February 2006

2006 02 28


There are so many profoundly stupid, self-defeating or slickly corrupt initiatives out there at the moment in the area of intellectual property and digital rights management. The collective impression I get is of a slow form of economic and cultural suicide in which liberal democratic societies destroy the legal infrastructures of the open society while businesses invested in the production and dissemination of popular culture foul their own revenue streams in pursuit of the diminishing returns they can squeeze from untapped sources.

Comments Off

2006 02 27

Posted by in: Metablog, Odds and ends

I’ve joined the campaign. I put the picture after the links.

Howls of outrage (3)

2006 02 27
4inObjects at Barbes, Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

Posted by in: Music

Come on out and see 4inObjects at Barbes in Brooklyn. Show starts at 8pm; one set.

Comments Off

2006 02 27

Posted by in: Political issues

After all the posts I wrote back in the day bitching about U.S.-Uzbekistan relations, you would think that I might have something constructive or interesting or apologetic or self-congratulatory or something – anything! – to say about what’s going on in Uzbekistan now. After all, the Bush administration went and did essentially what I wanted it to do (after the crackdown), so you might expect me to say whether, in retrospect, the approach I advocated seems vindicated or crap or whether the jury is still out.

Eh. I’ll get around to it someday.

Comments Off

2006 02 25
The Third Man is Otiose

Posted by in: Odds and ends

The only people who find this sort of thing funny are the ones who believe that the form of Tallness, which makes all tall things tall, must itself be tall. Since this is absurd, so are those who laugh at H&R Block’s expense. QED.

Howls of outrage (2)

2006 02 24

Posted by in: Music

I just listened to a bit of a live set of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Main impression: that was easily most out of tune guitar I’ve heard since my high school band, Three Jews and a Goy.

Comments Off

2006 02 24
A worthy cause, if ever there was one

Posted by in: Worthy causes

Fafblogathon 2006: ain’t too proud to beg.

Comments Off

2006 02 24
Malcolm Gladwell gets a blog

Posted by in: Blogs and blogging

Cool. This post does a very nice job of explaining why every writer, no matter how prolific, ought to have a blog. Among the reasons, a blog allows for a little second-guessing:

Adam Gopnik just emailed me to tell me that, for some strange reason, a debate that he and I did for the Washington Monthly on the Canadian health care system six years ago has now been resurrected on various blogs. I just took a look. Here’s one of my favorite comments: “Very like their roles at The New Yorker, Gopnik is the voice of bourgeois sense, and Gladwell of extravagant, contrarian sensibility.” (I’m not sure Adam would be as happy with that descriptor as I am). In our debate, Adam vigorously defended the Canadian system, and I attacked it. But wait! That was six years ago! I’ve now changed my mind. I now agree with virtually everything Adam said and disagree with virtually everything I said. In fact, I shudder when I read what I said back then.

Funny, I shuddered too just skimming a description of the debate. But self-doubt just makes people so much more likable . . . I think.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2006 02 22
Great moments in socio-linguistic fieldwork

Posted by in: Anecdotal, Language

One of the things that took getting used to when I – a white, liberal Canadian raised to think that the word “nigger” was the very worst word in the entire world – moved to NYC was hearing people use the word “nigga” in casual conversation. As we’ve moved from a more Hispanic part of Brooklyn to a more black part (the R to the F to the Q), I’ve heard this even more. Anyway, like a lot of confused white people trying to figure it all out, I’ve noticed interesting shifts in usage over time. From being a linguistic in-group marker, especially as a form of address, the term “nigga,” seems to have come to often mean simply “person.”

It’s only a single data point, but I thought my experience in the gym today was interesting. Two young black men were looking for adjacent machines, and I was on the middle of three stairmasters. I heard one say to the other, “Hold up, let’s wait for this nigga to finish with his machine.” Since I like the middle of the three stairmasters much more than the other two and was in the middle of my workout, I turned around and told them I would be twenty more minutes. They thanked me and moved on. I’m pretty sure that they weren’t being sarcastic or condescending; it was just a way of referring to me.

