April 28, 2009

One Month

We've only got just over a month left in Butchertown. On one hand, we can't wait to move. On the other, this has been a very interesting place. It deserves a tribute, and indeed it will get one . . . eventually.

In Rotation

Boris - Absolutego and Amplifier Worship
Masayuki Takanayagi/Kaoru Abe - Mass Projection
Millionaires - Bling Bling Bling
Pauline Oliveros - Deep Listening
The Goslings - Grandeur of Hair
Tommy Johnson - "Canned Heat Blues"
Spacemen 3 - Dreamweapon
Neil Young - On the Beach
Various Artists - The Crime Scene
OST - Godzilla Vol. I (1954 - 1979)
Ravel - Daphnis and Chloe
Kurt Vile - Constant Hitmaker and God is Saying This to You
Rob Bayne - Billionaire Plays Guitar
Lightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain
Bukka White - The Complete Bukka White
Latent Chaos - Cafe of Onlyness
Various Artists - Harmonica Blues
Various Artists - The Sound of the Swamp: Best of Excello Vol. 1
Bassholes - When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again
Johnny Cash - American III: Solitary Man and American IV: The Man Comes Around
Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique

Headin' into derby weekend . . . and I'm out.

April 25, 2009

The Death of Thought: Common Sense

I have learned that to be right and useful, one must accept a continuing divergence between approved belief - what I have elsewhere called conventional wisdom - and the reality. And in the end, not surprisingly, it is the reality that counts.
-- John Kenneth Galbraith
"Common sense" is so called because it is (supposedly) truth that is known and accepted by most everyone. Common sense makes an appearance on both sides of the culture wars, but is most frequently cited by cultural conservatives in a bid for (or assumption of) populist acceptance. Wherever common sense appears, it must be resisted: common sense is the most virulent of anti-intellectualisms. Common sense is the death of rational thought.

Common sense is invoked to avoid thinking. Common sense is an intellectual shortcut: any "truth" it expounds is an unexamined truth, at least at the point it exists as common sense. The more one's moral and intellectual makeup depends on common sense, the less one is personally involved in the moral and intellectual process.

Ideally, we would develop morally and intellectually first from personal experience, and secondly from our interfaces with the ideas of others. It is important to understand that moral and intellectual development is a process - one would hope a never ending process - as opposed to a nirvana-esque state of enlightenment we hope to achieve. Every day we have experiences, and we struggle (one hopes it's a struggle, anyway) to put the experiences into the context of the moral and intellectual framework of our lives. We do the same with the ideas and values of others as we encounter them. These experiences and ideas are the things we "know" and the things we "believe". As we come to understand moral and intellectual development as a process, we continually question the things we "know" and "believe" in the context of new and ever-changing information. Our ideas and values are subject to constant and never-ending scrutiny. As unexamined "truth", common sense is the enemy of evolutionary thought. I'm not so naive as to believe that life completely innocent of assumption is possible; but the more life is examined, the more new truth comes into focus. This is the "truth process", an evolutionary process that we, as rational beings, owe allegiance.

* * * * *

The truth process always requires new information to continue. Lack of new information leads to the end of the process. New information only arises in a break with the known: it is only at this break (Badiou's "event") we can re-contextualize our world, only at this break that we can examine what we know in a new light. A muscle develops by breaking through its sheathing in a continual process of injury and renewal; the intellect and its double, morality, develop in exactly the same way.

The truth process requires two seemingly contradictory things at the same time: fanatical devotion to what we know as well as the fanatical devotion to questioning what we know. All truth must be hard-earned in this way. Anything less than both a radical questioning and a radical allegiance undermines the truth process . . . throws it out of balance, if you will.

Common sense can take the form of radical allegiance, but it is never (as we've seen) a radical questioning. As surely as it is a way to avoid thinking, it is also a way to avoid the impact of the break, the catastrophe of the event. Common sense is the unbroken sheathing that imprisons and atrophies the muscle of the moral intellect.

