Tuesday
Jun232009

rationalization

If other people can post about their pets, I can post about my car. So there.

Tuesday
Jun232009

what the hell do i know?

Not much. As I read around on the blogs and news sites, the only conclusion I can reach is once again that everyone sees the situation in Iran through their own ideological and social lenses.

The Asia Times sees the rebellion as having fizzled out. Al Jazeera English wonders if the Iranian Clerical class is splitting. Juan Cole links to this article, and suggests that the protesters might make good use of a general strike:

It is hard to keep people from closing their shops and declining to go to work, and if the transportation workers join in, it can close down the city. (The Pakistani public used this tactic in its successful quest to reinstate the supreme court chief justice dismissed by a military dictator). In fact, if the transportation workers strike, they can force most people to miss work.

American wingnuts are playing the game they always play. Even Joe Klein gets that. And even Iranian cops are conflicted. That's where I got my headline.

It does seem clear, contrary to speculations I quoted earlier, that the rebellion is real and deep, and not a figment of the CIA or other foreign manipulation. But it's also clear, I think, that much of the impetus toward "liberalization" in Iran is aimed at furthering the interests of elites, particularly Iran's business elite. Don't forget that Rafsanjani, for instance, is a businessman as well as a cleric, and probably a billionaire. Iranians are clannish, and his family controls scores of big businesses. Billionaires think pretty much alike wherever you find them; it's obviously not democracy they’re after—just freedom from restrictions on their wealth accumulation and political power. And the Iranian opposition, billionaire or middle-class, is just as committed to Iran's nuclear progam as their more “conservative” opponents.

It is amusing that the Iranian authorities, looking through their ideological lenses, lump John McCain, George Soros and Gene Sharp together as co-conspirators against Iran...(h/t Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings).

Monday
Jun222009

road trip

More than a half a lifetime ago I managed a stereo store in Burlington, and up the street there was a record store managed by Mary Jane Leach, a recent UVM grad in music and theater. Her store introduced me to a wide range of interesting music, and a lot of vinyl I still have and play came from there—imported ECM releases by John Abercrombie and Collin Walcott and the young Dave Holland, for instance.

I lost touch with Mary Jane for about thirty years. A year or so ago my friend Jon, who went to high school with her, clued me that she is now a widely respected composer, performer and teacher of what is vaguely called “new music.”

MJ lives and performs in a former church she calls The Brick Elephant, in Valley Falls, New York, a little north of the Albany/Schenectady/Troy district. Yesterday she presented a concert by The DownTown Ensemble there, music by Brian Dewan, Yvette Perez, Peter Zummo, Pauline Oliveros, and William Hellermann. (some of those links will initiate sound files).

That seemed like a good excuse for a road trip, old-guy one-day variant. So I set out in my one beloved toy, an Alfa Spider. The little red 2-seat roadster is in my completely unbiased opinion one of the most beautiful cars ever built.

It's certainly the finest design object I own. Small details like the door handles and the gas filler lid evoke a refined visual sensibility not common on this side of the Atlantic. The red paint is one of those few hues that lie outside the gamut of 8-bit per channel RGB, so the digital photos don’t quite capture it (I hurriedly snapped the photos this morning without benefit of the wash-and-wax the car sorely needs). It appears to be a cadmium pigment, approximate to a painter's cadmium red medium, which I'm sure would be illegal on cars now on environmental grounds (the car is 25 years old).

The engine snarls and roars its way up through the gears with a distinctly Italian accent, a sound I find immensely satisfying for some strange reason. By current standards the Alfa is not fast either off the mark (0-60 in 9 or 10 seconds) or at the top end (maybe 95mph), but it is very agile, lots of fun on curvy two-lane blacktop. It also has by far the best brakes of any car I've ever driven, a good feature in a car that tempts you to drive it fast and hard.

Unfortunately, the top is rotten, and I intersected several showers en route. I only got a little wet, though. Actually, if you can go steadily over 55 mph you stay dry even with the top down in a hard rain because the slipstream off the windshield deflects the rain over your head—even the back deck stays dry. But of course on those roads you have to slow down occasionally, and so I put the top up and endured the drip from the holes in the canvas.

Valley Falls is about 3 hours south of home, and the route is two-lane all the way, down through the gorgeous farmland of Addison County in Vermont and then through the slate-inflected hills and depressed-looking villages of eastern New York. I arrived only a little late, to find approximately equal numbers of performers and listeners.

