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Ethan James RIP

Mike Watt recently posted (on the Watt list) the following tribute to Ethan James, the LA producer/engineer probably best known for his work on the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime, who lost his secret battle with liver cancer last Thursday, June 19th:
>ethan james was a dear friend of mine in this music world. we spent much time together at his radio tokyo studio in venice, ca during the 80s. he’s the man who recorded and mixed the minutemen’s “double nickels on the dime” (mixed all fortyfive songs in one night!) as well as “project: mersh” and the first side of our “buzz or howl…” eps plus our final record, “three-way tie (for last).” he also recorded and mixed the first two fIREHOSE records and all three of the dos ones. I worked w/him producing saccharine trust’s “we became snakes,” the treacherous jaywalkers (josh haden’s first band) first album, phantom opera’s first album and joey eight’s (w/carla bozulich) invisible chains album. I did the crimony (me and paul roessler) single and ep w/him. I actually played w/him too for my part of the ciccone youth single where he programmed the linn drum. I worked w/him lots when it came to me and recording music (along w/my good friend spot, who did all the early minutemen recordings). he was way into jamming econo and never tried to stick me up w/a money scam (quite a rarity in this racket). ethan also had much respect for another’s music and was never dominating or controlling – it was always a pleasure working w/him. he was always patient w/me and such an insightful cat – he had tons of knowledge about all kinds of things – you could never be bored spending lots of time w/ethan!
   I liked ethan very much and will miss him so. I have many good memories of him and they will stay w/me always. he was very inspiring. I feel I was very fortunate to meet and work w/such an individual, he instilled much confidence in me to pursue music as an endeavor and not be afraid to take chances. love to you ethan and please rest easy.
In an end note, James was also (under a pseudonym) a member of Blue Cheer, believe it or not. He lead an enviable life, that’s for sure.

Windows, Mirrors and Walls

(An appendix of sorts to On America’s Imperial Delusion)
Last night whilst reading Naomi Klein‘s collection of articles on the globalisation debate, Fences and Windows, I came across the following paragraph from The Brutal Calculus of Suffering, her speech to the Mediemötet conference in 2001, commenting on the prevailing socio-political climate in the US following September 11:
>Just when Americans most need information about the outside world—and their country’s complicated and troubling place in it—they are only getting themselves reflected back, over and over and over: Americans weeping, Americans recovering, Americans cheering, Americans praying. A media house of mirrors, when what we need are more windows on the world.
Though erring on generalisation, that’s a fair point to make, considering the content of US network news broadcasts (we do get the likes of Rather and Jennings over here, so we’re not making presumptions). And yet, whist mainstream media channels are reluctant to open a window on matters beyond US borders, they appear equally reluctant to reflect the diversity of American society, bar the odd smattering of tokenism. It brings one to ask, doesn’t this help to perpetuate religious/cultural/sexual apartheid on the broadest scale? To reinforce the walls between different cultures and ideas?
Not only is mainstream America seemingly ignorant of the rest of the world, but it also fails to recognise its own dysfunction.

Late Night TV Blues

Last night I set the video to tape Cry, The Beloved Country on Channel 4. But that’s not quite what I found on my tape this afternoon…
I had woken up at some point during the night, whilst the video was recording, and glanced at the TV set to see the Big Brother house. Even in my semi-wakeful state, I knew that wasn’t right. I looked again, and saw that it was a flickering still image from the live Big Brother feed, resembling a very low quality video capture. I grabbed for the remote and mashed the buttons, just in case I had switched to something else before falling asleep. But everything had been exactly as I’d left it.
Right channel. Wrong picture.
And yet, the plot thickens. I turned up the sound on the TV, and immediately heard the unmistakable baritone of James Earl Jones. That could only mean one thing. The film was being broadcast, alright; I just couldn’t see it.
_What the fuck is up with that?!?_ Don’t they have people in the broadcast centre who’s job it is to notice these things?? I know it was the middle of the night, but there’s still no excuse for this kind of bullshit.
Of course despite my anger I was so tired that I promptly fell back alseep and forgot about the whole thing until earlier this afternoon. As I rewound the tape to the starting point I thought to myself, _what happened last night was far too real, it couldn’t have been a dream, could it?_
Alas, a dream it was not. The whole film is technically captured on the tape, and potentially enjoyable if, maybe, I were blind: the first 57 minutes, you see, are completely invisible. And not even so much as an acknowledgement, let alone an apology, from Channel 4.
(Presuming that the problem lies with them, that is; though if NTL were responsible there wouldn’t have been any audio either.)
Sure it’s not the end of the world, you might say. But what if they started pulling shit like that all the time? They wouldn’t last much longer if they did. The least Channel 4 can do is reschedule the film for some other night within the next few weeks, but somehow I doubt that’s going to happen.
And so ends my hydrophobic ranting for now. Regular programming (and blood pressure) will resume shortly.

