The New York Times has an article on the dismal approval rate of South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, down to an appalling 11 percent.
The article makes the point that Roh's unpopularity has little to do with the North Korean issue, which people across the political spectrum recognize as intractable for any political party. The primary issue is the economy, but the article also argues that the reason the economy has come so sharply into focus is that Roh has been largely successful at what he was elected to do: give greater independence to prosecutors in pursuing corruption, stop using tax collectors and intelligence agencies for political ends, and push democratization forward.
Now voters want to use their enhanced democracy to vote for someone else. They're frustrated by high real estate and education costs, stagnating wages, high unemployment, and President Roh's fixation despite all this on ideological issues such as collaboration during the Japanese occupation.
What will all this mean for my little corner of the South Korean government? Hard to say, except that I hope a focus on the economy will mean we can at last get some cost-of-living raises.
I do think the article is salutary, however, for making it clear just how little the internal politics of South Korea have to do with the issues Americans associate with the country. This should be a reminder that the politics in most countries is not primarily about us, but about them. Iraqi factions are almost certainly more interested in the politics of their country and region than in our midterm elections, and spikes in violence shouldn't be read as secret coded messages to us. The Iranian election of Ahmadinejad and the Palestinian election of Hamas likewise were not gestures of defiance aimed at America, but political calculations based on an intimate concern with the politics of those respective countries. Sometimes, an election is just an election.
Katamari Damacy is a surreal Japanese video game whose name means "the spirit of clumping," or more simply, "clump spirit." The goal of the game and the mode of play are fairly simple but different from anything else I've ever played: you roll a ball (the katamari) around various environments, picking up all kinds of objects as you go — paper clips, people, elephants, chopsticks. As you collect objects, the katamari grows, allowing you to pick up ever bigger items. (You can see what this actually looks like here.) The game is presided over by a king whose speaking voice is record scratching and who either praises your success or shoots lasers out of his eyes when you fail. (He also has great legs and a psychedelic cylindrical pillow permanently lodged behind his head.)
What makes the game so compelling is the elaborate, creative, surreal universe in which you operate — not to mention its zany, sometimes dark humor — and part of that effect is achieved by the music, which consists of thoroughly loopy J-pop and a pair pieces for full orchestra, recorded with appropriate theatrical bombast.
I wish I could tell you who the artists are, but I can't find that information anywhere. Still, you can buy the soundtrack at YesAsia.com.
In the comments on a TPM Café piece on Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to the Christian right, I ran across this fascinating passage from Exodus 21:22-25 (New International Version):
22 If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [or she has a miscarriage] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
There's a little ambiguity over what exactly is meant by "gives birth prematurely," but it seems clear from context — and from the state of medical technology in Biblical times, which would have been insufficient to keep a seriously premature baby alive — that this passage is describing the death of a fetus. (The bracketed interpolation is theirs, not mine.)
A very clear distinction is then made between the killing of a fetus, for which a fine is incurred, and "serious injury," which can apparently be inflicted only on the living woman, not on the unborn fetus. Fetuses, then, are distinctly in a separate category from actual people. Those who insist that abortion is murder are thus rejecting the legal definitions set forth in the Book of Exodus, which most Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians recognize as the word of God.
Interestingly, this passage is actually used by pro-lifers to support their position because it penalizes the killing of a fetus. That seems unarguable, but based on the above passage, it would seem more Biblically correct to demand a ban on cars and guns than on abortion, because maiming and death as a result of auto and gun accidents is relatively common and clearly considered more serious by the Biblical God than the death of a fetus.
Of course, no such thing will ever happen (or should). Just as a few verses are plucked from the Bible to justify a culturally based revulsion against homosexuality, the Biblical justifications for banning abortion are ex post facto, chosen to support a preexisting political position. (Indeed, this cherry-picking approach is regularly applied by people who consider themselves Biblical literalists. I would be fascinated to see a serious effort to construct a complete world view starting with the Bible and rejecting any outside sources that contradict the Bible — a modern Karaite movement, as it were — but I suppose the many contradictions within the Bible itself would make such an effort nearly impossible.)
Why abortion is so controversial is not an easy question to answer, but the reasons should be sought in the structure of our society today and in its recent history, not in the Bible. Note: For those who prefer it, the King James version is less ambiguous:
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
While we're on the subject of eighties music, let's remember that there was something going on other than synth pop. It's the Seattle grunge scene that got really famous, but in San Francisco, there was an earlier anti-fashion scene full of rage, heavy guitars and sloppily dressed rockers: thrash metal.
After the massive success of Seven and the Ragged Tiger and Arena, Duran Duran began to fragment, but productively. John and Andy Taylor, the guitarist and bass player respectively, joined up with Robert Palmer to form Power Station, innovating a kind of synthetic soul rock that would stay current for the rest of the decade. (INXS, anyone?) Their first hit was a cover of T-Rex's "Bang a Gong," but they scored much bigger with "Some Like It Hot," which is sort of a sexified "The Wild Boys." The biggest sonic difference from Duran Duran comes at the guitar solo, in which John Taylor lets loose with a burst of Eddie Van Halen-style high-speed licks where one would expect something more layered and processed. The video is ugly but fascinating.
Less successful, and much less fun, was Arcadia, the side project of Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor. As Attack of the Clones is to the earlier Star Wars films, so is the very long video for "Election Day," Arcadia's biggest hit, to the earlier Duran Duran videos. It kind of sounds like Duran Duran, and it kind of looks like a Duran Duran video, but the life is drained out of it. Somewhere along the line, they seem to have forgotten that this shit is kind of funny. (Musically, it probably didn't help that they had Sting, David Gilmour and Herbie Hancock involved.)
Even more pretentious is "Promise," whose video telegraphs seriousness by being in black and white and consists of doomful images of Cold War weaponry, the devastation of war and zebras fighting (no, really). The song itself is dreadful and made worse by the use of a super-trendy South African bass groove.