Now. It seems to me that the day that two young black men refer to a badly dressed lily-white dork who’s listening on his mp3 player* to . . . no, I can’t bear to tell you what I was listening to. Besides, it’s important to group blog morale that, as Scallywag-in-Chief, I maintain a dignified image. Anyway, I think it’s safe to say that the day that I’m a “nigga” is a day when the term can no longer be functioning exclusively as a linguistic in-group marker (though obviously the term was being used by members of the relevant in-group).

It seems to me that we’re in an interesting grey zone here. On the one hand, as the word inevitably loses its bite, it becomes increasingly indiscriminately deployed. On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious that it still has the power to offend, and that should hardly surprise us either. It’s still really annoying – and I expect it to continue to be really annoying for quite some time – for some asshole white guy to try to excuse the fact that he’s offended people by pedantically pointing to the difference between “nigger” and “nigga.” If the first thirty seconds I watched of this video are anything to go on, this guy, for example, is clearly a complete fuckwit.

Anyway, writing about the gym reminds me of something I really like about the workout machines: they’re almost impossible to fall off of. By impossible, of course, I mean “only two or three times in my life,” the latest such incident being today.

* Of course they couldn’t hear what I was listening to, but it’s all part of the vibe.

Howls of outrage (11)

2006 02 22
Just what are you trying to hide?

Posted by in: Political issues, Torture

I recently read an Athenian court speech traditionally attributed to Antiphon (second half of the 5th Century B.C.). In the Loeb translation, it’s called “Prosecution of the Stepmother for Poisoning.” I won’t bother you with the details of the case. Basically, the stepson who is bringing the action against his stepmother has a pretty flimsy case resting on a few sketchy circumstantial details. This forces him back on appeals to probability. And so the speaker returns several times to what he clearly considers the most damning detail: the refusal of the stepmother to simply allow her slaves, who would be in a position to know the truth, to be questioned under torture. Since it’s obvious this would yield the truth, and it’s obviously no trouble to the stepmother, he clearly feels that the refusal to do so is tantamount to an admission of guilt.

But, commenter DC will surely ask, what does this have to do with the Bush administration? Not much, except that I was naturally led to reflect on whether, allowing for different attitudes towards slaves, the Bush administration and its defenders had yet taken this particular line with anyone. Answer: Not yet, as far as I know, but since the Bush administration’s attitude to a slippery slope always seems to be to slap on skis, I wonder if it’s only a matter of time.

(Find other fun cases here.)

Comments Off

2006 02 21
Another “Gypped” sighting

This one on a NYT blog. (Previous sighting on Slate)

Look, not to be a dick about this, but isn’t that like saying “Jewed,” except, of course, that you’re trading on stereotypes about the Roma?

Update: They’ve deleted my comment on the NYT blog pointing this out and changed “gypped” to “cheated” in the body of the post. (I have a screen shot, in case you think I’m hallucinating all of this.) An email from the NYT Deputy Dining Editor tells me that they thought they had made the change shortly after posting, but that it hadn’t gone through. If it were my blog I think I would have noted the change and kept the comment, but it’s probably unreasonable to hold everyone else to Explananda’s incredibly high standards. It’s no biggie, and I swear I’m not auditioning to be the head of the language police.

Howls of outrage (10)

2006 02 21
Calling Delta

I was up in Canada for a funeral last weekend when that big snowstorm hit NYC and put an end to all air travel for a couple of days. I spoke with Yoon on the phone from my Aunt’s place, where I was staying, and she advised me to call my airline, Delta, to try to reschedule my return flight. (It had been several years since I had flown, so the whole thing was even more mysterious and confusing for me than most life experiences.) She was hanging out with a friend, who looked up Delta’s number online and dictated it to Yoon, who dictated it to me, so I could write it down. In the transmission, however, one of the numbers got garbled, and I ended up calling a sex line.

