Monday, November 29, 2010

Chewing Through Broken Teeth

The chapter I read in a theory of justice was, among other things, about formal versus substantive justice and it got me thinking about one of the arcs of Queen and Country I just read.

Past here are spoilers. You've been warned.

The four issues comprise a single arc and that arc is set off with an assassination of ex-Russian general in Kosovo by an SIS agent called Tara Chase. We find out later he's dealing arms to bad people, but he's shot in the head with a sniper rifle and the story is out of the gates from there. The assassination was done as a favor to the CIA.

There are hitches, but Tara gets out of Kosovo. End issue one.

(A brief intemission. There was some commentator attempting to disparage Hamid Karzai, the President/Prime Minister/whatever of Afghanistan by calling him "paranoid." Man, if I was a reasonable person who was in charge of Afghanistan, I'd be paranoid too. There's terrorist attacks how often there and no way of knowing whether the traffic on the road is just the morning commute or an attempt on your life.

This is not to vouch for the man's character entirely. I have no idea what his policies are like on the ground and I have no insight as to what his priorities or allegiances are. He could be one of the worst people on earth, but I think it's reasonable to be paranoid when you're in charge of a country in the midst of a civil war.)

There is retaliation, by way of a rocket attack on the SIS building at the beginning of issue two. Three people are killed, two of them, total wankers, (to use the vernacular) and the other, a lovely man, a janitor, by the name of Ravi. The head of the section (but not the department) wants some blood. The head of the department says no as politely and then as bluntly as he can. More things happen, the people responsible for the attack get drawn out and captured.

The head of the section wants them to be killed (to show that the SIS is not going to fuck around if you attack their building with rockets at 4 a.m.) and asks for permission to assassinate them. He does not get this permission and the terrorists are to be flown the hell out of the country to face whatever Russian justice awaits them.

That's barbaric, you say, wanting to kill prisoners. Kind of right. So, the head of the section comes up with a new plan: Use Tara and Co. to what appears to be crash the car containing the prisoners so they are killed in an accident. The information they get on the route is false and the SIS watches as the terrorists are sent on an American plane to Russia.

It is hard to say formally, justice is not dealt. The terrorists are not murdered for their reprisals. (As opposed to killed. It's a thing.) But something still feels wrong. There's a quote: It is maintained that where we find formal justice, the rule of law and the honoring of legitimate expectations, we are likely to find substantive justice as well. (52)

Of course, this is Queen and Country, where justice is a little harder to quantify than we're used to in the course of our normal lives. Of course, this is normal lives for some people within our world, within the intelligence and surveillance services. For the record, the idea of a service that someone else can buy to watch you makes me really uncomfortable. Yes, I know it exists and I am under its watchful eye right now. Still. It makes my skin crawl if I stop to think about it.

That's the world the services live in and one they navigate constantly. From the perspective of the head of the section, Crocker, the British need to be seen retaliating in harsh measures to ensure that anyone who is willing to carry out a brazen attack against Her Majesty's Service thinks twice and gulps, visibly at the cost of the response. From the perspective of the other services, they are in business of avoiding direct assassination, if possible, which a bloodthirsty section director does not help.

Substantive as distinct from formal justice is a powerful enough motif to think on for a while. Is justice served if the terrorists are killed and have their bodies returned to their native countries in boxes? Is justice served if the supposed enemy is emboldened by thinking the consequences are not dire and thus put more people in danger? It's part of a game of degrees, or if you prefer, part and parcel of a moral code that's not black and white, but instead black and gray. (I stole that last bit from tvtropes, a place that I won't link to because it's a wonderful, wonderful time sink.)

Like I said, lots of My Chemical Romance. First up: Summertime. We're talking straight Cure ballad here. Enjoy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Ask For the Sweet And Probe the Taste For the Bitter Because I Won't Enjoy Anything

Nerds have won, but I'm not sure what it's worth.

Not that there's some kind of purity in the shadows, either. But what does it consist of, so far? What has it bought us? Smallville? Kick-Ass? The Losers? (Sore point, that. I liked the comic book and enjoyed the movie.) Watchmen? (Ditto, though it's hard not to count that as a success, given context: Glowing blue penis, no superheroes, mindfuck story, no big name actors.) That the properties that changed our lives are just as exploitable as Star Trek?

To buy back the sell, for a moment: If it means that one less young girl or young boy gets bullied or teased for liking anime, videogames, comic books, different kinds of music or D&D then...good. I have a hard time getting up on my step-soapbox and saying that the acceptance of geek things is bad if it means that a kid like me (or unlike me) isn't going to be bullied or go through an even more acute emotional ringer during middle or high school.

