Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Songs On the Radio Still Suck, I'm Afraid

Okay .... so I've been a little cranky lately. I at some point, I think, compared an Avril Lavigne song to a blood-stained piece of shit; I found no solace in NPR; and I've lectured strangers that any song that declares 'This house is not a home' is criminally worthless. The common feature here, of course, is that I'm becoming obsessed by my car radio. Make that, obsessed by my hatred of my car radio. A couple of weeks ago I found a big band station I liked, weak signal and all, and I listened to it pretty regularly whenever I was in its transmission's five-block radius. Ever since I heard a series of commercials on Social Security pension fraud and disposable diaper adverts, and realized that I was an intruder in its elderly target audience, I've not been as willing to return to that five-block radius. Silly, I know. But I felt like I didn't belong .... like what was mine, what I deserved, was to the right on my radio dial.

How ... how, in this age of IPods and CD players, does crap radio still exist? One would've thought that alternatives would've raised the bar, but it is as though it has simply gotten worse. My theory is that Clear Corp. has some major stock interest in Apple and Sony, and realizes that the big money is in pushing people toward using their products instead. How to do this? Simple ... play shit, 24/7 ... or, as I heard last week, have inane announcers ask questions like, 'Why do you think women's bathrooms are cleaner than men's?'

The other alternative is (a) that of NPR, to entice the responsible consumer with its own brand of vacuity; or (b) the college radio stations on which NPR typically broadcasts, which is often as draining as commerical radio, what for its New Age music hour, which seems to be every hour, and almost certainly has commerical interests of its own. For instance, listen to the music in your local Starbucks, and then listen to your local college radio station, unless you're in one of the few towns that still has a station that plays balls-to-the-wall punk. I for one will be damned if I don't hear the same deadening, I-want-to-sleep/I-need-coffee-music on both my local college radio stations as I do in the Starbucks at which my wife is currently enslaved.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Just a Thought ... Take It For What It Is

I was talking to a friend briefly yesterday, and we agreed that we as a culture too too freely throw around the word art, equating it with creativity. There is something wrong with this, and deadening to any sort of revolutionary spirit that might still emerge from our political economies or religions. Art is, at the barest of minimums, creating and experiencing the world differently; creativity, on the other hand, is a taking of the world, and one's ways of experiencing the world, and manipulating them to a certain end. Both require imagination, to be sure ... but imaginations of a different sort. One is inherently profitable, the other tragic. The former may well be appreciated for centuries (i.e., Da Vinci's inventions); the other far too easily loses its capacity to reshape the world, and becomes a mere subset of creativity (though I am willing to concede that I might have the order wrong there). And yet, like all great tragedies, the artist cannot help but be a part. Her story is written before she even sits down to tell it. Such is the peculiar predictability of the artistic revelation and the revolution it incites.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Songs From the Second Floor

Per the recommendation of The Young Hegelian, who, by the way, has proven himself to me to have nothing but exquisite taste when it comes to movies, last night I watched Roy Andersson's magnificent Songs from the Second Floor. The patchwork of beautifully crafted episodes and interludes, highlighted by its smart, stilled camera, require patience of you, but it is not in vain. One ought not expect some inane coincidence to successfully link or resolve everything in a tight narrative. This is no 21 Grams or Pulp Fiction. If there is a linkage at all, it is the absurd triviality at the heart of modern capitalist culture (in his case, modern capitalist Sweden).

What makes Andersson's vision so significant is that, while religion, politics, capitalism, and culture are unabashedly skewered, he is sensitive to the beauty and the humor that they also evoke -- in spite of themselves. We are, he seems to be saying, programmed by them all to miss the horror and the humor of the mundane rhythms of life. As such, we're stuck, as though in a traffic jam ... or as though in a train door ... or as though in a sanitarium for the mentally ill or the old. And the only way out, seemingly, is the haunting guilt, because of our resigned capitulation that 'such is life', of having been accessories to untold death and misery.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

For Lack of Anything of My Own to Say

Why is life without meaning or solace for the philistine? Because he knows experience and nothing else. Because he himself is desolate and without spirit. And because he has not inner relationship to anything other than the common and the always-already-out-of-date.