Sex line: Hi big boy! Are you ready for the hottest one on one action with horny nurses blah blah blah?
Me: [Turning to my uncle Joe] J-j-j-joe, I don’t think this is Delta!
Uncle Joe: Maybe it’s just an ad while you’re on hold.
Me: I don’t know, it seems every time I blink, popular culture gets racier – which is fine with me – but still . . . I think I did hear stewardesses in there, but oh my goodness, this seems a bit much. I’m going to hang up and try again.

. . .

Sex line: Hi big boy! Are you ready for the hottest one on one action with horny nurses blah blah blah?
Me: J-j–joe, I don’t think this is Delta, and I swear I’m not doing this on purpose!

Believe it or not, I’ve never called a sex line in my life (I beg for sex all the time, but I never pay*), so it took me a while to catch on. (I haven’t had an irate call from my Aunt since, though, so I gather that there were no obnoxious call-backs or charges from the phone sex people. The only negative consequence seems to have been that when I described the call for everyone else the next day my mother laughed hard enough to get cereal up her nose.)

I called Yoon back, got the right number, and managed to get through to Delta. But between the lousy phone connection and the Delta computer’s lousy voice recognition software, I ended up wondering if I might not have been happier just sticking with the first number. When this whole voice recognition thing started, at least they gave you the option of punching in responses on your keypad. But that wasn’t an option with this system. I’ve recorded a dramatic re-creation of a small part of a very long conversation I had with the computer, you know, for pathos. Here, then, is Explananda’s very first mp3.

* I also craft seductive messages that play to my strengths. Although my experience is hilariously limited, it does include this long-ago exchange:

Her: My last two boyfriends were so well endowed that sex with them was actually really painful at times.
Me: Oh, how awful! [Leaning in with the bedside manner of a skilled physician] I can assure you that if you sleep with me you won’t feel a thing.

Comments Off

2006 02 20

Posted by in: Music

Surely no other song in the entire history of music displays as much compassion for rabbits as Radiohead’s “Mixymatosis.”

Howls of outrage (5)

2006 02 19
Upcoming music

Posted by in: Music

Just a few upcoming shows in the NYC area that caught my eye . . .

Sunday, Feb. 19th, 2006

The Ben Gerstein Collective

Ben Gerstein trombone
Jacob Sacks keyboard
Jacob Garchik computer
Eivind Opsvik bass
Thomas Morgan bass
Dan Weiss drums

444 7th ave. @15th St., Park Slope

Same night, more money:

Bill McHenry finishes up a week at the Village Vanguard with Paul Motion (drums), Ben Monder (guitar) and Reid Anderson (bass).

Yoon saw them on Friday night and said it was a great show. [Update: Here’s a review of the show.]

Tuesday, Feb. 21st, 2006

Everybody knows that Tuesday nights are for Slavic Soul Party at Barbes!

Wednesday, Feb. 22nd, 2006

Bloody Panda plays at Tonic at 8pm. This is a doom metal band featuring the drummer in 4inObjects, the collective Yoon plays in. Sounds like fun in a now-I’ll-sacrifice-an-animal-then-kill-myself sort of way.

Thursday, Feb. 23rd, 2006

Same club, very different band: Toronto-based saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff plays at Tonic at 8pm with Mark Helias (bass) and Jim Black (drums).

Looking ahead a little, mark your calendars for March 1st, when 4inObjects plays the early set at Barbes.

Comments Off

2006 02 18

Posted by in: Odds and ends

My father-in-law is a sculptor and furniture designer. A while ago, he saw a harp somewhere or other and suddenly got it into his head that it would be fun to make one. He ended up making two, the larger of which is below:

Isn’t that awesome? It works too. He hopes to be able to get the smaller one to Yoon, who hopes to be able to find the time to learn to play it. I think it’s the perfect instrument for her, since, of course, my wife is always a perfect angel.

(I’m awarding myself, like, 10 bonus super-husband points for not saying that she’s always harping on something.)

Comments Off