Posts from 21st November 2004

21
Nov 04

LOSERS

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 113 views

LOSERS
by Michael Lewis

Lewis is one of those guys who has inadvertantly become — I would never call him a favorite author per se of mine, in that I rarely read him or think about him. Instead I just keep stumbling across him, often by chance or by surprise. I think I first read him back in the very early nineties when Liar’s Poker came out, and demonstrated that he was easily readable, a bit superior (I don’t mind, I admit to feeling that way on a number of things), pretty intelligent and often incredibly funny, especially in his ability to capture conversations and frame them in retrospect in a way that makes you wonder what on earth was going on through the other person’s head. Read The Money Culture as well sometime back, while my dad, thanks to a reading club he belongs to, read what I gather has become its own minor classic The New New Thing, a study of Silicon Valley in the nineties and that there dot.com thang.

As you might guess, he’s predominantly known for writing on matters financial, but he’s also done a study of the Oakland A’s on the one hand, and on the other wrote a book I hadn’t even realized existed until a few days ago, namely Losers, originally published (over his objections) as Trail Fever. But it crossed my path at the library and first I was amused by the cover, then I recognized the author and thought, “Son of a gun, him again…well presumably it’ll be as entertaining as the other ones.” And it was, the more so because it’s coverage of a Presidential election year that in retrospect is easily the most unmemorable of the past, let’s say twenty and maybe thirty years, namely 1996. Ask anyone offhand what they remember and probably there’ll be a scratching of heads, a knowledge that Clinton beat Dole, a vague memory that Perot ran again…and that was about it. Compared to the car-crash conclusion of 2000 and the year-long agony of 2004, it’s already ancient history.

Since he wrote the book at the time, though, there’s no way of comparing ahead, though Lewis fully recognizes that the election was going to be a dud from the word go and essentially captures a time of sheer entropy, when political forces of the future were gathering on the horizon but weren’t yet ready, and when a period of peace and apparent economic good times plus one hell of a politically-savvy incumbent set meant that there weren’t going to be many surprises. And there weren’t. So instead Lewis, in a slightly dilatory but actually pretty involving fashion, details his work that year on the trail — working for The New Republic officially but just as often pursuing his own impulses — focuses in on everything from an already forgotten minor GOP candidate Morry Taylor, a businessman who was in the race early on, to quick, sharp observations on the state of modern media coverage of the race to visits to places like Colorado Springs, Ground Zero for the political evangelical movement that wasn’t quite yet ready to make its mark fully known.

That sense of unintended prescience lingers throughout the book — not completely, it should be noted. George W. Bush, Cheney, none of that crew even figure in as a factor. But Alan Keyes — arguably the man who just won’t go away — gets some coverage as well as something rare — an actual appreciation of his abilities as a speaker, as opposed to the nature of what he is speaking about. Ralph Nader’s tentative stabs towards a presidential run via the Green Party in 1996 get discussed, as Lewis meets with him and observes him speaking as well. John McCain, somewhat to Lewis’s surprise, becomes a friend and confidant over time, discussed in even more detail in the afterword from 2000, while a section detailing the death of a confidant and friend of both McCain and Clinton to cancer unexpectedly humanizes all three men in ways that I think might never quite be captured again. Lewis is cynical, sharp, untrusting, contemptuous in general, someone who shakes his head at much of what he sees and the posturings of political life, but he yet leaves room for surprising even himself, I think.

As a postscript, I was eternally surprised to find out — especially given Lewis’s brief discussion of MTV’s somewhat sputtering 1996 voter-enrollment effort and an acknowledgement of Clinton’s ‘boxers or briefs?’ q&a on said channel in 1992 — that Lewis is now married to none other than Tabitha Soren!

Who is Alexander Kowalski?

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 217 views

Who is Alexander Kowalski? — well, actually I don’t need to ask that because first I found this Discogs.com bit and that led me to his homepage and now I have the basics. But I only just heard him today, specifically the Progress and Response albums, and I was deeply pleased, so I’ll have to look into this fellow some more.

The reasons why? Well, he pushes my buttons very readily, it’s techno, the beats, the bass, it’s all good — not something which sounds very compelling I’ll grant, but in part that’s because I’m typing this while listening to something else right now, so I’m admittedly a touch distracted. But my larger point is that I’m not really and never have been a techno completist or steeped in the knowledge or whatever, despite the fact that I love a LOT of house and techno and early d’n’b and etc. etc.