Duran Duran did come back together once more, in all its glory, to record a final #1 hit: "A View to a Kill." The band seems to be having fun again, and Simon Le Bon's yodel is in top form. In the video, they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they play silly spy games on the Eiffel Tower, and who can resist Le Bon's hammy self-introduction at the end of the video as "Bon ... Simon Le Bon"?
But music was moving on, and Duran Duran didn't have an easy time of it. They released Notorious in 1986, and it did produce a major hit with its title track, but only three of the original five members had participated in the recording, and though "Notorious" is a fine example of mid-eighties white funk, the magic was gone. Against Peter Gabriel's gigantic hit record So, with its spectacular videos for brilliant, intelligent songs — "Big Time," "In Your Eyes," and especially "Sledgehammer" — "Notorious," song and video, couldn't help but seem limp.
In 1987, Duran Duran released the video for "Skin Trade," also from Notorious. Simon Le Bon gives a nice performance, but again, neither the song nor the video offers anything grand, new or impressive on the scale of what had come before. It's not bad, just ordinary.
From 1988's Big Thing, "I Don't Want Your Love" is a bit of an improvement, especially in terms of the video, which goes back to having some kind of theme and shows some visual flair. The song itself moves in a house music direction, which at the time is actually pretty with it, if not quite ahead of the curve. Still, it's easy to hear a song like "I Don't Want Your Love" prefiguring EMF's "Unbelievable."
After that long dearth, the Depeche Mode-influenced "All She Wants Is" is a welcome return to something like form. It's sexy, for one thing, sexier than any of the band's singles since their Rio days. And the video looks good, in a way that their recent videos simply hadn't. (Also, this song has a certain positive association in my head because my middle school friend Jon's friend Heather, a freakishly beautiful redhead who had a taste for black stretch tube dresses and was 18 but willing to let me hang out with her — I even went with her and her friends to see Aerosmith and Skid Row at the Cow Palace — could do a perfect imitation of that little moan-yelp sample towards the end of the song.)
The Big Thing period ends with an unfortunate attempt at seriousness, "Do You Believe in Shame?" a rambling ballad that steals its melody line from, of all things, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Suzy Q" and should be charged with one count of Indian drone abuse.
Things get even sadder with 1990's Liberty, which came out at exactly the wrong moment for a Duran Duran resurgence, as the slick, synthetic eighties were giving way to the earthy, grungy nineties. The results are predictably grim. The first single, "Violence of Summer," is like an imaginary terrible song from INXS's Kick, and the video has Le Bon strutting around like an aging George Michael. From the band that wrote the choruses to "Union of the Snake," "The Reflex" and "Is There Something I Should Know?" this is flaccid songwriting indeed, and the "chi-na-na-na" chant is just embarrassing.
"Serious," is only slightly better. If it had been the product of an Australian band in the heyday of Men at Work, it might have been an acceptable hit. On the other hand, the band's forced levity in the video — with a black guy! — gives the whole affair the feel of an ad for khakis.
1993's The Wedding Album, then, was a surprise. This was way before any eighties revival, but the album was a hit, to a great extent on the strength of its lovely lead single, the ballad "Ordinary World," which recaptures some of the feel of the first three albums (though mixed with a hearty dose of aging-rocker schmaltz).
The followup hit, "Come Undone," likewise sounds a bit like Seven and the Ragged Tiger-era deep tracks, though of course its house beat is distinctly turn-of-the-nineties. What stands out, though, is that, like "Ordinary World," it's a lovely song.
The final single, "Too Much Information," is a fun, well crafted little romp that includes, strangely enough, lyrics that mean something concrete. Indeed, it's a clever dig at their own lunatic success. Musically, they're still channeling INXS plus EMF, but they're doing it well. (It's also the first video in which Simon Le Bon is adequately tortured since "The Wild Boys.")
If you were a rock band that had just had its first hit record in years, what would your next move be? Probably not a Quixotic cover album, but that's where Duran Duran went, releasing "Thank You," on which they cover the likes of Lou Reed, Sly and the Family Stone, and most notoriously, Public Enemy — their cover of "911 is a Joke" has to be heard to be believed.
The first single was "Perfect Day," by Lou Reed, and is delivered with appropriate drugginess. The video keeps the mood with its color-saturated red padded cell.
More startling is their cover of "White Lines," by rap pioneer Grandmaster Flash, which opens with a heavy emphasis on the word "white" (really). In the video, the band poses as an actual rock band, and musically they pull off a kind of thrash-funk version of themselves. The whole thing is kind of a disaster, but certainly one of Duran Duran's most interesting disasters over the years. After the success of The Wedding Album, this nearly killed the band.
At this point, John Taylor left the group to join Neurotic Outsiders, a metal band whose other members were Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum of Guns N' Roses.
But back to Duran Duran. Now down to two original members, the group released Medazzaland, or at least they sort of released it. After the disaster that was Thank You, EMI at last dropped Duran Duran, and the new record was only released in the US, not in Europe. Still, its first single, "Out of My Mind" (no embedding), managed to get inserted into the soundtrack of The Saint. It's actually not bad, and the band does put on its New Romantic duds for the video.
"Electric Barbarella," recalling the band's namesake, is also a kind of throwback: a techno dance song that tries (but sort of fails) to have a memorable chorus. With its sexy video, the song managed to be a minor hit in both the UK and the US, but it ain't no "Girls on Film."
By the time of Pop Trash, released in 2000, there was little left to the limping trio. "Someone Else, Not Me" is a faintly psychedelic ballad that is not immediately offensive.