Tongue Tied

Might our linguistic freedom also reflect the political freedoms we enjoy? Such a question had never dawned on me until I read this enlightening article by Prof. Niloofar Haeri on the democracy of language, and how many in the Arab-speaking world feel tangibly restricted by the orthodox rules of linguistic authority.

A Right Royal Shame

So there’s been some major controversy surrounding the Royal birthday party that took place over the weekend. And no, I’m not talking about the gatecrasher. I’m talking about the party guests, those posh toffs in all their pseudo-savage, blackfaced glory. I didn’t know that Royal parties doubled as Al Jolson conventions, did you?
In this day and age I never thought I would see such a shameless public exhibition of racism. Unbelievable and disgusting, that’s what it is. And what makes it even worse is that nobody seems to have batted an eyelid. Not even a single mention in the news, except for a one line comment via the Channel 4 News Snowmail service. Disappointing, to say the least.

On America’s Imperial Delusion

In a thought-provoking comment piece from last weekend’s Guardian, Eric Hobsbawm attempts to answer the question surrounding America’s supposed drive for world domination. It seems fair to assert that the United States sees itself politically as the big boss man, if you will, but does it follow from this that America wants to conquer the whole world, too?
Hobsbawm doesn’t think so, but that’s not to say there aren’t any with such pretentions. “The sudden emergence of a ruthless, antagonistic flaunting of US power [following the collapse of the Soviet Union] is hard to understand,” he explains, “all the more so since it fits neither with long-tested imperial policies nor the interests of the US economy. But patently a public assertion of global supremacy by military force is what is on the minds of the people at present dominating policy-making in Washington.”
But is this really part of a concerted effort on the part of the US government to conquer the world? Or merely the muscle-flexing of a schoolyard bully, who underneath it all is as scared and insecure as those he intimidates. America is the new kid on the block, after all; the stroppy teenager to Europe’s (ostensibly) mature adults. America has power and influence in abundance, but does not yet have the maturity to handle it responsibly. Not that Europe should be let off the hook here: even accounting for Vietnam, America has never been as reckless as, say, the Castilian empire was in its day. But most of these lessons have being learned; America, it seems to many, is too stubborn to learn from the rest of us. It wants to make its own mistakes, consequences for all be damned. We know our history, and we’re doomed to repeat it.
Hobsbawm ponders how the world might confront, or contain, the US where it comes to their potential (not necessarily actual) imperial aspirations. He sees a danger in those nations who might despise the ideology behind America’s military machine, but support the US if such support might help remove an injustice of one form or another (in turn giving the US an undeserved sense of moral superiority to reinforce their tower of political strength):
>This may be called an imperialism of human rights. It has been encouraged by the failure of Europe in the Balkans in the 1990s. The division of opinion over the Iraq war showed there to be a minority of influential intellectuals who were prepared to back US intervention because they believed it necessary to have a force for ordering the world’s ills. There is a genuine case to be made that there are governments so bad that their disappearance will be a net gain for the world. But this can never justify the danger of creating a world power that is not interested in a world it does not understand, but is capable of intervening decisively with armed force whenever anybody does anything that Washington does not like.
This last sentence is significant. There is a wide gulf of understanding between the United States and the rest of the world, wider than the oceans that separate us. The real issue with regard to perceived US imperialism, in my own view, is that most people probably wouldn’t mind so much, if mainstream American culture weren’t so simultaneously insular _and_ predatory (a poisonous combination if there ever was one). It cannot be denied that we enjoy the good that America has birthed, however directly or indirectly — for just one (admittedly weak) example, you don’t see many anti-globalisation protestors complaining about The Simpsons, do you? — but the world beyond US borders definitely resents being dictated to by a nation, a culture, that forces everyone to understand it, and yet refuses to understand us. America as stroppy teenager yet again. It is precisely this lack of mutual respect, of mutual understanding, that is at the very root of global suspicion of American motives and which permeates every level of politico-cultural interaction between America and the rest of the world.
And yet, this is a problem that cannot be solved by telling the US to ‘just grow up’. If only it were as simple as that.

