Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jack















He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter;
Now my sworn friend, and then mine enemy;
My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all.
He makes a July's day short as December,
And with his varying childness cures in me
Thoughts that would thick my blood.

--William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ideological Critique

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the word "nigger" over 200 times. The Merchant of Venice depicts the humiliation and ruin of a Jewish villain at the hands of a Christian majority; Othello, a negro who strangles his perfectly innocent wife. The famous first line of Pride and Prejudice can be read as a blatant formula for prostitution, if one so chooses. The women of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight inspire and manipulate their men, but don't engage in any decapitating contests themselves.

It's relatively easy to point one's finger at a work of art, especially challenging art, and denounce it as ideologically unsavory in some way. Anyone can (re)apply this or that political formula (e.g. the "Woman in the Refrigerator," or any of the dozens of other ways to reduce a story to who's-doing-what-to-whom) and bandy about the -isms of the day in a denunciatory fashion. There are people with tenure right now who have made entire careers out of little else. It's a lot harder, however, to make a sincere effort to participate in an artist's world view, to try to give him or her the benefit of the doubt, to make an honest and uncompromising critique that nonetheless adds value to the world rather than merely taking it away.

I'm talking about imaginative generosity, not apologia. And I'm not always great at taking my own advice--I talk more lazy, cheap, snide, cynical shit than a lot of people I know. I'm just saying I'd rather watch Othello than Gothika.

(Image from mincer.en.alibaba.com.)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Yahoos on Yahoo

So I was reading this news story about a fat man who killed his wife on Yahoo news today, and I impulsively clicked on the "comments" section. What I found there was worthy of part 4 of Gulliver's Travels:

"Throw the fat prick in jail!"

"omg!"

"These people are a threat and menace to our society!"

"U FAT FK" (my favorite)

I was so inspired by this sparkling commentary that I decided to leave one of my own:
When I want quality conversation, I go to the comments section of Yahoo news. Where else could I find so many people willing to share their informed, measured and enlightening opinions? Keep up the great work, folks!

When I tried to post it, however, I got the following message: "Oops! The comment you entered contained abusive language. Please re-enter and try again."

I can't tell if Yahoo's abuse filter is stupid or really smart.

(Image from www.lqart.org.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

I Like Starbucks


A lot of people hate Starbucks. They've been accused of using anti-competitive business strategies, like allowing certain locations to operate at a loss in order to run smaller, independent competitors out of business. They're also often disparaged, at home and abroad, as representing the metastasis of American-style consumerism--an aesthetically repulsive, morally dubious, homogeneous, tacky and inauthentic update on the same old mercantile "bourgeois" culture that populists and aristocrats alike have been hating on, in one form or another, since feudalism ended.

Permit me to digress for a moment: I have 2 coffeeshops in my hometown. One (let's call it "Rim Rorton's") has plastic booths and stools bolted to the floor, a 30 minute time limit in their seating area, and miserable employees who make minimum wage and wear humiliating fast food-style uniforms. The other ("B***** Street Cafe") is an independent establishment wherein a staff of slouching, moody undergraduate hipsters (who also make minimum wage) complete orders at their leisure, get stoned at work, and generally act like their customers should be grateful to get their coffee at all.

I like Starbucks. They're friendly, professional, relatively consistent, and not too expensive. Sure, they're only asking, "How are you today?" because they want my money, but that's better than a "Fuck you, Jack" from people who are still taking my money. If Naomi Klein and Kalle Lasn wanted to serve me better coffee for cheaper, and maybe throw in a heartfelt hug or handshake and a hot meal for the homeless in the bargain, then I'd happily throw my $1.70 their way. In the meantime, I'll get my morning coffee at Starbucks, and I won't feel guilty about it.

(Image from www.therealestatebloggers.com.)

Hipsters Hatin' on Hipsters

I just finished reading Adbusters' July 2008 article, "Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization", and I think Douglas Haddow got it mostly wrong--the counterculture hasn't lost its values at all. The beatniks, the hippies, the punks, the hip-hoppers, the ravers, the anti-consumer movement, etc. all concern(ed) themselves with an elaborate system of in-group fashion semiotics and justifications for having a good time (i.e. looking good and having fun) couched in contemporary political terms. Today's kids may just want to party without feeling as obliged to justify it as "subversive" or "revolutionary," but if they still want to be different from (i.e. cooler than) the kids across the street, then the aforementioned "countercultural" values are intact, minus some of the political pretension. I say good for them. Posers will always be posers, but posers who think they're activists are worse.

I can sympathize with Mr. Haddow's disappointment that the hipsters of 2008 aren't into the same militant anti-consumer pseudo-activism that the hipsters of 2000 were. Before too long, there might not be anyone left to buy Adbusters.

(Image from kidsnpets.files.wordpress.com. Read Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter's book for a better discussion of this subject.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Meaning of Life

Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne.

--Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions pp. 208-9.

(Image from "universe-review.ca.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Paranoia of Political Correctness

Most people (e.g. me) whose parents weren't active in the KKK grew up thinking, rather naively, that racism is the belief that one's own race is superior and other races are inferior. By contemporary standards, this is not exactly true--the inner logic of political correctness is more convoluted than that. For example, a positive opinion of another group expressed for the wrong reasons is still racist (e.g. "orientalism," "white guilt"), while a sweepingly negative statement denigrating all members of a particular group is not necessarily racist: if the target group has more members and/or a higher average socioeconomic status than that of the person uttering the statement, it's "reverse racist." It can also be tricky to tell "ironic" racism from the real thing, especially in our present cultural climate, wherein edginess is valued over intelligence, and low quality satire often reinforces the very ideas it's intended to critique.

I imagine that people who are members of minority groups (most of whom actually belong to majority groups, in an extra-American context) feel just as frustrated, if not more so. They could probably describe the same sensation of walking on eggshells, the same feeling slightly guilty awkwardness whenever the issue of "race" comes up, and the additional fear that just maybe a group of 5 resentful crackers are going to be waiting in the alley with sticks in their hands and pillowcases over their heads.

Maybe the way we're all looking at the issue of "race" right now seldom makes anyone feel happy or secure. Maybe identity politics isn't a zero sum power game, and "race" (whatever that actually means--minor statistical variation in a single actively communicating global gene pool, maybe?) is less of a big deal than people seem to think. Perhaps racism isn't necessarily a hideous social cancer or a deeply entrenched, self-perpetuating "regime of power and knowledge" but rather a lazy and complacent in-group superstition that most people would happily give up upon learning that it's intelligent and profitable to do so. I suspect our current efforts to combat racism usually only make it worse, and the sooner we figure that out, the better off we'll all be.