We, however, know something different, which experience can neither give to us nor take away; that truth exists, even if all previous thought has been an error. Or: that fidelity shall be maintained, even if no one has done so yet. Such will cannot be taken from us by experience. Yet -- are our elders, with their tired gestures and their superior hopelessness, right about one thing -- namely, that what we experience will be sorrowful and that only in the inexperienceable can courage, hope, and meaning be given foundation? Then the spirit would be free. But again and again life would drag it down because life, the sum of experience, would be without solace.

We no longer understand such questions, however. . . . Only to the mindless is experience devoid of meaning and spirit. To the one who strives, experience may be painful, but it will scarcely lead him to despair.

In any event, he would never obtusely give up and allow himself to be anesthetized by the rhythm of the philistine. For the philistine, you will have noted, only rejoices in every new meaninglessness. He remains in the right. He reassures himself: spirit does not really exist.

[. . .]

Nothing is so hateful to the philistine as the "dreams of his youth." And most of the time, sentimentality is the protective camouflage of his hatred. For what appeared to him in his dreams was the voice of the spirit, calling him once, as it does everyone. It is of this that youth always reminds him, eternally and ominously. That is why he is antagonistic toward youth. He tells young people of that grim, overwhelming experience and teaches them to laugh at themselves. Especially since "to experience" without spirit is comfortable, if unredeeming.

Again: we know a different experience.

(Walter Benjamin, "Experience")

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A Public Service Message

A couple of thoughts for those of you with SUVs, or those of you considering buying one:

(1) Though, yes, you are higher and can, as a result, see more of the road in front of you ... this does not preclude the necessity of you actually looking behind or to either side of you.

(2) Moreover, though your SUV may drive like your old Camry, it is nearly the width of 1.5 Camrys. Which means, you jackasses, despite your own willful desire to die in a rollover, I rather like living and would think it really friendly of you not to take for granted my presence on either side of you.

(3) Additionally, just because you feel privileged enough to consume even more of the world's natural resources than you could ever possibly deserve, this does not mean you are actually privileged enough to straddle two parking spaces in order to accommodate the size (a) of your SUV qua support for regimes, here and abroad, that may very well be the death of us; or (b) of an ass which has become so luminously large and cratered that when you're at the beach the tides themselves are confused by the presence of a new moon.

Outside of those simple caveats, enjoy your murderous ways!

Monday, January 17, 2005

A Commemoration You Probably Won't Hear Today

Adam Kotsko is right to remind us of the Martin Luther King, Jr. we're not likely to hear about today. If you're like me, and you're either suspicious or tired of hearing the same soundbites, which have become the safe pablum that King himself grew to distrust, you'll do yourself well to read / listen to read his classically forgotten speech, given one year before he was killed, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality...and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy.

And so, such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

[. . .]

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

I know that King was no saint. As is typically the case, history has proven him to be as human as anybody else. We need our heroes to be saints, I suppose. As I pointed out to a friend last night: we in America need our heroes to be types of Christ, and this is precisely why all our heroes tend to be pathetic hagiographic creations ... relics of a past done and dusted, to be memorialized as a success but never to be presently followed into their inevitable failures.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


I only realized ten minutes ago that I inadvertantly published a post on another blog to which I have publishing access. Note to self ... never blog after or while drinking a bottle of wine by yourself. After reading it this morning, I decided it wasn't worth reading -- either here or there -- and it's since been sent to the great Beulah land where all dead posts go to rest.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Not Enough Faith

I've not checked, but I'm sure this has made the rounds on many a blog. But the headline is a little too funny, a little too appropriate, though certainly not a little too believable, to pass up.

A Nation of Faith and Religious Illiterates

The Dutch are four times less likely than Americans to believe in miracles, hell and biblical inerrancy. The euro does not trust in God. But here is the paradox: Although Americans are far more religious than Europeans, they know far less about religion.

In Europe, religious education is the rule from the elementary grades on. So Austrians, Norwegians and the Irish can tell you about the Seven Deadly Sins or the Five Pillars of Islam. But, according to a 1997 poll, only one out of three U.S. citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts, the four Gospels, and 12% think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. That paints a picture of a nation that believes God speaks in Scripture but that can't be bothered to read what he has to say.

The solution offered in this commentary is, apparently, that U.S. schools should do what a lot of otherwise secular European countries do, and offer religious education. There is a distinction, he (rightly) insists, between teaching religion and teaching about religion.