But by now enough time had passed since their heyday that Duran Duran could sell out shows on the strength of their classic material. What surprised people was that there was new material as well, and that they liked it. The result was Astronaut, the first Duran Duran recording since "View to a Kill" to include all five original members of the band. (Poor Warren Cuccurullo, an Italian from Canarsie who had been a session musician and then a member from Notorious through Pop Trash — the lean years, in other words — was booted to make way for the lineup people actually cared about.) The first single, "(Reach Up for the) Sunrise" is not exactly a return to form, nor is it particularly compelling as something new. It somehow sounds like an old band reunited, though I can't put my finger on why. But it exists, and here it is.
I don't know, maybe it's the messaginess of the songs. In "What Happens Tomorrow," Simon Le Bon declares that "You've got to believe it will be all right in the morning," and that's a pretty good summary of the lyrics. I much prefer Duran Duran's lyrics from back when they were all coked up and didn't make any sense at all.
Sadly, another Duran Duran record is expected next year.
Once there was a band that in the early eighties carved out a unique sound and image that were widely copied. They innovated constantly, taking new stylistic leaps with each album and producing gorgeous, visually sophisticated videos for their many hit singles. I'm not talking about The Cure, Talking Heads, Blondie or The Cars, but about a band usually written off as pretty-boy followers. I'm talking about Duran Duran.
Duran Duran have always been easy to mock. First of all, they were very pretty, and they flaunted it, incorporating fashion into their self-presentation. But that puts them in the same camp as Roxy Music, David Bowie and Andre 3000. Second, their sound was heavily synthetic, with every instrument, including Simon Le Bon's unusual voice, sounding electronically processed. But again, how different is that from Devo or Kraftwerk? Third — and possibly this is what really drove the rock critics nuts — they were enormously popular.
But set aside the critics and the mockery for a moment. I remember Duran Duran from when I was a kid, first noticing pop music at about age nine, in 1983, when "Union of the Snake" was getting Top 40 radio play. I loved them instantly. They sounded great, and they still do. Other artists I grasped instantly included Cindi Lauper, Van Halen and Quiet Riot, and on the whole, I think I was right. This was before I learned which bands I was supposed to like because they were cool — before I rejected music that sounded good because it wasn't metal, for example — so my responses were fairly pure. Not sophisticated, but not tainted either. (And not wholly unsophisticated: I'd been raised on a steady diet of Beatles, modern jazz and trips to the San Francisco Symphony.)
In my subsequent reordering of my memory to fit the historical picture, I've been too willing to label Duran Duran followers rather than innovators. The official narrative has groups like The Cure and Joy Division out front, but neither created the electronic sheen that was Duran Duran's trademark. Likewise, Talking Heads has already by 1980 invented the angular electro-funk that will define much of the eighties, but they haven't yet harnessed it to a coherent pop vehicle. (Nevertheless, 1980's Remain in Light has more depth, seriousness and beauty than all of Duran Duran's output together.)
Here's Duran Duran's first video, "Planet Earth," beautifully shot and already showing a powerful sense of fashion that is, yes, oh-so-eighties, but is also good and interesting to look at years later. Keep in mind that this is 1981, the same year that the Cure puts out the pleasant but ponderous "Charlotte Sometimes," whose video looks downright shoddy, and "Primary," which is pretty much precisely the sound that Duran Duran proceeds to transcend.
Next we come to an interesting bit of video that Duran Duran used as the backdrop for live performances of their second single, "Careless Memories." It's an anime action adventure — five years before Robotech, three before Transformers.
Two weeks after the launch of MTV, Duran Duran filmed their most notorious video: no, not "Notorious," but "Girls on Film," a racy melange of campy fetishes suited for projection at stylish nightclubs and clearly never meant for basic-cable TV. It is obscene, though in the super-glossy, hyperreal mode of Playboy spreads or Varga girls. It is also an extraordinarily appealing song with a killer bass line, and a video in which every shot is beautiful and the fashion, though outrageous, is also very, very good.
A curious artifact follows: the video for "My Own Way," but not the version of the song that appears on Rio, the band's sophomore record. This version has got disco strings, and the video is flimsier than many by the band, but the Spanish motifs do point the way forward toward the exoticism that would mark the Rio period.
Though their first record did well in the UK, Duran Duran had yet to chart a single in America. That changed with "Hungry Like the Wolf," from Rio, which was also the first of the band's exotic-locale videos (and a clear ripoff of the hugely popular Raiders of the Lost Ark). Shot in Sri Lanka, this video probably shares some of the blame for my Orientalist fascinations later in life.
But listen also to the sound of the song. There's that little tootling keyboard riff throughout, and the snarling, anti-melodic guitars in the solo. And as always, there's John Taylor's grooving New Wave bass line.
The exoticism is even more blatant in "Save a Prayer," the first ballad the band released as a single and a huge hit in the UK (it was not released as a US single). The video is essentially a tourism promotion for mystical Sri Lanka, and possibly the inspiration for those weird background videos that show in karaoke bars. The song itself is lovely, and the most sonically interesting trick is the hitch introduced into the main keyboard line, which mimics the unique yodel-hitch in Le Bon's singing voice, in which transitions from one note to another seem to incorporate a leap to a third, more distant note.
For "Rio," Duran Duran trades Sri Lanka for Antigua, and with the change comes a visual lightness suited to the song. Though it was not even close to their biggest hit, "Rio" seems to have lodged in people's minds as theDuran Duran song and video, and you can see why. The fashion (a year before Miami Vice) is at its peak, the band is stylish and playful, and the music is quintessential: the sixteenth-note keyboard riff floating on top, the buzzsaw guitar, the prominent bass line, and Simon Le Bon's nasal whine leading the whole story.
In 1983, Duran Duran took a step backwards to re-release their eponymous debut LP in the United States, but with one addition: "Is There Something I Should Know?" The new song, which bursts to life with a blast of supercharged tom-tom as a double-tracked Le Bon sings a simplified version of the chorus, was Duran Duran's first UK #1, and a big hit in the US as well. The video casts a backward glance, incorporating clips from earlier videos, but the look is certainly fashion-forward. There are endless Mondrian-inspired cuts and wipes, not to mention an interior set that is stolen two years later for the influential and then-startling ads for Calvin Klein's Obsession.