But the Green Lantern or Dragonball Z or Prince of Persia movie is meaningless to me unless it gets things like the Filth, Stand Alone Complex and Deus Ex in the hands of those new viewers. I don't care if a Geoff Johns approved Green Lantern picture makes enough money for DC to dive into hundred dollar bills Scrooge McDuck style, unless it means more creators will receive more latitude to produce their own stories in their voice, while minimizing financial exposure and maximizing creator rights.

Blanket statements like nerds have won (Odd. I wrote women without realizing it instead of won. I assume that speaks volumes.) without an attendant push further into the culture pisses me off because it neglects the idea that we like nerd/geek things because of the depth or something beneath the surface. There should be a little bit of working for it, which if done right, isn't at odds with Hollywood. I'm susceptible to the idea of sugar with one's medicine.

If the idea of nerds winning means that creators feel more comfortable saying that they're behind non-traditional media, well, that's good too. But, you know how the stigma was defeated? Through the projects that took their subject matter seriously, or if it wasn't serious, was at least well thought-out and unapologetic.

But, if we've got confirmed, dyed in the wool nerds in the vein of Kanye basically running rampant with hip-hop, it doesn't hurt. I'm just not sure what that phrase means (nerds have won) when apparently, half of the fashionable directors in Hollywood grew up on comic books and videogames and...not terribly much changes. I'm probably just looking for things too quickly or don't have my ear to the ground or perhaps even more crucially: I don't want this to be the logical conclusion of Nerds Winning.

Not hope this is the golden days, but a promise: to work to make sure this is a starting point.

Mid 2000's style screamo (good cop/bad cop vocals) take on Texas Is the Reason's Back and To the Left. I'll probably be putting a lot of My Chemical Romance on here in the days to come, so consider this a breather.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh, Look, An Adventure.

I don't want to talk directly about the whole adventure I was on. Hopefully, by hyperfocusing on moments, it'll give you an idea of the intensity of the experience, positive and negative.

The adventure I teased ended up being more than I could have imagined, not all of it good. There were moments when I questioned the choices I had made up till a point and moments when I simply ran like hell. I can't talk about all of it. What I can say is that I ran through the streets of Leeds terrified. I strolled through the streets of Leeds, full and satisfied. I walked through the streets of Leeds confused and pointing at a map.

(Also, and most importantly, the truth is so much less satisfying than whatever your mind is filling in. I was there, I'd know.)

I never had a shot of espresso before. I had two in 45 minutes in Leeds. I hardly ever dance. I danced for hours. I had a plan for getting into Leeds that I thought was pretty bulletproof. I arrived at the first hotel, beleaguered, roughly 2:45 a.m., after landing in a completely different city an hour after I was supposed to arrive. I thought on the plane that the entire trip was an opulent indulgence, likely to end in brooding failure. I woke up the day I was leaving, still questioning how I had gotten so lucky and feeling like I'd made a few good decisions in my life.

I got confused, twisted around and lost my bearings for an hour in an industrial park at midnight and only regained any sense of composure was when I realized I was in a Bane song, running (with my mind screaming at me) through an Audi dealership. I asked a question worth asking of writers. I looked through a supermarket in wonder and looked at my bank receipts in shock.

I saw a friend I hadn't seen since 2005 and saw friends I never met before. I had the bus taking me to the Leeds airport get a flat tire and still arrived with hours to spare. I had some of the best luck I've ever had with some of my worst decisions. There are highs, there are lows and in Leeds, the inbetween was irrelevant. It existed, but it doesn't really tell anything about the experience of adventuring, of wandering through for real arcades to find places I was told about on the internet, plopping down at a coffeehouse with no idea what I was going to order or being terrified the cabbie would let me off miles from where my hotel was.

(He didn't, and was kind enough to go out of his way to take me directly to the hotel. Arrow cab company, fyi.)

The epic adventures aren't about the destination, but the journey. Lord of the Rings wouldn't be half as sweet without the huge spider or the Naz'Gul (illegal in 42 states, stolen shamelessly from Telltales' poker game) or the talking trees. I live in the real world, so spider queens, Ents and zombified humans riding dragons are right out, but the thrill of being somewhere new, with someone you only kind of know for an experience you have few parallels for, I think, crosses over nicely.

This is the song that saved me, eight years later. This is Bane's Sunflowers and Sunsets.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cut Short And Used Up.

I wrote elsewhere that the world will kick my teeth in. Coming back from the adventure this weekend, I can testify to the veracity of that statement.

Or in other words: Yes, the world can so easily crush me, without even realizing it. This was reinforced by the last sentence in the first paragraph I read of 2666, after spending a page talking about the police detectives trying to connect the dots on a brutal, vicious rape (a topic as light as a 30 meters of concrete), there's this: The semen samples sent to Hermosillo were lost, whether on the way there or the way back it wasn't clear.