(Image from www.reggie.net.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

$70 Worth of Five Dollar Words

I ran across this charming passage on a section of the ACLA website titled Diasporan Ecofeminisms: Towards a Nomadology of Eco-Ethical Resistance:


As contemporary ecofeminist scholarship asserts, the trajectory of globalization is predicated on an inherently patriarchal ethos that creates environmentally racist and misogynistic geopolitical spaces, spaces that systematically divide the population according to racial and gendered hierarchies. Consequently, it is essential we expose the corporate geopolitical hegemonies that are causal to the worldwide spread of human suffering and environmental destruction.

This isn't just bad writing, it's also untrue. The global emergence of free markets is probably the most efficacious antiracist, antimisogynist phenomenon on the planet right now. If "contemporary ecofeminists" did any serious, competent field work, they would find that the vast majority of indigenous populations have the same kinds of racial and gendered hierarchies as the rest of us. Environmental pollution and destruction of biodiversity are indeed worrisome, but history has shown that non-market systems (e.g. Chinese and European socialism) tend to be even worse for the environment--at least in market economies efficiency is profitable. Regardless, such a opaque, jargon-heavy style virtually guarantees that no one but "contemporary ecofeminist scholar[s]" will take this gobbledygook seriously.

John Brockman, in short piece titled Edge: The Third Culture, predicts that the traditional literary intellectual will soon become marginalized to the point of irrelevancy. Given the current state of affairs in literary theory and criticism, it's not hard to see why.

(Image from farm2.static.flickr.com.)

The Onion: Humor in Shackles


This week The Onion is experimenting with an 18th century period theme. This is quite tedious to begin with, but the hateful and spectacularly unfunny "Humor in Shackles," which features mock jokes about the torture and killing of black slaves, is in the worst possible taste. Mark Twain's classic anti-slavery novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the word "nigger" over 200 times, yet still manages to depict its black and white characters as deeply human. "Humor in Shackles," despite its PC language, merely exploits horrific imagery in order to turn the knee-jerk mechanism of dehumanization back onto the white slave owners, committing itself to the same mentality of tribalist hatred and oppression that permits atrocities like slavery in the first place. Shitty satire* merely perpetuates the kind of thinking it purports to criticize, and this week's issue of The Onion is a case in point. Boo-urns.

*Also see Stuff White People Like, Wonder Showzen, etc.

(Image from bbb.videokitchen.tv.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Vocative Case

Thankfully, we don't have to worry too much about the vocative case in English, because our nouns don't change depending on what prepositional jigger they're paired up with. It's still there, though, even if we can't see it, and one thing we have to remember to do is use commas to set off any noun that we're addressing directly. This can be a person, as in the following example:

"I really think you should read more prose, Glenn, because Crime and Punishment isn't a fucking poem."

Or it can be an object:

"How do you feel about being sat on by that morbidly obese woman, chair?"

Or a pair of abstractions:

"You're a painted whore, Justice, and you, Truth, are a metaphysical chimera."

You should also use commas to set off the construction you x when you're calling someone a name:

"You keyed my car, you piece of shit."

In old school English (which, if it's recognizable at all, is probably Early Modern English), like in the King James Bible, the vocative case is sometimes marked with an O, as in the following sentence:

"O God, thank you for creating Pan's Labyrinth, the best movie ever."

(This is not to be confused with the interjection "Oh!" as in, "Oh! Pan's Labyrinth was such a good movie that my balls are still tingling!")

In some other languages, like Czech, for example, it's a little more complicated, because the ending of the noun changes as well. My friend's name is Ondra, but I have to change it to Ondro in the following sentence:

"You're still my friend, Ondro, even though you screwed my girlfriend after you both got drunk at Skleněná Louka that time."

Some people lament the abuse of commas. Well, I say, "Don't forget--neglect is abuse too!"

(Image from www.realtorwives.blogspot.com.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst is a British artist who's famous for installation pieces featuring dead animals floating in formaldehyde that sell for exorbitant amounts of money. He also does "spin paintings," which are created by someone (not Hirst himself, but one of his employees) dripping paint onto a flat, revolving surface. His piece For the Love of God, pictured here, was fashioned from a real human skull to which he affixed 8,601 diamonds. Whenever I think of Damien Hirst, I'm reminded of the painter Rabo Karabekian from Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, who "with his meaningless pictures had entered into a conspiracy with millionaires to make poor people feel stupid" (Vonnegut 214). Hirst doesn't even paint most of his own pictures, and I think the idea of the mastermind conceptual artist taking all the credit for merely signing his name on the work of others, especially as some sort of "ironic" critique of capitalism and mass production, was fraudulent and boring when Andy Warhol did it 40 years ago.

Damien Hirst's work is smug, nihilistic, and morally and aesthetically disgusting. He's not an artist, he's an artiste, and celebrity bullshitters like him are the reason why most people don't visit art galleries.

(Image from myartspace.com. Originally posted at Reviews! Reviews! Reviews!)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Big Bottle O' Pee


The worst thing about collecting a 24 hour urine sample is that you can't leave the house for very long.

YOU: Whatcha got in the bag?

ME: Oh, nothing, just 2 litres or so of cold, frothy piss. Mind if I put in in your fridge for an hour or two until I have to go again?

YOU: No problem, as long as I can still get at my 8-pack. Maybe I'll call some ladies and we'll have a party.

Fucking nephropathy. In the next life, I want to come back as a powerful cyborg, or maybe a nematode.

(Image from Land Line Media Blog)

MTV's 16 and Pregnant

According to MSN News, MTV is making a reality show called 16 and Pregnant. The programme was apparently inspired by the popularity of Juno (a film I hated) and will feature pregnant teenagers whose experiences are documented on camera and aired on MTV.

As any mother who takes her job seriously will explain, getting and being pregnant are the easiest parts of being a mom. The real challenges (and rewards) come afterward, along with late-night feedings, diaper changes, fevers, diarrhoea, trips to the emergency room, headaches, tears, frustration, a thousand tiny betrayals and reconciliations, frequent disagreements with one's partner (if he's around), disruption, improvisation, constant second-guessing, and, most of all, an often crushing and nearly overwhelming sense of total responsibility for the life of another human being.

A better idea for a show would be to send cameras to document the lives of 19 year old single parents of toddlers, who work all day at dead end service sector jobs while mouth-breathing daycare staff raise their kids for them, or their conversations with patronizing social workers who don't have an iota of genuine feeling for these women or their children. Maybe the show could also interview young fathers who have abandoned their kids and ask them how it feels to know that their children will grow up wondering why their fathers didn't love them, or that they are unlikely to ever meet their grandchildren, who also stand a decent chance of growing up fatherless.

Of course, MTV would never encourage today's teens, pregnant or otherwise, to grow up and take life seriously. Teenagers and childish twentysomethings can be persuaded to buy all kinds of crap they don't need, while hard-nosed adults who actually have to think about where their money goes probably give far less of it to the vacuous, opportunistic fashion peddlers at MTV.

I wonder if we'll see 16 year old girls getting pregnant in order to have a shot at making it onto national television. Let's hope today's young women are smarter than that.