With 1983's Seven and the Ragged Tiger, Duran Duran continued their saga of synthetic exoticism, complete with an album cover that looked like an inscrutable Dungeons and Dragons map. Everything about the album was huge, especially the sound. The first single, "Union of the Snake," was one of the first contemporary pop songs I ever fell in love with, and I still remember how gigantic and adventurous it sounded. Like many bands of the era, Duran Duran was moving to a kind of synthetic power-soul (with credit due to Bowie), but keep in mind that it's still two years until Robert Palmer finds his new sound (with help from members of Duran Duran), and three until Peter Gabriel releases "Sledgehammer" (which happens to have one of the best music videos ever made).
Their followup single, "New Moon on Monday," is not one of Duran Duran's strongest songs or videos, though it does showcase Le Bon's considerable vocal skills.
What came next, though, was the high point in Duran Duran's career: "The Reflex," a giant #1 hit in America and the UK. The whole song is great, but it's that chorus, with its irresistible vibrato, that really does it — that and the clever variations on the chorus planted throughout, like Easter eggs in a video game. I remember watching this video over at Joey's house when I was a kid — he had cable, back when that involved a brown box on top of your TV set and a lighted switch that you slid along a printed bar of numbers like a slide rule — and waiting anxiously for the cut chorus, then the "why-yai-yai-yai" chorus, then finally the "aawww, the reflex" chorus.
The video looks more dated than many of Duran Duran's, especially because of that terrible wave special effect. Still, it's a good reminder that Duran Duran was a live act. Despite their processed sound, they toured constantly, and their live record, Arena, is surprisingly good.
Speaking of Arena, which you can watch online, I had a period of listening to it constantly and fantasizing about one day writing a novel that would follow its emotional contours. (The novel would, of course, be about my Lego warriors, the Sylvanians, doing battle against the enemy forces of Alto Deto on the jungle planet of Reorilia, where dinosaurs still roamed a landscape with a surprising resemblance to my parents' shag-carpeted conversation pit.)
Arena included one studio track, "The Wild Boys," which was to be the band's last hurrah before they split into side projects. The video is one of their most compelling, set in a sexy sort of industrial nightmare, but there is something overly pushy about the song, something forced and too loud. Le Bon's voice sounds tired, and the beat is a little too Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The trademark sinuous bass is stiffened. Still, the video looks really fucking cool, and that's worth something.
For a while there, Duran Duran were, if not a great band, a band with an incredibly compelling and distinctive sound that melded a wide variety of influences into something new.
Stay tuned for Part 2, in which Duran Duran falls apart, does some interesting side stuff, and then fades slowly into obscurity.
I am reading the book, and I am seeing signs of it everywhere. Said provides a revelatory symptomology of Western intellectualism, arguing that Western intellectual efforts to understand the East ultimately create a kind of imaginary Orient whose purpose is to give the intellectuals power over the actual Orient and at the same time cement the role of the intellectuals as revealers of the true Orient.
Said's narrow focus on the Western intellectual approach to the Orient causes him to overlook two important factors that undermine the charged anger he brings to his book. The first is the degree to which all of the Western scientific effort has been a struggle for mastery over the subjects under investigation, whether they are viruses, Muslims, Native Americans, steam engines, the working classes, the French, etc. The second is the degree to which all intellectual endeavor, Western and non-Western alike, has the effect of reducing raw actuality to categories and types. Nevertheless, his insights into the particular journey of European scholarship are profound.
Said sees modern Orientalism beginning in about the eighteenth century, or the transition from the seventeenth. He does not explain particularly well why this should be the starting point, but an article on the witchcraft trials of baroque Germany reminded me that the latter half of the seventeenth century was marked by the resolution of the longstanding warfare between Protestants and Catholics (the Thirty Years War ended in 1648), and also by renewed Ottoman warfare in Europe. The long period of intra-Christian conflict sustained a divide between us and them that would need to be supplanted by some renewed sense of Christian unity. A shift of focus onto the more distant menace of militant Islam could certainly have served that purpose, just as it had in earlier centuries, during the Crusades.
I'll post more ideas as they come up, as they certainly will. A couple quickies: Last night, in a nature show about Yellowstone in winter, a wilderness photographer spoke precisely the language of Orientalism, positioning himself as the one who is able to reveal this landscape to the wider public so that they can set about preserving it in its timelessness, or even restoring it to an imagined ideal, and also prepare it for the future. It is a language of essentialism, paternalism and romanticism, and it occurs to me that environmentalist adventurism remains one of the few traditional endeavors of romantic imperialism that remains respectable within the liberal establishment. (The others are the delivery of aid, and to a lesser extent, the grand tour.)
Or this: Said's fervor often feels overblown, but then I run across passages that remind me of the intellectual universe in which he was operating when he wrote the book in 1977. For example, at one point Said declares that the study of imperialism is essentially a taboo in the academe, hardly discussed, particularly by American Marxist scholars. Marxist scholars? Right! I forget that just a few decades ago, serious intellectuals of the left were expected to be able at least to navigate the minefields of Marxist thought, even if they ultimately rejected Marxism. Meanwhile, by the time I reached college, the subject of colonialism was everywhere — most certainly a result, at least in part, of Said's groundbreaking work. This intellectual earthquake, and the entrenched worldview that prevailed beforehand, explain many of the more baffling ritual insistences of our professors in college. Jenny had an East Asian literature professor who devoted considerable class time to debunking the theory that Chinese people are sluggish because they live in a hot climate. To students raised on post-Civil Rights-movement curricula, in a world of Japanese high-tech goodies, the whole idea of racial essentialism and sluggish Asians seemed as absurdly archaic as Lamarckian evolution or epicycles, but these ideas were rendered ridiculous only as recently as our early childhoods.
