more, while too many are certainly uninsured, the actual percentage of the population without insurance has remained stable for decades at about 15-16% when you count in Medicaid."

First, there is a difference between "income and wages" and averages thereof (the link contradicting Dean is about averages and is from the U.S. Government; the rub is "average" versus mode or median).

He goes on to claim Dean's own use of the numbers don't compute, before noting,

"It's all in how he presents the numbers and the assumptions he makes, because overall retirement plans are up, but the shift from pensions to 401(k)s means that pensions are down. The flaw in his argument is that 401(k)s perform much better over the long term for retirees than pensions do, so what he's not saying is that pensions are down because people have put their money into better retirement plans."

He concludes: "Pelosi and Dean are typical. They're just echoing talking points which every major Democrat talking head, pundit, and politician is repeating. It's all a bunch of half-truths, gibberish and straight-out deceptions, but if enough people say the same thing on TV and in the newspapers it will start to seem like it has some legitimacy, especially since most news hosts and newspaper editors won't challenge their statements or provide facts to counter their assertions."

I agree that these are talking points, as are the points we get from the Bush administration and nearly every person running for office. It's even true of people speaking in more open media like websites and blogs. But this is the style of our political culture; and I hate it. Soundbites are a way of life, encouraged by the price of print space and air time, fear of rational argumentation and embrace of techniques learned from war propaganda, advertising, and public relations.

So the question, I think, is not that talking points hide complexity but are there more developed arguments to support those soundbites? Further, are you saying, Dave, they're just not getting it (the facts), or are you saying they're deliberately distorting "the facts" for political gain? How do you think they would respond?

How do you put information and claims about the state of the American economy like the following into conversation with your own offered in your post? (My whole point in offering these citations is that different research groups produce different data and then present it with different emphases and appeals, which, yes, can be critically analyzed, but usually there is no conversation between those who have different data and interpretations of it).

Take for example, information on the Economic Policy Institute's Homepage, updated in the last two days, which just came up in a quick search I did on the state of the American economy.

"The federal minimum wage has not seen an increase since 1997 and its value has dropped by 20% since then. In inflation-adjusted dollars, it is at its lowest value in 50 years. Automatic annual adjustments to the wage, or indexing, has gained increasing support and is becoming more common among the U.S. states that have their own minimum wage laws.”


Perhaps you disagree with these claims? The same group claims there are an estimated 14.9 million Americans receiving minimum wages ( link here).

On the other hand, the Heritage Foundation claims there are 1.9 million. Actually there are key words in the presentation of both of these "facts" that point to differently named realities ("estimated" vs. "reported").

The same EPI page continues its "gloom and doom," as Reagan would say: "The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that the economy added only 51,000 jobs in September, the fewest in nearly a year, with housing continuing to flatten and blue-collar manufacturing suffering its biggest loss of jobs since July 2003."

That doesn't sound like a thriving economy, but is it just misrepresenting the facts?

Two more samples from the same source:
"For the fifth year in a row, the number of Americans without health insurance grew significantly. Nearly 46.6 million Americans were uninsured in 2005--up almost 7 million since 2000. From 2000 to 2005, the uninsured share of the total population grew from 14.2% to 15.9%, while the share of those with employer-provided coverage dropped. Health Insurance Eroding for Working Families discusses the latest data and trends in health care coverage."

And:
"There are at least two good reasons why the economy remains solidly in play as an election issue: first, the negative trends affecting working families, and second, the way the administration has tried to spin those trends.

Start with the second point. When asked recently about why the administration's good news on the economy was failing to reach the public, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson responded ‘That's the $64,000 question.’

Well, Paulson's $64,000 question has a $3,000 answer. That's how much the inflation-adjusted income of the typical working-age household is down since 2000." That's from a recent Jared Bernstein editorial.

The Bush Govt. website celebrates job growth under its tenure: “Fact Sheet: Job Creation Continues -More Than 6.6 Million Jobs Created Since August 2003

"Today, The Government Released New Jobs Figures 51,000 Jobs Created In September, And The Unemployment Rate Dropped To 4.6 Percent. This growth follows the addition of 188,000 jobs in August. The economy has created more than 1.7 million jobs over the past 12 months. Since August 2003, more than 6.6 million jobs have been created more jobs than all the other major industrialized countries combined. This is 810,000 more jobs than previously estimated. Our economy has now added jobs for 37 straight months. "

But what kind of jobs are they? Doesn't say.
A representative of the temp industry itself notes that 2.5 million people each day go to temp jobs. And an article in _Slate_ notes: "But temporary employment is highly volatile. It topped out in spring 2000 and then crashed dramatically. Between April 2000 and April 2003, the number of temporary jobs fell from 2.68 million to 2.13 million. Twenty percent of temp jobs disappeared, compared to only 2 percent of payroll jobs." Thus, when we hear about spikes in the payrolls, we should ask what kind of jobs are they, how long are such jobs usually kept, and how many jobs were lost in the same period?


We could go on and on. I only spend the time here because the talk about the economy is full of "big lies," and it's not always easy for non-experts to sort through it and make sense. It doesn't help matters when those presenting the information choose to do so with ad hominems and other self-congratulatory clever frames.

The Big Lie is about repeating the same BS until it is taken as truth (and insuring that the greatest possible number of people hear it). But that can be done with many things and in carefully orchestrated ways. Are you sure, Dave, that these are just whackos crowing about a bad economy that doesn't exist, just to manipulate voters? Seems more complicated to me, if one is going to engage the different positions and information being presented. Otherwise, do we who write commentaries end up being co-opted into the reduction of politics to team spirit?

Part II. A comment by Dave in the ensuing exchange.

"To continue my train of thought from[comment} #171… it occurs to me that those who are raised by a single parent, in a bad neighborhood and with other strikes against them, have enough problems to overcome without the government putting more obstacles in their way. Why not get out of the way and give them access to decent education and not come to them with handouts as an alternative to teaching them self-reliance."

