Saturday, May 22, 2004

 
Achtung, Dubya

I may dislike how Michael Moore sometimes plays the same phony games as his targets, but I'm thrilled that his latest, Fahrenheit 9/11, just won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

Apparently the film contains bizarre footage of Bush making silly faces moments before declaring war on Iraq, some of which previously aired on German TV. An alert DailyKos diarist provides video clips in Windows Media and Real Player formats. (Via Atrios.)

Update: Even more video

- Marc
 
Brooksy in the Sky

Good news!!! David Brooks has found a new hookup, so he can return to writing columns while high as a proverbial kite.

Quoth the scribe, "It is proved that things cannot be other than they are, for since everything is made for a purpose, it follows that everything is made for the best purpose." No, wait -- that's Pangloss.

In a week when U.S. troops continue to die, when our soldiers allegedly killed more than 40 innocents at a wedding, when the leader of the Iraqi governing council was assassinated by thugs whom Bush could have killed (but didn't, because then he might not have had a pretext to invade Iraq)... in a week of all those things, Brooksy is "giddy [with] celebration."

I can't wait to see his face in November.

Update: How could I forget the worst thing that happened this week? Newsday reports: "The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that a U.S.-funded arm of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress has been used for years by Iranian intelligence to pass disinformation to the United States and to collect highly sensitive American secrets, according to intelligence sources." I wonder when Brooksy will write a column about THAT.

- Marc
 
On Further Review

The artist whom Nick Hornby seeks is Josh Ritter. He even echoes the best of Hornby's precious Springsteen (that is, the Nebraska album).

An Idaho singer/songwriter rooted in Dylan, Guthrie and Van Zandt, Ritter grins too much for the No Depression crowd. He's too much of a goofy boy next door for the indie kids (Moscow, Idaho ain't Brooklyn). And he's thus far been too literate, too anachronistic for the mainstream.

But he's fucking great. His best album remains 2002's The Golden Age of Radio, which alternates between soft Nick Drake melancholy and barnstorming country foot-stompers. Consider "Harrisburg," which falls into the latter category:

It's a long way to Heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg
And that's still a long way from the place where we are
And if evil exists its a pair of train tracks
And the devil is a railroad car

...

Some say that man is the root of all evil
Others say God's a drunkard for pain
Me I believe that the Garden of Eden
Was burned to make way for a train.


The song with perhaps the most commercial appeal is the simple, gorgeous "Me & Jiggs."

Well, Mr. Hornby, we've found your man; now it's up to you to make him (and whopundit) famous.

- Marc

Friday, May 21, 2004

 
That's Entertainment

Nick Hornby pleads today in the New York Times for more intelligent music that doesn't strive self-consciously to be obscure. He makes an eloquent case:

Who has the nerve to pick up where Dickens or John Ford left off? In other words, who wants to make art that is committed and authentic and intelligent, but that sets out to include, rather than exclude? To do so would run the risk of seeming not only sincere and uncool — a stranger to all notions of postmodernism — but arrogant and vaultingly ambitious as well.

Hornby deservedly praises Outkast's "Hey Ya," although he loses me in his constant Springsteen hero-worship (I hate Springsteen nearly as much as I hate David Brooks, for those of you keeping track). Nevertheless, Hornby's noble ideals encounter a few problems. For one, Hornby doesn't bother to engage the real world.

In the real world, bands must have an audience. To have an audience, you can be on a major label and take the lowest-common-denominator route. Even when major labels sign artists who want to make music "that is committed and authentic and intelligent," the labels have no trouble homogenizing that output so it sounds dumb and ready for mass consumption; turn on your radio, Nick! For examples, look at a few bands I admired far more before their producers made them sound like every other shitty band (look, and don't laugh): Jason Mraz (who was an arty acoustic singer/songwriter before his new record made him sound like Avril Lavigne), John Mayer, Jimmy Eat World. (I said don't laugh!)

