Thursday, July 26, 2007

Goddamn, Global Capital is Weird!

Here's a link to a BBC article about a remote Kenya village that is carving officially licensed Simpsons statues out of soapstone.

A group of carvers in western Kenya are looking forward to the first Simpsons movie hitting big screens around the world, even though they are unlikely to see it.

Although most of them in the remote village of Tabaka in Kisii have never watched the animated TV show, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have changed their lives and the new film should see demand for their work soar they hope.

Soapstone carving is a traditional craft passed down from generation to generation, and the Abagusii tribe is renowned for their carving prowess.

So when Twentieth Century Fox designated the Tabaka soapstone carvings as official Simpsons merchandise in July 2006, their lives improved overnight.

This reminds me of an old State skit called "Thank you free market," in which former Soviet professions who have been reduced to selling knock-off Western crap on the street proclaim their thanks to the free market. I suspect that this one would go something like this: "I used to be a venerated artisan who created art that was meaningful to my family and my community, but now thanks to the free market I made schlocky cartoon crap. Thank you free market!"

No End in Sight

Let's hope this documentary makes it to North Carolina.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Not a Message Machine

Since Bitter Laughter's candidate spent most of the precious minutes Youtube allotted him in last night's debate fixing his ear piece, I thought I'd pass along a recent Salon article about him, which details his qualifications and, more than anything, his distinctive style of politics, campaigning, and diplomacy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The 9-11 Generation

After reading the title volume of Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy, I've been a little preoccupied with the thinking about the Iraq war, or rather how we tend not to think about the Iraq war.

Barker's novel opens with a "Statement against the continuation of the War"--an actual document penned in 1917 by Siegfied Sassoon, the real-life protagonist of Barker's historical novel. Sassoon's argument against the war was two-fold: (1) that England's aims in WWI had changed over time, rendering the war not one of "defense and liberation," but "a war of aggression and conquest;" and (2) that the war was being supported by a complacent populace that did not share in the agonies of the war and had not "sufficient imagination to realize" such agonies.

It is Sassoon's later point that continues to plague me--namely that war, when practiced by the most powerful, need not affect the populace supporting the bloodshed. Sassoon may have been overstating his point in 1917 (after all, the British were subject to night raids and lost nearly 1 million lives over the course of the war), but his point--that the citizenry had no ability to appreciate the carnage and were thus complacent in supporting the war--still stands. And if anything, his argument has more resonance today in 2007 than it did in 1917.

Glenn Greenwald has this in mind over at, where's he's thinking about the identity of the '9-11 Generation.' What is the most fundamental attribute of the '9-11 Generation'? Greenwald nails it:

the unprecedented ease with which one can cheer on endless wars without having to make even the most minimal sacrifices to sustain them.
Greenwald is engaging in this article with the right wing's idea that my generation has met the specter of war with more courage than my parents' since we didn't storm the streets in order to end this thing (shame on us). Greenwald takes this argument to pieces, but his larger point I think still stands: that we are a people (and a generation) so little concerned with the violence practiced in our name, that our detachment from the real state of affairs has become one of our fundamental characteristics. Not only does such "callous complacence" (as Sassoon put it) reflect our failures of empathy (for our own and others) but it is dangerous. Isn't it our inability to feel for others (for the Other) that got us here in the first place? And by "here" I mean embroiled in a series of badly executed, prolonged and unproductive wars in the middle east. Might our inability to register and react to this war ethically be our undoing?

Update: Greenwald has a nice link to a video about this topic, entitled Generation Chickenhawk: the Unauthorized College Republican Convention Tour, which is worth checking out.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Technology is a Ruse

I'm sure that my generation was not the first to be promised marvelous technological splendors in the future. It may be that blithe speculations on coming advances (and nay-saying apocalypticism) is a constituent feature of technologized society.

Fine. But I don't think that lets my 5th grade science teacher off the hook for absolutely assuring us that we'd be both traveling and living in outer space within my lifetime (there's still time, I suppose). And it certainly doesn't let Weekly Reader off the hook for promising me that in the future (i.e. by the time I'd be able to drive) we'd all have self-driving cars. I can distinctly remember illustrations of a kid and an adult playing chess in their auto-automobile. Wow, I thought. That's going to be AWESOME!

And now, in my bitter mid-twenties, I know what a ruse it all was. There never was a self-driving car, and there never will be.

Except that BBC says there is and will be. Soon.

Listen to this rubbish: "
You might buy a car that has a special button called an 'auto-chauffeur' button. You push it and it drives you home and wakes you up in your garage ."