Dave, this sounds like a complete non-sequitr to me. Am I misreading you? Are you saying that "government" in Washington, Austin, the county, or city is a/the major obstacle to overcoming "problems" in such neighborhoods? This sounds pre-19th century to me. Of course A GOVERNMENT can get in the way of all sorts of activity/freedom (as it should; that's why people have governments). And some attempts to help have caused more problems, though to assume that any attempt by government to intervene in the market or private life is doomed to make things worse is a very dangerous fallacy, as A.O. Hirschman has shown. There seems to be a disagreement between you and some of your readers about the perennial sociological and philosophical question of structure and agency. Under what influences do humans act and why? Some would re-phrase it as under what conditions do/can humans exercise freedom?

It's well-acknowledged by sociologists, philosophers, and political scientists world-wide that multiple social and political institutions and daily relationships "govern" us. WE all grow up being governed/shaped by forces elected--most not-- by others, as we recall that children do not elect, nor are most forms of social organization, including economy specifically on the ballot. The big question is WHAT KIND OF INSTITUTIONS AND GOVERNMENT DO WE WANT TO INFLUENCE WHAT KIND OF LIFE AND FREEDOM? We do not get out of the bind by retreating to a simple theory that humans are self-made, sprouting up self-reliantly and making themselves however they please, though some perform heroically and have happier endings than do others. At what point, after being socialized according to whose values and ideas of the good life, are humans mature and able to govern themselves responsibly without threatening the well-being of others? Freedom and responsibility is never the absence of government.

The very idea of government (unless you're a Nietzschean, in which case there’s no point arguing: politics and everything else is the will to ruthless power) in most traditions of Democratic thought is to protect citizens as a whole from those few who would use force to do what they please to others. That includes protecting them against those who would seize the government to do their bidding. Who was it--Madison?--who said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary?"

The following notes about history, freedom, and government are not aimed for lecture's sake but to demonstrate my reasoning about the topic.

In Colonial America, the fear of tyranny was directed against a king. In this historical context (often de-contextualized today) we get Thomas Paine’s “that government is best which governs least.” Part of the attraction of a continent of seemingly free property to European eyes was that it corresponded with a dominant idea that freedom (including political freedom) was generally bound up with being economically independent, not depending on a master or boss for your livelihood (the very Greek root of economy is "oikos" or household; those who worked for others were not free politically or otherwise, but their bosses/owners’ were). Jefferson's yeoman farmer was one version of this, as was the Southern slaveholder, and then Hamilton's commercial entrepreneur, trader, shopkeeper.

That world changed with industrialization, though many held fast to the same old talk and figures of freedom and worries about a government imagined as being embodied ONLY in elected forms. Popular knowledge of "government" has not kept pace with that of the social sciences, though the use of elected government to protect people's political and civil freedoms (not reduced to market activity) against giant corporations, secret societies, educational institutions and their interlocking alliances with elected government were in all the political platforms at the turn of the last century from Populists, Progressives, some (T. Roosevelt) Republicans, Socialists, and Democrats. That's what trust-busting and reaction to machine politics was all about. People's everyday lives were being organized around an economic life out of control of electoral processes (though the fiction was that other aspects of life were self-made and that economic life alone was infringing upon them). There was talk of "invisible governments." And the crash of 1929 and the response of the New Deal were publicly identified with those forms of "government."

The Reagan administration declared war on "Big Government," somewhat ironically some of your readers would point out, given their military spending and attacks on civil liberties (support for legally protecting school prayer, banning flag burning and abortions—legislating individual freedom was not something they or the current administration shied away from). They have succeeded for some years now to persuade many citizens that there is only one form of bad government. That's one that spends money on social initiatives to try to provide equality of opportunity (which they seem to imply already exists from birth in any society that is Duke- and Duchess-less). Military spending is clearly for the protection of freedom for all, they suggest, and that’s the extent of government responsibility to protect citizens, they suggest. Clinton, with small attempts to change American healthcare as a citizen's right and the military to accept gays, did not challenge this view about "Big Government" and its role in protecting citizens from multiple largely invisible governments that want nothing more than for people to believe nothing else governs them besides Washington.

As I say, many of our time-honored phrases and principles are taken out of historical context and become ways for exploiting people today (e.g. Thomas Paine's, cited above). It’s true that one should be attentive to historical changes and with dotcoms and a new information economy, not to mention the global economy, many true stories of entrepreneurial success exist. But let’s not exaggerate the precariousness of new small businesses, wage-earners, or downsizeable corporate and government employees today.

“More than 10.5 million Americans are self-employed. (U.S. Small Business Administration ).” Further, “[a]ccording to the U.S. Small Business Administration, over 50% of small businesses fail in the first year, and 95% fail within the first five years.” We have never had a purely “free” market, if by that you mean without any interference by government (and/or if one means that everyone has equal opportunity to participate and compete in it). As just one example, corporations gained the legal status of persons not by decree of God, but through lobbying and political battle. Resources are not equal to everyone. In order for one person to exercise his unconstrained freedom in life without reducing his neighbor’s, certain conditions must be protected and institutions may help or deter him/her from seeing what all those possibilities for self-development might be (to sound more new-agey than I’d prefer). That’s not Marxism (to any who would jump to distract through name-calling) but basic sociology.

Perhaps wrongly, I get the sense that unconstrained economic life (producing, marketing, buying, selling, consuming) assumes a central role in your assumptions about freedom, self-reliance and government. But study of human life demonstrates that economies are never un-constrained and that many other aspects of life influence our decisions and actions.

