Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Foxconn, manufacturer of consumer gizmos for Apple and HP, has promised to replace workers with 1 million robots within 3 years—that’ll sort out that suicide nonsense! The Obama administration would do well to follow their example, if indeed they weren’t the ones to suggest the idea. Indeed, since Jim Messina has come on board as Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, the corporate cash will be pouring in almost as fast as the grassroots volunteers of yester-campaign are flooding out. So if there was any doubt left about Obama’s Republicanness, maybe the onslaught of robocalls launching the campaign season will convince even the dimmest Probamas who their inscumbent really is.
Posted by Conscious Johnson at 11:58 AM
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Dear Reader, this blog is not dead. However, it is a dog that is now wagged by the tail that is my Twitter account. For some time new posts have been announced there, and in lieu of checking here at any intervals it's best to follow/check my Twitter feed (most recent items at right)—which, owing to its nature, daily provides eminently more consumable units of Fahrenheit Googolplex tone and timbre.
Posted by Conscious Johnson at 7:01 PM
Thursday, April 28, 2011
As a number of tornadoes ravage the South and a radio show I listen to broadcasts from
, expressing fear that they will converge on it, I couldn’t help but think of Brecht’s Rise and Fall of the City of Georgia Mahagonny.
|"Do as thou wilt, he still wasn't born in Mahagonny."Trump,|
subject to a copycat tornado in New Hampshire.
Yesterday President Obama released his long-form birth certificate to quell the birther typhoons. One wonders how that'll work given an earlier CBS News/New York Times poll concluding that 45% of Republicans believe the President was born outside of the
Shortly after, to all appearances a typhoon struck Trump’s hair (above) while he reveled in his “victory” at having forced the President’s hand. Meanwhile the Fukushima Daiichi complex is more radioactive than at any time prior, Rep. Paul Ryan fled hostile protestors at a town hall meeting who oppose his scrap n’ salvage budget bill, and an executive VP of the US Chamber of Commerce said “to quote what they say every day in Libya, ‘all options are on the table’” if would-be federal contractors are forced to disclose political donations when they go a-begging in DC. And of course, there’s the ongoing Libyan war: Senators (Graham, McCain and Lieberman) are recommending “regime change” assassination, and the brass are using predator drones so they can almost kill civilians less often. There may be omissions because I gleaned all this on the fly, while working my three jobs from late morning til dawn. The very last moorings of Yanqui civility, indeed of civilization, seem to be straining. U.S.
In the scene from Mahagonny where the typhoons approach, Jimmy (a lumberjack on holiday from his
choppery) is getting restive because the town is too quiet – Mahagonny is founded on the business of drunken fun, whores, gambling, and loafing. It’s full of ne’er-do-wells, grifters and drifters, and the crooks who run it try to regulate everything with signposts and censure because they have a weird utopian streak. There isn’t enough tension there for the cadre running it to profit, so they’re panicking about finances and people leaving just when a drunken Jimmy makes his great speech that people should do as they please, not live under the gang’s laws. This speech takes place as a tornado threatens to strike the town, and people in desperation seem receptive to Jimmy’s theory that we should do our worst in this world, that nature can’t outstrip our violence as “the most frightening force is Man.” Alaska
The tornado/typhoon just misses Mahagonny, but strikes elsewhere and kills the federal agents looking for the gangsters who run the town. They, and the idlers being milked in Mahagonny, interpret this as the universe’s approval of their new “do as thou wilt” philosophy. All launch on a new and bloody course of open, unregulated self-satisfaction that’s ultimately disastrous for the whole provisional community, which is a smelting pot anyway – of fools’ gold.
In his last State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of our “Sputnik Moment.” I rather think this is our Mahagonny Moment, just before the final movement of the symphony our founders wrote – which opens with a haunting passage from the winds and brass.