I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a brilliant, beautiful, loving wife, a pleasant home with good friends living nearby, a job I love. My family is doing well. My sister is graduating from college this spring, and my brother, after a period of great personal struggle, is settling happily into college life. I'm thankful for the wealthy democracy I live in, and for the opportunities I had this year to participate in the political process, and for the end results of that process. I'm thankful for a thousand small things: brunch, autumn leaves, the left lane, thermostats, MP3s, well made shoes, wasabi peas, etc.
Life is good. Thank you to everyone who is a part of that for me.
And in honor of the holiday, as I tend to do every year, I will once again repost the fantastic material I gathered from my Korean students when this most American of holidays rolled around back in 2002.
Yesterday for reasons having nothing to do with Thanksgiving and everything to do with inept management, Jenny and I had middle school classes for which the lesson was not pages from a textbook, as usual, but "ACTIVITY." When I asked our boss, Yu-jin, what the ACTIVITY was, she sort of laughed and said, "You make." So among other things to fill the hour, Jenny and I decided to teach our kids about Thanksgiving and have them write what they are thankful for. It ain't as good as eating turkey and stuffing, but reading the results was good fun, and here are the best of them.
In the category of family relations:
I'm thankful for mother. I'm thankful for father. I'm thankful for brother. I'm thankful for sister. I am thankful for my cousins I'm thankful for uncle's son here. I'm thankful for my dog here. I am thankful for my parents because they help me for grow up and they care of me.
In the category of the religious:
I'm thankful for GOD. I am thankful that I can go to church I'm thankful for God Almighty. I am thankful for my zezus.
In the category of the undeniably useful:
I'm thankful for my pen. I am thankful that I can buy things. I'm thankful for oxygen. I am thankful that I can walk I am thankful that I can eat I am thankful that I wear clothes. I am thankful that I can speak Korean I am thankful for house I'm thanksful for my air I am thankful that I can learn I am thankful for weather forecast I am thankful that I was born, I have family and I live in Korea. I am thankful that I can take a shower.
In the category of things yummy:
I am thankful for foods. I'm thankful for eat many food. I'm thankful for I eat past food. I'm thankful for chicken. I'm thankful for pizza. I'm thankful for ice-cream. I'm thankful for cookies.
In the category of the (accidentally?) poetic:
I'm thankful for my favorite thing. I'm thankful for my hate thing. I'm thankful for moon I thankful for my life I thankful for earth. I thankful for many scientist. I'm thankful for HOT. I'm thankful for many trees and many rivers. I'm thankful for mountins. I'm thankful for earth. I'm thankful for windy. I'm thankful for a red sky.
In the category of fun:
I'm thankful that have good time I am thankful that I can see B.S.B. I am thankful that I can watch TV. I am thankful that I can play computer games I am thankful that I can run. I am thankful that read a books. I am thankful that I talk with my friends I am thankful that I can listen to music I am thankful that I can play the piano. I am thankful that I can go to the beach I am thankful that I can swam in the ocean I'm thankful for Christmas. I'm thankful for my birthday. I don't thanful that I have to do my homework
In the category of things that warm a teacher's heart:
I am thankful that I study English I'm thankful for go to the academy. I am thankful for that my teachers are give a knowledge I am thankful that my English teacher are teach me. I am thankful that I can study I am thankful that I have to do my homework I'm thankful for Josh teacher
And in the category of silly English, which reminds me how much work there is to do:
I am thankful that I can see anythings I'm thankful for many money. I'm thankful for born in 1990. I'm thankful for my wear. I'm thankful for car, because we ride a car, we go fast. I'm thankful for shoes, because we don't wear shoes, we hurt our feet I'm thankfor for telephone, because we say hello for our freinds for telephone I am thankful that pencil because write a English and Korean letter Because I learned a lot with they. Because I can see anything. Because I learn at books. I'm thankful for air, rice, head, eye, computer, clothe, money, my house, Korean, pencil, brother, glasses.
I stumbled upon a fascinating artifact, on the Locust St. music blog, of all places: an open letter from Bill Gates, "General Partner, Micro-Soft," written on February 3, 1976:
An Open Letter to Hobbyists
To me, the most critical thing in the hobby market right now is the lack of good software courses, books and software itself. Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted. Will quality software be written for the hobby market?
Almost a year ago, Paul Allen and myself, expecting the hobby market to expand, hired Monte Davidoff and developed Altair BASIC. Though the initial work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC. Now we have 4K, 8K, EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC. The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000.
The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour.
Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?
Is this fair? One thing you don't do by stealing software is get back at MITS for some problem you may have had. MITS doesn't make money selling software. The royalty paid to us, the manual, the tape and the overhead make it a break-even operation. One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written. Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free? The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software. We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.
What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they making money on hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported to us may lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at.
I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a suggestion or comment. Just write to me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87108. Nothing would please me more than being able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.
Bill Gates General Partner, Micro-Soft
The more things change, the more they stay the same. I can't find any great sourcing for this letter, but here's a fuller version than what's on the Locust St. site.
I just received the startling and sad news that one of my high school classmates, Robert Paoli, has passed away.
I was never close to Rob. I remember him as a very big guy who played football and wore shorts all winter. In the years since I last saw him, he rose to captain of the volunteer firefighter corps in Marinwood — the fire department that would put out the grass fires that broke out on the hills around my Lucas Valley home every summer. He also went to Louisiana to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In my memory, Rob was never unkind. His obituary makes it clear that he was loved by many. It's a sad loss. He is survived by his wife and his five-year-old daughter. A trust fund has been set up for the family, and the information for donating is in the article.
Okay, so what the hell is wrong with Sasha Frere-Jones?
I recognize that SFJ, the pop music critic for the New Yorker, is an anti-rockist, and not much of a rocker. His opinions on UK hip-hop have been revelatory, at least to me, alerting me to the thrilling music of M.I.A., Lady Sovereign and Lilly Allen. His efforts to expose the US to the London grime scene are to be applauded, even if I don't quite share his passion for Dizzee Rascal.