When I walked in William Hellermann was performing the vocal part of his El Ropo, backed by the ensemble; this consists of the rhythmic laughter of the seated composer, gesturing with a snifter of brandy in one hand and an unlit stogie in the other, the very picture of a satisfied burger's amusement after an entertaining after-dinner anecdote, stretched out to several minutes (don't know how long, I got there in the middle). I found it entertaining, anyway. The photos below are by Jon Flanders, who also attended and has graciously allowed me to post them.

William Hellerman performing El Ropo

Brian Dewan

The Inner/Outer Sound Matrix by Pauline Oliveros involved intoned words and phrases relating to the economic crisis ("massive injection" and "Krugman" stick in my memory) and sung interjections with isolated instrumental sounds spread out in time. The work's silences invite ambient noises—the song of birds, the rain on the roof, the occasional traffic noise—to become almost part of the work, a Cagean turn that I enjoy when it works, which it did here.

I think I'm in the Wrong Department by Yvette Perez either celebrated or satirized (take your pick) the experience of department store shopping from the viewpoint of the young and female; the agony of sizing, the triumph of discounts.

Peter Zummo's (The) Who Stole the Polka, for accordion (played by Brian Dewan), and Dewan’s The Little Flowers of St. Francis, a setting of meditations passed down orally and written down a century after the saint's death, formed the second half. I enjoyed both. Zummo can extract sounds from a trombone that I never would have thought possible.

Peter Zummo

The Little Flowers is a substantial work, with texts spoken and sung (in Gregorian-chant-like modal fashion), to instrumental accompaniment; I don't know the composer's intent but to me it confirmed the insanity of the self-abnegation so glorified by Christianity, “complete joy“ in the saint's estimation only attainable by being denied, rejected, beaten, and left to bleed in the snow—and liking it.

All of these works meld something of the theater into what is conventionally thought of as music. An audio-only recording of Hellermann’s El Ropo would be pretty unsatisfying: “ha ha ha ha ha ha HAH hah hah HAH hah hah..." for several minutes, even in Hellermann’s virtuoso performance, would be a lot less interesting than it is seeing the man himself with snifter and cigar, gesturing, and at the end of the piece, breaking into genuine laughter along with the audience and the other performers. This needs to be seen as well as heard, and video is the right medium for recordings.

I didn't feel I could stick around long after the concert, because the time felt stolen (as does the time it’s taking me to write this) from all my other responsibilities, so I headed back up the road. One of the questionable joys of driving an old Italian sports car is that it makes new noises from time to time, just to worry you about whether you're going to get where you’re going. But I did, no problem. I snapped the photo below over my left shoulder between rain showers on Route 22a somewhere in Addison county. It's not very good, but it’s the best I’ve ever taken one-handed over my left shoulder, without benefit of viewfinder, while driving sixty miles an hour. Those are the Adirondacks over there, across Lake Champlain. It was good to get out of Chittenden County, if only for a few hours. But now, as the man on the radio says, I gotta get back to work.

Note, I edited this post slightly after posting.

Thursday
Jun182009

“a man hears what he wants to hear...

...and disregards the rest.”*

Up to now, I've been too busy with both work and personal stuff to post about the Iranian election and its aftermath. In internet terms, a few days is a decade or so, so I'm way behind the curve here, but one thing doesn't change: everyone sees the events through their own particular ideological and social lenses.

Almost everyone in the "mainstream" media as well as both left and right blogohemispheres (hemiblogospheres?), sees the election results as fraudulent. Their differences crop up as disagreements about who perpetrated the fraud and why, and what response in terms of US policy is appropriate.

The neocons predictably see it as the work of the mullahs and a good excuse to, you know, bomb Iran. You can get a sense of their sociopathic thinking without sullying your modem with the contents of their own sites by looking at this post by HTML Mencken (absolutely the best moniker on the internet) at the blog Sadly, No.

Glenn Greenwald also points up the irony of the neocons’ “newfound concern” for ordinary Iranian human beings, down upon whom they've repeatedly called for the rain of nuclear (or at least massively ‘conventional’) bombardment.

George Packer at The New Yorker also takes it for granted that the election was fraudulent, and criticises Obama for a lack of engagement. “Realism,” he says, “should no more be an ideological fetish under Obama than ‘freedom’ was under Bush.”

(T)ens of millions of Iranians,” he says, “who voted for change and are the long-term future of that country will always remember what America said and did when they put their lives on the line for their values.

