Sunday, September 30, 2007

Freedom From Speech

This afternoon (Sept. 30), I'm chairing a panel at Broadmoor Community Church involving the police chief, reporters, and activists discussing the St. Patrick's Day arrests in Colorado Springs. I'd like to thank Colorado's moronic neolithic neocon columnist Mike Rosen for providing me perfect grist for the mill with his Friday column on the Gainesville taser incident. Rosen seems to think that whenever free speech becomes annoying, it's time to bring out the chokeholds and tasers. He resonates with the large number of American citizens who think there's some kind of amendment protecting their right to enjoy entertainment events undisturbed, without some crazy person pontificating who should have been relegated to a "free speech zone." Paine and Jefferson are spinning in their graves. The only right to protection FROM free speech consists in walking away from the speaker.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Horrible Truth About Burma

The climax probably won't come until Friday or Saturday. Maybe China can talk some sense into the SLORC or whatever that nasty little junta calls itself these days. But an analyst for the BBC was punditing on a radio show today that the military forces ruling the so-called nation of "Myanmar" have never cared about global public opinion in the past, so anything short of a direct invasion is unlikely to make them blink. So what about standoff air strikes approved by the world community at large? Since the government has abandoned the capital in favor of rural bunkers near the town of Pyinmana, precision weapons could decapitate facilities with very little civilian casualties. But would the people support it, if done in the name of the UN, or would it be as ill-conceived as a U.S. invasion of Iraq? Does the UN have the right to declare a government generally inappropriate for continued existence on this planet, and would it have the right by global consensus to conduct standoff air war on recalcitrants? This subject came up during Bosnia-Croatia-Serbia-Kosovo days, and is unlikely to go away. But without direct action, the Burmese junta is unlikely to go away, either.

A Run on Stupid Pills

Trying to get through the morning news this AM is an exercise in "duh"-factor avoidance. Maybe it's the Ahmadinejad halo effect. First, post-launch for the Halo 3 video game. Lines in LA and New York looked as bad as iPhone cult queues, and the front of the line was dominated by people in their 20s and 30s. I've resigned myself to this being the new, "mature" gaming market -- after all, the only sector of my own company doing well is the sector serving the gaming community. But standing in line all night for the privilege of buying a VIDEO GAME??!! And I thought Apple had turned people into mindless consumer robots. All hail X Box, PS3, Wii, the sole determinants of the new American economy! Feh.

Now it's on to those pesky illegal aliens. The New York Times gave us a front-page story about how the town of Riverside, N.J. set ordinance after ordinance to limit employers hiring those of questionable status, only to see two-thirds of the businesses downtown get shuttered. Gee whiz. Do you think it's actually possible illegals might have an overall positive effect on the economy? Is it possible Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh were actually feeding people a load of crap? Nah, it's like Riverside's former mayor Charles Hilton said, the ones that closed were just the bad businesses. Too bad they were sustaining the town.

Listen to me, I'm starting to sound like that grumpy crone Joni Mitchell on her new album Shine. Pay no attention, I'll grab some Prozac to counteract the stupid pills.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Big Day for New Music

Last time I checked, we had Nellie McKay, Band of Horses, Steve Earle, Iron and Wine, Joni Mitchell, Foo Fighters, Weakerthans all slated for Sept. 25 intros. And two No-Necks, a reissue and a new one. P.J. Harvey delayed her long-awaited scary-solo-piano album til next week, where she only has to compete with Bruce Springsteen and E Street. Sheesh.

(HEY! My snap reviews of Iron and Wine, Nellie, Weakerthans, Davendra, and Joni are in the Comments for this post. Foo Fighters, Band of Horses, and Steve Earle will have to wait.)