Policies and proposals from school vouchers and private healthcare to campaign finance-as-free-speech all abstract problems from concrete practical situations. Those situations feature differing versions of freedom clashing where one version curtails the freedom of some to equal opportunity in the name of freedom for others. Self-reliance is hardly a solution to these huge conflicting visions so glibly reduced to warring political brands. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, both the sheep and the wolf want freedom, but one's freedom means the other's death.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Man Ages 8 years in two minutes

Normally, I don't go too tabloid on you here, but I have to admit I found this kind of cool.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Revenge of the Nerd: Weird Al Does "A Little Jig"


I think this blog needs a little comic relief from time to time. How opportune then that Weird Al has broken into the top 10 with his new album "Straight Outta Lynwood." "I literally danced a little jig (when I found out)," Yankovic says.

To be more specific, Al has just received the jig-worthy news that his album debuted this month at #10 on the Billboard 200. His "Chamillionaire parody 'White and Nerdy,'" also hit No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. That beats (or eats?) his 1984 heavy metal classic "Eat It."

This milestone event has many critics scratching their heads wondering if Americans just sharpened their comedy sense over the last twenty years or if there's something else to blame. As for Al, he attributes YouTube with a lot of the credit (click here to see his video of "White n Nerdy").

"It seems like he's come full circle," says Dan Mackta, a marketing director at Zomba Label Group. "A lot of the artists he's parodied have come and gone, but Al is kind of a pop culture icon at this point."

Chapeaux, Al. It's high time you got the respect you deserve.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

¡Forward, Russia! at La Maroquinerie 10/19/2006

Many bands are not “live” bands; they concentrate on studio recordings, often laying down meticulously produced tracks in a beautifully crafted overall work. Others have something else going in stage presence, charisma, rapport with an audience, raw energy, seduction, which is lost in the alienated form of consumption that is the CD or Mp3. A few rare bands seem to be able to pull off both. I’d count Leeds’s ¡Forward, Russia! among the latter. That was clear in the show I witnessed Thursday night at La Maroquinerie in Paris.

In my minimalist, satirical reviews of music consumption and criticism, “Indie Reviews for the Attention Deficient,” I hyperbolically doted on the resemblances ¡FR! shares with the Gang of Four. After seeing them live, and now writing in a different commentary setting, I would have to slightly revise my description.

Thanks to the nimble picking of Whiskas, their aptly named red-chopped guitarist, they do play with the pointy, repetitive guitar riffs that branded the Gang of Four. Likewise do they play with lefty symbols and figures (as their name and song titles scream) and hail from Leeds, but it would be unfair to either band to push the comparison much further. ¡FR! has created their own style and identity by reassembling others' and pushing them further.

Let’s begin with the vocals and stage presence of talented singer Tom Woodhead. Woodhead has the rare vocal ability to jump scale from falsetto down an octave in short bursts, which will remind some of D. Byrne’s copyrighted yawps. But Woodhead doesn’t just yelp about maniacally from one octave to another. He also gets a repetitive momentum going and brakes it with sustained, almost baneful falsetto notes and wails. There are moments of resemblance in this area between Woodhead, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, and Morrissey. But Woodhead’s fellow choirboys lack his energy, his momentum.

Also like Morrissey, Woodhead has a peculiar stage presence and choreography. He turns his body in slow rotisserie style, somewhat in tandem with his vocals, in an interpretive dance marked by his fetish for self-wrapping in the micro-phone cord and slowly moving his hands and elbows from one-arm akimbo to elbow held high and palms upturned, as if carrying a waiter’s serving tray. He accelerates, then brakes. The movements are smooth. They’re mesmerizing. In a word, they’re memorable. Here’s a man with the suppleness of talent and confidence of sexuality that could take him from a jazz-handed role in Cats to the pogo and punk mosh pit.

Woodhead is certainly the star, but this band works well together. They seem to enjoy one another, which no doubt adds to their tightness. Drummer Katie Nicholls gives a strong, energetic percussion backbone and occasional vocals to the band, and bassist Rob Canning, a late Cobain look alike from a distance, helps Nicholls with that crucial structuring role.

A few of their songs were especially pleasurable for their change of pace and ability to build from a snail’s pace of slow chords and riffs while Woodhead warbled, to their wild, choppy guitars and vocals that are perhaps their signature.

This is also a conceptually playful band. There was something liberating, something very, well—anti- about hearing Woodhead’s announcements of songs: “This one’s called “Seven!” It shifts the listener’s attention from easy pneumonic anchors in titles to the songs as a collection. In fact, I didn’t know what Woodhead was singing most of the time. Today, when I went scouring the internet to find the lyrics, I noticed that ¡FR! have a penchant for modern verse, which produces lyrics that quickly dispel any misconceptions that this is some sort of nostalgic Soviet realist art project. Take, for instance, “Eighteen,” a song off their recent album Give Me a Wall.

It's hard to save a life
When the dreams you enter fracture through
A million and one reflections
But tonight
I'm saving a life
Through the hissing of watches and the ticking of clocks
I'll show the hours my open palm
I'll protect your sense of right
I'll dissect your senses till you find me.

But I didn’t know their lyrics well enough the other night to sing along with them.

I just found myself enchanted by what I was witnessing. Their love of performance, solidarity with each other and their audience, energy, as well as their conceptual traits reminded me a bit of the Poster Children, though they sound nothing alike. Perhaps more than many bands, ¡Forward, Russia! is a sound, a vision, an encounter, and not, like a lot out there today and yesterday, an ad, a sexual appeal, a story, or even a particular commentary on everyday social, personal, or political life (even if their total identity that precedes and succeeds their performances has all sorts of things to say about spectacular packaging, routine rock choreography and trends).

The indie-Parisian (yes, oxymoronic) and expat audience was not disappointed. But it would surprise me if audiences of this genre could react otherwise. ¡FR! is a minor religious experience, which I would gladly pay for every week had I the chance.