But when it comes to rock, it's like the man's retarded. Back in June, this is what he had to say about Radiohead:
I seem to know about a hundred [Radiohead] fans, and they constantly urge me to give the band a chance. Until recently, I hadn’t seen much point in doing so.
Okay. Fine. Not everyone has to like Radiohead. I would have been willing to let it pass — especially considering that the review was ultimately positive — except that this week, SFJ has chosen to go all jelly-kneed over Deftones, of all bands.
SFJ rightly puts Deftones in the nu metal camp, which also includes such wanky bands as Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and Korn. (Apparently hip-hop spelling techniques are a hazard of the genre.) I dabbled in nu metal back when I was a metalhead, and I found it to be the musical equivalent of staying in your room to get high and jerk off: it sort of feels good even though it's also sort of depressing, and even though it occasionally seems meaningful at the time, it leaves you with a hollow feeling of life wasted.
The thing is, of all the nu metal bands, Deftones sound the most like Radiohead (who could conceivably have been considered nu metal back when they were still a guitar band). First, check out the video for Minerva, by Deftones, from their fourth album, which SFJ calls "nearly perfect." Wanky, right? But Chino Moreno's voice somewhat resemble's Thom Yorke's, and the wall of heavy sound is a tool Radiohead also has in its arsenal.
Then check out the video for Radiohead'sParanoid Android. (The point here is really the music, so just listen, don't necessarily watch.) The song moves through moods and phases and episodes with precision, depth and clarity. Its odd noises are better, and so are its soaring melodies, its quiet bits, and just about everything else.
So what the hell is wrong with SFJ? I mean, freaking nu metal? It's one thing to be an iconoclast, and certainly rock critics as a group are always in need of deflation. But Deftones is simply not that clever or deep or sonically interesting. The only thing I can think of that makes them worth the New Yorker's page-space is the fact that they are not worthy, so that reviewing them anyway seems a little daring.
It isn't. They're just a mediocre band that sounds an awful lot like a number of other mediocre bands. SFJ has gotten away with praising a pet band of his in the New Yorker, but at the cost of revealing once and for all that he hasn't the foggiest notion of what makes for good rock.
Choice quote from Bush: "Actually, I thought we were gonna do fine yesterday. Shows what I know." Indeed. "I thought we were gonna do fine" has been the approach of this administration — and of Donald Rumsfeld — throughout the protracted disaster that they wrought in Iraq.
The leader of Nepal's Maoist rebellion, Prachanda, today renounced the path of violence and agreed to dissolve his parallel government that operates across much of Nepal once a new constituent assembly and constitution are adopted.
In return, the rebels will become the second-largest party in the new assembly, which will decide the fate of the king by simple majority vote at its first meeting.
I sincerely hope that this is really, truly a new dawn for this lovely, welcoming, beautiful country.
As my cousin Louise put it, "It's not an election, it is an intervention."
It seems to have worked.
In October of 2001, just weeks after 9/11, Jenny and I left the country for 18 months. While we were away, the Patriot Act was passed, a plane crashed in Queens, a sniper terrorized the Mid-Atlantic states, mysterious parcels of anthrax appeared in the offices of the mainstream media and elsewhere, shoes in airports were rendered ominous, the specter of Iraqi WMDs was raised, the UN was pushed aside and a war was begun. Just days after our return home, the president stood under a "Mission Accomplished" sign.
The country we came home to in 2003 was a very uptight place — uptight in a 1950s way, though the threat we faced was much smaller than that posed by the Soviets, and the trauma we'd come through was also much smaller. In 2004, the ongoing war was invoked to keep Bush in power.
Now, though, the war has dragged on for another two years, and it has become clear that no one in charge has any notion of how to end it. Katrina, I think, was a tipping point: people saw that our government, given days of advance warning, couldn't deliver food, clean water, electricity or medical care to thousands upon thousands of its own citizens in an emergency on its own soil, which raised doubts about how well they could deliver those things to millions of Iraqis in the midst of an ongoing war. Since then, things in Iraq have only gotten worse.
Americans like to think of ourselves as good, and we like to have fun. The war is no good and no fun. I hope that America lightens up again in the coming years — that we give up the illusion of perpetual war and recognize the basic reality that we are in fact living in peace, albeit a peace that requires constant vigilance (and when has that not been the case?). The war in Iraq is a disaster that should be ended, while the War on Terror is an amalgam of military, law enforcement and diplomatic efforts that should be much better coordinated and shifted away from their emphasis on brutality.
I want peace. I want it and I think our country should strive for it. I'm hoping that at long last, this point of view will no longer be labeled traitorous.
Governor: Eliot Spitzer (D) Spitzer was a strong, creative attorney general for the State of New York, holding corporations accountable for their malfeasance. He was fortunate to inherit a well-run office from his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani — good fortune that will not be repeated upon his arrival in the Governor's Mansion in Albany. Nevertheless, his demonstrated competence and the grim state of New York politics combine to make Spitzer the obvious choice.
Lieutenant-Governor: David Paterson (D) Okay, I'll admit it: I'm a yellow-dog Dem this year. But why vote for a lieutenant-governor who will hamstring your choice of governor?
Comptroller: Alan Hevesi (D) In this season of accountability, it pains me to say that I'll be voting for a candidate I know to be corrupt (Hevesi had the state pay to chauffeur his wife around for years). Here's my admittedly twisted logic: Hevesi is likely to be forced to resign after the election, at which time he'll be replaced by an appointed Democrat, whereas electing his opponent, Chris Callaghan, means having a Republican in office for the next four years. And even if Hevesi does stay put, see my endorsement for lieutenant-governor.