Propping Up Myths, on Land and in Space

Surrounded by gratuitous myth-making today. Ruth Mowry's excellent Synchronizing blog has an outstanding entry on the whole UAW-GM strike and hybrid-vehicle problem today, and I would ask everyone to march right over there and consider her questions, maybe even weigh in on something that is weighing on me, for reasons I expressed over there. Meanwhile, the New York Times serves up warmed-over Sputnik signals on the 50th anniversary of the world's first artificial satellite, and rehashes the same Cold War half-lies and crap we've heard since the JFK era. I listed my complaints in "Superficial Spacemen" in my EE Times blog.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Marcia's Index of Metals

Marcia Bassett might be the busiest woman in improvisational music - GHQ, Double Leopards, Hototogisu, her duo work with Tom Carter in Zaika, and her own work in Zaimph. I was listening to a variety of Zaimph pieces this afternoon and suddenly realized how much her solo work is like Robert Fripp and Brian Eno collaborations. The repetitive loops sound like No Pussyfooting, while the scarier mood pieces are like "An Index of Metals" from Fripp and Eno's Evening Star. It's impossible to keep up with all her work, but I sure hope she plays Colorado some time soon.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

River of Aspens

First day of fall in Colorado - aspens have turned, harvests are in, hot springs are steaming with the first cold rains to hit the mountains. Spent the weekend in the Fraser Basin, watching the colors and soaking, and remembering how unparalleled the turning season is in the Rockies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reading Adam Smith: Pondering the Slow Descent Into Ignorance and Fear

I'm finally getting around to reading the unabridged Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. It's understandable why P.J. O'Rourke felt it necessary to write a Cliff's Notes version of the book, since the first 200 pages or so read like a dated economics textbook. (Still, it's hardly as dry as so many complain. You want dry, I'll give you Sartre or Kant or Bertrand Russell. Smith is moist by comparison.)

Once Smith gets into discussing a history of feudalism following the collapse of the Roman Empire, however, the writing becomes very engaging, giving the reader a good insight into the historical elements that led to the slow formation of Italian city-states and the Hanseatic League. I was really interested to see what Smith thought of the immediate post-empire period in Western Europe, since a couple critical books have been published lately, updating and revising what Edward Gibbon had to say about the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The common message of Guy de la Bedoyare's Roman Britain and Peter Heather's Fall of the Roman Empire is that there was much more of a concerted effort by Goths, Alans, Franks, and Saxons to eliminate remnants of Roman culture, particularly in Britain and Gaul. Cities were depopulated by design, and the literate society leaders were rounded up and eliminated in 439-440 in Britain, and in an undetermined pre-Clovis era in Gaul.

It led me to fantasize on what it must have been like to live as a literate Roman citizen in Western Europe during the end of empire, hiding from barbarian death squads and watching the slow descent of the population into ignorance and fear. Were the de-urbanization drives as sudden as a Khmer Rouge purge, or was it a much slower process? What kind of legends did families develop about the emptied Roman cities? Did the spread of Christianity and the rise of free cities work in tandem to diminish the power of feudalism, or was it much more random than that? These questions aren't merely an effort to fill historical blanks in the Dark Ages. I have this funny feeling that literacy and organized culture will experience a new "slow descent" in the 21st century, maybe within my lifetime. Hope I'm wrong.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stewart Brand, Nuclear Power, and Military Contracts

We've known for more than ten years, thanks to Wired magazine and other sources, that Stewart Brand, founder of Whole Earth Catalog and Co-Evolution Quarterly, had become an advocate of nuclear power. But last week's Economist magazine had a revealing interview with Brand where he tries to rationalize the Big Oil and military-contractor business he does via the Global Business Network.

Now, Brand says some correct things about how wrong Paul Ehrlich and the Club of Rome were on neo-Malthusian limits, and suggests the same may be true for genetic engineering and nuclear power. I can buy some of his points, but nuclear power remains too closely aligned to nuclear weapons to ever be made safe. When he tries to point out how energy companies are changing, and how the military is better organized than many corporations, I can agree with him in part. But Brand forgets to mention that Royal Dutch Shell, however much it "transforms", still has a primary business of pumping oil out of the ground. The military, however much it may organize itself well along some fronts, still has a primary purpose of global power projection in the service of empire, and by the way, it kills people and makes things go boom in the process.