For me, when a press release/info page like that first link says something like “Kowalski elegantly fuses elements from classic Detroit and historical Berlin techno sound,” I’m aware — generally — of what’s being talked about. For me, though, whenever I hear such revisitations like this, I hear something which I don’t, or don’t always, hear in similar revisitations to the past in other genres. Instead, there is something here which always sounds thrilling and *now* — in some respects, though techno is no longer ‘the future’ as such, it still has something about it which feels like it is, hiding over the cusp of the horizon perhaps. Something about the mechanistic pulses and arrangements and illusions/allusions, the retro fantasies of Kraftwerk long since exchanged for Moroder’s promise of an eternal now pointing forward, why the bass line on “I Feel Love” never grows stale.

It isn’t just electronic music or parts of it which can hold this promise for me, in otherwards it’s not JUST the fact that it’s reliant on comparatively recent technology which makes it so compelling on that level. For instance, a hell of a lot of modern metal — as I’m slowly but surely reconnecting with that on a variety of fronts — is astoundingly of the now, no matter how steeped in Black Sabbath and similar compatriots many of them they are (and possibly because of it — if you accept Ian Christe’s argument in The Sound of the Beast, Iommi and crew invented something so new with their first album, and so not that far off from when the Kraftwerk/Moroder/SalSoul axes were finding their own paths, that the shock of the new really hasn’t worn off quite yet).

So perhaps I have little to say about Kowalski beyond simply that he knows what he likes and he does it well. But oh, how good it feels to ride on an energy wave into the future still, that it’s not quite over yet, whatever it is. Whether or not it falls under a dictate of pop or not, it’s still alive and recombining yet.

READING COMIX MAKES YOU DUMM: the disproof is in the discussion surely?

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 240 views

READING COMIX MAKES YOU DUMM: the disproof is in the discussion surely?

this post-plus-comment at the usually-slightly-up-itself crooked timber is fascinating (abt teaching EngLit via neil gaiman; abt how modern tech-literate popculture-compexity-bombarded kids can no longer handle the merely novelistic)*: personally i think it highly likely that deep-set grasp of one aesthetic mode renders you somewhat innoculated against easy apprehension via other modes (cf ppl w.perfect pitch being unable handle microtonal composition), but the solution is to form X-Men style supergroups of pals self-mutated to address complementary systems of sensory organisation (as in you do airport architecture and i’ll do potato prints)

*(re the second one there’s a bit of the unrepentent 60s kid in me that goes “WE WON!!” at this point – the dead hand of the hegemony of OFFICIAL CULTURE has burst into dust!! except what if we won and things are worse than they were before as a consequence?)

Are ACADEMIC CONFERENCES the SPORT of THOUGHT

TMFDPost a comment • 164 views

Are ACADEMIC CONFERENCES the SPORT of THOUGHT?

(viz CONTENT vs STYLE who will WIN??)

i. see you get up and say stuff and (if you don’t overrun yr time hem hem) then field clever questions
ii. and some ppl carefully write every word up beforehand and read it all out in a mymble mumble
iii. and some ppl use mannered rhetorical language that reads fine(ish) on the page and just weird and forced and poncey out loud
iv. and other ppl just have the whole whatever in their head and stand up and SPEAK, which is WAY preferable except timing is v. hard (shout out to infinite thought who lent me her WATCH!!) (plus also xenakis is v.fiddly and so is the science of stochastiXoRz, so i actually had a lot written down and as usual too much to SAY and RAN OVER and bleugh)
v. some ppl don’t actually cover the topic trumpeted in the pre-release abstract (but i WOULD HAVE if i had another five hours mins!!) (the very first time i did one of these one of my co-panellists switched at last minute from talkn abt the implications for photograph in the age of digital shenanigans as per promo to BAH YUK THE GULF WAR (= gulf war the elder) SO i wz suddenly stuck ambushed next to him talkn abt HURRAH SHINY POP (in the AGE of WAR)! in the same panel – his name wz kevin something and i will forgive him when they pry the fuzzy end of the lollipop from my COLD DEAD hand er where wz i?
vi. some ppl dye their hair pink and pick sexy sulky indie as their topic so get ALL THE ETERNAL STUDENTS in THEIR PANEL’S AUDIENCE grrr cz the panels clashed
vii. and sometimes ppl are audiences draws and quasi-avant popsters in their own right: score here, z’ev speaks off top-of-head, charming, rambling, not very focused (he sed he’d left his notes behind); bennett gave an awesome, sinister, content-free performance, like a new age motivational speaker, VERY controlling, VERY manipulative (haha good question at the end: “Do you really expect us to believe all that?”
viii. and all the while in the audience everyone cattily dissects their rivals’ work based on the SILLY WAY THEY PRONOUNCED “alterity” or HAHA THAT HAIR!
ix. but sadly some ppl had to leave early to get some sleep b4 final score announced (= not WINNERS but LOSERS) :(
except PS as i slinked away safe’s set wz just starting and ALL THE WINDOWS IN THE BUILDING WERE RATTLIN AND SHAKIN it wz like the calculus affair!!