Now that the religious right has triumphed over the secular left, every politician seems determined to get religion. They're all asking "What Would Jesus Do?" -- about the war in Iraq, gay marriage, poverty and Social Security. And though the ACLU may rage, it is not un-American to bring religious reasoning into our public debates. In fact, that has been happening ever since George Washington put his hand on a Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. What is un-American is to give those debates over to televangelists of either the secular or the religious variety, to absent ourselves from the discussion by ignorance.

There are, of course, a few problems with this. I've no problem in theory with offering religion courses in public school. The problem, however, is in practice. Unless I lived somewhere, ahm, urban, preferably urban European(!), there's no way in hell I'd ever let a child of mine take such a course. Right now a teenager cannot go to his or her biology class in Georgia and Kansas and have unfettered, uncontroversial access to the accepted theories, (yes, they are 'only' theories, but such is the case with most of science, you dimwits), theories that actually engage the common wisdom of that discipline. What makes us think that in those same states, for example, we can really trust a religious studies course to engage religion in a way that enhances that discipline's discourse? On paper, it all sounds great. But, unlike in Europe, where they've had centuries to kill one another and others in the name of their faith, and are increasingly tired of doing so, the typical American teacher will almost assuredly not have the perspective to do so; moreover, the typical American (evangelical) parent will almost assuredly not have the perspective to allow them to do so.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

It's All About Goals

I've taken a little flack, if only a little, for neglecting the blog for a week, only to return with a highly inaccessible book review. My original defense of 'Well, I warned you, didn't I?' is, I realize, a little thin. I have to confess, though, that I've had very few blog-worthy thoughts. I've not even been talking to myself much lately, let alone spilling out my soul here.

What to blog about?

Well . . . nothing can break a dry spell like a good, old-fashioned story about intoxication. Right?

Bulgarian doctors tested a man's blood-alcohol level five times before accepting it was 0.914 -- nearly twice the amount considered to be life-threatening.

The 67-year-old man landed in hospital on Dec. 20 after a car knocked him off his feet in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, police and doctors said Tuesday.

A breath test indicated blood-alcohol levels so high that police thought their equipment was broken, because the man remained conscious and talked with them.

[. . .]

A blood-alcohol level of 0.55 is considered potentially fatal.

I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty damn cool and something to which we all should aspire. Let's make 2005 a year about setting goals, people. If we cannot elect Bush out of the White House, if we cannot withstand the moral onslaught of homophobes nationwide, if we cannot fathom why in the hell a piece of crap like Meet the Fockers is doing so well at the box office but realize that pieces of crap typically do well at the box office around the holidays because of the residual brain-deadening effect of the holidays themselves, if we simply do not get why a parent in south India would even dream of naming their newborn baby 'Tsunami', then surely we can make it our goal to surpass the lethal-boundary of blood-alcohol level!

(Might this be the year I finally try the the humidifer filled with alcohol trick? Stay tuned!)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

A Belated Note

"Modesty is very likely a feeling of profanation. Friendship, love, and piety should be treated secretly. We should speak of them only in rare and intimate moments, and reach a silent understanding on them -- there is much which is too fragile to be thought, and still too delicate for discussion." (Novalis)

First things first: Merry Christmas ... Happy New Year! I should've told you all this sooner, but I've simply not had the time nor the will to do so.

Time and will having returned, I hope your holiday was well spent. If not, well, if the law of averages is to be believed, you'll have another fifty or so to make it right. Life, though it moves quickly, too quickly for words let alone for accurate reflection and remembrance, can be really long. Oppressively long, depending on the decisions you make. So, yes, should this holiday have been horrible, fear not for you will either eventually forget it or it will be somehow subsumed in the torrential flow of future holidays. Such is, maybe, how all things are made new.

The holidays for us, the Belgian who only recently misses all she left behind and the American who already dreads all to which he has returned, was fine. Despite the temperature, Christmas was not frozen into our memory. It was delightfully forgettable. Praise Jesus, the babe whose name we've forgotten as soon as we say it! My brother's children were, in equal part, more subdued and grateful than our our wildest imaginations would have dared to have allowed. K. and I ended our day by watching, for the second time, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Such a good movie. One of the few movies this year that, if it doesn't make me cry, makes me want to be around someone who it does.

As for New Years, she and I spent the better part of it on the floor of our apartment drinking Belgian beers and eating Dutch cheese to the soundtrack of our choosing. Around 11.45 pm, we walked across the street to a smoky well-attended pub so that we might drink some complimentary champagne and kiss in public.

Welcome to another year.