Monday, April 18, 2011
The old canard about the
U.S. falling as did rings hollow whenever you turn on the television. The empire may be collapsing, but like a mushroom, as it shrivels it releases spores by the hundred thousand. U.S. culture is viral—surely our biggest export after weapons is "entertainment." Rome
|This one's vegetarian, so its tough's all bluff.|
Monster Bug Wars is the Science Channel's new series about life and death in the insect world. Each segment (as it were) exhibits a different "Vs." battle a la Mortal Kombat, wherein the loser is processed by both victor and zoom lenses, overdubbed with gnashing, roaring, or screeching. What strikes me after the first couple of entrail smoothies is that every battle is decontextualized. The narrator always tells you in a nature show in what country the scene is taking place; here, it is "in the rainforest/desert...".
It turns out these ARE real arenas. The woodchips and plants appear to be from a box store; I didn't know WalMart sold hollow logs. It's all artfully done but the settings' repetitive artifice becomes clear over time. There is no natural foodchain being sustained. Therein lies what bugs me about the show.
It's not the "pain" or "cruelty," since the scientific consensus is that insects do not feel pain. It's not the gore; at least somebody's getting a survival meal out of it, unlike CSI or Fear Factor. Adding to the blood sport feel are the two charming entomologists who serve as sports commentators, though there's no banter between them.
Animals eating in zoos is boring television fodder. We've seen every kind of sport. Nature shows have a limited audience. Everyone hates bugs. Graphic death is entertaining, and eating gross stuff is neat. At the bizarre nexus of these focus-group suppositions is Monster Bug Wars, satisfying numerous spectator impulses for its own sake, but without the integrity to admit it's more cockfight than natural phenomenon. It's a paint-by-numbers of the perverse tastes television has fostered in us, and the smallest circus maximus about the smallest gladiators that everyone is glad to see dead.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
As with most sound composition not driven by melody, rhythm or vocals, this benefits most from proper headphones.
Glad I dug this out of the attic, hope you enjoy.
1. Saint Noise
2. Saint Fear
3. Saint Plunder
4. Saint Sleaze
5-14. Big City Orchestra Sound Effects Library, Volume 1: Tracks 1-10.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
FGPlex is always on the lookout for cultural documents that memorialize key historical moments. Such is the presently ongoing public workers’ strike in Wisconsin against Gov. Walker’s effort to deprive public workers’ unions of their collective bargaining rights. A great deal is at stake: the leverage of unions nationwide in a time of quasi-fascist (classical definition) ascendancy, the successfulness of Walker’s bait-and-sink budget strategy, even the Republican presidential candidacy for 2012. For if Walker pulls a PATCO on the unions, he’ll look more demoniacally conservative than any other current GOP candidate. He’ll be the Reagan Revanant.
Which reminds me of great union-busters gone by: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. As I understand these, Reagan didn’t want to allow the federally-employed air traffic controllers a 32-hour workweek. He gave the striking 13,000 (of 17,000) 48 hours to return to work or get the sack. They didn’t, and he did—so we spent years training up new ones and there could have been monthly plane crashes, but luck held. This bold gelding set a precedent that continues to this day, of corporate revanche over FDR’s “welfare state.”
Thatcher did the same thing with striking coal miners, around the same time. Her government wanted to close coal pits all over the U.K., and laid up supplies in anticipation of a coal miners’ strike. The country did not go dark, the police stood firm with Thatcher, people were beaten and jailed (a few killed), the strike dragged on forever and lost momentum, finally crumbling.
Reagan had quoted Coolidge on public safety; Thatcher used military language and referenced her successful little dirty war: “We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.” Welfare benefits were withheld from the families of striking miners, and they slowly starved despite the aid of NGOs.
During those benighted times, the socialist industrial band Test Dept. collaborated on an album with the South Wales Striking Miners’ Choir. Some exhortatory standards (Comrades in Arms, Stout Hearted Men, Take Me Home) are delivered with bracing style:
“Give me some men who are stouted hearted men/Who will fight for the right they adore/Start me with ten, who are stout hearted men/And I'll soon give you ten thousand more” —Stout Hearted Men (a propos, considering WI’s demonstrators number in the tens of thousands)
…rounded out by a couple monologues by Welshmen about Welsh vs. English culture:
“[The English, on trains] will put up their newspapers as a fortification against familiarity.”
…and the strike (video above): “I’ve been arrested twice and now the bail conditions are that I can’t go out again to go picketing. There’s a conspiracy by the police and the magistrates to stop us from winning this strike…now they’ve come for the trade union movement! You’ve got to get off your ass to help us!”