It ends there and it's nearly impossible for me to keep reading. After a weekend of incredible highs and crypt level lows, most occurring in my mind, reading that matter of fact final sentence deflated me. After all the hard work of the detectives and the incredible (but sadly commonplace) pain of the rape, the piece that would help bring the rapist to justice was lost due to carelessness, neglect or not trying. All that effort expended's simply not around any more.

Frustrating describes, but doesn't encapsulate it. There's bits of rage and exhaustion after having read it, that whatever else I do, no, this is what the world is like and no amount of expensive vacations to indulge me is going to change it. The joy, the happiness, the leftover buzz or high from the achievement the adventure was short circuited and burnt out.

Cut short and used up? Yeah. That's how it felt.

Today I was listening to NaNaNaNa by My Chemical Romance, which in the context I heard it this weekend was suitably eardrum rattling and epic but after this, feels like the song is hollow and armored in tin.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Casanova: Not A Comic Book Reference This Time

I start an weekend adventure tonight (Walk through a European city at midnight I've never seen before to get to a hotel I've never heard of? It saves me $20!) , so I lined up a guest post. Say hello to my good friend, Emmy Dee.

I was in love once. His name was Tyler Lawson and he had blue eyes and dirty blond hair that he gelled in the front a la N’SYNC. Unfortunately for me, he was spit-your-slushie-out-on-the-playground cool, and there were plenty girls far more eligible then I was. Tyler was a certified seventh grade bad boy, dating first one uber-popular girl then another. Finally, he dumped them all so that he could shamelessly hook up with anyone he wanted (To this day, I wonder if the rumors of sex on the soccer field were true.) For me though, Tyler was just the start of my Casanova crushes.

In high school there was Ethan, who broke my heart and acquiesced to be my prom anyway. Then, when I was a senior, there was the one good guy that came into my life for years. He was perfect, captain of the football team and ranked in the top ten of the class; we went for endless walks and he talked about how he wanted to save Ecuadorian orphans (no really, I can’t make this shit up.) I had practically planned out the wedding in my daydreams, until one of my best friends broke up with her boyfriend and pounced. I’ve never been much of a pouncer myself, so I went off to college glumly resolved to live out my own version of “Never Been Kissed.”

When I arrived at college something extraordinary happened. Guys started noticing me. More then that, guys started HITTING on me. Woah. Heartbroken as I was over The Last Good Guy, I decided that I had what it took to play the field. I was a fucking idiot. It’s not that I don’t have game, I can flip my hair and stick my boobs out as good as the next girl, It’s that I way underestimated what guys will do to get what they want. In short, I met the Ultimate Bad Boy, and stupidly I fell for him. He was charming and suave and I have to say, an amazing kisser (Sorry, Drew Barrymore.) He talked about kids and dogs and Obama and I fell further and further into infatuation. But he, like Tyler Lawson, wasn’t happy with just one girl’s attention; and he knew how to keep all of us coming back for more. Inevitably the truth of the situation was revealed; In the end I was the other woman, the legitimate girl had spent the year broadening her cultural horizons in France.

I spent the ensuing months listening to hours upon hours of Taylor Swift and A Fine Frenzy; watching with savage pleasure as blond haired blue-eyed boys died in various crime shows. Even though I had known for almost the entire affair that he was bad for me, I had still let myself slip into infatuation. There was something inexplicably exhilarating about caring for someone who was a little dangerous and who treated me with flippant disregard. I wanted him more because he didn’t need me; I was sure that I could prove to him that I was the one girl who was worth it.

It would be easy to blame my delusions on pop culture and the media, I suppose. Too many romantic comedies end with the asshole-jerk realizing that he had it all wrong and presenting the heroine with dozens of roses and a ring. I could blame these movies, except that I know that I’m smarter then that. I knew what I was getting myself into, I’m not (generally) an airheaded ditz who really believes in this stuff (somewhere, my friends are scoffing in disagreement.)

So why is it that intelligent girls like myself perpetually fall for the “bad boy,” the one person who is sure to hurt them? I suppose it all comes down to this: Every girl wants to be THE ONE. We all need someone to confirm that we’re worth it, even while we’re being taken advantage of, hurt, and insulted. A good friend of mine put it like this: “The bad boys are like the perfect storms of genetics sent from wherever to make good girls turn into raving lunatics.” The more abusive the guy, the more I want to prove that I am the girl that he will change for.