(See a YouTube video snippet of this concert by clicking below)




Monday, October 16, 2006

Indie-Music Reviews for the Atention Deficient: Devotchka and Hem

(Also published as a regular column at Blogcritics e-zine)


And you may ask yourself, "What is this swine-loving blogger listening to this week?"
For those of you new to this series, let me familiarize you with how it works.

In keeping with this increasingly globalized,glibly compressed, irrevocably speedy, and immanently forgettable media culture, I have devised a simple review system that also allows you to voyeuristically peek into my ipod window but without all the trouble of having to wade through a paragraph or two of self-indulgent prose. I mention its usually 90s,80s, 70s, or, sometimes digging way back into ancient history,60s, influence, and give you a sentence or two explaining (sometimes in high modernist poetic fashion or haiku) why it's cool. All of these artists are creative exemplars of postmodernist pastiche. Little if anything in indie rock is thoroughly new, but the pastiche of styles can be impressive.

If you're not in a hurry, if your life isn't hurly-burly;if you're not thinking right now, "damn, here I am on the internet and I've got so much crap to do!"--well, I'm not talking to you.

Again, here's how it works. What am I listening to?

Thanks for asking.

Devotchka. Transplanted from Denver to New York City. Devotchka, like Gogol Bordello, demonstrate the effects of global music flows in the fast-moving and far-reaching e-world today. They produce quite varied experiments sometimes classified as circus, polka rock, and Spaghetti Western. On the heels of 2004’s impressive How it Ends (Cicero), their most recent album Curse Your Little Heart (Ace Fu, 2006) may even be their best so far. And it’s a cover record, which includes a string-backed lounge tribute to Carson Parks’ 1967 hit “Somethin’ Stupid,” and an intoxicatingly balkanized rendition of “Venus in Furs,” to name only two. As with other re-interpretations today, these are most impressive in their creative distance traveled from the original template. In Nick Urata’s vocals, Chris Issak-meets-David Byrne to the background of cocktail croons, westerns, and orchestral marches (a signature from their last album’s “How it ends,” featured in the recent underground hit film “Little Miss Sunshine”). A major Devotchkean thread is exemplified by the track “El Zopilote Mojado,” which has a strong mariachi style but is anchored in a gypsy tuba’s timekeeping; more orchestra-like strings are then layered on the traditional mariachi trumpets. Long live these hybrid generic forms that provide a refreshing alternative to the global music conglomerates’ officially administered trends.

Devotchka IN Haiku:

A Mariachi

gypsy brass n western love

child reared by T-Heads.

Hem: George Winston gone Japanese folk meets a re-habbed Cat Power, perhaps a super slow Karen Carpenter. Some songs seem to inch like irrevocable lava toward a chorus of “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down” (cf. I swear I’ve never been this far before.”). Echoes of an even clearer Aimee Mann and Kristen Hersh in the vocals of Sally Ellyson, a voice that rings virtue like a thumped crystal glass. As if Joni Mitchell had returned to infuse her voice into wondrously low-fi-arrangements by Dan Messe that carefully orchestrate harmonicas, soft-acoustic guitars, strings, horns, and piano while moving across indie-chamber pop, folk, and twang. Funnel Cloud (Nettwerk, 2006) is the latest round of such compositions but aimed this time at singer Ellyson’s wedding supposedly crashed by a tornado. Fast this is not. Those of you tyrannized by speed in your lives, take refuge in Hem!

Hem In Haiku…

George Winston gone East

Cat Power gets voice lessons

Everything Old is.

Like you, I gotta run. See you next time on "Indie Music Reviews for the Attention Deficient."







Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Dr. Strangelove's Many Flavors

The NY Times headlines today read: "Rice Asserts U.S. Plans No Attack on North Korea."
Well, what a relief! I mean just like S. Hussein, Kim Jong-il is no Nobel Peace candidate. In academese: he sucks.

If you don't understand my last sentence: do not quote me out of context, ye haters of honesty. I don't like Kim Jong-il. There it is.

But we will never hear in the NY Times or the London Telegraph,etc. that many people around the world actually fear the Bush regime's monopoly on weapons of mass destruction. It may, just maybe, occur to them that there's something lopsided and colonialist about the fear of brown, yellow, and black people with weapons of mass destruction, without at the same time denouncing such weapons as a threat to humanity itself and admitting that the West has a dubiously proud tradition of using its new weapons technologies to commit acts of genocide.

And that is not all. The headline provides a sickening entertainment drama frame: suspense. Will the heroic U.S. attack the villainous N. Korea? Not just yet. Stay tuned.
And still more: need I mention the moral and military failure of such "attacks" in recent history?
Dr. Strangelove comes in many flavors.
Addendum one day later: Yahoo headline of the moment is "Bush says U.S. won't attack North Korea." Yes, definitely rumor bombs being launched in desperation.

Humans Living Beyond Their Resources: New Record

Interesting and--surprise!--depressing story in the Independent (UK) about the ecological crisis that the whacky global left-wing is making up to...uh, what? Distract the swinish multitudes in order to wage revolutions to produce an evil global paleolithic economy run by loinclothed Lothars foraging for nuts and berries when they can't down an aging mastadon? Or perhaps they are making up this eco-apocalypse in order to erect a neo-Stalinist regime puppeteered by Dr. Evil, Number 2, Mustapha, and Frau Farbissina? Or, wait, maybe they want to scare people enough to seize power and re-program the global economy while giving its major contracts to their cronies, threaten everyone else with their nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and chant "enemy of freedom" whenever anyone asks them to justify what they're doing. But, as usual, I digress, or do I?
Here's the article, thanks for the tip to GustavMahler'sProdigalSon:

Earth's ecological debt crisis: mankind's 'borrowing' from nature hits new record
By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Published: 09 October 2006
Today is a bleak day for the environment, the day of the year when mankind over-exploits the world's resources - the day when we start living beyond our ecological means.
Evidence is mounting that rapid population growth and rising living standards among the Earth's six billion inhabitants are putting an intolerable strain on nature. For the first time an organisation ­ a British think-tank ­ has sought to pinpoint how quickly man is using the global resources of farming land, forests, fish, air and energy.
The new economics foundation has calculated from research by a US academic group, Global Footprint Network, that the day when we use more than our fair share of the Earth ­ when "humanity starts eating the planet" ­ is October 9.
In other words, assuming that the world has a certain quantity of natural resources that can sustainably be used up each year, today is the date at which this annual capacity is reached. And environmentalists warn that just as a company bound for bankruptcy plunging into the red or a borrower " maxing out" on credit cards must face the consequences, so must man.
The biggest problem relating to the over-consumption of resources is climate change, but its other effects include deforestation, falling agricultural yields and overfishing.
Overfishing is one of the most easily understood examples of the abuse of nature. Catching too many fish has left species that were once common, such as cod in the North Sea and bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, struggling to survive.
Although it is possible to make ever-increasing catches for a while, eventually only small, juvenile fish are left, and stocks become unviable. Similarly, emissions of greenhouse gases are rising, exacerbated by the growth of China and India, but the climate is poised to wreak its revenge. Already polar ice caps are melting at a rate that is startling scientists, and examples of extreme weather, such as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in August last year, are being attributed to global climate change. In February, when he was Defence Secretary, John Reid revealed that British military planners were already preparing for conflicts arising from the scramble for resources in 20 to 30 years' time.
Outlining the impact of global warming, he said: "Impacts such as flooding, melting permafrost and desertification could lead to loss of agricultural land, poisoning of water supplies and destruction of economic infrastructure."
Global Footprint estimates that the human race is over-using the Earth's resources by 23 per cent. While each individual should use up no more than the equivalent of 1.8 hectares of the Earth's surface, the actual area we use is 2.2 hectares per person.
Mathis Wackernagel, executive director of Global Footprint Network, which analyses 6,000 pieces of data from such sources as the United Nations, warned that the limit of the Earth's endurance had already been reached.
He said: "Humanity is living off its ecological credit card and can only do this by liquidating the planet's natural resources."
According to nef's analysis, the unsustainability of human behaviour has speeded up markedly. Humanity started living beyond its means on a global level in 1987, when the limit of sustainability was reached on 19 December. By 1995, the day was arriving by 21 November and began arriving in October shortly after the millennium.
Consumption is particularly profligate in the West, where individuals consume air-freighted food, buy hardwood furniture, enjoy foreign holidays and own cars. Global Footprint estimates the world would need five planet Earths to sustain a global materialistic society such as that in the US while almost three would be needed for the UK.
By contrast, developing countries such as Kenya use a fraction of the resources. Nef highlighted the energy wasted in trade. In 2004, for example, Britain exported 1,500 tons of potatoes to Germany and imported the same amount. We sent 10,200 tons of milk and cream to France and imported 9,900 tons.
Andrew Simms, policy director of nef, warned the world was living far beyond our environmental means.
Professor Tim Jackson, head of sustainable development at Surrey University, one of Britain's leading experts in sustainability, said the research was broadly right and that we are using resources faster than they can be replaced by the planet.
He said: "We are clearly drawing natural capital and the point about collapse is that we don't know when some of the systems in the global atmosphere and fish will collapse but we do know that collapse is a very real possibility."
Our dwindling natural assets
Fisheries
Degradation of the marine ecosystem is one of the world's biggest problems after climate change. Many fish population have shrunk by 90 per cent in 50 years. Species in particular danger are bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and cod in the North Sea.
Energy
Oil reserves are fast running out: "peak oil" - the point from which oil reserves start to decline - is imminent, with world consumption of oil at 84 million barrels a day. In turn, the burning of fossil fuels is the largest source of emissions of CO2.
Some 13 million hectares of forest are lost every year, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Almost 20 per cent of The Amazon - the world's " lung" - has been felled. In 2004 the rate of forest clearance in the Amazon was the second highest on record, caused by the boom in growing soya beans. Deforestation of tropical rainforests may account for the loss of as many as 100 species a day.
Water
Population growth, pollution and climate change are making water a scarce resource. Only 2 per cent of water on Earth is fresh, the rest is salt or trapped in glaciers and snow. By 2050, 7 billion people in 60 countries could be short of drinking water.
Farming land
Overfarming drains the soil of nutrients, while the chemicals used in the process pollute waterways. Farming uses 70 per cent of the world's water supply: to provide 2,700 calories a day requires 4,300 litres (more than seven bathtubs) of water.
Today is a bleak day for the environment, the day of the year when mankind over-exploits the world's resources - the day when we start living beyond our ecological means.
Evidence is mounting that rapid population growth and rising living standards among the Earth's six billion inhabitants are putting an intolerable strain on nature. For the first time an organisation ­ a British think-tank ­ has sought to pinpoint how quickly man is using the global resources of farming land, forests, fish, air and energy.
The new economics foundation has calculated from research by a US academic group, Global Footprint Network, that the day when we use more than our fair share of the Earth ­ when "humanity starts eating the planet" ­ is October 9.
In other words, assuming that the world has a certain quantity of natural resources that can sustainably be used up each year, today is the date at which this annual capacity is reached. And environmentalists warn that just as a company bound for bankruptcy plunging into the red or a borrower " maxing out" on credit cards must face the consequences, so must man.
The biggest problem relating to the over-consumption of resources is climate change, but its other effects include deforestation, falling agricultural yields and overfishing.
Overfishing is one of the most easily understood examples of the abuse of nature. Catching too many fish has left species that were once common, such as cod in the North Sea and bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, struggling to survive.
Although it is possible to make ever-increasing catches for a while, eventually only small, juvenile fish are left, and stocks become unviable. Similarly, emissions of greenhouse gases are rising, exacerbated by the growth of China and India, but the climate is poised to wreak its revenge. Already polar ice caps are melting at a rate that is startling scientists, and examples of extreme weather, such as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in August last year, are being attributed to global climate change. In February, when he was Defence Secretary, John Reid revealed that British military planners were already preparing for conflicts arising from the scramble for resources in 20 to 30 years' time.
Outlining the impact of global warming, he said: "Impacts such as flooding, melting permafrost and desertification could lead to loss of agricultural land, poisoning of water supplies and destruction of economic infrastructure."
Global Footprint estimates that the human race is over-using the Earth's resources by 23 per cent. While each individual should use up no more than the equivalent of 1.8 hectares of the Earth's surface, the actual area we use is 2.2 hectares per person.
Mathis Wackernagel, executive director of Global Footprint Network, which analyses 6,000 pieces of data from such sources as the United Nations, warned that the limit of the Earth's endurance had already been reached.
He said: "Humanity is living off its ecological credit card and can only do this by liquidating the planet's natural resources."
According to nef's analysis, the unsustainability of human behaviour has speeded up markedly. Humanity started living beyond its means on a global level in 1987, when the limit of sustainability was reached on 19 December. By 1995, the day was arriving by 21 November and began arriving in October shortly after the millennium.
Consumption is particularly profligate in the West, where individuals consume air-freighted food, buy hardwood furniture, enjoy foreign holidays and own cars. Global Footprint estimates the world would need five planet Earths to sustain a global materialistic society such as that in the US while almost three would be needed for the UK.
By contrast, developing countries such as Kenya use a fraction of the resources. Nef highlighted the energy wasted in trade. In 2004, for example, Britain exported 1,500 tons of potatoes to Germany and imported the same amount. We sent 10,200 tons of milk and cream to France and imported 9,900 tons.
Andrew Simms, policy director of nef, warned the world was living far beyond our environmental means.
Professor Tim Jackson, head of sustainable development at Surrey University, one of Britain's leading experts in sustainability, said the research was broadly right and that we are using resources faster than they can be replaced by the planet.
He said: "We are clearly drawing natural capital and the point about collapse is that we don't know when some of the systems in the global atmosphere and fish will collapse but we do know that collapse is a very real possibility."
Our dwindling natural assets
Fisheries
Degradation of the marine ecosystem is one of the world's biggest problems after climate change. Many fish population have shrunk by 90 per cent in 50 years. Species in particular danger are bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and cod in the North Sea.
Energy
Oil reserves are fast running out: "peak oil" - the point from which oil reserves start to decline - is imminent, with world consumption of oil at 84 million barrels a day. In turn, the burning of fossil fuels is the largest source of emissions of CO2.
Some 13 million hectares of forest are lost every year, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Almost 20 per cent of The Amazon - the world's " lung" - has been felled. In 2004 the rate of forest clearance in the Amazon was the second highest on record, caused by the boom in growing soya beans. Deforestation of tropical rainforests may account for the loss of as many as 100 species a day.
Water
Population growth, pollution and climate change are making water a scarce resource. Only 2 per cent of water on Earth is fresh, the rest is salt or trapped in glaciers and snow. By 2050, 7 billion people in 60 countries could be short of drinking water.
Farming land
Overfarming drains the soil of nutrients, while the chemicals used in the process pollute waterways. Farming uses 70 per cent of the world's water supply: to provide 2,700 calories a day requires 4,300 litres (more than seven bathtubs) of water.