(Image from Jupiter Images)

Juno Was a Lousy Movie

SOAPBOX ALERT: I usually try to avoid both preaching and critiquing movies at TPM, but sometimes a guy's just gotta harangue. So here I go:

Juno is only barely a movie about bringing new life into the world. It's primarily a postmodern moral experiment to see if ironic, near-weightless characters can have their cake and eat it too. To achieve this, it has to abandon the traditional stuff of reproductive drama, like territoriality, responsibility, and the powerful, conflicting bonds that exist between lovers, parents and offspring, in favour of an idealized grrl-topia where men behave like passive, indulgent milquetoasts or sexual predators, and mothers-to-be are somehow empowered by acting like selfish, irresponsible babies themselves.

The infant that arrives at the film's end is passed off to Garner's character with hardly a tear (says Juno in the voiceover: "She was never really ours, anyway"), and comes off more like an afterthought or prop than an actual human being. This child is inexplicably delivered from a promising domestic situation in which both parents are present (and in love!) along with three biological grandparents and a committed step-spouse, and into the hands of a single mother who has demonstrably poor taste in men--the equivalent of this in poker would be to throw out an entire royal flush for a queen and a joker. No one with any real-life childbearing experience could write a movie in which allegedly sane people think and act this way.

Juno tacitly encourages young women to think that pregnancy is all about them. It isn't. Juno also falsely suggests that giving up a baby after carrying it around for 9 months isn't much harder than getting one's appendix out. Whether one is pro-choice or pro-life is irrelevant--everyone should be pro-responsibility and pro-reality, and Juno is neither. It is a travesty, a celebration of narcissism and immaturity, and it's sad that real teenagers who don't know any better are going to take cues from this ridiculous film.

Blinkered selfishness and intelligent self-interest are not the same thing at all. The sooner more feminist-influenced artists figure this out, the sooner they'll stop making shitty movies like Juno.

(Image from www.dorkgasm.com)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Happy Victoria Day

Since 1977, the spirit of Queen Victoria has probably kept more Canadians home from work than whiplash and sciatica put together. I plan on staying in my pyjamas until at least noon, and I'm raising a coffee and Bailey's to the old girl right now. Cheers!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Ornithorynque


My daughter Caitlin taught me a new word: ornithorynque. Name and animal compose a weird and fantastic totem.

(Image from www.ryanphotographic.com)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Goodbye, Albert Hoffman (1906-2008)

Albert Hoffman died of a heart attack on April 29, 2008. He was 102. Hoffman was the first scientist to synthesize LSD. He also conducted research into the chemical composition of chitin.

Psychedelic technology, including drugs, has likely played an important and poorly understood role in human evolutionary history, and I think there is a place in the future of humankind for responsible psychedelic aesthetics and epistemology. However, the widespread use and abuse of LSD and similar drugs since the 1960's has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. It's also helped propagate a superficial, irresponsible culture of "junk spirituality" that arguably paved the way for the worst excesses of the New Age movement. Hoffman, in any case, was a scientist rather than a drug guru. His gift to posterity is ambivalent but potentially very valuable as well.

(Alex Grey's wonderfully kitschy painting appears courtesy of www.reason.com)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Caitlin and Chloe Talk Gnostic


I overheard this hilarious bit of conversation between my daughters Caitlin (8) and Chloe (6) as they sat on the floor drawing this afternoon. It came right out of the blue:

CAITLIN: Mother Nature is God's wife.

CHLOE: If we have God in our hearts, then he had a ton of babies. In God's world, boys get pregnant.

CAITLIN: They'd be like, "Is it Mother Nature Junior, or God Junior?"

(Image from www.membres.lycos.fr)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Milton's Satan


...Thus far these beyond
Compare of mortal prowess, yet observed
Their dread commander: he above the rest
In shape and gesture stood proudly eminent
Stood like a Tow'r; His form had not yet lost
All her Original brightness, nor appear'd
Less than archangel ruined and th'excess
Of Glory obscur'd: As when the Sun new ris'n
Looks through the Horizontal misty Air
Shorn of his Beams, or from behind the Moon
In dim Eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
On half the Nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes Monarchs. Darken'd so, yet shone
Above them all th'Arch Angel: but his face
Deep scars of Thunder had entrenched, and care
Sat on his faded cheek, but under Brows
Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride
Waiting revenge: cruel his eye, but cast
Signs of remorse and passion to behold
The fellows of his crime, the followers rather
(Far other once beheld in bliss) condemn'd
For ever now to have their lot in pain,
Millions of Spirits for his fault amerc't
Of Heav'n, and from Eternal Splendors flung
For his revolt, yet faithful how they stood,
Their Glory wither'd. As when Heaven's Fire
Hath scath'd the Forest Oaks, or Mountain Pines,
With singed top their stately growth though bare
Stands on the blasted Heath. He now prepar'd
To speak; whereat their doubl'd ranks they bend
From Wing to Wing, and half enclose him round
With all his Peers: attention held them mute.
Thrice he assay'd, and thrice in spite of scorn,
Tears such as Angels weep, burst forth: at last
Words interwove with sighs found out their way.

"O Myriads of immortal Spirits, O Powers
Matchless, but with th'Almighty, and that strife
Was not inglorious, though th'event was dire,
As this place testifies, and this dire change
Hateful to utter, but what power of mind
Forseeing or presaging, from the Depth
Of knowledge past or present, could have fear'd,
How such united forces of Gods, how such
As stood like these, could ever know repulse?
For who can yet believe, though after loss,
That all these puissant legions, whose exile
Hath emptied Heav'n, shall fail to re-ascend
Self-rais'd, and repossess their native seat.
For me, be witness all the Host of Heav'n,
If counsels different, or danger shunn'd
By me, have lost our hopes, but he who reigns
Monarch in Heav'n, till then as one secure
Sat on his throne, upheld by old repute,
Consent or custom, and his Regal State
Put forth at full, but still his strength conceal'd,
Which tempted our attempt, and wrought our fall.
Hence forth his might we know, and know our own
So as not either to provoke, or dread
New war, provok't, our better part remains
To work in close design, by fraud or guile
What force elected not: that he no less
At length from us may find, who overcomes
By force hath overcome but half his foe.
Space may produce new Worlds; whereof so rife
There went a fame in Heav'n that he ere long
Intended to create, and therein plant
A generation, whom his choice regard
Should favor equal to the Sons of Heav'n:
Thither, if but to pry, should be perhaps
Our first eruption, thither or elsewhere:
For this Infernal Pit shall never hold
Celestial Spirits in Bondage, nor th'Abyss
Long under darkness cover. But these thoughts
Full counsel must mature: Peace is despair'd,
For who can think Submission? War then, War
Open or understood must be resolv'd."

He spake: and to confirm his words, out-flew
Millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs
Of mighty Cherubim: the sudden blaze
Far round illumin'd hell: High they rag'd
Against the Highest, and fierce with grasp'd arms
Clash'd on their sounding shields the din of war,
Hurling defiance toward the vault of Heav'n.