Another way to have an audience, albeit a much smaller one, is to play for fans of indie music -- a group that is growing all the time. If an otherwise-intelligent band is playing mainstream Springsteen covers (or -- to use a more distressing example to most hipsters -- Dave Matthews!), then that band will lose its indie fan base, but likely be too smart to pile up a mainstream fan base, too. No fans, Nick.

That's why Pitchfork complained about the newest Morrissey album: "Jerry Finn, a Hollywood hack, knows only to throw all the parts out there with money stuffed in the panties. Prancing the choice embellishments in polo gear and avoiding standard rock mixing would have made the album perfect."

The record sounds like everything else, the Comic Book Guys write. What this means is that the orchestration of You Are the Quarry doesn't throw any tacit signals to the indie crowd... How are we to know this isn't mainstream drivel if there's no feedback, no distortion that doesn't sound like Blink-182, no "angular" guitars?

Clearly, music that compromises itself by being more self-consciously indie isn't a good thing, either. I wholeheartedly agree with Hornby's call to arms -- I write a column called "The Unhipster," after all, so clearly I'm hoping for good music that transcends indie/mainstream lines. Might I suggest Snow Patrol's Final Straw or the Lucksmiths' Naturaliste?

Perhaps Hornby hasn't heard of these bands. Like I said, it's hard to find an audience if you are mainstream enough for anyone to like you but clever enough that music obsessives seek you out. More likely, he's looking for a youth that will never return. I'm not 47, so I can't understand. But perhaps the problem is that on the one hand he wants art that is "intelligent," and on the other he wants a "loud, sometimes dumb celebration of being alive" like "Little Latin Lupe Lu."

Any intelligent band making loud, sometimes dumb music MUST be self-conscious about it. That's the postmodern dilemma, and Hornby knows full well. But surely there are other, newer genres making dumb, celebratory music unself-consciously, the way rock bands did in the '50s? In that case Hornby's problem isn't music. It's himself.

- Marc

Thursday, May 20, 2004

 
Devastatingly Accurate

I've said it before and I'll say it again: When Maureen Dowd concerns herself with serious issues (not Botox), she is one of the best writers around. See today's bracing column:

Then Senator John Cornyn of Texas weighed in, suggesting that Mr. Warner, a Navy officer in World War II, a Marine lieutenant in the Korean War and a Navy secretary under Nixon, and Mr. McCain, who lived in a dirt suite at the Hanoi Hilton for five years, were not patriotic. Their "collective hand-wringing," Mr. Cornyn sniffed, could be "a distraction from fighting and winning the war."

- Marc

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

 
Show Restraint, Respect Innocent Life

Bush on Israel (Reuters):
I continue to urge restraint. It is essential that people respect innocent life in order for us to achieve peace.

Bush on Iraq (AP):
A U.S. helicopter fired on a wedding party early Wednesday in western Iraq, killing more than 40 people, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said it could not confirm the report and was investigating.

Lt. Col Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of the city of Ramadi, said between 42 and 45 people died in the attack, which took place about 2:45 a.m. in a remote desert area near the border with Syria and Jordan. He said those killed included 15 children and 10 women.


- Marc
 
Believe Your Eyes: Here's a headline I never thought I'd see in the New York Times' anemic political coverage: White House Is Trumpeting Programs It Tried to Cut. About time!

- Marc

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

 
Sweet P's Mom: My good friend Christopher Piatt (aka Sweet P) talks about his mother in this Chicago Public Radio report.

"She turned 19 in a convent," he explains. "Everyone else turned 19 in the '60s... which was about to become a noun."

Somehow all this leads brilliantly to Sweet P's arrest at the hands of the Chicago Police Department protesting the Iraq war.

You've gotta do what you gotta do.

- Marc
 
New Look: Fritz, don't be shocked when you return from vacation. I decided it was time for whopundit to get its own look. Expect further tweaks from the web design team in the days and weeks ahead. What do you think?

Update: Can an intrepid viewer help me put a third column along the right side? Any ideas about what to put there?

- Marc
 
New York Is the New Omaha: My last post reminded me that my column for OEbase.com, "The Unhipster," hasn't appeared for a while.