Smoking, Pas Chic?

(Also published at Blogcritics e-zine)
In a ludicrous claim two days ago, a New York Times headline announced, "Smoking No Longer Tres Chic in France." At the very least it should've been a question. Contrary to the article's headlining claim, one can feel very un-dude here sans cigarette.

Really, the article is quite strange on several grounds. First, the NY Times itself published an article one year ago that argued just the opposite: cigarettes in France are as chic as ever, and even more chic among the well-educated and wealthy by comparison to their American counterparts. The article is also strange in that its title as a claim is weakly supported by the reporting that follows. Just because a government committee has voted to ban smoking due to health concerns does not in any way prove that the greater French culture thinks smoking has been demoted from chic to uncouth on its scale of values. Non-sequitr.

It's practically a cliche to say it: smoking is a way of life in France. Even for the young, as an article in the International Herald Tribune noted about two weeks ago discussing the subject. This recent AP photo (at right) captures the Parisian everyday.
Yet it is true that smoking has been in the French public eye lately. A recent poll even finds 65% of those surveyed support banning smoking in cafes and bars. But if you know anything about interpreting public opinion polls, it's hard to say what that means. First, banning smoking may not at all be the on the minds of those being polled (until asked). Polls tend to suggest that those being polled had all but called up the pollers and said, "I say ban it! Quantify me!" Second, people are in principle for a lot of things. That doesn't mean they will stop smoking. There's reason and there's desire. Nor does it mean that those against smoking will make a big deal out of it if people violate the law in their presence.

I'll never forget attending a university colloquium fourteen years ago when I was studying in France for a year. A law had just been passed banning smoking in some public areas, such as university buildings. One of the speakers on a panel pulled out a cigarette and lit up directly beneath a big sign reading "Defense de Fumer."

It is true, however, that a public discourse in France has been growing about the health risks of smoking. In 2003 a major European study drew public attention to the end of a long myth France had enjoyed, what had been called a paradox that the French ate rich foods, drank lots of wine, smoked like chimneys, engaged in very little vigorous exercise and yet enjoyed a greater collective health than most countries in the world. No longer: the study found that French men had the highest cancer rate in all of Europe.