(Paradise Lost 1:587-669. Image of Gustave Doré's woodcut from www.all-art.org)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

No One Wants to Look Dumb

Faze (v.): to disturb, daunt, or unsettle, from the Middle English fesen, meaning to frighten or drive away.

This word is not spelled p-h-a-s-e. If a young child, a supermarket cashier with a grade 6 education or a non-native speaker of English made a mistake like this, I wouldn't bat an eyelash. To find it on MSN News, a site that has recently taken to advertising itself with the arrogant slogan "No one wants to look dumb," is just irritating.

If you don't want to look dumb, MSN, perhaps you should encourage your editorial team to crack a book once in a while.

(For the record, it's not pronounced "fizz," either. Image from thechaly.files.wordpress.com)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Black Box Pluralism

"Despite its claims, 'pluralism' is in itself, paradoxically, a unifying perspective, but a rather procrustean one. What it does is reduce all cultural differences to a sort of grid of cultural black boxes laid out over an infinite plane, boxes whose external form is safely measurable but whose contents are incommensurable and thus unknowable, and which are, as it were, the fundamental monads or quanta of reality. Geometrically it resembles the characteristic grid-design of the American city, or the relationship between departments in the American multiversity. Though pluralism forbids any attempt to perceive one cultural box as containing another, and thus revealing a comparable and measurable internal structure, it is itself a kind of gigantic box containing all other boxes as its subordinate material. Thus, like relativism, it contains a subtle hegemonic ambition of its own.

"One way of describing what is the problem with pluralism is to say that if the universe is curved, even a simple sphere, no grid of equal rectilinear blocks can cover (or 'tile') it without overlap. Specialization, and the definition of smaller and smaller cultural units, might be seen as the desperate resource of an intellectual culture trying to solve exactly this problem. If the world's squares are small enough, perhaps the distortions of the world's curvature will somehow go away" (Frederick Turner 1991, Tempest, Flute and Oz: Essays on the Future pp. 30-1).

(Image from blog.jovoto.com)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mantra For Conscious Life













Inhale (please).
Exhale (thank you).
Repeat x 65, 700, 000.

(Image from www.timboucher.com)

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Cremaster Cycle: Treading Water in a Sea of Retarded Sexuality and Bad Poetry


Matthew Barney's film series, the Cremaster Cycle, is a cognitively retarded and symbolically barren exercise in tedium and bad taste. Barney's take on biology is more of a superficial pose than a serious exploratioin, and the sexual logic underlying his artistic vision is not evolutionary (i.e. human) but rather postmodern and Freudian. He throws around terms like "system" and "entropy," but makes no effort to link his use of these concepts to the notion of complex dynamical systems as they are now understood to occur in nature and culture (see James Gleick's Chaos and A Blessed Rage for Order by Alexander Argyros, both of which predate the Cremaster Cycle, for an introduction to this topic). Sport, likewise, appears in his work as a pseudo-theme, but since there are no distinct players or rules (not even the dynamic, evolving ones described by game theory), the treatment, again, is superficial.

What I can't understand is why Barney gets such rave reviews--his work appears on the covers of art history textbooks, and people seem to be throwing money at him to slop vaseline all over the Guggenheim (only an American artist could be so self-consciously Eurotrash). I guess the sophistos and trendoids of the moneyed academic art world have mistaken his vagueness and obscurity for depth, so no one wants to be the poor benighted rube who asks why the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

The film series' only (dubious) value, it seems to me, is as a study of how an ill-conceived "closed aesthetic system" quickly succumbs to entropy, resulting in artless and sterile mutations like a grotesque half-sheep/half bagpipe or a rubber tire from which a pair of testicles dangles uselessly. It may be argued that this is the point, and that Barney's work succeeds as a depiction of aesthetic schizophrenia and metaphysical failure, but it's surely foolish to praise bad art for its ability to express bad ideas. Serious art, whatever its form and content, gives expression to enduring human themes like hope, promise and gravity--ideas which are absent from Barney's inane films.

Here's a link to a documentary-length interview with Barney that shows some of his work, and here's another to a Cremaster trailer. See if you can figure out what he means by terms like "mythology," "narrative," and "character"--I don't think he even knows.

Rather than releasing his films in a low cost, mass-market format like everyone else, Barney has pressed a limited run of 20 DVD's and auctioned them off in gussied up packaging for over $100,000 each. The unwashed philistines and non-cognoscenti will have to settle for a 30 minute excerpt from Cremaster 3, or maybe they will be able to find Neville Wakefield's overpriced book in a public library. Walter Benjamin, (the Marxist author of "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" whose ideas about art and mass production have influenced 3 generations of "anti-establishment" elitists) would be impressed, no doubt, but I suspect Barney's marketing strategy has more to do with the fact that on some level he realizes that the common consumer, who is unburdened by a Yale education in postmodern pretension, would quickly see the Cremaster films for the malarky that they are.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If civilization fails when art and culture stop being sexy, then the Cremaster Cycle is a crime against humanity. I, for one, would rather watch a clown die of cancer than sit through all 7.5 hours of Barney's incoherent, self-indulgent, desperately ugly horseshit.

(image from www.soundopinions.org)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Goodbye, Arthur C. Clark (1917-2008)

Arthur C. Clark had a very good run. In addition to being an excellent science fiction writer, he was also an accomplished scientist. Childhood's End is probably my favorite of his books, although I also liked Songs of Distant Earth for more sentimental reasons.

(Image from latimes.com)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Happy Early Easter

My friend Ondra sent me this:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Bass with Balls #1: Music Man Stingray

The Music Man Stingray was first produced in 1976. Its physical similarity to the Fender Precision bass can be explained by the fact that it was designed by disgruntled former Fender employees, including Leo Fender himself, who sold his company to CBS in 1965. The classic Stingray, like the one pictured here, boasts a single humbucking pickup in the bridge position and an active 2 band EQ. Fingerstyle players who are used to anchoring their thumb on a neck pickup will have a tough time with the Stingray, as the strings have less springiness and punch when plucked way down by the bridge.

The Stingray sounds like a sabre-toothed tiger in heat humping a hive full of honeybees. Not only are its low mids thicker than Ricki Lake's ankles, but their complexity is fractaline, layering a piano-like clarity and sustain and a fret-buzzy growl to create a tone that's almost synesthetic. Properly amplified, the Stingray will cut through any racket made by even the noisiest guitarist like a knife through warm butter, without the honking and blatting characteristic of its Fender cousins. Its tone is perfect for funk, rock, punk, or metal, but the single pickup limits its tonal range, and if I were playing soft jazz, R&B or country I would probably reach for a different bass (likely a Fender Jazz). Although the Stingray's quality is legendary, it sacrifices versatility for personality, and some bass players just don't like it. I respect this. it takes more balls to be original, warts and all, than to be some kind of half-assed chameleon.