All this is rounded off by some industrial percussion and effects work pieces...must be the only album of industrial action about industrial action (haha). The whole package is a time capsule, timely yet. Listen in the spirit of Wisconsin, birthplace of the first public workers’ union, for I suspect this is no less a rubicon than PATCO or the mine strike.
Download the album (out of print) HERE
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
A Commute’s Commutation: Or, From Transit Flatlined to Guyanese Prostitutes Discussed in a Humvee
The routine indifference of the State towards its “constituents” is most evident during crises. At best its posture oscillates between indifference and impotence, as in Bush II’s Katrina response or the 2010 Pakistan floods. Sometimes it costs elected officials: Mayor Bilandic of Chicago lost in 1979 after two feet of snow went uncleared; New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has suffered the worst approval ratings since he took office in 2002 over NYC’s snow dumps. And citizens complain, often while shirking their own duties.
The blizzard that hit New York City the week of January 23, 2010 closed all transit routes. I was supposed to get a car home from work at 2330 as usual, but there were three-hour delays as the wet, sticky snow piled up outside. By the time I left my office at 0030 without a car, four vehicles clogged the intersection beside the building. Helpless New York drivers spun their tires and the streets stank of burned rubber.
At the station I ran to catch the train because I still hadn’t heard from the car service and cabs were obviously out of the question. The snow was stinging and fragmentary, literally blinding and driven through clothes.
Having never taken that train back home, I was surprised when it was local, and worried about getting to the commuter rail station on time. I was three minutes past the rail’s departure time of 0200 when I dashed up the stairs and past a bank of monitors reading “NO PASSENGERS”, ending in a huge monitor announcing a system-wide shutdown.
This station is a rare meeting-point of commuter rail, subway and light rail to an airport. As such it’s bright, loud and huge 24 hours a day, a poster child for eminent domain laws. So is the neighborhood that it occupies, notwithstanding the blandishments of the city that Subway, Old Navy, Bank of America and Chase are improvements following on the station. As I was to discover, it was nice of Bank of America to provide housing.
The light rail entrance was too complicated to rest at. A man bent in half smoking a cigarette was there, and so was a man asleep standing up. A Transit Authority employee chased people out of areas cordoned off without clear reason; two women tried to sit where it was clean, and one screamed at this impassive man about being paid to chase people off clean areas. He muttered expletives. They went off to huddle in a muddy sandy corner. You couldn’t even pay to pass the cordoned turnstiles to sit at the light-rail station.
In this museum of civilized inhumanity I thought it best to slog 6 miles through the snow and turned on my phone GPS, zipping up and ripstopping everything to stay warm. This trek proved foolish, especially when I provided entertainment for some gentlemen of leisure lingering around the 24-hour McDonalds, across the street from a 24-hour Burger King. I made it about 15 blocks before I started looking for an ATM to call my fiancée, who could pick me up. The first one was a homeless bunker with cardboard, the second was open during daylight, the third was a homeless bunker, and the fourth was a Bank of America full of mud. The beep that tells you to open the door after swiping your card was busted at “on,” and so was the door, so I called from there.
Outside a car had been stuck against the curb, spinning its wheels against an incline and a sunken drain grate. I thought of my fiancée doing that halfway through the call (right around when she actually woke up) and told her never mind. A call to our local car service showed they’d packed it in too.
Walking back to the station past my McDonalds audience, one started screaming. My sunny disposition was starting to dim and I was soaked through. A man shoveling out an industrial garage with gusto made a joke about riding my scooter as I passed, and I was instantly cheered because he obviously wasn’t fussed that he had to shovel out parking for a Bradley.
On returning to the transit megaplex, I looked for someplace to sit and be warm, but there was none because that would have encouraged people like Bent Smoker and Sleeping Standing to move in. You could stand and be warm or sit and be cold, so I toggled between them—discovering when my nose thawed that Bent Smoker had last bathed when “Yes We Can” meant something.