Graham Norton Must Die!

If there’s one person that I’m simply sick of seeing on my TV night after night, it has to be Graham Norton. I actually used to enjoy his original show, So Graham Norton, back in the day; at the time he was best known for his recurring role in Father Ted, his schtick was relatively fresh, and his unrelenting campness set him apart from the rest of the Friday night schedule. Plus, he was only on once a week — not enough exposure to get on viewers’ nerves. But when the show went from one to _five_ nights a week, Norton lost virtually everything he had going for him.
V Graham Norton, while loosely the same format as its predecessor, has none of the charm of the original Friday night spectacle. It is an empty temple of camp, adrift amidst an ocean of stereotypical, garishly baroque _faux_ gayness, with Norton cast as captain or cult leader or whoever he’s decided to dress up as this time. And not only is everybody else ripping off his tune (is there a queer quotient for late night entertainment now? — it sure seems that way) but Norton himself is at it for over half an hour five times a week. The same dried-up formula. Five times a week.
And they all go a little something like this:
>Here’s tonight’s guest — the late Judy Garland. First of all, Judy, tell me about your latest film. Mmm. Really? Out on Friday you say? Gosh. Hey, look at this — it’s a website run by a 48-year-old American pervert who likes to dress up as you and poo on the floor. And he’s on the phone now! Crazy! I wonder, has anyone in the studio audience ever done a poo? Hands up! Yes, you, the bloated, cackling sea cow. What’s that? You once pooed on a willy?!? Outrageous! Look, Judy, I’ve got a polaroid of a willy here! Hold it up! Ha ha, look everyone, Judy Garland’s holding a willy! Tee hee! Chuckle! Snort! (Repeat to fade.)
Thanks to Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn column in last Saturday’s Guardian Guide (from which the above segment was pilfered) one need never have to suffer through these antics ever again. The only trouble is, how to avoid hitting the dreaded mine that is Graham Norton whilst channel surfing every night?

Friday Five #55

*1. How many times have you truly been in love?*
Truly in love? Just once. Right now.
2. What was/is so great about the person you love(d) the most?
I couldn’t even begin to put my finger on it exactly. She is everything I’ve always wanted in a partner, and more. So much more. We have so much in common, and even now I’m still learning things about her that we can share. I can talk with her about anything. I love her passion for things that most people wouldn’t give a second thought about. I love her sense of humour and her sarcastic streak ’cause they’re quirky like mine. I’ve got a whole other list of stuff that I won’t mention here to save her embarrassment. And even saying all of this isn’t even _nearly_ good enough. Not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s ironic, isn’t it, how I want to be a writer and yet I can’t put this into words? I know it seems such a cop-out; I just hope that when she reads this, she’ll read between the lines.
*3. What qualities should a significant other have?*
This is an almost impossible question to reply to, because there is no universal answer. The only thing I could possibly say, is that he or she must feel absolutely right for you. That feeling can’t be moulded or manufactured, it just _is_. And if it isn’t there, well, that’s fine if it’s just a bit of fun, but a bit of fun is all it’s gonna be.
*4. Have you ever broken someone’s heart?*
I’d hate to think if I did, but I may have once. I was young and immature and stupid and scared and if I’d only told her that person what and how I really felt instead of retreating into my shell… things would have turned out the same way, but at least we’d know, you know?
*5. If there was one thing you could teach people about love, what would it be?*
I’ll reiterate something I mentioned last week, in the words of St. Augustine: _”the measure of love is to love without measure”_.
[http://fridayfive.org/]