The reason is that OEbase is going to become exclusively a store, separate from editorial content. I have two columns in the can, though, and I'm told that they might appear on a future OEbase-related project, Strong Week.

One of the columns basically reiterates points I've made on Whopundit about the amazing abilities of Snow Patrol, Cloud Cult and Love of Everything, especially when compared to underwhelming albums this year by such critical favorites as Franz Ferdinand.

Until a more suitable venue appears, I've decided to post my most recent column here:

THE UNHIPSTER, VOL. 3

The Luckiest Guy on Avenue Q

By Marc Hogan

Your fearless unhipster moved to New York City this week. Let’s say it together now, in our best salsa-commercial voices: “New York City?!!” Indeed. And I bear glad tidings for music lovers the world over: New York City is the new Omaha!

It’s true. I met the other day with a producer who is also in a band (who isn’t, and where can I get one?). He’s gearing up to start an NYC music scene zine aptly titled The Deli, and if I can get my lazy arse in gear I just might help write for it. He recommended a delish East Village Mexican place to me and my girlfriend (Itzocan on 9th St., if you’re in town).

We passed him on the sidewalk again a couple of hours later in this small town where everyone knows your name, and he passed along even more sage advice. In his exuberant Italian accent, the producer exclaimed, “You must check out the rock scene!” He directed us to the veritable village of music venues growing on the Lower East Side like so much corn to be husked: Sin-e, cradle of the late Jeff Buckley; Luna Lounge, where the price was right (free!); some punk birthplace called WMD’s or WWJD’s or something like that; and so many more I thought I was in the land of Saddle Creek.

My eyes grew big as I read as much as I could about my newfound music mecca. Surely such a tiny island as Manhattan could not contain as much rock ’n’ roll explosiveness as that much-heralded burg in the heart of the American Heartland.

Yet there it was! For every scene-starter like Bright Eyes, there were myriad mysterious punk-rock progenitors: Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Television, C & C Music Factory. And for every Elected or Cursive to appear in the wake of patron Saint Conor Oberst, there’s a Yeah Yeah Yeahs or TV on the Radio or French Kicks or P. Diddy. (I keep hearing good things about Talking Heads, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, too, but I don’t speak Spanish, I’m youthful already, and I get my news online, thankyouverymuch.)

I’m living in a perfectly unhipster Queens neighborhood called Astoria, where the Omaha comparisons fall short: unlike that bastion of Bush-league Americana, this polyglot part of town bustles with enough multi-lingual chatter for the international terminal at the airport. Posters in souvlaki-shop windows advertise upcoming performances by musicians with the Pert Plus-perfect hair of Yanni. Perhaps a new scene-within-a-scene is emerging? I must watch closely.

Stay tuned for further adventures of the only living boy in Queens, the NYC man living just enough for the city. Someday soon I will seek out the House of Jealous Lovers, which I hear is accessible via the D, F and A trains.

- Marc
 
Give Me My Lighter Back: In an unexpected turn of events, even the Comic Book Guys of Pitchfork agree with my review of the new Streets album, A Grand Don't Come for Free.

I had assumed that they'd take a contrary position just because -- and also due to the immense commercial possibilities of tracks like "Dry Your Eyes" (they can't like what their sisters like, you see). After all, their entire review of last year's album by the Stills reads like a counter of my own Stills review, which appeared first.

And yet, here we are: "Clearly, Skinner is on a singular place on the pop landscape." Pitchfork even picks up my Seinfeld comparison.

An ugly question rears its head... if my reviews coincide with Pitchfork's, have I become a hipster elitist snob with contempt for music beyond the latest "scene"? Yikes!

- Marc
 
The Moonie 'Times' on 'Marriage': I've seen quotation marks abused before, but get this: The Washington Times refers to gay marriage as, well, "marriage."

Why the quotation marks around something established by Massachusetts law? Probably because the paper is owned by a man who considers himself "the Messiah."

