Monday, March 31, 2008

Musical Monday: Samidon

“Folk music is enjoying another of its periodic revivals, but this time the latest recordings are appearing on cutting-edge indie labels...”

Back with a head still overflowing with the beaches and buses, streets and markets of Nicaragua. They say you have to go back to a place to know it for the first time. This trip almost exactly ten years since the first, to many of the same places and some new ones, and despite the bittersweetness of return to a region no longer waiting to be discovered (now full of real estate offices, ex-pats walking their gringo dogs, shouting and chiding their gringo dogs away from the disgusting things dogs eat and back to the mansion on the hill, white kids looking for a new Spring Break), despite all this nothing registers even approaching disappointment. It helps of course to be with the one you love, and to find her the excellent traveling companion you desired. Still the beginnings of a complex nostalgia, compounded greatly listening to this.

1) Sugar Baby
2) Saro
3) O Death

Only temporarily. Download them all here, or purchase a CD. I used to know Sam, and I hope he doesn't mind.

What to say about these songs?

There was this guy staying in the hostel where Hans and I once stayed, hanging our hammocks ten years ago (it took a while to find it, now). He was like a ghost from my own past. Long-haired, pleasant features, maybe as old as 22 or more likely less. Lonely. Smoking. Shy. His presence in town both calmed and upset me. It wasn't as simple as that he reminded me so much of us, then, because he was different too. A bit more tragic, maybe. He was lonely, most obviously, but quick with a conspiratorial smile. A potentially open smile, out of practice (it seemed to get stuck on his face), fiercely-willing-to-go-with-you-as-an-equal, but equally shy, bemused inner-looking smile. Maybe this was not his smile.

I couldn't talk to him. Something proudly defiant lingering behind his eyes. The deliberately living sort–will there always be those? Yes, they can make far too pretty films of any book, but it won't change the desire for independence and travel in certain complicated people. Desire for these combined with an older-fashioned cultivation of interiority, that inward-churning and burrowing that almost always appears as some out-of-place asceticism now. From the look of his tan at least two months in the region, probably anticipating more. Unless, that is, the loneliness became too much.

Why fixate on the loneliness? We saw him only one other time. Walking holding each other in the dark street. Trying to pretend we didn't even notice all the other gringo couples. What were they doing there? Don't look at them. Don't listen to them, so loudly in German giving a bad name to something that was once original there, in a town once legitimately its own–a fishing town–and not a town with a gringo zone along the water, interrupted at night by the terrible musicals orchestrated just for them. They couldn't ruin the experience for us, the other gringo couples, no matter how unsubtle and mediocre they were, no matter what soundtrack was being played just for them.

I didn't notice him until we'd almost past, he was such a part of the shadows of the street, just strolling by himself and smoking. A very brief and strange moment of regret, of suspected or projected mutual curiosity, of having told him how I'd been there earlier (while snapping pictures of the room) and then not having asked about his life at all. Mostly what I sensed as we passed each other in the street was a change in his gaze–although again maybe it was entirely projected–a change from inner-gazing and contented, or at least familiar loneliness to something else, more like shameless and fierce envy. But lasting only for a Nicaragua second.

These songs evoke a melancholy so sober and mature and open-hearted; I like them even more than Bonnie "Prince" Billie. Quality work, Sam. Three cheers (and numerous back-slaps) for the new Folk Revival.

To be updated...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hothead McCain

• The time to frame and fix the enemy correctly is upon us. Read the whole thing.

You'd think we would have had enough hollow and arrogant "tough" guys with their heads up their own asses, bad actors, or Walmart and Halliburton board members as Presidents by now. Where are the political guts for a new New Deal? For the old and essential emancipatory ideal, without compromise? When will disaster fundamentalist capitalism and neoliberalism with it just fucking roll over and die already?

• I'm gone for a week 1/2+ to Nicaragua. Where the old Sandanista is back in power and yet from what I gather totally confused, ineffectual and emasculated.

• n+1 is running their symposium on the politics of fear.

• Here's to a President actually talking like an adult to adults, and rejuvenating the long-forgotten, rather severely neglected challenge of 'America' (remember that?):

Watching this the genuine analogies to JFK should be obvious to anyone with a decent knowledge of political history, just as such people should probably think twice before emphasizing in public such a genuinely inspiring fact...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Sitting, sick listening to this (on this). Five years of victory in Iraq. Animals destroy the house around me.

Doing taxes, think of asking J.P. Morgan and overpriced suits at Bear Stearns for advice.

Michael Perelman

I cannot help but feel some satisfaction in watching recent event confirm the diagnosis found in my Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression (Palgrave). The toxic combination of speculative excesses, financial deregulation, and unequal incomes, which make demand dependent on credit.

All the while, Panglossian economics insisted that this was the best of all possible worlds, except for some residues of the New Deal.