Natural’s Not In It

In a commentary in today’s Guardian US law professor Philip Bobbitt — whilst ultimately defending the American government’s politically expedient approach to the defense of human rights — makes some valid observations about the humanitarian justification for military action, and highlights how most (and predominantly leftist) critics miss the point when they attack Dubya and company over their bullishness.
In essence, he asserts that such political decision-making is inherently pragmatic, rather than dictated by the altruistic behaviour we would like governments to exhibit. In Bobbitt’s own terms, it boils down to a simple question of “strategic interest”, and it is this concept, argues Bobbitt, that the majority of critics fail to take into question.
When you get off the high horse and actually think about it, he does make sense. If altruism were to determine America’s foreign policy, for example, would the world not be in a state of constant conflict? American troops would be everywhere from North Korea to Northern Ireland, sorting out our troubles, most likely to little avail. And even if diplomacic rather than military measures were taken, would anything really be accomplished? Of course not. Governments have to pick and choose their battles, and the defense of human rights is never their prime directive.
But many people’s consternation with the Bush administration’s attitude has not so much to do with the fact that they went to war for the wrong reasons, but rather the way they actually presented themselves as the world’s sole champions of humanitarianism, as if human rights (or to be more specific, the rights of Americans) _were_ their only concern. In so far as this, we — both the American public and the rest of the world — were _all_ lied to. It is this, more than anything, that elicits such a strong reaction from elements on the left, since it is painfully obvious — from the controversy surrounding Camp X-Ray to the general air of suspicion regarding anyone of Arab appearance and/or Islamic faith — that mainstream, white America cares for nothing and for no one other than itself.

The Morality of Dissent

>[Views] that offer an informed critical analysis of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Middle East, are not part of the national conversation in the United States. And until Americans can have that conversation with themselves they will not be equipped to converse with the rest of the world about the relative legitimacy or otherwise of their government’s actions but will instead continue to retreat into a combination of belligerence, bemusement, defensiveness and demagogy.
Just one excerpt from a lucid, even-handed piece in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge examining mainstream America’s alarming fear of dissent.

Matrix Schmatrix

I’m probably the last weblog writer on earth to see The Matrix Reloaded. I was in fact much later getting around to seeing the original because, to be honest, I just wasn’t that pushed about it. (I didn’t bother until its final week of theatrical release — and I was working at the cinema at the time!) But it was quite entertaining, the special effects were, of course, astounding, and the story wasn’t too bad either.
In contrast, The Matrix Reloaded is a waste of space. Sure, you can play the old ‘middle of a trilogy’ card all you want, but that still won’t excuse the fact that it’s a very boring and monotonous piece of work.
Here’s why:
==

  • The fight scenes — particularly that too-obviously-computer-generated scrap between Neo and the army of Smiths — are far too long, useless padding for a story that isn’t big enough for fill two hours. Great for computer artists and programmers to wank over, maybe, but not for me.
  • The pseudo-mystical overtones are so overcooked, it plays at times like a parody of the original. This is probably just an attempt to add more depth and colour to the cult of The Matrix, but the ambiguity was partly responsible for its allure in the first place.
  • The twins were completely squandered. I’m sure that most people had been expecting them to play a bigger part in proceedings, but altogether they must have only had ten minutes of screen time, tops. That’s just not on.
  • The cod-philosophical verbal diarrhoea from the mouth of the ‘architect’ near the end of the movie would have been funny if it weren’t actually supposed to be all serious and revelatory and whatnot. It could have all been said in one simple sentence: free will is an illusion because all of our choices are determined by both outside forces and our previous decisions. There, that wasn’t that hard, was it? But they had to go and complicate things, to make the idea appear much more profound than it really is. It’s all bullshit, really. And I should know; I’ve got a degree in philosophy.
  • And by the way, the ‘architect’ is NOT GOD! OKAY?! Enough with the Judeo-Christian symbolism: The Matrix saga from the beginning has been much more about humanism. Anything that might point to a religious reference has just been lifted to create an independent mythology, something for the human characters in the film to grasp onto in order to comprehend their situation. That’s what I think, anyway. It would be such a cop-out if it turned out otherwise.

==
Trim the fat, can the bullshit, and you’ll have yourself a movie that might be worth shelling out the readies for. As it is, well, let’s say I’m not exactly holding my breath for Revolutions. But that’s just my opinion – what do you think?