How embarrassing that this old Deadhead Merry Prankster has stooped so low.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Monolith Festival Capsule Reviews

Monolith is different from the likes of Coachella, Bonaroo, or Pitchfork in being distinctly songwriter and performer oriented. Half the retail booths on the plaza are for musical instruments, offset printing services for CD covers and posters, and the like. Musicians hang around the terraces as though it was a folk festival, chatting with crowds after a performance. (Matt and Kim were particularly gracious in that respect, as their fan following was huge and they remained generous with their time for hours.) I sure hope Monolith will survive as an extant fest, as they were giving everyone free programs and sampler CDs, and the crowd of 5000 or so wasn't likely to have recouped costs. Sorry I missed Friday, with Decemberists, Cake, Clap Your Hands, but here's some Saturday observations:

[FLASH - Here's some great pictures from Glory Anna Breitweiser and Laurie Scavo. And the Denver Post gave us a great ten-minute slide show from John Moore here.]

Laylights -- A guitar-driven, poppy sound on the Terrace stage that seemed more interesting than the main-stage set of A Verse Unsung.

Via Audio -- A clever and very tight Brooklyn quartet led by the mini-powerhouse Jessica Martins, their new CD is coming out Sept. 25 and is definitely a keeper.

Bob Log III -- Take away all the nonsensical games and songs like "Boob Scotch", and Bob Log III is still one of the finest slide-guitar players you'll ever hear, and when he plays a set, you won't stop smiling.

Forget Cassettes -- Beth Cameron's trio has an odd, swirling, chanting feel, like you've entered some kind of ritual.

The Little Ones -- An LA band that does upbeat, interesting y'alternative that recalls The Jayhawks or maybe even Flying Burrito Brothers.

Meese -- At first listen, you'll think that Patrick Meese and band are just trying to take The Fray's formula of sensitive singer-songwriter with band, but Meese really charts their own territory with falsetto-style vocals.

Margot & the Nuclear So & So's -- I didn't think this band was as compelling as some make them to be, but they do some nice three-part arrangements.

Matt and Kim -- Hey, what can you say, it's MATT AND KIM! And they're playing RED ROCKS! And the sun is out and they're playing between two 1000-foot MONOLITHS! And Matt dances on his keyboards and Kim stands up and dances on her drums, and Matt says their plane must have crashed on the way from Las Vegas, for they are surely dead and in Show Heaven now.

Brian Jonestown Massacre -- I've always had less patience than most with Anton Newcombe because he seems so perennially grumpy (even with his audience, like saying "shut the fuck up" when tuning). Some would call it the punk attitude, I call it arrogance. The 60s channeling sound is nice, but can get boring on long jams. But Newcombe really is a sincere and dedicated guy, and the Monolith set was good.

White Rabbits -- Urban, sophisticated, and dedicated to making perfect sounds forever. I like these guys a lot.

Nathan and Stephen -- The name might lead you to think it was the dreaded singer-songwriter duo, but N&S is actually a raucous nine-piece wild-man show with horns, percussion, and songs that grab your collar and won't let go.

Art Brut -- Eddie was in top form Saturday night, and what with political ranting and a woman bassist, the effect was like a speeded-up 1981-era Gang of Four. Sure, there's so much call-and-response and silliness about pop culture than Art Brut can sound stupid from time to time, but isn't rock and roll all about being stupid?

Hot IQs -- This Denver band may have been the best thing at the whole show. It may have been the drummer, an absolutely gorgeous woman who might have been Filippino or Singaporean, but flailed on the drums like a melodic Adris Hoyos. The bassist was a stolid bushy-headed guy with great harmonies. But their lead singer and guitarist was something else again, like a young Robert DeNiro in Mafia fedora, and every lyric and every movement and every musical arrangement was exactly in place. This band writes three minute masterpieces with hooks that grab you and won't let go.

Spoon -- Spoon has achieved such a level of crispness in Ga Ga Ga Ga and Gimme Fiction that seeing them is like watching a 60s British Invasion band at its peak. And playing at sunset on Red Rocks' main stage certainly helped.

Au Revoir Simone -- This is a three-woman band led by the daughter Nick and Helen Forster of eTown. Imagine a mix of Coco Rosie and The Roches. Keyboard and harmonies galore.

Cloud Cult -- At first I thought the band was too much into that "world music" mode where the violin and cello intersect with the guy's falsetto voice and you think they should be on Windham Hill or something. But CC actually has a variety of song types that makes a set far more interesting than you'd anticipate.