Hilzoy respectfully disagrees:

The crucial assumption here is that our values imply that Obama should speak out. I don't think that they do. I think that we ought to do whatever stands the best chance of helping Iran achieve full democracy. And it's not at all obvious to me that that means speaking out. Offhand, I would have thought that speaking out in favor of the protestors would be about as good an idea as Britain's endorsing its favored candidate in our Presidential election in 1808, which is to say: it would be very, very unlikely to help its intended beneficiary

And Tim F. at Balloon Juice notes (as also cited by Hilzoy):

It seems to me that we have underestimated how deeply fringe actors like al Qaeda and the neocons or Ahmadinejad and Bibi need each other for political survival. The relationship isn’t even antagostic, it’s a symbiotic mutualism. Intractable, crazy antagonists legitimize the position of extremists who oppose them.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum asks an intelligent question, which I'll quote in full because it is brief:

Here's a quick question I haven't really seen anyone address regarding the Iranian election. Assuming that the conventional wisdom is correct and it was stolen, why did they do it? If Ahmadinejad stole it on his own, that's easily explainable as a pure coup/power play. But if the clerical regime went along — which seems likely — what was it they were afraid of? Mousavi was hardly the first reformist to run for president, after all, and he wouldn't have been the first to win. What, precisely, was the threat that Mousavi presented to them?

And some knowledgeable commentators like Brian Ulrich and at least by implication Gary Sick, addressing questions like Drum’s, suspect the at the election fraud is really not the work of the mullahs, but is actually what amounts to a military coup by the IRGC and basij militias.

Others, like my old friend Jon Flanders (no web site, but for a lot of interesting photogaphy, go here), question whether the election results were fraudulent at all. In personal (to a list) emails, he has suggested that the apparent fraud is an illusion created by corrupt American media and possibly the CIA:

Does anyone think that the US doesn't have an interest in discrediting a hostile government in Iran? Is it beyond the the realm of possibility that the "Green" demonstrations in Iran before the election bear some similarity to the CIA influenced "Color" revolutions in Eastern Europe or elsewhere?

He may have a point. In a later email:

The US corporate airwaves are now full of Iranian election news. Oh my, oh dear, might the poor Iranian people that we love so much be getting screwed by the mullahs who are making women wear chadors and frustrating internet users?

Meanwhile, across the Persian Gulf, sits US ally Saudi Arabia. What about their elections? Are they free and fair? Are the mullahs messing with the polling places there? What about the rights of Saudi women and internet users?

Oh Gee, I forgot. They don't have elections do they? Nor freedom of the press. But this is not a problem for Obama, his predecessor Bush or any US president. The money for weapons systems pour into Saudi Arabia as the oil pours out.

Sometimes the hypocrisy of the US media machine is so great that it would make a hyena retch.

Jon cites a poll by The Center for Public Opinion at Terror Free Tomorrow, which shows a strong (2:1) plurality (not a majority; the undecided and minor-candidate preferences were too strong) for Ahmanidejad, a few weeks before the election. At the time of his email, the poll (pdf) had only as far as I can tell been cited only on the site of the Trotskyist/Marxist Monthly Review Press but it eventually found its way onto CNN and the op-ed pages of the Washington Post.

Juan Cole (a respected academic middle-east specialist), however, doesn't think the poll indicates what Jon thinks it does, and neither does Eric Hooglund (ditto, and a man who has spend decades studying rural Iran, the supposed base of support for Ahmadinejad). Regardless of whether you think they are right about this, if you’re interested in the Iranian situation you should be reading their posts.

My own take? With all respect, this is not about us. We Americans don't, by and large, have any idea what Iranians of any ilk are thinking or more importantly perhaps even what the context of their ideas is. We've been indoctrinated by decades of corporatist/statist propaganda from our corrupt mass media (this is one thing I completely agree with Jon about). Even the best of us just can't know what’s really going on over there, so maybe we should just shut up.

TBogg sums it up, as he so often does.

And then there are the bassets, in case you need a distraction from all this. It's 1:33 a.m. (that time stamp at the top of the post LIES.) I have to go to bed.

*Simon and Garfunkle, “The Boxer“

 

 

Saturday
Jun132009

proportionality ii

Here’s a video (via Bad Astronomy) that does a pretty good job of placing our selves and our world in the context of the known universe. Also see this post from a while back.

Tuesday
Jun092009

you’re the top!...