Beyond wanting to feel the self-validation of being wanted, there is just something about edgy guys that is downright sexy. Confidence. In order to be a “bad boy,” you need to believe that you have power. By dominating the situation these men create an aura of success, even if inwardly they’re insecure (and believe me, in my experience they mostly are.) Personally, I like to feel protected, men who display confidence and power appeal to that part of me. I know-it’s 2010 and I shouldn’t WANT to be protected by a man. Blame my tween years spent reading Jane Austen and other period romantic novels. It doesn’t matter how much I strive to be the modern independent woman, in the end I want someone who could save me if I needed saving. Nice guys just don’t seem like they’re up for the job.

I saw the Ultimate Bad Boy out a few weekends back. I was at a bar and it was homecoming so it was packed. He was there. We walked within two feet of each other. We pretended not to know each other. Two years ago this would have killed me, now things have changed. I have someone new in my life, someone who loves me and treats me with care and respect. And I love him too. So, instead of spending the rest of that night crying or texting or slinking back with him to his apartment, I stayed out with my friends and danced. When I finally went home I slid into bed with the person I love and I feel asleep. Finally, it seems I have found someone who makes all the bad experiences and spiteful people fade away...

And yes, he’s a little bit of a bad boy.

“Almost Lover” (A Fine Frenzy) became my anthem the spring that I had my heart broken by my college infatuation. Everything about her pleading, soulful voice defined how I felt. This is what I was silently screaming at him. To this day I can’t listen to this song without smelling the sweaty dust of the all-boys floor that he lived on. Someday, I have promised myself, I will ask him. Did I make it that easy/to walk right in and out of my life?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Shot At the World

My perspective on philosophy is very, very simple: Make it applicable.

I presented a little bit of Gramsci in a class and tried to go in a different direction, which worked sometimes and didn't at others. I made it personal. Like, painfully so. We are the consequences of our actions and the influences of the people we've gathered around us, yes? So I asked, what behaviors have rubbed off from former lovers and that immediately focused their attention. Human nature is a process, yes?

Human nature is in the little things we do or don't. The tiny bits we get comfortable with, like crossing our legs or tapping our fingers on the desk. I don't view it as something grand, then. If you want to see human nature, don't just look at things like having to die, but also whether you urinate in the shower or your body language while ordering coffee.

According to Gramsci, human nature is something learned, not solely something installed on the harddrives of our psyche by our extraterrestrial creator. (Yes, God and computers. It's a bit of a cliche, isn't it?) But I looked and I saw open eyes and even a look of shock on a couple faces. when I applied it to a domestic point. Something snapped into place behind their pupils and watching that transpire is a feeling that's better for my soul than a hundred mental health days.

That's what philosophy ought to be. It ought to be something that shocks and surprises, like going through a haunted house from the inside out. It should implore its practitioners to ask deeper, more probing questions and for a brief moment, it might have. This all is very idealistic. In this case, it's my idealism and that makes all the difference. (It doesn't.)

It was that granular applicability that made the point corporeal, powerful and frighteningly useful. Given a little more time, the discussion (a kid just admitted that he took his parents lives for granted, for God's sake!), cut off, could have been interesting. It wasn't to be, but I got something special out of it nonetheless. I got a single moment of clarity, an instant of demystifying power against a lake (not an ocean or sea) of unimpressed faces. I could get used to that.

I am listening to a lot of Thursday, in quantities that I never did before. A City By The Light Divided has been keeping me company, but it's War All the Time that I listened to through first. Asleep in the Chapel is off War All the Time, and it's strange in that when I don't pay attention, I like it more. But when I try to describe why, I can't. The verses are so good, the chorus less so. Plus, it uses the phrase "sing hallelujah", which almost always scores good marks in my book.

Monday, November 15, 2010

One Part Monday, One Part Everything After

"Injustice, then, is simply inequalities that are not to the benefit of all."

There's more of the meat of A Theory of Justice, but I'm struck by the consiseness of that sentence. Look at it again. It carries a couple ideas, that inequalities are things that are unevenly distributed and can be discussed as something that benefits people. Injustice as a benefit. Huh. It happens all of the time in cities and in places we don't care to pay attention, but stated outside of a context of a particular injustice, it resonates even more with me.

It's only after I grew up that I'm even thinking in the process of inequality as as a possible positive. And here I am trying to dissect a single sentence of injustice years after the fact. Bad things happen, this is a part of life, but, when they're done to benefit a specific party, therein lies the injustice.

It's a sentence that clarifies conflicts. Not what happened, but why, to whom and for what? Who profits, but years later. Injustice as a thing that can be calculated, almost real, like an element. Injustice that straightforwardly expressed. At 530ish pages of words, brevity isn't Rawls' strong suit, but it's hard for me to understate the force inherent in the economy of that sentence.

That sentence meant to be the culmination of a bunch of philisophical steps, but it also works as a statement of purpose. It's the kind of thing I wish I could write.