The book begins with the historical perspective that the earlier massive waves of inequality and free market dogmatism all led to disaster. This one may not become a renewal of the Great Depression. The Fed may succeed in reflating the bubble, but sooner or later the purge [you know where] will occur.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

saying without meaning

The excellent IT extends her polemic to the artworld:

Indeed, what does happen when there is publicness without a public sphere? When the language of philosophy and politics is used everywhere, at all times, but without referent? We are afloat in a world in which the endless invocation of theoreticians, philosophers and political theorists serves very little purpose other than to bolster the cultural capital pretensions of an artworld detached from anything other than its communicative connectivity and its obscure economic value in an economy of fleeting and faddish desires.

The transient set of references of artspeak should not of course be opposed to an authentic realm of coherent, serious philosophical discourse (as if any such thing existed any longer, or ever did), but nevertheless, the total lack of correspondence between concept and referent invokes a kind of abyssal fear. As Virno puts it, ‘if the publicness of the intellect does not yield to the realm of a public sphere, of a political space in which the many can tend to common affairs, then it produces terrifying results.’


Pick up any gallery catalogue, read the blurb stuck to any gallery wall and this conflation will come back to you: creativity is communication, and vice versa, and all is well in the world. Whilst there is no doubt a real immaterial practice that corresponds to the happy belief that creativity is communication, it is increasingly the case that the artworld simply is the unfolding of a series of ‘creative communications’ – and that it is in fact quite pleased to think of itself in this way.


Thanks to a reader and customer for pointing me toward the excellent Etsy (et si?), philosophically and commercially noble alternative to Ebay. (While we're at it here's to supporting the boycott of Ebay's turn to evil.) Read more on Etsy here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

sbttp: yup, pretty much

Dear Senator Obama

If your next press release or speech or whatever official communication does not contain the phrase "Hillary Clinton wants to run as John McCain's vice president," well then I'm not sure you're worthy of all those delegates.

Timing is everything...

Greg Palast links Eliot Spitzer's hanging to the Fed's unprecedented hand out of public funds (one-fifth of a trillion dollars) to selected banks, poor tools of CountryWide, etc. (see I cite for discussion):

The deluge of public loot was an eye-popping windfall to the very banking predators who have brought two million families to the brink of foreclosure.

Up until Wednesday, there was one single, lonely politician who stood in the way of this creepy little assignation at the bankers’ bordello: Eliot Spitzer.

Now, what kind of American is ‘sub-prime.’ Guess. No peeking. Here’s a hint: 73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

But there was this annoying party-pooper. The Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who sued these guys to a fare-thee-well. Or tried to.

Instead of regulating the banks that had run amok, Bush’s regulators went on the warpath against Spitzer and states attempting to stop predatory practices. Making an unprecedented use of the legal power of “federal pre-emption,” Bush-bots ordered the states to NOT enforce their consumer protection laws.

Indeed, the feds actually filed a lawsuit to block Spitzer’s investigation of ugly racial mortgage steering. Bush’s banking buddies were especially steamed that Spitzer hammered bank practices across the nation using New York State laws.

Spitzer not only took on Countrywide, he took on their predatory enablers in the investment banking community. Behind Countrywide was the Mother Shark, its funder and now owner, Bank of America. Others joined the sharkfest: Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Citigroup’s Citibank made mortgage usury their major profit centers. They did this through a bit of financial legerdemain called “securitization.”

What that means is that they took a bunch of junk mortgages, like the Grinning’s, loans about to go down the toilet and re-packaged them into “tranches” of bonds which were stamped “AAA” - top grade - by bond rating agencies. These gold-painted turds were sold as sparkling safe investments to US school district pension funds and town governments in Finland (really).

When the housing bubble burst and the paint flaked off, investors were left with the poop and the bankers were left with bonuses. Countrywide’s top man, Angelo Mozilo, will ‘earn’ a $77 million buy-out bonus this year on top of the $656 million - over half a billion dollars – he pulled in from 1998 through 2007.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Speaking of Hillary, has this Hillary-happy UR-blog degenerated into self-parody, or what?

Surely the knee-jerking against Obama–whose (so-far meaningless) "success" becomes a stand-in for all that is wrong in American electoral politics and policies, in certain progressive corners–needs to be more careful to qualify itself. Otherwise there is little to distinguish Norm's sort of consistent posting from over-identification of the most boring sort. The stubborn leftist's position of proud impotence, of meaningless "dissent" already wedded to the polemical/sovereign take-all framework is neither endearing nor productive. There is good reason to feel revulsion at any seeming consensus among the five ruling news organizations, now apparently united against Hillary (one could speculate as to exactly why, beside objective sexism, this is so–for one thing she represents something old not new, but anyway). Of course in Norm's case it is more about Obama's use of religion, or specifically, of religious language or a religious register. Perhaps if he studied a bit of history, that of black leaders in America, or of liberation theology, (not to mention that every major positive political step in the United States has been accompanied by some benign and deeply progressive form of messianic hope), Norm wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Obama simply for being capable, indeed exceptionally gifted in that register. Not only is Obama's sense of the spiritual exceptionally progressive and extremely mobilizing (in a democracy whose great majority of citizens remain self-identifying as religious), but it is also pointedly hospitable and open to that second-largest, usually-ignored majority who are atheist (cf. Richard Dawkins). That by itself is immensely significant.