Bullocks to your lies, BBC!

Lazy Blogging Week

I've been slacking pretty badly this week on my blogging, possibly because I feel myself doing work that is more immediately remunerative than the work I was doing a few weeks back. But I intend to keep the posts coming, even if they're just links.

This comes from the ever delightful, Strange Maps. I think this is pretty great, even though it took me a while to understand what I was looking at.

As we’ve all learned in school, 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, only 30% is solid ground. What if everything was reversed? What if every land mass was a body of water, and vice versa?

This map explores that question, and it is fantastic in at least three definitions of that word: fanciful, implausible and marvelous. The interior of China is marked by a spouting whale, a sailboat ploughs the waves of the Brazilian Ocean, a school of fish traverse the watery wastes of Siberia, large cities dominate places rarely frequented by people in this universe…

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Adding Color to WWI

I intend at some point to write some brief reviews of books I've read this summer, including the the title volume of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, a series of historical novels that explore the psychic and physical traumas of WWI. Also, I hope to watch and review a documentary I just picked up, WWI in Color, a narrated look at WWI news footage to which color has been added.

Today's link is of a similar cast as that documentary--a look at images from a particular battle after color has been added. Why people feel that adding color to black and white is a cool or even necessary task escapes me. It's as if the viewer wouldn't get it unless they could see that, yes, gas masks are green and mud puddles are brown. In any event, these photos are pretty amazing, as most photos of the war are. More to come on this topic.

From The Daily Mail:

Never seen before, these astonishing photographs, lovingly hand-touched in colour to bring to life the nightmare of Passchendaele, were released this week to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the battle that, between July and November 1917, claimed a staggering 2,121 lives a day and in total some quarter of a million Allied soldiers.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Happy Links for Monday

Salon has a nice piece on bisphenol A, "a basic building block of polycarbonate plastic," and, research suggests, a major contributer to obesity. I'm glad I won't ever have to deal with multinational corporations undermining my research.

ABC News, of all places, has a then-and-now of the cast of The Princess Bride. Via Cynical-C.

Also from Cynical-C, some a anti-Communist propaganda video from the 1950s. This one, called simply "What is Communism" is good, but nothing beats my all-time favorite, the titillating "Perversion for Profit."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ginormous is so totally in the dictionary

That's right. "Ginormous," a word that always makes me think of female genitalia, has finally been embraced by the keepers of everything sacred. The Lede has the scoop. Now we just have to wait and see what those Torry bastards at the OED have to say.

And while we're on the topic of words, the Lede post links to an excellently nerdy blog, Dictionary Evangelist. Check it out.

Durham, now in color

Howdy, kids. I'm still putting off writing my post on aging punk musicians for a time when I have no desire to do real work, so in the meantime I thought I'd post a link that should be of interest to those beautiful people lucky enough to live in (or visit) the great state of North Carolina. Thanks to my special lady friend for scooping this one.

The UNC library has a totally awesome collection of old North Carolina postcards on display at their website. As the site says, " This digital project contains a selection of materials from the North Carolina Collection's postcard collections, including at least one image each for ninety-nine of North Carolina's one hundred counties." While the Durham post cards are pretty good, the Chapel Hill collection has a better selection of odd cards.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Art Class - George Grosz

I plan tomorrow to write the follow-up to Friday's post on punk rock careerism. In the meantime, I give you another installment of Art Class.

This week's bitter laughter image, entitled "Suicide," comes from George Grosz (1893-1959).

Like last Otto Dix, the subject of the last Art Class installment, Grosz was a participant in the First World War, an experience that was to leave a lasting mark upon his art. After the
war, Grosz joined the German Communist Party (KPD), but left a year later after visitng Russia, where he met both Trotsky and Lenin.
The 1920s saw Grosz's art work destroyed (like Dix) after he allegedly insulted the German army. In order to escape the rule of the Nazis, Grosz left Germany in 1932, settling in New York, where he stayed until the final days of his life. He became a naturalized citizen in the 1950s, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1954.