Attorney General:Andrew Cuomo (D) Another no-brainer. Cuomo leaves much to be desired, but the alternative is a Republican attorney general, and I really, really, really don't want a Republican setting the priorities for law enforcement in New York.
Senator:Hillary Clinton (D) I genuinely like Hillary Clinton as a Senator. She's worked hard to serve her constituents and to build bridges to Republican leaders Upstate. I see no reason not to send her back to the Senate, where I hope she will serve with similar focus and competence for another six years.
Congress (11th District):Yvette Clarke (D) I voted for Yassky in the primary, but Clarke is the Democratic candidate, we need a Democratic Congress in this country, and besides, she's going to win by a ridiculous margin anyway. Who else would I vote for? The Freedom Party candidate?
State Senate (25th District):Ken Diamondstone (Working Families) Diamondstone lost his primary bid against veteran State Senator Martin Connor, but as with Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, Diamondstone has a second chance. Diamondstone opposes the Atlantic Yards project, while Connor does not. More importantly, Connor is part of the stasis in Albany that has made our state governance so abysmal, while Diamondstone would be a fresh voice. From what I can tell, Diamondstone has already given up, but his name is still on the ballot, so I'm going to pull the trigger for him, just like I did in September.
State Assembly (52nd District):Joan L. Millman (D) Woof! Woof! Heeeere, yellow dog! Have a tasty vote! Enjoy a delicious assembly seat! Good yellow doggie!
State Supreme Court Justices:Abstain For 80 years, New York has had a corrupt system in which parties nominate judicial candidates at show-conventions, giving voters essentially no choice. This year, for example, we have two candidates to choose from and two votes to hand out. What this has to do with democracy is anyone's guess, but the party nomination system was recently ruled unconstitutional, so let's hope we have some competitive judicial elections in the future.
Civil Court Judge (1st District):Abstain In this case, it's one candidate for one slot. Ick. See above.
New York City life is not all politics and broken windows. With Jenny working these days down near Wall Street, I thought it would be nice to end our week by meeting somewhere in between for dinner. My colleague Young decided to join us and suggested an excellent Chinatown restaurant we'd never tried, Joe's Shanghai.
Tucked away on narrow Pell Street, Joe's is pretty much the quintessential New York Chinatown dining experience. There's only the barest stab at decor, you have to wait for a table that you'll share with other parties, and the service is rapid and minimally communicative. The only thing that could possibly distinguish Joe's from a dozen similar joints is the food, and Joe's pulls it off.
The specialty, of course, is soup dumplings (pictured above), which are filled with ground meat swimming in their own little pools of rich, vinegary broth. But their other dishes were also exquisite. We tried the shrimp fried rice cake, which consisted of chewy medallions of sticky pounded rice that was somewhere between a noodle and a dumpling, and bean curd home style, which was exquisitely crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. Joe's Shanghai is definitely worthy of return visits!
On our way back to the subway, we stopped for our usual Chinatown desert of egg tarts, this time opting for the Portuguese style, which involves caramelized sugar on top.
We park our car on Lena's Place. This is not the actual name of the street. The actual name is Huntington Street, and we park in the alleyway that dead-ends at the Gowanus Canal, with cement factories on either side and the elevated F-line subway looming overhead, wrapped in its protective black matting to prevent chunks of decaying concrete from falling on peoples heads (and cars).
The block where we park is not a pleasant block. There are piles of broken glass, random garbage, heaps of charred refuse. Lots of used condoms. With no residents, no one seems overly concerned that the city does not in fact clean this particular block. Ever. Which is why we park there: anywhere else and we'd have to move the car for weekly alternate-side street cleaning. But not on Lena's Place. Also, the street is wide enough that we are less likely to get sideswiped and lose a mirror than on other blocks.
The reason we call this block Lena's Place is because that's a better name than Crack Alley, which is what we were calling it before. I have never actually seen anyone do crack on Lena's Place, but it seems like the sort of thing one would do there, or the sort of place where one would do that sort of thing.
In any case, Lena's Place was the name we gave to a restaurant in our little neighborhood of Seoksu Sam-dong back in Korea. We never worked out the restaurant's proper name, but for some time we'd been calling it the Staring Place, in reference to an uncomfortable meal we'd eaten there during which an elderly Korean woman sat across from us and watched the entire time, occasionally giving us complex verbal instructions that we obviously couldn't understand. The restaurant was, however, not half bad, plus they had worked out how to deliver to our apartment without giving us trouble. So we decided we needed a better name for the joint than The Staring Place. It turned out that the owners were the parents of one of my students, a young girl who used Lena as her English name (so we didn't even have her name right). In honor of this middling student whom I occasionally caught cheating, we began referring to the restaurant as Lena's Place rather than The Staring Place.
Unfortunately, renaming can take you only so far. When I went out to the car today to run some errands, I found that the window on the passenger-side door had been smashed in, filling the interior of our car with tiny bits of glass. The vandals had stolen almost nothing — our change tray was tossed on the floor and the change was gone, but a dollar bill was left sitting on the seat, as was a pile of admittedly not very marketable CDs — Pimsleur Russian, a Boss Hog album, some Central Asian music. But the window was gone, glass was everywhere, and worse yet, there were downy feathers all over the interior of the car. Either some pigeons flew in and made sweet love, or else the vandal tore his down jacket on the broken glass. I hope it was the latter, both because that's far less disgusting and because the fucker deserved it.
Fortunately our insurance will cover it. I sort of assumed that if we parked on the street, eventually we would lose a window, so I got the deductible waiver for glass repair. I took it to a place on Fourth Ave. where a pleasant, balding fellow named Mohamed took care of everything in a couple of hours.
So with all the windows back in place, I took the car back home and parked it — where else? — right back on Lena's Place.
So I picked this up from my cousin Louise over at her blog: What music do I link with my various friends and acquaintances? Metallica reminds Louise of me because she knew me back in my middle school days, when I was convinced that Metallica was the greatest band in the world. (I was a serious true believer.)