No dance music this time: Thursday's cover of the Buzzcocks' Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have?) There was one day, when I was young, I ended up playing this song on Rock Band 2 with the other side of a love triangle I was in. I played "guitar", he sang (his range is really impressive), the girl watched. There's bitter moments in my life that make me smile. That one was magical.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Dead Also Rise

There was a guy who wrote a letter to the editor that said some pretty crazy things about justice. I responded, this is it. Also: This is me cannibalizing my other work, because I'm in Munich for the weekend and won't have the wherewithal to update today. Thus, here's something old, but something I think that's aged well.

It is my opinion that the Guantanamo Bay prison is not as comfortable as Mr. Coyne believes.

First and foremost: He says the U.S. Congress has reviewed the facility and deemed it fair. Given that Congress reviewed the evidence for the war in Iraq and found it sufficient, their approval does not satisfy me.

Second, whatever the formal religious accommodations are, they're undercut by the guards spraying urine on the Koran and sexually assaulting the prisoners, according to an internal U.S. military review and the FBI, respectively.

Third, the Red Cross has reviewed the detention center and is far less charitable than Mr. Coyne, specifically using the phrase "tantamount to torture." But ignoring the Red Cross, most striking is what the FBI (and the Department of Defense) allege about the facility: That the prisoners were shackled for 18 hours at a time and forced to urinate and defecate on themselves.

As for the idea that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in a civilian court and kept in maximum security prisons like any other criminal, I say yes. The point is not to throw suspected terrorists in a gulag that resembles limbo or a relatively high circle of hell, but to expedite justice.

Apparently, the increased security supposedly needed for the trial will cost more money. In my eyes, the money is well spent. This is about the vindication of our justice system when the entire world is watching. This is what you spend money on, guys! And yes, the United States has a gaping maw of a deficit. At this point, another couple million is comparative pocket change.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be held in the super maximum security prison in Illinois. The building was created to detain the most dangerous criminals we can apprehend. The idea that it's going to make the prison or the surrounding communities a target is a bit late. The prison created to detain the most dangerous criminals we can apprehend is already built.

Mr. Coyne ends his letter throwing his support behind the execution of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I believe this to be unwise. Killing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed brings back no victims from the grave and gives our enemies another martyr and recruiting tool.

In short, I think Mr. Coyne is mistaking revenge for justice. Our criminal justice system makes tragic mistakes on a daily basis, but Khalid Sheikh Mohammed doesn't have to be one of them. As much as it hurts, I believe this country ought to give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed a better trial than he deserves, and, if at the end of it he is found guilty, then we let the rule of law decide what to do with him.

Revenge is cheap and quick. Justice is expensive and boring.

Thursday's Division St., for obvious reasons. If you don't like it at first, wait till you get to the part about crickets in the trees. It'll make you a believer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Terribly Sadly

I made a bit of a pledge to myself that I wouldn't do full on music analysis as its own blog post. I wanted to branch out. That's a thing. Second, though, I have a space for that under the post. This is about my reaction to the song, then and now. I've gone cold turkey on Crime In Stereo since their breakup. Sure, the first couple weeks after I heard about it, I listened to their discography (including early demos) but for most of October and all of November so far, I haven't listened to a single song.

I'm telling myself it's because I'm in mourning. But I think it might be more than that. I'm a different person now that they're gone and their influence on me is something that's deep and subtle.

I want to come back to Crime In Stereo in a couple years. When, hopefully, I've changed. When my tastes have morphed and spasm-ed in different directions. I want to hear Crime In Stereo with fresh ears again. (This of course, can't happen. My interpretation and subsequent analysis of their music is a part of me, to the point where their songs have root access to my emotions.)

Music is the answer? God, I wish.

Music is the problem. My memories invade the songs I listen to. (See?) Some people can trace their history through their tattoos. I trace my history through the songs. I hear so much and know so little that the little pieces of music at the bottom are breadcrumbs that lead to memories.

There's so little of Crime In Stereo that's unclaimed by a memory at this point. It's mostly Exit Halo, Sudan and the early, early demos where they weren't that interesting that are uncolored. What's left now, as the band winds down, is living enough to color in those songs in the future. To new memories and old songs.

And speaking of coloring in songs, here Crime In Stereo doing Hot Water Music's Paper Thin at their first of three final gigs, in October. You'll note both Kristian (singer) and Alex (guitarist in the background, the one that doesn't have a Strike Anywhere tattoo) have pretty intense health issues, so I have to imagine this is a watershed for the both of them.