Grosz's art resembles Dix's in its content. Largely Grosz is remembered as a satirist ofWeimar Germany and his unflinching look at its people. His early work has all the formal bravado of Dada, but what makes him perhaps distinctive from the diverse array of talented modernists working Berlin in the 1920s is that his work seems at times prescient of the imminent comeuppance of another art form--the cartoon. The way in which Grosz deploys the charicature, however, prevents most viewers from assimilating his human forms to that medium, largely because the backgrounds of these paintings contextualize the people in them in such a way that the flatness of the people is not immediately legible.
This is seen best in "Grey Day" (1921) and "Republican Automatons" (1920). In "Grey Day," (left) a worker, maimed soldier, business man, and a fourth figure stand are set amid a factory setting. The human figures are given exaggeratedly different features; while the soldier is more or less realistically portrayed, the worker is faceless--a mere geometry. The two walking figures move in direct lines to the left and right of the canvas, and though the scene has depth, it is accomplished despite the flatness of these movements. The flatness of these characters is most bluntly put by the businessman in the foreground, who has no depth. Set amid the factoryscape, these figures and their apparent incongruity to each other is disturbing.
The cityscape is also a prominent feature in "Republican Automatons," (right) where all the human figures are overly rounded, blank mannequins. Their thoughts are fed to them, and their actions prompted by the gears at the lower right, suggesting the utter emptiness of a seemingly meaningful gesture--the waving of the flag. The city scape is again a conspicuous feature, suggesting that somehow the city is to blame for the citizenry's inability to self-actuate.
Other of Grosz's pieces that resonate with me are his drawings. Here the cartoonishness of his work really comes out, and the bleakness of the black and white brings home the utter absurdity of inter-war Germany, to say nothing of inter-war Europe as a whole.

Late in life, Grosz was to depict the Nazi era (cf. his Hitler painting, "Cain, or Hitler in Hell"), but by far his most successful work was his efforts to depict all aspects of Weimar society--soldier, socialists, prostitutes, military doctors, aristocrats, etc.

Galleries of his work can be found here, here and here.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Elastic vs. Ecstatic Truth

Just a quick link to's review of Werner Herzong's new film, Rescue Dawn. I use the word "review" loosely, as this piece is less an assessment or critique of the film than it is an acknowledgment of Herzog's relation to truth. Herzog, who I love, always talks about the "ecstatic truth" that he tries to capture in his work, but as Slate shows, his approach to documentary has been, at least in part, characterized by an effort to create truth rather than show it:

British filmmaker John Grierson called documentary "the creative treatment of actuality." This elastic definition is useful when considering the many liberties Herzog takes in Little Dieter and other docs—in Land of Silence and Darkness (1971), he supplied Fini Straubinger, the film's deaf-blind subject, with scripted lines and fictitious childhood memories. These kinds of embellishments, Herzog maintains, push past the factual—what he calls "a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants"—and into a realm where a film can illuminate an entire inner world rather than merely reproduce external realities.
Rescue Dawn is an action version of Herzog's 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, which I highly recommend. The trailer for Rescue Dawn is below.

Punk Rock Paradigm Shift, Pt. 1: On Labels

In the last week I have had two punk-related experiences that I think are noteworthy (and thus blog-worthy), and so I want to spend a little time thinking about these events and their significance in the broad scheme of punk music today.

Today’s post is about a band that I have had on my radar for the last five years, Against Me!. Most of my punk-listening life has been a story of playing catch-up, as I have had to learn about all the great bands either at some late stage in their career or long after they closed up shop. My listening tends to circulate around late 70s and early 80s punk, and a smattering of early 90s stuff. So it’s a little bit rare for me to have had the chance to follow a band that I like unfold and develop.

The case of Against Me! is especially interesting because I have been able to see them so many time and in so many different venues (the most interesting of which were a school for the blind in Alston, MA, and a dining hall at Boston University). I’ve also eagerly awaited each release, which have come regularly since 2002, when they released their first full-length, Reinventing Axl Rose.

Next week Against Me! is set to release another record, entitled New Wave. I have been looking forward to this release with some level of unease, the reason being that this will be the band’s first release on a major label.

Yes. A major label. This came as quite a shock for me and many people who like Against Me! for the simple reason that, as a band, they have tended to espouse the best virtues of punk culture: they tour relentlessly, performing songs about the simple joys of the music and the culture, and releasing records in ways that tend to promote independent labels. The reason that I liked Against Me! when I first heard them is that they seemed to understand all the basic tenets of a punk ethos, and when I saw them actually perform, I knew that I had found a band that was doing something positive and fun for the American punk music.

While for some bands going to a major label is a matter of course or an expression of success, for most punk bands, it is a mark of shame—evidence of a band’s lost punkishness and occasioned by the inevitable accusation that a band has “sold out.” I don’t like to throw that term around, mostly because it is used with such cavalier disregard for what it actually signifies, and used so frequently, that it’s really hard to even say for certain what the phrase means. Only recently did I begin to understand why it is the great bands—band whose ethos is inimical to the industry—find themselves driven into the embrace of a world they claim to despise.