This bass is famous for its rugged construction (its body is solid ash and its neck is attached by six fat bolts--that's 2 more than are holding my Fender Jazz 5 together) as well as its quiet electronics (it's called a "humbucker," after all). Lower-end manufacturers have recently started copying it more often, but it still trails far behind the P-bass in terms of how often its design is ripped off. The most noteworthy budget Stingray clone is probably the Ibanez ATK, which, in my opinion, is a stylish piece of junk like everything else built by Ibanez.

Famous rock bassists who play a Stingray include Cliff Williams of AC/DC, Flea (who has since switched to a signature model Modulus Stingray clone that costs as much as a used Toyota), Tim Commeford of Rage Against the Machine (who switched to the Fender Jazz bass after Rage's first album) and Justin Chancellor of Tool (who switched to Zon basses about halfway through the recording of Aenima). I don't know why all the Stingray players are jumping ship--my guess is their great bass tone made them famous enough to afford fancier axes like Zons and Moduli. Even Kurt Cobain traded in his trusty Volvo for a Lexus in the end.

Here are some videos featuring the Stingray: The Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Aeroplane" (the Stingray's forte is slap-and-pop, and it really stands out in this song) and Rage Against the Machine's "Bomb Track."

Sunday, March 2, 2008

H.R. Giger

The biotechnological aesthetic in H.R. Giger's work is interesting, but I think its pessimism, its reptillian coldness, and its distorted or ugly faces and figures keep it from being beautiful. I'd love to see something similar with more emphasis on the informational rather than the mechanical and industrial, and on consciousness over blindness and violent manipulation. Some arboreal and mammalian (i.e. human) motifs might open up the possibility of a narrative with more than one or two dimensions (an exploration of evolutionary [dis]continuity, or self-reference, maybe?) while still allowing room for the treatment of the tragic and the grotesque. Too bad I can't draw or paint, so I all I'm basically doing is complaining that no one will make this art for me.



Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Blast from the Past


My friend Furlong tagged me in this photo today on Facebook. Please forgive the gratuitous vulgarity. I did a lot of tasteless things for no good reason when I was younger.

In retrospect, 2000 was a pretty good year. I partied a lot, stayed up late, read Kafka's The Castle, Henry Miller's Sexus, Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut and Benjamin Kuras' Czechs and Balances. I only got 3/4 of the way through The Idiot, and I haven't returned to it. I spent Christmas 1999 in Svratka and New Year's Eve at Stara Osada in Brno, where I was drunkenly hugging the toilet by 12:30 AM. In April I got a sweet job working the backshift at the Ultramar across the street from my apartment on Chebucto road (where this photo was taken) and I'd get off work at 8:00 Monday morning (which was my "Friday night") and sit on the front steps in flip flops and a straw hat, watching all the commuters on their way to work and drinking moonshine out of a 3 litre jug (it took me over a month to drink all 3 litres). Caitlin was born that June.

Part of me asks, "Has it really been 8 years?" but another part wants to know, "Has it only been 8 years?"

Friday, February 22, 2008

Nature mort au crane


Pablo Picasso 1945. Oil on canvas. Click to enlarge.

(Anyone know how to get diacritics on Blogger?)

The Radiant Abyss

Orpheus loses Penelope when, as he makes his way back from the world of the dead, he looks back to see if she's actually following him. Likewise, in the Clive Barker story "Hell's Event," the humans competing in the foot race against Hell's runner are lost, one by one, when they look back over their shoulders toward the apparition at their heels.

An older woman I respect for being at peace with herself and the world once said to me, "You have to turn the page--move on." It seems like good advice, but I find it difficult to accept.

If we don't look back, then we forget. If we forget, then we betray the dead, even as we die ourselves.

(image from www.duniho.com)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bass with Balls #2: Rickenbacker 4003

The Rickenbacker 4003 bass was introduced in 1980 and is still in production today. It is the only Bass with Balls to feature neck-through-body construction, which means that the guitar's neck is built directly into the body instead of being bolted on. This gives the instrument better sustain due to its greater rigidity, and Rickenbacker players are notoriously contemptuous of bolt-on basses. The 4003 is the most unconventionally shaped bass on the list. It's also the most expensive, and usually retails for around $2200 U.S.

The 4003 has two single coil pickups, one at the bridge and another at the neck. An interesting feature that comes standard on the 4003 is the "Ric-O-Sound" stereo output jack. Basically, the bass has 2 output jacks instead of the usual 1, and these can be used to connect the neck and bridge pickups to separate amplifiers or effects loops.

The 4003 is famous for its treble and its sustain, as well as the combination of "click" and "boom" made possible by its stereo outputs. It has a distinctive cold, brassy, bright, not-quite-distorted "space gun" tone, which can be further emphasized by playing with a pick. Fingerstyle players like me really have to wail hard on the Rickenbacker's strings (not that I've had more than a handful of opportunities to play one over the years), and of the 4 basses on the list, the 4003 is probably the most physically demanding to play. It also has the nerdiest prog-rock stigma, and goes extremely well with fluffy sideburns, flared cuffs, and silver pants (not like I'd say that to Lemmy's face).

Some famous Rickenbacker players are the aforementioned Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Paul D'Amour (Tool's old bassist) and the late, great Cliff Burton of Metallica fame. If anyone's dying to see Geddy with a Rickenbacker, they can go to youtube and check out the video for "Subdivisions".

Here's Tool's "Sober," in which the Rickenbacker sound carries the entire song (it almost sounds like 2 basses at once, which is probably the stereo output in action), and Motorhead's "Killed By Death," which is the greatest metal video ever made.


Bass with Balls #3: Fender Jazz Bass

The Fender Jazz bass, also called the" J-bass," came on the market in 1960. It differs from its older sister, the Fender Precision bass (to which it is ceaselessly and favorably compared, in this review and elsewhere), in that it has a thinner, rounder neck, a more asymmetrical body, and two single coil pickups instead of one split single coil. The J-bass, for whatever reason, is not imitated nearly as often as the P-bass by low end manufacturers, although higher end luthiers (the guys who make guitars) who build custom basses sometimes copy its "waist contour" body style.

The Jazz bass has a greater range of tonal variation than the Precision due to the two single coils. The neck pickup has a warm, soft-edged, woody whump, whump sound, while the bridge pickup has a bright, nasal, throaty honk (the Precision bass is nasal too, but it sounds kind of like beyrm, beyrm, while the J-Bass goes glonk, glonk, glonk). When both of its pickups are turned up, the J-bass produces a scooped mid tone that is excellent for slapping (the P-bass makes an unattractive "farty" sound when slapped due to a mid frequency spike), and this also has a hum-cancelling effect. I would call the Jazz bass more of a bass player's bass: it's more reliable, more versatile (despite its name, it's great for rock, metal, and funk as well as jazz), sexier, and it stands out better in the mix. Basically, it has more balls.