What is Paper Thin, you ask? It's a song about being in a hospital and feeling absolutely powerless and terrified. This song was released in 2001 and Crime In Stereo was started in 2002. Do the math.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blue Monday

No real good news from 2666. I'm now 574 pages done (with an entire book left to go after this one)'s more of the same. It's well written, but...hopefully, now, I'm spinning even closer to the center. One major character is going make an announcement to the press, but that's a process that's taking forever and in the meantime, the female bodies, some mutilated, some not, accumulate.

Still a lot of women dying. The sheer number, unrelentingly, who all, somehow, work at maquiadoras is staggering and it can't be stopped. Police are incapable of finding the killers and even if they could, corruption, laziness or simply just not having enough resources available to do the job abounds, with many of the investigators chauvinist pigs. The women, almost exclusively, are referred to by the police as whores, or even if they're confused and went out with a guy and it ended with their death, they're still tarred by that, somehow.

It's not so bad, one of the characters says, at least in Santa Teresa, more women, than in other parts of Mexico, have jobs.The maquiadoras provide the jobs, and are temples, themselves, as if the young women are constantly scarified on it to keep the town and workplace going. The women pay the price for the Mexican lifestyle, in which the rage, jealousy and loathing of men is paid to their spouses or girlfriends accounts. She was cheating on me, so I killed her. She wanted a little space, so I strangled her. Drugs are often involved.

We see the men on their own without the women in prison, and there's…at least two counts of prison rape which get graphic and makes me physically uncomfortable.

This book feels like it's got a political undercurrent, even though there's…nothing explicitly political here. But, if we're to take Gramsci's ideas at face value, that recognition is the first step to action and has value, then there is a reasonable argument that Bolano, by showing the myriad ways women get killed and how little happens, is making his point about how women are treated today and how casually news of their deaths is received.

Their deaths are oppressive and constant. I can only imagine what it's like, in every meaning of the phrase.

We Are the Pipettes is a song by the Pipettes. It's the first track off their disc of the same name. Light song, hopefully, to counteract the depressing post.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Real Folk Friday Blues

I got bored one night and pointed myself towards episodes of Cowboy Bebop on youtube. I just started at the end and found again, what was a huge influence on me as a kid and something else that, a couple years later, I still have trouble acclimating to. It's an old nugget from a previous viewing that's stuck with me. So, I'm rewriting it now, with all the extra tools that I've put in the toolbox since.

Huge spoilers abound, so just go to the italics if you plan on ever seeing Bebop.

Background: Spike Spiegel is a bounty hunter who used to be a mobster until he left. Vicious is his former partner and maybe the guy he betrays. Julia is the girl they both fell in love. Spike tells Julia after this last job, we can leave the Syndicate. Plans are hatched. Vicious finds her shortly afterwards and tells her he knows what's going on and tells Julia that he's going to kill her unless she kills Spike. So, Julia doesn't meet up with Spike so she can avoid killing him.

She disappears. Spike finds Jet. They hunt bounties! Adventure! They pick up other crew members. And then word of Julia drifts back, weakly, like the smell of soup from three houses down.

Spike finds his star-crossed lover, who has been on the run from everyone, including her (and his) former associates. Vicious, now a jaded lieutenant in the hierarchy of the mob (Red Dragon Syndicate) staged a failed coup and the heads of the Syndicate are looking to clean house, and the way they do that is by killing everybody the people who staged the coup were ever associated with.

Vicious had been content to let Spike and Julia disappear, but the Syndicate bosses were paranoid and taking no chances and after the return of an intermediary, the two are reunited. Cut back to Vicious. Turns out Vicious had a back up plan, and it works out. After another gun battle, the second coup attempt is successful. They are tailed, quickly, of course, by Syndicate thugs. There is a gun battle. Julia dies in it. Spike doesn't.

Spike returns to Jet to tell him goodbye, basically and the intermediary (Faye Valentine) stops him and asks him what the fuck he thinks he's doing. Spike tells her this is what he wants to do and that he can't let go of the past. He leaves, having readied his arsenal. He goes on a bloody sweep through the Red Dragon HQ, getting another one of his friends in the Syndicate killed in the process. Spike makes it to Vicious. They fight and kill each other, Vicious dying first, Spike surviving another couple minutes, to collapse in a gutted, bloody heap on the front stairs of the Red Dragon HQ.

It's a tragic ending. It's a painful ending. It's a good ending in a aesthetic sense, that it elicits a strong emotion from the viewer. The problem, of course, is that I'm not that much of a romantic. It sounds sweet to die for your now dead lover, but it doesn't do that now dead lover any good. Their life cannot be improved by the martyrdom. They're dead. Whatever they were is all they'll ever be now.

Spike is at most 32. His bounty hunting partner, Jet, is a decade or so older than Spike, at least by nature of his beard. Spike's a part of an actual crew now, a dog called Ein, a person trying to work off millions of dollars of debts and an androgynous young girl named Ed. In other words, he's a part of a community.