So I'll start with Louise, and work through other friends to see what I come up with.
Louise:Schoolhouse Rock. I'm just a little too young to have caught Schoolhouse Rock as a kid, so I was introduced to it by Louise.
Jenny: This is a tough one — we've spent so long together now that a lot of music reminds me of her — but after her semester in Salamanca during college, she came home with a CD that she played, slightly apologetically, of a Latin pop star she'd really come to like: Shakira.
Daniel: Daniel and I were music buddies for a long time, and he was instrumental in shaping my current tastes, so as with Jenny, it's kind of meaningless to pin it down to one particular artist. But of all the artists I didn't like until Daniel taught me to hear them, probably my favorite today is Talking Heads.
T: We also shared a lot of music during our long relationship, but two artists in particular stand out: Yukari Fresh, a treasure she found in Japan (and whose music is woefully underappreciated in America), and Solas, the Celtic band good enough to get me to go with Thekla to the town of Doolin in County Clare, Ireland, and while away the evening in a pub, sipping Bulmer's cider and listening to very, very good Irish musicians. (It was a brave sacrifice.) I also think of Thekla in association with Erin McKeown, whom we first saw at the Postcrypt coffee house on the Columbia campus (where I met Thekla) when Erin was just a 19-year-old bundle of hippie wool tumbling in from Brown University to blow our minds at an open stage night, and Noe Venable, who went to high school with T.
Lori: This is the Eskimo one, who I dated back in college, and she's the one who convinced me that I should really give Everclear a try (the band, not the beverage). Their album Sparkle and Fade is the only good thing they ever did, but it's a lyrically rich, underrated gem from the mid-nineties era of post-punk, post-grunge hard rock that would've been working-class except nobody had a job. (Did we really elect a second Bush?)
Berit: The lyrics of Everclear's "Santa Monica" are a good summary of how I felt about my relationship with Berit as it collapsed over the summer when I met Lori. But the musician who brings Berit most strongly to mind is, of course, PJ Harvey, whose power to make Berit squirm with erotic delight was something I could never match.
Lorie: This is the non-Eskimo Lorie, the one I'm still friends with (and really need to call). Back in high school, when we first dated, I spent a lot of time lying in her room, inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke and staring up at her magazine photos of Mike Patton's torso (which was very nice in those days). Lorie and Ashley were rabid fans of Mr. Bungle, Patton's first band (Ash even had the side of her head shaved, just like Mike), and also fans of Faith No More, whose "Epic" video is a classic document of the late-eighties thrash-funk moment, when dressing like Arsenio Hall while rapping over heavy metal briefly seemed like a great idea. (Trivia: Though FNM T-shirts insisted that "THE FISH LIVES!", the fish in fact died. And the answer to the question "What is it?" was widely agreed to be "Losing your virginity.")
Ashley: Ashley was also a music buddy for many years, so there's a ton of music I associate with her, especially all those obscure Bay Area bands we used to go see: Bluchunks, Fungo Mungo, the Limbomaniacs, the Deli Creeps, MCM and the Monster, Dizzybam. But it was later, after I'd come to New York for college and Ashley had moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, that we would spend weekends in her odd little attic apartment above a flower shop on a windswept highway intersection, drowning our loneliness with Rolling Rocks, excessive flirtation and hours of listening to Soundgarden (What is it with Ashley and fish-abuse videos?) and Morphine.
As part of that effort, I did some major editing of a phone script for automated calls, to be delivered by none other than President Bill Clinton. Someone from the Harrison campaign was kind enough to let me hear the finished product, and sure enough, Bill Clinton is reading the script I handed in!
I have been promised a WAV file, but not until after the campaign, just to be sure no obscure regulations or rules of protocol are violated. As soon as I get it, I will of course link to it.
In the meantime, there have been a lot of great developments on the Harrison front, including an extremely tepid endorsement of Fossella by the conservative Staten Island Advance (punchline: "On balance, [Fossela]'s the better candidate for Congress, though we're less than thrilled to concede that") and a very strong endorsement of Harrison from the New York Times. You can read all the latest news on Harrison at Blue Spot.
While the GOP attacks Kerry's botched comments on Iraq, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacks the Republican Congress and the Bush administration for their botched war in Iraq. The difference couldn't be clearer.
In the last few years, there's been a lot of talk about the impact of new technologies and new sources of information on the political process. But the fact remains that the the mainstream media — newspapers, magazines, talk radio and especially television — still set the terms of our public discourse.
That's why the video below is so satisfying: it's the White House press corps literally laughing at and mocking the official Republican spin six days before the midterm elections. Mouthpiece Tony Snow, trying to get some traction with the irrelevant story about John Kerry's unfortunate (and genuinely embarrassing) misstatement, claims he's actually trying to help Kerry by offering him a chance to apologize. And the press corps are having none of it: listen for the question at the end.
This is just further evidence that the GOP is running a campaign almost entirely focused on fantasy. Keep in mind that John Kerry is, at the moment, merely the junior senator from Massachusetts, and not currently running for office. And he's being attacked for a comment that was clearly a slip of the tongue — he failed to say out loud a few crucial words that were on the page in front of him.
What else have the Republicans got? In Virginia, Jim Webb is under attack for the sexual perversions included in his novels about men driven to depravity during the Vietnam War. He's being attacked for depicting horrifying behavior in fiction, while the vice president is out declaring actual horrifying behavior to be a no-brainer. Rush Limbaugh displayed deep confusion between acting and reality when he accused Michael J. Fox of "acting" because he "depicted" the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, which he actually has, instead of coming across smooth and polished, which he may no longer even be able to do.
Other than that, there are scary pictures of Osama Bin Laden — you know, the guy who attacked the United States during the Bush administration and remains at large. Oh, and in Tennessee, you have racist sexual innuendo, backed by nothing. And that's pretty much it. Pure fantasy.