...You’re Mahatma Gandhi.
You’re the top!
You’re Napoleon Brandy.
You’re the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain,
You’re the National Gallery
You’re Garbo's salary,
You’re cellophane.

—Cole Porter, Anything Goes, 1934

Ad from the Post, 1950. Porterhouse: 93¢/lb. Looks like about 50% fat.

A European invention, Cellophane was patented in 1912. DuPont started making it in the US in 1924. Stronger, less permeable plastics have mostly taken over, but the fact that it is biodegradable makes Cellophane popular with the environmentally committed, although they overlook some nasty polutants released in its manufacture. Chemically, by the way, it is identical with the fabric Rayon. My source for this information is the Wikipedia article linked above.

Tuesday
Jun092009

schmuck watch iii

Now Whelan, apparently chastened by the wave of bloggy disapproval, has apologized to publius. Publius has accepted the apology, and says the matter is finished. But Whelan, as he admits, can't undo what he’s done.

Someone could write a sociology master’s thesis on the blogodynamics displayed in the comment thread of the above link, which contains much narrative theorizing on Whelan’s motives, and a further clarification from Whelan himself. His schmuckitude does go down slightly in my book; it is a pretty unqualified apology. As others have suggested, he could make a much stronger case for his re-admittance to polite society by sincerely apologizing to Sonia Sotomayor as well as, you know, to the American people for his past service in our worst administration ever.

Of course it’s absurd for me, a non-pseudonymous and almost completely unread blogger, to obsess over this. But it’s my blog, and I'll obsess absurdly if I goddamn feel like it.

Monday
Jun082009

schmuck watch ii

Two cogent reactions to the Whelan/publius tangle: Jesse Taylor at Pandagon and Julian Sanchez. It is gratifying to see bloggers from across the political spectrum agreeing about this.

Monday
Jun082009

schmuck watch

The left blogosphere and some of the more honest precincts of the right blogosphere have roundly excoriated Ed Whalen’s posting of the real name and employer of the blogger publius (see previous post), and Whalen has presented his weasely defense, which in turn has evoked responses from thoughtful bloggers of all persuasions, including Publius’s co-blogger Hilzoy,* who explores the ethical dimensions of the “outing” question here:

I think there is a presumption that people should be able to decide for themselves what facts about themselves to reveal; and that decent people should respect this, absent some compelling reason not to. Of course, there are compelling reasons: if it turned out that an anonymous blogger on a white supremacist site was in fact the person in charge of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, that would be worth knowing. But absent some such reason, I think that people's own decisions about what to reveal should be respected.

Hilzoy points out that “outing” someone is unilaterally deciding to cause that person to suffer whatever consequences he or she was trying to avoid by blogging pseudonymously. If you don’t know what those consequences are, “you ought to err on the side of caution, absent a strong reason for outing the person in question.”

And Whelan had no strong reason, only personal pique. Which makes him, in my book, a schmuck.

This line of Whelan’s defense caught my eye: “If [publius] wanted to avoid the risk of being associated publicly with his views, he shouldn’t have blogged.” Conservatives are all the time yammering about how persecuted they feel in "liberal" enclaves like universities. Do they really want to rule out the propriety of expressing their own viewpoints pseudonymously in what they perceive as hostile environments?

Society is best served when the broadest range of opinions is expressed, and the broadest range of people  access and evaluate those opinions. Society is not well served when people are deterred from expressing their opinions by fear for their livelyhoods or safety.

The web (and the anonymity it makes possible) have been a fantastically positive development in this regard, and that makes people like Whelan really nervous.

*Hilzoy is well qualified to discuss this; she is Henry R. Luce Professor of Bioethics and Moral & Political Theory at the Johns Hopkins University.

 

Sunday
Jun072009

bloggers behaving badly

Publius is a legal-issues and political commentator who blogs at Obsidian Wings. Recently he criticized right wing legal attack dog and torture apologist* Ed Whelan’s disingenuous attacks on Sonia Sotomayor. To be more precise, he linked to and endorsed criticisms of Whelan by Eugene Volokh, another conservative legal commentator. This pissed off Whelan—a former Bush administration Deputy Attorney General, current contributer and blogger at the National Review, and president of something called the “Ethics and Public Policy Center”— to such an extent  that he dug up and published publius’s real name and the name of his employer. How very ethical.

*added note: Whelan was with the Bush OLC at the time that office was busy thinking up justifications for torture, but I guess it's not totally clear that he himself is a torture apologist. 

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