I view that choice of the suicidal killing spree over the community as an insult, that the past that had, left Spike alone, was worth more than the people around him now, that chose him as a consequence of trying to escape the past.

And going on a suicidal killing spree isn't romantic, or if it is, it's short-sighted in equal measure. The first point is blindingly obvious: Killing all those mobsters doesn't bring Julia back. Killing Vicious doesn't settle anything. Vicious was pretty clear in his intentions when he had Lin shoot Spike and Jet with knockout rounds when it could have just as easily been live ammunition. Given distance Vicious didn't go after Spike, Spike didn't go after Vicious while Julia disappeared herself, so I'm not sure what her death changes between them.

It's a selfish, impulsive move by Spike. Impulsive is an important word. (It's unclear how much time has passed, but the impression is at most a couple days.) Spike didn't even give himself a week to recuperate. He said goodbye to his friends, who risked their lives for him, and indulged himself. He jumped in and precluded himself from the idea of life without the possibility of Julia in it.

(All this said, Spike can and should make the decision for himself. I'm just judging him for it.)

Before I go, let me say this: Cowboy Bebop was a series that was fundamentally romantic, and its aesthetic (space cowboy) reinforced that. Is part of being romantic, making excuses for unacceptable behavior?

I'm probably thinking too much, but it's service of something: The process of returning to what you liked when you were young and casting a critical eye on it. It's a process, I think. I hope I'm in the right process now, but, if I'm going to be true to the spirit of this update, that's not for me to judge.

Crystal Castles with Robert Smith. Or in other words, one of the better indie electronic music acts out there with the guy from the Cure singing about girls. In slightly more helpful terms, this was a Crystal Castles song that they had Robert Smith record vocals over. It's now a single. I think you'll like it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

And All That Jazz

I went to a jazz bar Saturday night. I'm a music fiend, as if you couldn't already tell. So. I was there, and I was having fun, listening to a group of musicians (in suits and ties) play, and it was then that I realized something that shouldn't be important, but in the provincial squalor of my mind, made sense: I couldn't tell if what I was listening to was good.

I was operating under the assumption that the performers were at least respectable, since the place looked neatly appointed enough (an upper floor, with understated low light, black couches and wall-mounted coat hangers), but because I never listen to jazz, i was basically clueless over whether the music I was hearing was the real thing. Even worse, I was overheated and dehydrated, so the longer we stayed, the more I started getting irritable. The set up was this: three guitarists, one of which was absurdly talented (playing an electric, naturally) and the other two basically there to keep the song going (on acoustics), a bassist (as in stand up) and a person who played clarinet and the saxophone.

Here's how a song went: The really good guitarist would lead the other two, and then as soon as the song got past the second verse/chorus he'd go off for a minute and a half guitar solo, with the other two guitarists repeating the same part of the song for 90 seconds. Which, okay, he's a really, really talented guitarist. Props to him. But there wasn't really much interaction between him and the other two guitarists. Even during the jam session part, in which he would trade parts with the saxophonist, he never really let either of the other two guitarists pull lead.

Occasionally, the bassist (least prominent in the mix) would get a solo, which felt a little more deliberate than the spectacular, finger tapping solos of the guy on the electric. But while getting increasingly irritable and dehydrated, I tried to work over the idea that I could like something even if I wasn't sure it was...fashionable. Okay, being my age, dressing in black and going to a jazz bar is fashionable enough, but it's almost a cliche within itself. I felt like a poser.

And maybe that's not the right word, but I was out of my element and I felt my posturing (regardless of sincerity) was immediately telling. I'm used to knowing what to expect from gigs, to the point where my behavior is basically off-hand. But even in trying to critique the performance I saw I'm...also painfully aware that I know nothing worth mentioning about jazz. It might all just be the return of my punk rock comfort zone trying to regain its lost ground. It didn't sit quite right, which may have been influenced by sitting uncomfortably myself.

I've gotten very comfortable in my little punk rock bubble and I hadn't gotten it musically punctured in a damn long time. I don't want to say it was a great experience all around, but it feels a little bit refreshing in retrospect to be that uncomfortable again. It's keeping me on my toes and next time I'll think ahead enough to get dinner before I do it again.

Have I introduced you to fun. yet? (Yes, a band called fun..) I would bet overworked arts editors everywhere secretly want this band to die for using a period at the end of their name. Anyway. We're all better off that arts editors haven't, because fun. play a kind of psychedelic pop that's surprisingly...short. There's only one song over five minutes and that's the last one, which, historically, is the place to put 5+ minute songs for normal bands.