Now Hillary may seem more secular, on the surface, but in trust isn't she more likely to pander to anyone at all? Indeed her basic modus operandi remains that of cynical opportunism and desperate smear rather than the genuine risk of integrity, that work of going through in order to transform something for the better. The Abrahamic being embedded in everything from our daily language to the history of our concepts, of law and justice and everything else, it would seem wise to prefer to see someone embrace its better history for the purposes of positive transformation than pretend such bedrock currents do not exist at all while, in Clinton's case, simultaneously embracing policies that merely bolster without comment the blind ideological faith of neoliberalism/fundamentalism capitalism.

The bottom line would seem to be this: Such revulsion, to be at all meaningful in a good way, must consider the situation in terms of power and become pragmatically mature, in this case surely that means qualifying, maybe even tempering or withholding one's public criticisms until their potential effect can be a positive.

I've heard it said before, and agree still: from a USian leftist perspective Hillary Clinton with her first-rate legal mind would make a very decent Supreme Court Justice, where she could have a long and indeed coherent and honest career, unconcerned for the trivialities and compromise and smearing temptations/vendettas of the election cycle.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

that's all, folks

G'Obama Bunny (reader Kim points to this). Although what the phenomenon says about USian voters' intractable sense of entitlement to a rosy future may have never been entirely endearing...

"a sort of global philosophical thinktank conducted via blog"

Thanks to #33 of "The World's Most Powerful Blogs" for directing custom shelf and chopping block costumers to pas au-delà.

No idea who those guys are.

Sadly they'll have to go back a way for any content worth thinking. But, thank you!

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Nice to see liberal maverick Michael Bérubé back on the political commentary (and boy is Hillary's monstrously pathetic run-to-Republican tactics, talking-points-and-narratives-campaign a vile and despicable, not to mention utterly predictable disgrace!*). Bérubé is also finding time, professors will be glad to see, to tear down conservative ignoramous Mark Bauerlein of old literary organ fame–yet again, indeed echoing threads at Long Sunday of ages and ages past.

*So much for changing narratives, huh Krugman.

Nice also to receive messages like this from my future cell phone company, Working Assets/Credo.  Honestly you have to wonder why anyone with even the slightest social conscience and a cell phone doesn't choose Credo!

They have highly competitive rates and a good network (they use Sprint's).  The causes they support (both discreetly and powerfully) are simply crucial.  Shit, you even get regular free Ben&Jerry's coupons!  I mean seriously, is it a problem of advertising budget, or what???  Must be.  I know I wasn't even aware of Credo for almost the entire first year's contract with monolith Verizon.  Here's a company that should be all over the cable networks, advertising on progressive blogs, a competitor in every major city...

Until then, courtesy of Credo, the only left-activist, non-corporatist phone company, watch Colbert's commentary on the politics of paranoia/phonophobia.  It really hits the nail on the head in so many ways:

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

clouds last evening

Sadly, no tornadoes despite the warning. I sorta miss my 20-year-old 35mm manual Pentax, Ross Carey (care to give it back?)

Laura, Nabokov's last story

...will maybe see the light of day, after all (via 3QD).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

straight shooter of blanks

John McCain is really incredibly fucking dumb, as Ezra Klein points out in particular with regard to economics. Any vote for him will surely be yet another example of head-in-the-pillow Americans reaching for the meaningless embrace of a falsely-pedestaled father-figure-reenactor who promises only to protect them from the obvious and inflated boogeyman of "terror" while whistling sweet outdated coded reassurances about other famous "liberal" boogeymen and quietly continuing the torture and selling the fuck out of our government. Haven't we had enough of that delusional brand of "integrity" already?

Maybe not as Bush gains for himself some likely retro-active immunity: despicable coward bastards.

Update: perhaps not.

more bookshelves

Could not agree with Scott McLemee's column more. I swear if anyone ever asks me to make something like this, I will refuse.

For something functional in wood-grains on the other hand, or for chopping blocks and cutting boards made to last a lifetime: please ask away (I could use the business!).

Update: speaking of functional, check this out.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

modern engagement

...Nonetheless, at least the guy was willing to sit down and talk. Likewise one of the best reasons to support Obama; I think Digby agrees.