- Marc
 
Still Kicking Around David Brooks: The New York Times columnist engages in some classic Bush-think today:

No other nation would have been hopeful enough to try to evangelize for democracy across the Middle East. No other nation would have been naïve enough to do it this badly. No other nation would be adaptable enough to recover from its own innocence and muddle its way to success, as I suspect we are about to do.

Set aside the fact that the pretext for the war was WMD, not democratization. The fact is, we no longer are trying "to evangelize for democracy across the Middle East."

Here Brooksy gives Bush credit for a position the administration has already forsaken. As I've pointed out in previous Brooks-bashing blogs, Bush backed off his plan for democratizing the Middle East -- the Middle East Initiative, as the New York Times reported weeks ago (albeit on page A11).

This is quintessential Bush spin. Even as you deny Sy Hersh's allegations about Abu Ghraib, don't actually deny them. Call your concessions to the logging industry the "Healthy Forests" initiative. And of course, confuse people about what we are fighting for.

Brooks is either confused or utterly disingenuous. Readers of Whopundit already know this. But it's worth pointing out again, before the "we are fighting to democratize the Middle East" meme seeps into the media. It's just not true.

I know Canada sells what he's smoking in pharmacies now, but I was under the impression you needed a prescription.

- Marc

Monday, May 17, 2004

 
Bush Celebrates Gay Marriage! Quoth our Dimwit-in-Chief:

On this day, in this place, we remember with gratitude the good souls who saw a great wrong, and stood their ground, and won their case. And we celebrate a milestone in the history of our glorious nation.

Oh, wait, he was talking about Brown v. Board of Education.

Is this the time to point out that the Chief Justice who handed Bush the presidency actually opposed that decision? The New Yorker points out:

Brown v. Board, despite the unanimity of the decision, was the product of a divided Supreme Court and a divided nation. Its current meaning is up to us, not to previous generations or even to the Court that decided it. Cautious as that Court’s justices were, Klarman notes a significant generational fact: nearly all of its clerks were in favor of overturning Plessy. The one evident exception was a clerk in Jackson’s chambers, a Stanford-trained lawyer who had grown up in Milwaukee. His name was William H. Rehnquist.

Then again, so does Justice Scalia, of course.

In other words, a President appointed by opponents of Brown is speaking in favor of Brown on the very day that he opposes a Brown-like advancement of liberty. My head is spinning.

- Marc
 
Half-Hearted Condemnation: The President today wasn't quite ready to drop his anti-gay campaign entirely, but he sure doesn't bring the fire and brimstone like the religious right would like. Here's the entirety of his statement on the issue:

The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges. All Americans have a right to be heard in this debate. I called on the Congress to pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife. The need for that amendment is still urgent, and I repeat that call today.

In other words, he thinks gays should be second-class citizens, but he doesn't have the cajones to do anything other than "call" for this amendment -- even though it's "urgent." Here's hoping the wingnuts make him say more, while the rest of America sees what's happening in Massachusetts and realizes gay marriage isn't so bad after all.

- Marc

Sunday, May 16, 2004

 
Have Your Cakewalk and Eat It, Too: In a surprising piece on hawks' recent self-doubt (a previously unknown commodity), the New York Times' John Tierney provides a striking quote from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. "No one should have expected a cakewalk," the neocon stooge smugly proclaims.

Ah, but wait. Let's rewind to 2002, and a Washington Post op-ed written by fellow neocon Kenneth Adelman, a friend of Dick Cheney and a former assistant to Donald Rumsfeld at the U.S. Defense Department during the 1970s:

I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they've become much weaker; (3) we've become much stronger; and (4) now we're playing for keeps.

And what were the thoughts of Richard Perle, who at the time of the war was chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board? Why, it would be "a cakewalk." Then again, Perle also sagely observed that support for Saddam, even within the Iraqi military, would "collapse after the first whiff of gunpowder."

Of course, lest you've forgotten, it was Cheney himself who said on March 16, 2003: "I think it will go relatively quickly... Weeks rather than months."

The people have no cakewalk. So let Wolfie, Perle and Cheney eat pie in the face.

- Marc
 
     

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