I learned from a cop talking loudly to a still louder Jamaican gynaecologist (he volunteered this to all and sundry) that Bent Smoker, Sleeping Standing and some ball in a corner were waiting for the nearby methadone clinic to open, which explained why they could fall asleep leaning on trash cans. They had probably started on smack around the time that the “jazz musician heroin death” stereotype was minted.
HUMVEE EVAC…the punchline
Two hours later a kid in Louis Vuitton shoes waved at me near my headphones, which were drowning out the Jamaican gynaecologist so I could read. He asked me if I wanted a ride for ten or fifteen bucks. I had always been annoyed at the indie cabs, but couldn’t have been happier to see this one. Unfortunately his jeep was full, so he said he’d be back in an hour to get me if I were still there.
At 0600, I was still there, sitting on a marble counter only slightly warmer than the stone floor. The only commuter rail trains were running to the same station in the city I’d come from, already serviced by the subway. The kid led me outside to a sky-blue Humvee that had slammed itself a place in a snowdrift. His brother was driving, and I was the only taker for the ride. Typical of the neighborhood, a little rearview-mirror flag announced their ethnicity: Costa Rican.
They’d been driving since 1230: 17 hours. During the NYC Christmas snowstorm, they’d gone out for a snack and seen people huddled at a bus stop. They’d been there for 3 hours, and the brother thought to offer them a ride for a pittance. “They were practically climbing on the car,” the kid recalled. His brother said they made $40. As if to illustrate, they stopped by a guy dressed like a laborer and asked in Spanish if he wanted a ride. He hopped in for five dollars and we were off again.
It was striking how few people took them up on their offer. They would rather wait for buses that had been cancelled. But they were risking their lives and expensive car to give rides to broke strangers! Beer-bonging gas, the Humvee moved and stopped effortlessly, and I savored the irony of being saved by a conceptual enemy. An old man got in and we were full, but he didn’t speak anything anyone understood. The Costa Ricans were puzzled and discreetly amused at his ramblings.
I’ve listened to a lot of dub poetry in fairly deep patois over the years, and after this one-toothed oldster jabbered away for a while I realized he WAS speaking English—but creolized. “You’re wearing four pairs of pants?!” I exclaimed, and while the Costa Ricans laughed he said it was so much warmer in his country, he couldn’t live in this cold. This scion of English was almost as hard to grasp as a French Creole:
“You know what time I been out there since four o’clock I’ve been out there…Four pants I’ve got on me and I’m still feeling fucking cold.” / “You’re wearing four pairs of pants?” / “Yeah yeah four pairs of pants I’ve got on me!” / “It’s not so cold, you don’t need that now.” / “NOT COLD? …You fucking American you…your fucking country not cold?” / “Where you from?” / “From Guyana.” / “It’s hot there.” / “Hot hot hot!”
It was only when he combined monologues on drinking too much rum and “poosey” that we realized we had picked up the dirty old misogynistic Granddad who tells nasty jokes, complains about the man exploiting him and brags about how much money he has (in Guyana of course). He had the foulest mouth of any pensioner I’ve met, and I worked for years in a retirement home—even the foulest mouth I’ve heard bar none. Apparently Guyanese prostitutes are the best, but “dey na suck dick ova deyah in Guyana.” I have more video, but this is some of the more intelligible. It was still night and I was trying to be stealthy, so hardly a thing can be seen. He almost cracks up at one point, so you have to suspect this is all some deep theater. This translation is sketchy too.
“They not suck dick over there in Guyana. Only them fucking nasty ones…you give them thousand dollar, come man and clean it out (?)…Anything you care for you give a fucking twenty dollars them, you forget and fuck them all over suck them you hard, you suck them all over they fuck you.”
He was telling us a yarn about a traffic stop in Guyana for watching porn on an overhead DVD while driving when we got to my place at 0645. My Korean neighbors, ever industrious and shoveling instead of snowblowing like all melanoid locals, were astonished at this personnel carrier pulling up in front of their driveway. The Korean mom just gaped, shovel in midair. Nasty Gramps thought they wanted a ride, so he started to roll down the window—but the kid quickly talked him out of that. I got out as quickly as I could to reassure them, and paid the brother $30 for a ride that might have cost that under normal circumstances. Breaking practice and principle, I told them "God Bless."