In order to make a living off of punk music, one has only very few options. The first is to tour and release records relentlessly; the problem with this is that such bands tend to live their lives on the road and release very mediocre music (c.f. Joe Queer). The second option is to be on of those rare individuals who can release music on every couple of years and tour when convenient because they either produce records or run a record label (Ian MacKaye’s moral superiority is premised upon his ability to stand between realms and occupy space that is not available to all members of the punk community). The third way in which bands may make a living off punk is by going the major label route.

Against Me! is clearly exhausted by the touring, and their records have, in my opinion, suffered somewhat. So the move to Sire has come as a natural consequence of the rules of the game. New Wave will get better distribution than any of their previous records, and, produced by Butch Vig (who produced Nirvana’s Nevermind), the record has the potential to be something new entirely, a change of course for a band drowning.

This is, in fact, what the band wants, as the album’s title track suggests. The record’s first lines are as follows:

We can control the medium
We can control the context of presentation

Is there anybody out there receiving errors

Reaching out for some kind of connection

C’mon and wash these shores
I’m looking for the crest of a new wave.
In changing the context in which the band has created and distributed their music, they hope to make better music without compromising their sound. As the song suggests, listeners will receive no errors in this recording.

But New Wave is not, in point of fact, a great album. The added production detracts from the feeling that the earliest recordings had, and the expertise exerted on shaping the arrangements of these songs serves only to round corners that should not be rounded. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a bad record, and Against Me! has done well to not be overly apologetic about going to a major label. But New Wave only furthers a trend the band has been following, as their sound veers away from the stripped-down, unprofessionalized sound that made them so vital in the early years. New Wave sounds like a south rock band playing hard south rock, with some punk influences. It’s a different sound for them—a band whose personality has, perhaps, changed more than it would like to admit.

All this raises for me a more vital question about punk itself. Should Against Me! or any punk band try to make a living out playing music? I tend to think not. Sad as I would be to have only gotten three albums from Fugazi or the Clash, I think that the best punk music has tended to flow from bands that experienced temporary and embattled moments of creation, and whose mode of production, distribution, management, and creativity were simply unsustainable. The really vital bands, the ones that laid the cornerstone of punk culture, were not, by and large, bands like the Ramones. A quick listen to any of the Killed By Death compilation CDs is argument enough the best punk music came spasmodically out of exceptional moments that were best left unsustained by industry.

I am not trying to condemn Against Me! for moving to Sire. In fact, what I want to emphasize is that I understand why a band like theirs would do such a thing. However, I am increasingly of the attitude that to try to make one’s living, to become professionally a punk, is to threaten the culture by inviting in forces that have historically undermined it and enter a domain where musical success is far from guaranteed. What a major label ultimately signifies to me is not that a band has “sold out” or that the music will by necessity suffer, but that a band hopes to guarantee its place in a culture that has exhausted it. It’s a dangerous move for the band’s music, but an even worse one for the culture it draws upon because such a move is premised upon the hope of injecting that culture with unproductive and debilitating stasis.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Lesbians are sooo dangerous

I sometime thing that if you took the right's paranoid delusions and filmed them, you'd get some seriously great sci-fi. I like to think of this one as a kind of Godzilla-type film, where lesbians are loosed on the city, where they wreak seriously awesome havoc and generally terrorize the city's good people and fine architecture. Booya, Bill.

This comes from feministe, and they call it, "Best. O’Reilly. Ever." Enjoy!

Pomp and Fireworks

Let's take a moment to prepare ourselves for the great American holiday that is just two days away -- the 4th of July. When I say "prepare," I really mean just that. I think with a holiday like the 4th of July especially, if we aren't cognizant of its significance, we can be easily swept into the clamor of the thing.

So, then, 4th of July? Howard Zinn, wise man that he is, tells it like it is.

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

And of course he is right. So we have two options, as I see it: prosthelitize the family at the annual family barbecue (many a Wientzen family event has ended with shouting because of some such maneuver on my part), or take the day to vent your frustration.

That's where the fun comes in. And so, instead of offering a bunch of serious commentary on nationalism and all that, I think I'd rather post links to what I associate with the holiday.

Wikipedia has an interesting article of firecrackers, as well as a link to a site that explains the ins and outs of firecracker label collecting (a second cousin to baseball card collecting).

I found a nice gallery of firecracker labels here, with some especially all-American explosive themes (see here, here, and here) .

And don't be fooled: sparklers are extremely dangerous since they burn at temperatures between 1800 and 3000° F (or 1000 to 1600° C). That's why they sizzle when you drop them in a bucket of water.