Many famous bass players own and play Jazz basses, but the only rock musicians I can think of that play them consistently are Geddy Lee of Rush and Tim Commerford of Rage Against the Machine. So here are two videos in which the Jazz bass is particularly audible, Rush's "Stick It Out" and "Bulls On Parade" by RATM. Give 'em a listen and see if you can hear the glonk.

Clean Air for Kids Campaign

Today is International Pipe Smoking Day, and I'd like to take a moment to discuss the Clean Air for Kids campaign. This is an initiative by the Lung Association of Canada, the aim of which is to make it illegal for people to smoke in cars when there are children present. This Canada-wide campaign is advertised on television all the time here in New Brunswick, and, I assume, elsewhere in Canada as well. The basic idea is that smoking in a car when children are present would become an offense punishable by a ticket and a fine.

I think this is a terrible idea. This is not to say that parents should be "free to choose" whether they want to expose their children to such hazards. On the contrary, they should be prevented from doing so by the filial bond , which is the strongest, oldest, and most culturally universal of all constraints on human behaviour. As far as the state is concerned, however, people not in public employ should be allowed to chain smoke all day in a car full of kids, puppies and emphysema victims if they want to. Protecting children from lung diseases caused by tobacco smoke is primarily a job for parents or other adults into whose care they have entrusted their children, and secondarily for education and the moral pressure of public opinion--never, in any case, for armed police, who should have better things to do with their time.

I'm proud to be a Canadian, and I support my country's decision to provide universal basic health care for its citizens, but this does not make my children wards of the state. If civil society can't be left to its own devices in relatively minor matters of conscience (after all, it's not like smokers are butting their cigarettes out in kids' eyes), then how can it be trusted with the task of democratic self-government?

On Natural Selection: Letter to The Argosy

Dear Argosy:

This letter concerns G.H.'s review of On Natural Selection by Charles Darwin in the February 14 2008 issue of The Argosy. I will start by applauding Mr. H.’s choice of book for review. Charles Darwin is often overlooked and misunderstood by otherwise educated and perceptive readers, and it made my heart glad to see his face in The Argosy. However, as I see it, the review itself had 3 major problems:

1. Mr. H.’s description of ONS as “a scientific publication meant for an audience of science nerds, not literature geeks” is a glib mischaracterization of both the literate public and Darwin’s work. The Origin of Species, from which ONS is taken, is widely regarded as a literary landmark as well as a scientific one. It requires no specialized scientific knowledge in order to understand it, and may serve as a paragon of thematic focus and argumentative integrity for any serious humanities student. Darwin was not writing for “nerds,” but for the whole human race, and the theory of natural selection—his gift to posterity—is one of the most profoundly original, true and beautiful ideas in the living world.

2. An “elegant” prose style is characterized not by aesthetic gush, but by graceful refinement, clarity, economy, and dignity: this is precisely the kind of writing found in Charles Darwin’s fine book. While there is nothing wrong with Mr. H.’s admission that he found the book difficult, he crosses a line by suggesting that Darwin, rather than Mr. H. himself, is at fault for this. It is boorish and incredibly arrogant for a student reviewer to hold a classic work of literature, even an abridged one like On Natural Selection, to his own self-indulgent standard of “readability.” He should instead consider measuring his own skill as a reader against the challenge such a work offers.

3. If Mr. H. understood Darwin’s ideas, he would be less eager to place them in proximity to so-called “social Darwinism.” Far from being a mere “extrapolation” of the theory of natural selection into the human realm, social Darwinism is fundamentally a misunderstanding, not a misapplication, of Darwinian evolution. Even the most basic understanding of human biology is actually incompatible with pseudoscientific racism. The all-too-human urge to evaluate something negatively before we fully understand it, however, has been responsible for, or at least complicit in, many of the bloodiest crimes in human history.

Mr. H. and self-styled “literature geeks” interested in the humanistic implications of Darwinian ideas may find the following works of use:

Carroll, Joseph. Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Penguin, 2002.

Storey, Robert. Mimesis and the Human Animal: On the Biogenetic Foundations of Literary Representation. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Tooby, J. and Cosmides, L. “The Psychological Foundations of Culture.” In J.H. Barkow, Tooby J. and Cosmides L. (eds.). The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture (pp. 19-136). New York, Oxford University Press.

Turner, Frederick. The Culture of Hope: A New Birth of the Classical Spirit. New York: Free Press, 1995.

Wilson, Edward O. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Regards,

John

(image from www.northernsun.com)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bass with Balls #4: Fender Precision Bass

The criteria a bass must meet in order to qualify as a "bass with balls" are simple: it must be able to cut through the ungodly racket made by the average guitarist playing with distortion, and it must have a distinct tone that is instantly recognizable as belonging to it and no other bass. Incidentally, any of the 4 basses on the list could bludgeon a 300 pound Hell's Angel into a coma and then play a 2 hour set. This doesn't count toward their Bass with Balls ranking, but it's nice to know that classic style, rugged construction, and great sound seem to converge in the world's greatest rock basses.

(I regret the sexist connotations of "balls," but I'm afraid there's really no equivalent politically correct metaphor. If it's any consolation to feminists, a person's body doesn't need to have balls in order for them to play music that does. For example, Janice Joplin, Heart and Blondie have a surfeit of balls, while George Michael and James Blunt have no balls whatsoever. But I digress.)

introduced by Leo Fender in 1951, the Fender Precision Bass, nicknamed the "P-bass" was the very first mass produced electric bass guitar. Its pickup configuration, which consists of one split single coil, and its body shape, which looks like a Fender Stratocaster's heavyset, dowdy sister, have been imitated by about 85% of introductory (i.e. cheap) model basses in the last 55 years.

A real Fender P-bass, when strung with new stainless steel strings of a decent gauge and played through a good amp, will yield a full, warm, snarling, crisp, woody, slightly nasal tone that is excellent for rock and punk but only passable for metal (Ozzy can get away with it, Pantera probably couldn't). With older or nickel strings, poorly EQ'd or played through a bad amp, it can become mushy, bland, inobtrusive and pedestrian, like the bass you can't remember from every McDonald's commercial you've ever seen. Unfortunately, the Fender brand name attracts more enthusiasts than it does actual musicians, and about half of the yahoos playing one don't realize that there's a real art to getting it to sound good.

For those who would like to listen to what a P-Bass sounds like when things go right, I suggest listening to Ozzy Osbourne's "I Just Want You" through headphones (while watching the video--it's great). And In celebration of music with balls, here's Heart's "Barracuda."

Lord Brain 1895-1966


This post remembers eminent British neurologist Dr. Russell Brain, 1st Baron Brain, aka The Right Honourable the Lord Brain (1895-1966), author of Brain's Diseases of the Nervous System and longtime editor of the medical journal Brain. He was knighted in 1952, and cared for Winston Churchill on Churchill's deathbed in 1965 (Wikipedia).

