Friday, April 11, 2008

The Culture of You

What is the big deal about stuff white people like? - Samhita @ Feministing

When I first heard about the blog "Stuff White People Like" I didn't think much of it, much less visit the site. I thought it was mildly amusing at most. Samhita from Feministing actually has visited the site, laughed at some things and such; but she has also dug a little deeper into the whole issue of whiteness as a culture. Her point is, a question really, does poking fun at the material goods of white culture actually further the conversation on race, or does it hamper it by perpetuating a stereotype that what white people like is uncool, thus turning what non-whites like into something cool? I think in this case the answer is a yes and no, as Samhita has arrived at as well. The experience a browser of the site might get will differ from another browser and if that experience pitches the browser out of their comfortable spot within their culture then so much the better. White culture is the dominate culture in America so it does help to call it white culture versus simply saying that it's the culture of America. For whites to even minimally understand the black or latino experience in America they must first think of their culture as a culture just the same as any other. Not to say that one must tear down their culture just to get to this point, but merely acknowledge that the dominant culture is white. What happens after that isn't something a website can control but if it can posit in a browser's mind the question of what white culture is then it will have succeeded in furthering the conversation on race in America.
The converse of this acknowledgment is actually quite negative. If by viewing "Stuff White People Like" doesn't push the browser out of their comfort zone then it has failed to further anything except the stereotype that being white is somehow uncool and being non-white is cool. It's that question of hipness that affects the browser's experience. If all the browser gets out of the site is that assumption of white culture's inherent uncoolness then the site harms the conversation on race. While I don't begrudge the operator of the site for doing what he wanted, I do think that he has the opportunity to improve race-relations if he would simply look beyond the quick joke. It's not that he has to make white culture look cool but make it look like culture period--both cool and uncool as any other culture is.

19th Century Darth Vader

Steampunk Star Wars modded action figures - - whoah! - Cory Doctorow @ BoingBoing

There are certain things in the world that instantly make me supremely happy. This is one of them.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours

Cut Copy @ MySpace

Cut Copy's new album dropped this past Tuesday and immediately hit the regular rotation for my various media players. In Ghost Colours is by leaps and bounds better than their previous effort, Bright Like Neon Love, which is not to say that their last album was bad. Far from it. Simply put though, the additional production help from the fellows at DFA Records added that undercurrent of 70s disco to Cut Copy's heavy slabs of 80s italo-disco. So there's disco all around; some cheesy, some knee-buckling, and some that simply amazes.
What makes Colours a different, better album that Neon Love is Cut Copy's development as a serious pop act versus a disco-influenced side show. Dan Whitford's lyrics have improved while maintaining his lush, humming vocals. One could easily confuse bits of Whitford's singing with that of Morrissey yet such a comparison doesn't feel forced. The addition of Mitchell Scott and Tim Hoey in the line-up adds to the fullness of Cut Copy's sound without pushing them too far in the direction of a more traditional electro-rock act.
But it's the production qualities that mark this album. Where some of the remixes off Neon Love ended up better than the originals, such as the Digitalism remix of "Going Nowhere", it seems that Whitford has taken these lessons to heart. Working with Tim Goldsworthy of DFA and LCD Soundsystem fame has had its benefits as well. The breaks are timed perfectly and the rise and fall of each song feels seemless and appropriate. Relying mostly on live or looped drums has improved the sound as well, substituting what would otherwise have been an electric beat with the organics of analog. The bass lines also share a similar development, trending towards a disco-funk that shows Goldsworthy's influence.
I don't love this album, but I do like the hell out of it. It's a club album, for sure, but unfortunately not a car album. What I look forward to now is the slew of remixes sure to come out of this album with French producer Joakim leading the way on "Hearts on Fire". In Ghost Colours has some legs to it, both in its own right and as fodder for the djs of London, Melbourne, and Berlin.

The Green Lantern Theory Redux

The Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics - Matt Yglesias @ TPM Cafe

I know I've written before about Yglesias' Green Lantern theory but Publius over at Obsidian Wings brings it up again as a rebuttal to Fred Kagan's hit-piece against those who are calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. In essence, the Green Lantern theory is that with sufficient will any military effort America undertakes will succeed. See, the rings that gives the Green Lanterns their power is driven by will and only those with sufficient will can use the ring; this being because the ring is the most powerful weapon in the DC universe.
Translate that into American foreign policy, specifically in military affairs, and you end up with a belief that the success of any military intervention depends more on the willpower of the politicians back at home than on specific tactics or the underlying strategy. Instead of accepting the blame for any failure in a military operation, the Green Lantern believers attempt to shift the blame to those who were hesitant or outright against the effort. Their claim is the same one made after the Great War in Germany or after the American withdrawal from Vietnam--the 'stab in the back' narrative that claims the operation would have succeeded had we not these weak-willed politicians.
Publius doesn't buy it, no progressive liberal buys it and no sane conservative buys it either. You will not see someone like George Will making the same argument nor William Safire or the late William F. Buckley. Instead, I believe these conservatives would lay the blame on those who lacked the will to see the limitations of military operations and how getting the strategy and tactics correct are of the greatest importance. It's not a lack of will to go to war but a lack of will to full commit oneself to the realities of war and the necessity to adapt to fluid situations. What neo-conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer, Fred Kagan or William Kristol fail to understand is that all wars are fluid and the 'stab in the back' narrative requires something more static for there to be an actual stab in said back. They must believe that the strategy is correct and remains correct, despite any evidence to the contrary.
This is the problem with believing that sufficient will, or elán as the pre-WWI French army believed, is all that is necessary for military victory. You'll notice how quickly the French folded against the Germans in the second World War after their trenchant belief in said elán almost cost them the first World War. It's not a matter of will, but of correct and constantly adapting strategy. This is what the Kagan-types repeatedly fail to grasp and why their columns and op-ed pieces become items of derision by the rest of the pundits.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spike Lee Brings It On