* * * * *

I've consciously dialed back my rhetoric for this little rant, lest it become political in nature. While it's true that conservatives most consistently evoke common sense (Galbraith's "conventional wisdom" is exactly the same thing), the intellectual poverty exists beyond party or philosophical allegiances . . . as surely as the concept of tax cuts as economic stimulus is ridiculous, so is the altruistic model of foreign aid. The curse of common sense exists anyplace where too many people hold too many unexamined truths, whatever those truths may be.


April 23, 2009

Texas Wants to Secede?

And someone wants to stop them? Why?

April 20, 2009


I'm here today not to write about Columbine, but to tell you why I'm not . . . which, at the end of the day, amounts to the same thing.

I've been making notes on Columbine, Oklahoma City, Iraq, and Afghanistan for a while now. They usually reach out toward Foucault and Baudrillard, among others. Yesterday, I sat down on a rainy day to watch some basketball & dig through my notes, so I could have this post done on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

As I rumbled through my notes, the Lakers were destroying a good Jazz team on TV. It seemed that every ad break was dedicated to Oprah's 10th Anniversary of Columbine Special. Sprinkled in were various mentions of other memorials on news shows and the like. I was beginning to feel like I was part of the gold rush in a way I didn't intend. The word "exploitation" was on the tip of my tongue.

I'm not criticizing Oprah here: the nation expects its intrusive and controlling but kind and well meaning auntie to address the anniversary that still is a source of grief and confusion. And if the daily news on April 20th, 2009 didn't memorialize the Columbine massacre, then something would be amiss. Without having read the book in question, I am willing to assume that the gentleman who wrote the book that Oprah built her show around is well meaning and intelligent, a man who values truth and insight above his own personal reputation, which he is staking on Columbine.

But somewhere today, someone will point to Columbine in an attempt to further an agenda. Someone will say "look at Columbine" when what they really mean is "look at me". Someone will talk of martyrs, someone will talk of monsters, and neither will add to the greater understanding of humanity. Someone on Fox News will say "If the security guards at Columbine had guns . . . ", and someone at CNN will say "If guns were outlawed . . . " and both will be ignoring the point. The point is this: 10 years ago, 15 kids died at a high school in Colorado.

Somewhere between sober memorials, Oprah's typically grandiose attempts to be the world's psychic savior, and blithering idiots on cable news shows, there is a line. The line is fuzzy and unclear, and I'm not sure where it is, but it does exist. I also feel I know just where in this scheme I fall.

I can assure you that my intentions are good; but at the same time, I can't help but feel I'm scratching at a wound needlessly by posting on this anniversary. I believe what I have to say about Columbine (and Iraq and Oklahoma City and Afghanistan) is worth saying . . . but I'm not going to say it today.

The chance of anyone with a personal connection to Columbine reading this is virtually nil, but I have always approached this blog as being fully in the public sphere, even if few sort through the noise to find it. As a public (if obscure) author, it would be irresponsible of me to exploit this anniversary for my purposes. Anything I have to say on April 20, 2009, will be equally valid June 12th, 2009. I will post my essay in the future.

Instead, allow me to light a candle. This song, "Columbine", is by Rob Bayne, a songwriter and friend of mine. It is far more appropriate than a philosophical rant. Please listen to it.

07 - Columbine.mp3

April 18, 2009

The Point

Frank Deford, in one of his rare relevant and non-curmudgeonly NPR rants, posits the point guard as the most valuable commodity in today's basketball universe. He is both right and wrong at the same time.

He is on the money when he claims the one slot as the most important position on the court. A good point literally runs the game. A big man is no good if no one gets him the ball.

On the other hand, a truly dominant five is extremely rare. Think of a list throughout the years: George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O'Neal. Compare it to the list of good-to-great points active in the game right now: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Jason Kidd, Chauncy Billups, Derrick Rose, Devon Harris, Rajon Rondo, Alan Iverson . . . you can build a good team around any one of these guys. Now, how about a list of elite-level true fives active today: Yao Ming, Shaquille O'Neal (every third game) . . . and that's about it. Tim Duncan is a great player, but not a true five. Ditto for Kevin Garnett. As a matter of fact, Deford's mention of Garnett shows that he's missing the point.