Lord Brain must have looked in the mirror every morning and said, "I have the best name in the whole world."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Charter 77 and Moral Responsibility

In January 1977, a document titled Charter 77 (Charta 77 in Czech and Slovak) was published as a manifesto in a West German newspaper after being circulated within communist Czechoslovakia. It was signed by 243 Czechoslovak citizens, including well-known signatories Vaclav Havel and Jan Patocka. The document criticized the Czechoslovak communist government's "systematic violation of human rights and freedoms" and its failure to uphold the human rights laws it had agreed to follow in the Czechoslovak constitution, the Helsinki Accords of 1975, and in various United Nations covenants. The authors of the document took great pains to emphasize the informality of their association and the fact that it in no way formed a basis for political opposition to the communist regime.

The Czechoslovak government dealt severely with the signatories, who were publicly denounced as traitors and imperialist agents by the communist party and its state media apparatus. Many of them were fired from their jobs, their children were denied access to higher education, privileges such as their drivers' licenses and passports were suspended, and some dissidents were even exiled or imprisoned. Their lives were essentially ruined because they signed a document which, in so many words, asked the Czechoslovak government to follow its own laws. Although many more of the Czech people sympathized with the signatories, they did not sign the Charter, and thus they bear part of the responsibility for the suffering of those who did.

Likewise, critical or inflammatory blog comments posted anonymously, unsigned emails, letters, and other such messages are the recourse of the coward. If one cannot take responsibility for one's opinion, then one does not deserve to have one. Even in the face of severe reprisals, people who author these kinds of statements anonymously must realize that in choosing not to sign their name they are undermining the possibility of living in truth that forms the bedrock of civil society, and thus they become morally complicit in the wrongdoing they seek to criticize. This is not to say that people should always throw their lives away needlessly, but rather that it is not possible to be both brave and cowardly at the same time. Sometimes a coward is the sensible thing to be, not only for one's own sake but for the sake of one's children: this is why the various totalitarian regimes of the 20th century were among the worst indignities ever inflicted upon the human race.

Naked Baby with Book


Two things you can say about my family: we love to get naked and we love to read. In this instance, Jack climbed up into the orange easy chair, peed on it, and then sat down in the puddle to read Robert Munsch's wonderful Love You Forever (we don't normally let our son wallow in his own urine, but somehow it just happened). This picture now resides in a special file titled Pics to Show the Prom Date.

C'est une Pipe!

February 20th is International Pipe Smoking Day (here's a link to a fancy brochure). I'm not sure why my fellow pipe smokers would choose to celebrate pipe smoking (an outdoor activity if there ever was one) in the dead of winter, but I'll play ball. I encourage anyone and everyone of legal age to grab a briar on February 20th and light up in celebration of civil liberty and the responsible use of a noble and oft-maligned plant.

The pipe, in one form or another, has been a trusty human companion for a very long time. I think it's a potent symbol, both of our miraculous self-domestication and of the gods' generosity.

(image from www.psychogarage.freeserve.co.uk)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Natural Classical Manifesto

The following is taken from Frederick Turner's The Culture of Hope, pp. 225-8:

1. The Reunion of Artist with Public

Art should grow from and speak to the common roots and universal principles of human nature in all cultures.

Art should direct itself to the general public.

Those members of the general public who do not have the time, training, or inclination to craft and express its higher yearnings and intuitions, rightly demand an artistic elite to be the culture's prophetic mouthpiece and mirror.

Art should deny the simplifications of the political Left and Right, and should refine and deepen the radical center.

The use of art, and of cheap praise, to create self-esteem, is a cynical betrayal of all human cultures.

Excellence and standards are as real and universal in the arts as in competitive sports, even if they take more time and refined judgement to appreciate.

2. The Reunion of Beauty with Morality

The function of art is to create beauty.

Beauty is incomplete without moral beauty.

There should be a renewal of the moral foundations of art as an instrument to civilize, ennoble, and inspire.

True beauty is the condition of civilized society.

Art recognizes the tragic and terrible costs of human civilization, but does not abandon hope in the civilizing process.

Art must recover its connection to religion and ethics without becoming the propagandist of any dogmatic system.

Beauty is the opposite of coercive political power.

Art should lead but not follow political morality.

We should restore reverence for the grace and beauty of human beings and of the rest of nature.

3. The Reunion of High with Low Art

Popular and commercial art forms are the soil in which high art grows.

Theory describes art; art does not illustrate theory.

Art is how a whole culture speaks to itself.

Art is how cultures communicate with and marry each other.

4. The Reunion of Art with Craft

Certain forms, genres and techniques of art are culturally universal, natural, and classical.

Those forms are innate but require a cultural tradition to awaken them.

They include such things as visual representation, melody, storytelling, poetic meter, and dramatic mimesis.

These forms, genres, and techniques are not limitations or constraints but enfranchising instruments and infinitely generative feedback systems.

High standards of craftsmanship and mastery of the instrument should be restored.

5. The Reunion of Passion with Intelligence

Art should come from and speak to what is whole in human beings.

Art is the product of passionate imaginative intelligence, not of psychological sickness and damage.

Even when it deals, as it often should and must, with the terrifying, tragic, and grotesque, art should help heal the lesions within the self and the rifts in the self's relation to the world.

The symbols of art are connected to the embodiment of the human person in a physical and social environment.

6. The Reunion of Art with Science

Art extends the creative evolution of nature on this planet and in the universe.

Art is the natural ally, interpreter, and guide of the sciences.

The experience of truth is beautiful.

Art is the missing element in environmentalism.

Art can be reunited with physical science through such ideas as evolution and chaos theory.

The reflectiveness of art can be partly understood through the study of nonlinear dynamical systems and their strange attractors in nature and mathematics.

The human species emerged from the mutual interactions of biological and cultural evolution.

Thus our bodies and brains are adapted to and demand artistic performance and creation.

We have a nature, that nature is cultural, that culture is classical.

Cultural evolution was partly driven by inventive play in artistic handicrafts and performance.

The order of the universe is neither deterministic nor on the road to irreversible decay; instead, the universe is self-renewing, self-ordering, unpredictable, creative, and free.

Thus human beings do not need to labor miserably to despoil the world of its diminishing stockpile of order, and struggle with one another for possession of it, only to find that they have bound themselves into a mechanical and deterministic way of life.

Instead they can cooperate with nature's own artistic processes and with each other in a free and open-ended play of value creation.

Art looks with hope to the future and seeks a closer union with the true progress of technology.

7. The Reunion of Past with Future

Art evokes the shared past of all human beings, that is the moral foundation of civilization.

Sometimes the present creates the future by breaking the shackles of the past; but sometimes the past creates the future by breaking the shackles of the present.

The Enlightenment and Modernism are examples of the former; the Renaissance, and perhaps our own time, are examples of the latter.