Quote of the Day - Andrew Sullivan

I'm just going to cut and paste the quote, because this shit is too good:
"The Clintons, man, they would lie on a stack of Bibles. Snipers? That’s not misspeaking; that’s some pure bullshit. I voted for Clinton twice, but that’s over with. These old black politicians say, “Ooh, Massuh Clinton was good to us, massuh hired a lot of us, massuh was good!” Hoo! Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins—they have to understand this is a new day. People ain’t feelin’ that stuff. It’s like a tide, and the people who get in the way are just gonna get swept out into the ocean," - Spike Lee

The Bloopers of Hope

Juxtaposition - Top 10 Stupid President Bush Quotes VS Barack Obama's 'Audacity of Hope' - Trend Hunter

This is just a collection of videos the fellows at Trend Hunter put together but it meshes so well. Comparing President Bush to Sen. Obama in speech-making is a bit of a no-brainer, but funny nonetheless.

Blue Feet

As Nanotechnology Goes Mainstream, "Toxic Socks" Raise Concerns; Unknown Risks From Nanosilver Cited - Science Daily

Oh great, another reason for the rise in silver prices. As if the precious metals market didn't have enough problems with a weak dollar and high oil prices, now we get this.

Frames Per Second

Working Memory Has Limited 'Slots' - Science Daily

For more than a few years now there's been a debate in the enthusiast gaming community over whether the fact that a graphics card can display a certain number of fsp's (frames per second) really matters when it reaches beyond what the eye and brain can physically process. Now, with this new study it appears that the idea that fps only matter up to a point is true. It also makes sense in terms of how we are able to recall events and the fuzziness that can occur in translating working memory into long-term memory. While working memory captures a certain number of images per second it seems the high resolution of those images degrades when shifted into the long term memory. Hence the reason why eye-witness testimony days or months after an event can differ drastically from what actually happened.
But it also explains to some extent the abilities of those who can speed read or have a 'photographic' memory. The ability to take in large amounts of data and then retain the original resolution of that data is a mark of intelligence, it seems. Moreover, since everything our eyes perceive must go through that initial interpretation process it makes more sense that the data is captured by a series of images rather than one continuous stream. There's a momentary gap between what is actually happening in reality and the interpretation our brains make of all that sensory data. Why would evolution make a mind that cannot see reality at a high level of detail unless it allowed some advantage? High resolution fps must then have been an advantage to the early human mind.

More Dodos for Your Head

The Dodos @ the Mercury Lounge 4-6-08 - Friction NYC

A surprise for me that the Dodos sold out the Mercury Lounge in New York, but not too much of one. Their brand of Elephant Six-style song composition and choice in instrument selection blends together in an amazing fashion under the vocals of Meric Long. Their instore at Good Records here in Dallas after a week of SXSW madness was still mesmerizing and smile-inducing. They provide an excellent example of how a two-person act (with the occasional help of a third player) can produce a full sound and as much foot-stomping rock as any four or five-piece group. I highly recommend their new album Visiter and their previous album Beware of Maniacs.

Make More, Pay Less

Blog Till You Drop - Ezra Klein

I don't really want to comment on the whole "blogging is a sweat-shop type of job" since there are a number of other bloggers who have and I don't have anything to add to the conversation. But Klein does make an interesting point about the apparent inequality between those who work menial jobs and the 'professional classes' who complain about how hard they worked to get to their six-figure salaries. There was a customer in the store recently who made a similar argument, focusing on taxation and how unfair it was that the rich were taxed more than anyone else. Forgetting for a moment the fact that the actual taxation rate for those making over six figures tends towards under 20%, that this woman of the professional class who doesn't have to work as much to make more money than most Americans believes somehow the system is unfairly biased against her is simply laughable. Klein sees this too when he says, "it's hard to argue that attending an Ivy League school where you smoke a lot of pot and pretend you understand Focault is more taxing than entering a service sector job right out of high school. The professional class just likes to pretend that it is in order to lay a patina of virtue and ethics over what are, in fact, amoral decisions of the market."
That right there is what makes the inequalities of this country so hard to allay. More than just the education system, it's the belief that somehow the professional class has worked as hard as the blue-collar workers that make it harder to argue for higher taxes on the rich. It's the mindset that the professional classes are equal to the working classes which cause a great deal of animosity when someone has the gall to stand up and say, "hey, they make a lot more than most and can afford to pay more in taxes." Thus we get a system where the lower and middle classes are expected to pay a proportional amount in taxes when that amount is far more substantial to them than it is to the professional class. So what if that kind of taxation pushes many families close to the brink of bankrupcy, it's only fair, right?