Flaming Lips -- Yes, it's true, Wayne Coyne has perfected "rock showman" beyond anyone, with giant balloons and dancing Santas and cheerleaders and a large semicircular digital broadcast machine (none dare call it a mere screen) and Wayne himself coming out in a Glinda-the-good-witch bubble. In songs where Flaming Lips are specific and satirical, like "Free Radical", no one beats them for situationist absurdity. But my complaint remains the same - when FL starts to meander and Wayne gets too pompous, they sound like Pink Floyd in their overbloated days, which in my mind is not good.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Black Moth Super Rainbow

BMSR stumbled through Colorado for the first time the weekend of Sept. 15. In full regalia with stage props, they are like the bastard child of Caroliner Rainbow and Sunburned Hand of the Man. Here, they are stripped down in the studio, and are without the talents of Maureen "Seven Fields of Aphelion" Boyle. Still, you get the idea. Fun stuff!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Intelligence Agency Housing Bubble

I first got interested in Corporate Office Properties Trust when the Wall Street Journal identified the company as a virtual real-estate proprietary for the intelligence community, particularly the National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office. Not long after that, in the fall of 2006, COPT acquired several key pieces of real estate in the Colorado Springs area, conveniently close to military bases and large defense contractors. Now, the COPT logo is everywhere .... in Interquest in northern Colorado Springs....

In Patriot Park near Powers and Platte...

... and in the expansion of SI International off Powers Blvd. near Peterson AFB. Even when the rest of the real estate market is in a slump, it's nice to know the intelligence agencies are helping us recover from the subprime crisis.

SEPT. 14 ADDENDUM -- Thanks to Mark Lewis for pointing me to this Colorado Springs Gazette article on COPT winning a new city contract for developing a massive, military-oriented business park near the airport. COPT will be owning the durned city pretty soon...

Sick of it All

It's no surprise that many citizens of all stripes were annoyed, if not offended, by the protesters disrupting the Sept. 10 testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. If you're a real wacko like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, you'll go so far as to condemn a newspaper ad calling Petraeus "Gen. Betray Us," as though this single act could bring down U.S. forces in Iraq.

OK, when protest gets personal, people get called names, and Petraeus arguably is more straightforward than someone like Gen. William Westmoreland. But I'd like to defend protests that get annoying and disruptive by explaining why some people find nihilist and iconoclastic actions useful:

We all have heard the old saw about how the boundaries of dissent have been narrowed considerably following the acts of six years ago today. Admittedly, in the post-9/11 environment, it's not smart to bring firearms to school, or to stand on the street corner calling for the death of public leaders. But recognizing the dangers of terror does not constitute total disarmament of freedom of speech.

Regardless of what Ros-Lehtinen may think (assuming she knows how to think), most real opponents of the war are not Democrats, they are independents who are sick of both parties - and a lot more besides. If they're like me, they are people who are sick of most elements of our three branches of government, and sick of an entertainment-driven society full of people who do not want to be reminded about the war, the economy, or much of anything else that would affect their enjoyment of bread and circuses. For these active citizens, limiting the finger-pointing to George Bush and Dick Cheney is striking at the easy targets. And simply writing a representative or standing on a street corner with a small peace sign just doesn't cut it.

The more nihilist form of protester (and make no mistake about it, I am standing in partial defense of nihilism) wants to raise the social costs of ignorance for everyone in society. Such a protester points his/her finger everywhere and nowhere, saying, "The problem is you." And the problem definitely does involve an American citizenry with no interest in practicing or defending basic rights.

This kind of protest goes back to the old idea of "bearing witness," since it sure as hell isn't going to win any popularity contest. And there's the rub. Vast majorities oppose the war, but damn few are going to do anything about it. The ominiscient social protester is like the many civil-disobedience specialists in the Bay Area who love to blockade Market Street or major freeways. This kind of action pisses off the average person going to work. Yet that in many ways is the point of the protest. Raise the social costs for the White House, raise the social costs for Congress, and raise the social costs for the public at large.

Because the society as we know it is so sheep-like and corrupt, the type of protest to influence public opinion may have hit its limits. We are left with the protest of disruption. And as long as it stays nonviolent, I support such forms of protest. Maybe it is counter-productive from a PR point of view, but I think the world needs more brave speakers out there, raising a prominent middle finger to their fellow citizens at large, and reiterating the phrase that is a common factor of the Iraq War, global warming, and many other large-scale global crises: "The problem is you."