The point? Well, how about this: you have to have a good point guard to have a good team, while you don't necessarily have to have a good five. In that sense, a point guard is more valuable. However, an elite-level true five is extremely rare, and if you get the chance to get one, you have to leap at it. That is why Greg Oden, who is one hangnail away from being a bust, is worth more than any point guard in the draft. Good points, while not exactly a dime a dozen, are easy to find; the center that an uninjured Oden could be is rare. For that reason, a good five is still the most valuable commodity in basketball.

April 15, 2009

Brothers and Sisters

We're out in the desert
killing fig trees with curses,
passing around bottles,
telling stories we've heard
of eternity, lies, and fortune.

Pretty soon
we'll be in that sheltering room
around a table with bread and whiskey
holding eternity, lies, and fortune at bay
with all our collective strength.
Thursday fortifies us for what comes -
burning, shadows, death, and beyond -
but that's tomorrow.

"Today, take this from me,
as I receive from you in turn.
Take this now, and in the future,
when you partake again,
remember me kindly.

April 13, 2009

The Jukeboxes of Clarksville, Pt. 2

The Long John Silvers is Evil & Rockin’

Long John Silvers could kill me. That wretched grease-soaked fish is like an RPG smoking straight toward the arteries, yet I (used to) eat it willingly, even joyfully. There was something about eating rice, beans, peanut butter, and popcorn all the time that had you heading for Long John Silvers when payday hit.

Down here in the “’Ville” (as the university sports department’s marketing wing calls it) I momentarily let my love for fried fish get the better of me. Not only the real deal, like the Fish House off of Barrett and Winter, but the chains big & small. A particularly lethal nexus was the Moby Dick just off the Mellwood ramp onto 64 East. Days when I was hanging down by the floodwall, the Moby Dick was the only joint within a quick stroll, & there was a paper box out front . . . a nice leisurely lunch with the CJ, a First Mate on rye with fries and pups and plenty of tarter sauce, hot sauce, malt vinegar . . . two huge slabs of cod with extra-crunchy cornmeal breading . . . well, it’s a wonder I still walk the earth.

Clarksville has its two poles of fried fishiness as well. Not far off 65 on 131 is a Captain D’s. I used to eat there often since it was easy walking distance from work, but I had to stop. It became more than borderline disturbing: I rarely saw anyone slimmer than myself, and at 6’ 2”, I tip the scales around 250. I’m not exaggerating when I say this. I was definitely the skinny of the bunch.

The other pole, down in front of the old Kroger along with a Frisch’s and a Rally’s, is that broke-assed classic, Long John Silvers. Not too long ago (I don’t remember exactly when) they underwent a facelift. Seems they really wanted to nail down that FISH/SEAFOOD thing, so they went for a funky surfside look – rustic “aged” “wood” paneling, fish shack adverts (“The Beachcomber”, Charleston SC, “Sea Lion”, Galveston TX, “Castaway”, Mobile AL, etc.), references to corrugated tin roofing, booths upholstered like ‘50’s car bench seats (heavy on the turquoise) – the whole mid-century schtick. The food, of course, has remained pretty much the same forever, or at least since the strategic roll-ins of chicken and shrimp onto the menu. They’ve recently added some NON-FRIED fish, but they’re not fooling anybody.

The thing about the LJSs is that they rock. I mean, if not exactly the hard edged Charlie Feathers-as-King royal lineage, then still pretty rockin’ . . . Mitch Ryder, Spencer Davis Group, “Memphis” by Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Everly Brothers, leavened with the likes of “Don’t Be Cruel”, B J Thomas’s “Hooked On a Feeling”, “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin, and so on. Or, was it simulations of real rocking? Sometimes I had to listen really closely to make sure I was hearing the real thing. Now, granted, I’m going to know the real “Space Truckin’” in three notes, whereas my Mitch Ryder exposure is somewhat more limited, but for chrissakes, I really wasn’t sure about “Don’t Be Cruel”, and how many times have I heard that damn song, especially since I had the single when I was a kid?

The Long John is insidious. You go for the fish, but is it the fish, or is it the saturated fats coursing through your blood, soothing your body into a warm, wooly, almost hallucinogenic food coma after a couple weeks of struggling down rice and beans after another lousy paycheck? You know that the wood is fake, you suspect the fish is barely fish, you even question the validity of songs you’ve heard a million times. In the end, you don’t even know if the simulacra are a real problem.

Comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to take that nutrition shit serious. The Long John Silvers is out of rotation. Like McDonald’s, it’s dead and gone, goner than the Rally’s, which can still suck me in for the occasional barbecue bacon double cheeseburger (topped with a big, fat, deep-fried onion ring!). It’s gone like the Burger King, gone like Fazoli’s, gone like the Captain D’s. In the event that I need fried fish, it’s the Fish House, or the Moby Dick, who can do fish right.

April 7, 2009

Palm Sunday

as in, palms facing outward, fingers down
palm visible, welcome, if not exactly

or raised above the head, singular
for greeting, doubly for celebration,
perhaps waving, perhaps not.

is triumphant return, greeting with palms -
palms waving, palms touching, palms
thrown to the air, "look who has come"

a celebration, a meeting, a greeting
"look who has come" - hands,

palms hold water in defiance of the desert,
stare off, if only temporarily, that which
inevitability dictates.

out from the desert, into the desert,
which was preordained. the terminus
and continuum at the same time

"look who has come" - an inevitability.
out from winter's cold to heat and
blowing grit

from out the midwest, palms waving,
rolling into Tucson, Arizona, renew the
commitment to death and beyond.

April 6, 2009

The Wrong of Spring

Yow! ZING!! Thank you very much, folks! I'll be here all week!

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the ballet Saturday. I got the opportunity to hear one of my favorite pieces of music done live by a very good orchestra, and the chance to see the debut of new choreography, all for only ten bucks. That said . . .

The Louisville Symphony Orchestra's performance was superb, given the limited size of the orchestra. Le Sacre du Printemps calls for a huge orchestra, and the smaller lineup fielded by LSO couldn't work up the bombast and violence present in the ideal orchestration of the ballet. Given that fact, though, LSO did a wonderful, nuanced job. Not quite the full power of Rite, but pretty swell nonetheless.

The choreography, though, was another story. The dancing, best I could tell (I'm very far from being an expert on dance), was very good. The big problem was the fundamental conception of the choreography:

In this version of Rite of Spring, the Company represents a group who has been completely drained of their life force and their connection to the natural world. The central character represents all that is alive and beautiful, yet ultimately fragile and temporary. She is like a beautiful flower that blossoms for only a moment and is then destroyed. But rather than being chosen or singled out, one gets the sense that what is happening to her has already happened to each individual in the group and that she is simply the next in line.

-- from the program

The result was, as Sharri so aptly put it, "steam punk meets West Side Story". The dancers worked an 80s-style distopian vibe more appropriate for 1984 than for Rite of Spring. All the movements were robotic and claustrophobic, apparently to better set off the "liveliness" of the lead. All this was done in a set that looked like an industrial concrete basement, with concrete pillars and rusty water pipes forming a cage. In the end, the dance was entertaining and visually interesting, but ultimately wrong for the piece.

The reason Rite of Spring caused riots at its premiere is chaos: the ballet is full of the violence and chaos of nature & the pagan rituals that celebrate nature. The new choreography replaced the chaos of the original with a sort of freeze dried death. It misses the point at the most fundamental level.

It also seems to the product of an imagination alien to the true power of the piece, an imagination that treats the dissonance, crazy rhythms, and tortured voicings as esoterica. It is a typically "liberal/open-minded" response to a musicality that still, after almost 96 years, has yet to be assimilated into the mainstream "serious music" consciousness.

But hey, beats the hell out of hanging with the hipsters listening to yet another Stooges retread.

* * * * *

Ralph Vaughan Williams's Lark Ascending provided interesting context. Premiered the year after Rite, Lark is much more lyrical and meditative (not to mention consonant) than Rite. It is also much better served by the choreography of Bruce Marks. It shouldn't need to be said that Lark Ascending is much easier to handle than Rite of Spring, and it was the highlight of the night. Actually, Lark itself was worth the price of admission.

* * * * *

Of course, self congratulation was the currency of the evening, same as it was when Sharri and I went to see The Magic Flute. But that's a story for another time . . .