No artist has completed his or her artistic journey until he or she has sojourned with and learned the wisdom of the dead artists who came before.

The future will be more, not less, aware of and indebted to the past that we are; just as we are more aware of and indebted to the past than were our ancestors.

The immortality of art goes both ways in time.

(Image by Eduardo Risso, 100 Bullets )

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Time to Get Serious


It occurred to me at the Protest the Hero show the other night that although I've been playing bass for 12 years (and I was a quick study, I might add), I've hardly improved at all for at least 10 of them. Since I started in grade 10 I've played bigger shows with progressively better bands, but I haven't built a repertoire of cover songs, I haven't learned to read music on the bass (it should be a cinch, since I can read it for piano and trumpet), I can't slap well, I can't tap at all, I can't count out odd time signatures or polyrhythms, I can't solo or play with a pick to save my life, and when it comes to improvising, I'm hamfisted, slow and limited to three scales. I've always embraced the "less-is-more, deeper-is-better" philosophy of bass playing, and it's served me well, but, truthfully, part of why I denouce flashy bassists as masturbators is because I'm envious of their skill.

I've always said to myself, "Well, if I just practiced more, I could be better if I wanted to," but now I'm starting to think that I'd learn more, faster if I started taking lessons from a competent teacher. Following one's own inclinations can only take the learner so far, because the best knowledge, skills and techniques in any field are rare, hard-won and often counterintuitive. Some people might argue that any kind of "true" classicism violates the spirit of the rock ethos (this is probably the only point in the known universe that Alan Bloom and punk rockers would agree on, and I hope to return to Bloom's ill-tempered but philosophically interesting critique of rock music as irresponsible, vulgar and onanistic in a future post), but I think this is balderdash. It may seem paradoxical that submission to the rigours of tradition would be profoundly liberating, but I believe it's nonetheless true. I just hope I can find the time and the self-discipline to go as far as I can with this, because I really am getting too old to be a poseur or a dabbler.

I was thinking I'd find some inspiration if I spruced my old Fender Jazz 5 up a little bit with a truss rod and intonation adjustment, lighter strings and a fancy new pickguard, but I need to get a goddamn job before I start worrying about all that.

(Image from www.gand.com)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Protest the Hero

Robyn and I went to see Protest the Hero at Manhattan in Moncton last night. They're touring in support of their new album, Fortress. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a great show. I don't think their recordings or videos do justice to the heaviness and energy of their live act, and in real life they're a lot more metal and a lot less "emo" than they might seem in the video below (which is still pretty good and worth a watch). Anyway, it was probably the best show I've seen since we saw A Perfect Circle in Toronto in 2004 and I'd go see PTH again in a heartbeat. My only complaint was that their set seemed kind of short given that tickets cost $15.


(Image from www.punknews.org)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Smoking Pot Causes Early, Serious Lung Disease


According to an article at Science Daily, a paper published in the January 2008 issue of Respirology claims that marijuana smokers incur lung damage at a faster rate than do tobacco smokers. The study, titled "Bullous Lung Disease due to Marijuana," found that the mean age for marijuana smokers to develop billous lung disease (a condition whereby air becomes trapped in the lungs and causes breath blockage and destruction of lung tissue) was 41, compared to 65 years of age for cigarette smokers.

I'm not saying smoking weed is right or wrong--sitting on the couch, eating a bag of chips and going to bed early is probably healthier than sticking a needle in your arm or getting curb-stomped down at the local watering hole because you were dancing with Leroy's girl, and it seems fair to say that pot smokers rarely wake up in jail or the hospital. But still, who wants to be a 41 year old with a debilitating lung disease?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My Babies


Chloe, Jack, Caitlin

I Can't Even Beat Up a 17 Year Old Kid

Boxing is hard. I fought a high school student yesterday who I probably outweighed by a good 80-100 pounds, and I landed 2 (wussy) punches on him in 3 minutes. This was as long as I could go before being reduced to a ragged, gasping, sweaty mess. The other guy had been in the ring all night, but he's been boxing for a lot longer than I have.

It's good to get some exercise. I'm sure the 10 years of heavy boozing, smoking, and other toxic foolishness that I have only recently (and imperfectly) put behind me will catch up to me sooner or later. My intent is not to "save myself" by becoming a fitness nut, but rather to try to enjoy my residence in my body while I still can.

I used to think that I hated sports, but now I wonder if I just had a bad attitude. Misfit sports, like boxing at Bob Edgett's Boys' Club in Sackville, can be a lot of fun.

I wonder if jocks get together for misfit reading groups (my guess is they don't).

(Image from blog.simslearningconnections.com )

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Metaphysical Cast of Mind

Joseph Carroll writes in his book Literary Darwinism that the "metaphysical cast of mind" is characterized by a "naive humanistic faith in the supreme efficacy of grandiose abstractions" and a "credulous susceptibility to 'Big Words.'" He contrasts this with the scientific approach (exemplified, according to Carroll, in Robert Storey's book Mimesis and the Human Animal), which places its faith instead in a "cumulative and self-correcting body of empirical information" (Carroll 59).

I love the turn of phrase (said the rambling humanist) and I think he has a point. Sobriety of style is something all serious writers should strive for. On the other hand, if philosophy and literary criticism could be fully assimilated into said "cumulative and self-correcting body of empirical information," we'd probably call them physics, biology and information theory.

I will continue to put my own (possibly naive) humanistic faith in the curious gods of our universe, science among them.

(Image from www.bilkent.edu.tr)

Friday, February 1, 2008

I Went to See Hayden and Shotgun Jimmy at Mount Allison Last Night...


...and behaved like an obnoxious ass. Here's a representative sample of the evening's conversation:





ME (Loudly): Are you guys here to see Weezer? Oh man, this is gonna be so AWESOME! ROCK AND ROLL! WHOO-HOO!

CLEVELAND: Three of my ex-girlfriends walked in just now.

DAVE: I thought London was pretentious and expensive.

It isn't that Hayden was bad--he's a gifted songwriter, and his piano stuff was especially impressive. But the place was full of undergrad indie kids in scarves, argyle and tight corduroys, and I was feeling insecure about my age and belligerent about the fact that Sackville music scene has lately been overrun by lethargic, shoegazing faux geek androgynes.

Anyway, here's a Hayden track (with balls) that used to be on Muchmusic when I was in high school--back in the days when Much actually played things we used to call "music videos" from time to time. It takes a minute to load, but it's worth the wait:



(Image from www.hfxnews.ca)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Worst Game Ever


Think you've got what it takes? Here's a challenge for you: while writhing and groaning on the couch in the throes of food poisoning (on your 28th birthday, no less), try as hard as you can to not think of the sensual, visceral, exquisitely nauseating details of the salmon, rice, and raw broccoli (the latter not pictured, thank God) you ate the night before.

Yes, I'm feeling sorry for myself. Wouldn't you?

(Image from www.biggestmenu.com)