'France's poor position in terms of male cancer deaths can be explained largely by the high levels of deaths from lung cancer, throat and mouth cancers and liver cancer,' the report said.
'We know that this type of cancer is closely linked to two risk factors: excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.'

In the past, France has been evaluated quite highly by the World Health Organization and other studies, but this has partly been because French women's health has for a long time been better than men's, the latter of whose ranks of smokers increased in the post-war period, while French women did not. But more recently the women also have started smoking more. Some studies and commentators point to the French female determination to control weight. Cigarettes have long been seen, in France and elsewhere, as a way to suppress appetite and keep that metabolism on the treadmill. However, due to the surge in French women smoking in recent years, the WHO estimates that France's overall health rankings will fall now that women have earned the right to die from smoking, alas on a level of parity with their silk-cravatted counterparts.

In response to these and other findings, in the fall of 2003 the French government raised the price of cigarettes by 20%. The number of cigarette sales took a dip, but purchases of pouch tobacco and rolling papers increased. But more recently, the number of young smokers has increased. And now the strict health and tight budget advocates have found common ground. That's right: it must be said that part of the reason the health risk of smoking is on the media and public agenda is because the government has been searching for ways to finance its huge shortfalls in its health budget. Tradition versus deficits.

Far be it from me to play the pessimist, but neither price increases nor bans on cigarette advertising have produced permanent decreases in French smoking(that's right: public tobacco advertising was completely banned in France in 1993). Even if a new law and a new attitude about enforcing it drive the smokers outdoors, what reason is there to believe that 20% of the population will part with tradition? From my perspective they're pretty determined to keep the costs of their excellent health care high.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Paris's "Nuit Blanche": Institutionalized Psychogeography

(Also syndicated at Blogcritics e-magazine)
How do environments, landscapes, human- and nature-built, influence and structure the behavior, emotions, thoughts of human beings? In 1953, the French iconoclastic cultural critic Guy Debord turned his attention to this very question. The question and its range of answers has everything to do with Paris’s City-organized festival “Nuit Blanche,” or “Sleepless Night,” which took place yesterday night.

In the early 1950s Debord set about exploring this theme as well as other forms of structure and play in the increasingly globalized consumer society. Psychogeography, he wrote in 1955, is a term that combines what he saw as common considerations mobilizing the fields of geography and psychology. For him, geography was about the natural environment’s determination of economic structures and consequently its possible effects on the way societies might thus imagine the world. Psychology for him, though he doesn’t say it directly, is about the laws by which the mind works, structures of thought processes, emotions, memory, and consciousness.

Psychogeography would then be a study “of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” It was a sort of everyday experimental practice by members of his cultural avant-garde, drifting (dérive) through the various urban landscapes of Paris to reflect later on how they felt, why, and, in some cases, how such environments might be transformed (detourné) into something more playful or liberating instead of being the exclusive domains of buying, selling, and the facilitation thereof. The situationists even went so radically far as to call for cathedrals like Notre Dame to be ;transformed into playgrounds and zoos.

Fast forward roughly fifty years. The City of Paris holds its fifth “nuit blanche” event October 7, 2006. The event is part art expo, part carnival of eating, drinking, and extended leisure time. Its official aims will sound familiar to the last living situationists.

From 7 at night until 7 the next morning, various establishments across town stay open: museums, cafés, and movie theaters as well as churches, libraries and swimming pools. And there will be art and lighting displays at landmarks like the Hôtel de Ville.” Streets, buildings, monuments and so forth are re-imagined by artists and transformed into spaces and encounters that aim to deviate from, even revivify the everyday.

As the City of Paris' website explains: "Nuit Blanche opens the city to a world of art and to discover today's art in a street's detour, in an unfrequented spot as well as a prestigious building. Open to the public, Nuit Blanche discard's art for a circle of initiates and proposes another vision of it instead--one that is generous and accessible. Contemporary art mixes with the city and creates a singular time-space where each person is invited to circculate, rediscovering a transformed everyday terrain or exploring some overlooked places. Through the course of a night, the works construct an ephemeral temporal structure for discovering the broad daylight of contemporary art in the middle of the night" (my translation, though the final antithesis of daylight and nightlight doesn't really come through from the French).

The city's explanation ends with an invitation from the "directeurs artistiques" for everyone to come out and "reinvent" Paris. But such temporary deviations from the humdrum are probably not what everyone has in mind when they hear a call to "reinvent" something in a non-institutionalized context. It raises questions about the degree to which metaphors of art are exploited by governments to maintain order, allowing citizens the temporary pleasures of participating in a symbolic marketing version of transformation, which never loves you the morning after--especially after a nuit blanche.

Strolling through the 18th arrondissement last night, my group beheld a surrealistic (though one could argue the entire affair is surrealist-inspired) view of household furniture suspended on the sides of buildings several floors above ground. Wacky attacky. Put that in your “this is not a pipe” and smoke it, Magritte.

Another one consisted of giant white radiant balloons hovering over an urban soccer court. I couldn’t stop thinking of the X-files. Mulder, it’s just an installation commissioned by the city of Paris. Chill.

Still others took place in churches, as if following Situationist tenets—religiously. Unfortunately, the lines were too long for me to get in to the church installation. But I’m sure it was mind-blowing.

I’m not against the idea of a huge city-wide festival, involving more and less traditionally structured artistic exhibits, lines, and spectators. But psychogeography it is not, though it would surprise me very much if its organizers had not read and appropriated the situationists’ concept. To me this was just a cut above the average American haunted house at Halloween.