I don’t truck much in “the [value] of the human spirit,” but sometimes the individual exceeds/accedes the state.
Friday, January 7, 2011
Though I spent many a teenage night in Denny’s drinking decaf until I hallucinated, I’m not a fan of monolithic chains. I had to be dragged to a P.F. Chang's recently, which interestingly enough is not only in the States but also in Mexico City, Kuwait and the UAE. I’m sure there’s some geocultural commentary there, but that’s not the point. Full disclosure: I enjoyed the food far more than I had expected.
I won’t pretend I’m above playing Angry Birds; Salman Rushdie does it with pride. But I'm an adult playing on an Android phone (often with the audio off and listening to Democracy Now!), not as a kid on an iPad at a table full of boring adults. I would have loved to read a book at table when little, but ironically that was not allowed; no one took any issue with this kid pictured, and occasionally adjacent others, being completely absorbed in this game that was illuminating half the party. This just seemed peculiar and alienated to me, like the generation gap just became a concertina-wired moat with vats of boiling oil poised above. Can anyone argue that this social milieu is an improvement?
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
All recordings are merely sketches. The quality is not representative.
While in Puerto Rico, I saw the above street music performance in a public square. It was free and attended by all ages. Songs were played that got every age group dancing at the same time, from children to older folks who'd barely budge in the U.S. (proper) without The Clapper and Life Alert – and they moved without the deliberate delicacy and caution so common among the elderly in the mainland. It was beautiful, and I teared up thinking of how unfamiliar such a thing is in the states as I've seen them.
I thought about local culture, and how much you hear about that from someone waving radicchio at a farmer’s market. In this case, it’s not about things grown 200 miles away that you drive 15 miles to buy. It’s routine life, not a commodity, and it’s free so everyone can enjoy it together.
Happily, something like that still happens in the States, though. I quite incidentally heard from an older acquaintance about a Christmastime doo-wop show in a local theater. It sounded like fun, and though the tickets were $35 (steep for me, for a night’s diversion) I went – and was totally floored by the performances I heard. A schmaltzy old Jewish guy, who owned the theater, would get on stage periodically and make awesome nasty jokes and other schtick by way of entr'acte.
The singers had been into doo-wop for the better part of their lives, given their ages and the spirit with which most of them performed. Occasionally they would tell something about the singles they were covering, when they were released, on what label, and folks in the audience would comment or “mmm” in enthusiastic support. I should probably mention that the majority of the audience and performers were white, which belies doo-wop’s origins. That happened to jazz, and blues, but not to hip-hop (probably because commercially and socially, it can be reprogrammed and deployed as a mole).
A large black woman was sitting near me, and conspicuously fell asleep for most of the show, which were classic love songs almost to a one. I couldn’t see why she’d paid $35 to be sandwiched and wedged until we were told The Persuasions were on next. Even in my doo-wop-proof bunker, I had heard who they were.
They were amazing…and flexed political. The large black woman woke up the moment they appeared, to shout that they were the fathers of doo-wop. Old Man River and Buffalo Soldier were braided into medleys, and discussions of slavery, house versus field slave dialectics, and union membership took place in skits that knitted their medleys together. At one point they seemed to acknowledge they might be alienating their white audience by covering Under the Boardwalk, but then even Africanized that by insisting on call-and-response and involving the audience: one member took his mic around to the seats and tried to get folks to sing. One white guy made a game effort, and a white woman was so embarrassed to have the theater watching her that she giggled through most of her 15 seconds. I admired The Persuasions’ boldness, which appeared more as infectious, veteran confidence. It was unchained, off the chain, denied even the possibility of chains.
These two things are examples of what I wish we USers, who pioneered globalization as our last sweeping gesture of significance, cared about. In a Christmas season festooned with economic recovery baubles ("Silver Bulls, Silver Bulls / it's Christmastime on the market") and orgiastic Black Friday coverage, this was the sort of localized cultural event that radiated me the elusive holiday cheer. Can’t we still share regional things that are not dictated by enormous international concerns? It was a fine Christmas present to see that we could, in a quiet corner of a senescing suburb – though a sad footnote that most of the attendees were old enough to be my grandparents.