And, of course, I'm not giving you that one. Have "All the Pretty Girls" instead. The opening is playful and there's a guitar solo I don't mind near the end. I'll say this for the song. It's chorus is "all the pretty girls on a Saturday night" and I love it bouncing around in my head, despite the fact that I normally loathe the very traditional expression of "girls on a weekend/night/not daytime" theme. It's probably a single by now, and if it isn't, the parent label is braindead and asleep at the switch.

Press play and thank me later.

Monday, November 1, 2010

On A Monday

I got a bee in my bonnet about the kids talking about Fight Club like it was some incredibly deep shit. I, of course, am pretty sure there is nothing new under the sun.

Fight Club is to philosophy as Rent is to musicals. That is to say, it's an introduction that smarmy self-proclaimed independent thinkers use to say that they know the genre while having experienced nothing else. Okay. Seriously, Rent is saccharinely melodramatic but well-intentioned. Hell: The bad guy in the production is called Coffin. As for Fight Club, track this: think of every person that mentions Tyler Durden, ask yourself: have they gone further, or do they all love that quote "self-improvement is masturbation?" Yes, in short, I care, far, far more about where they go once they've seen these things.

Yes, I'm judgmental.

I'm in philosophy. It goes with the territory. I didn't get into this so I could hide behind something. I got into this so I could run my mouth. And thus, I'm going to talk about chapters seven, eight and nine of A Theory of Justice. Chapter seven, entitled Intuitionism (which I initially thought was institutionism) is about how people decide between competing ideas. of, for example, balancing equality and total welfare when talking about justice. As Rawls explains: put total welfare on the x axis and equality on the y axis, and put a generic upper left to downward right curve on it and we're off. He uses the phrases indifference curve and ceteris paribus, the second of which might be my favorite piece of latin since quid pro quo motherfucker.

Put two non-intersecting indifference curves on there and it's a neat visual way of representing two different ways of viewing justice. (You can have a great amount of total welfare unevenly distributed over a given number of people that might mathematically be equal but be unworkable otherwise.) Obviously, the further to the top left one goes, the better the theory is, since it balances equality and total welfare in a way that maximizes both better.

Rawls then speaks about intuitionists, and how they would agree that such a mathematical proof exist, there are not "constructive moral criteria" to help define it in real world terms. He says that the way to defeat the theory is to show that the constructive moral criteria exists. This leads into chapter eight, of how to solve the priority problem. Rawls posits the lexicographical order of principles, a not so complex system that puts principles like links in a chain. Each new principle must hold the principles before it.

He favors the lexicographical order insomuch as it helps indicate the larger structures and conceptions of justice, not that it's a perfect fit. He acknowledges in chapter nine, that nothing is perfect and everything is flawed, but we end up judging by how often the theory is correct versus how often it is flawed.

I mean, yes, I was attracted to philosophy because of the phrase no answers and about how everything is flawed, but up until this point, I never had a real good conception of what that meant. I think in RPG terms. I'll explain. I think in terms of games and statistics and there's always one best, most powerful piece of armor or weapon that is the best fit for whatever class you're going for. A trinket that is most perfect above all other things, and maximizes all of the statistics more evenly than anything else.

That doesn't exist here. The whole book is about working towards it, but Rawls admits: "justice as fairness moves us closer to the philosophical ideal; it does not; of course, achieve it." I'm used to searching for the special, special drop of some benevolent designer, which would appear only if the right things were maximized or minimized. Here, though, it's admitting that I'm never going to get there. Ever. Even more damning: "It is obviously impossible to develop a substantive theory of of justice founded solely on the truths of logic and definition."

Well...shit. That's not a sexy thing to admit in a book called A Theory of Justice, man. And that, simply put, is why I'm still attracted to philosophy today.

Blaqk Audio's Cex Cells was a CD that I heard about when I first heard about it, I liked only one of the singles from it and more or less forgot about it, except for Semiotic Love. I found it again last night and am liking On A Friday, a song about dancing in clubs. Oh! Right! Blaqk Audio is Jade Puget and Davey Havok from AFI doing electronic music. It's fun and not close to the AFI canon. (I've been dancing with strangers for all of my life, sings Davey, and it's hard to tell whether that's him talking about his day job or dancing in clubs on his own.)

If you couldn't already tell from dropping Katy Perry in one of the other ...Justice posts, I have a fondness for putting dance songs next to Rawls for the purpose of a little sugar with the medicine and subverting the austerity and academic nature of philosophy with songs about nothing more (and nothing less) than dancing and pretty people you're attracted to.

Not quite nihilism, but certainly a counter-argument to the all-encompassing and dead sober nature of judgments, principles and the original position. It's not that nothing matters, but instead that dancing with people, correctly articulated, has demonstrable, meaningful worth.

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