While it was free, and largely a jovial affair and marginally reoriented everyday consciousness of lived urban space the situationists seemed to adore, there was just one big problem with all of this from a situationist point of view. It was not organized by people themselves, nor by avowedly radical artist-thinkers who wanted to reclaim space from complete market colonization. It was organized by the local government as a kind of controlled version of situationist psychogeography, detournment and derive. That is to say, it was organized through the very structure of traditional artistic and consumerist entertainment encounters where publics were called in to gaze upon the beauty or strangeness of the artist’s work (instead of making their own lives works of art by launching themselves on minimally structured experiments of urban reflection and the reclamation of urban space for a public life not limited to consumerism), feel edified, and then politely file out of the viewing area and buy a drink next door. The long lines through which spectators were herded was just another characteristic of the genre of entertainment that had appropriated the event.

Guy Debord and other situationists railed against a contemporary media-saturated consumer society where images of living were sold to spectator-consumers who did not live those experiences themselves. They participated in those experiences only in fantasy. Needless to say, such a reactive and non-participatory life frightened the situationists, and they declared cultural war on it.

The “nuit blanche” celebrations were interesting to see; indeed, they partially though ephemerally transformed one’s encounter with everyday spaces and built environments. But their highly controlled nature made for an exercise that would have disappointed the situationists. In a word, it was spectacular.







Thursday, October 05, 2006

Here's to you (and me), Globetrotters.


No, I'm not talkin' Curly Neal and Meadow Lark Lemon, D.D.

Well, at least we can't say absolutely no one is trying to warn us, even if they are a peep in the wilderness. The Guardian UK has a brief story today on the aviation industry's contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.

Check this one while you're at it. No, contrary to the propaganda, you do not need sandals and tie-dye accessories to care about this issue. Do you have kids? Then you really should give a hoot (I refuse to cuss, out of respect for my under 10 audience).

Of course an increasingly globalized professional and consumer society sings speed as the greatest virtue (not that it isn't often an almost undeniably good thing; but not always). Some iconoclasts have responded by politicizing speed:

“We must politicize speed….There's a violence in wealth that has been understood: not so with speed.” –Paul Virilio

I have a friend who has been working at a museum in Brussels devoted to educating about global warming. One of the scientists she works with refuses to take planes to conferences in North America. He takes the boat. Now if that ain't Old School (yes, like Will Farrell). Gonna see if I can't kick it old school next time too. And you?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Colbert and the "I can't remember" excuse

I was alerted to another clever Colbert critique over at Crooks and Liars. Go there to see the video.

Colbert: “We’ve All Done It - Drunk Dialing”

Colbert-Foley-Alcoholics_0001.jpg

Stephen Colbert explained last night how alcohol can be a factor in many debates within our government

Video - WMV Video - QT

The best excuse had to be when he explained why Condi forgot about her 2001 meeting with Tenet, when she was told of an imminent attack. She blacked out from playing the imminent drinking game.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On Freedom

Interesting post by Captain Freedom over at Freedomloversunite!.
follow up: Since the beloved pig's blog was mysteriously broken for serveral days(no doubt has something to do with the dispatches he has smuggled out of Gitmo), I re-post a snippet from his latest one that appeared over at Blogcritics ezine.
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the day that will go down in freedomhating infamy, I, Captain Freedom the beardedpig, have decided, in the name of those nearly 3,000 fallen for freedom on 9/11; those 3,000 Americans fallen for freedom in Iraq; and those nearly 50,000 Iraqi civilians fallen with the sweet taste of freedom on their lips—to celebrate the unwavering devotion to freedom our greatOn the occasion of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the day that will go down in freedomhating infamy, I, Captain Freedom the Beardedpig, have decided, in the name of those nearly 3,000 fallen for freedom on 9/11; those 3,000 Americans fallen for freedom in Iraq; and those nearly 50,000 Iraqi civilians fallen with the sweet taste of freedom on their lips—to celebrate the unwavering devotion to freedom our great Freedomlover has demonstrated amid the catcalling slings and arrows of freedomhaters for five long years.


When love of tyranny, love of hate, love of totalitarianism, love of evil struck, the Great Freedomlover spoke freedomloving truth to freedomhating terror. To a joint session of Congress, the American people, and freedomlovers everywhere on September 20, 2001, He declared, “we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom.” And then let the great cascade of freedom flow freely: “On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country…. night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack…. They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” As it was then, so it is today, my dear freedomlovers: “And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.”

That night my freedomloving beardedpig’s heart beat in tandem with the Great Freedomlover’s. I was called to duty! To arms! Whenever I was tested, tempted by pangs of despair to give in to the fear of the freedomhaters, He was there with words to revive me.

He did not falter by 2003: “Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.”[...]

Continue reading by clicking here...Freedomloversunite!.






Nothing but More Good News

What a mess, this world, but particularly the U.S., that oldest living democracy in it. I can't stand when news space gets colonized by politicians' sex scandals, but...I must say that there's a fierce political irony to this scandal's particular content. This is a representative, Foley, of a party whose brand has been sold on claims that it is unholy and un-human for men to have loving relations with men, and that they can get married in hell if they like. John Kerry was accused of being insensitive and out of line when he outted Dick Cheney's daughter on national television, but the real scandal was that Cheney had marched right along to the homophobic drum of his party, not minding at all that homophobia was a major point in his party's brand identity. Now this.
They try to seduce millions of Americans susceptible to racism and homophobia with distracting issues that will never really amount to much legislatively (a flag burning or gay marriage amendment to the Constitution; stopping the tide of immigrants from Mexico, as if a fence is going to do it, while their buddies dine at restaurants that would close in a day if the Mexican help disappeared and whose manicured lawns would grow into fines from the local weed inspector). All the while, plenty of them practice exactly the opposite of what they preach, though it's true, the contents of their sermons are so strategically ambiguous that people can make whatever they want out of them (and here I would include many Democrats as well). As if we needed any more reason to understand why Americans want nothing to do with politics. The Founders were far from perfect, but this bunch has brought shame to the best of their governmental creations and civic hopes. Even more, they have systematically sought to undermine them. As usual quite a few interesting posts on all of this at crooksnandliars.com.