doesn't sticking people in giant domes strike you as rather a perverse way to deal with a refugee problem? i would think decentralizing the problem would be the approach, putting the burden on many communities, shelters etc seems likelier.
''THE sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it,
makes me sick,'' Darwin confided to his son Francis some time before
writing ''The Origin of Species.'' Darwin felt this cumbersome,
apparently useless accouterment undermined his theory that all species'
traits evolved via natural selection to help individuals survive. Not
until he developed his corollary theory of sexual selection did he
realize that such apparently nonfunctional characteristics evolved to
win the mating game. Those peacocks with the most flamboyant tail
feathers attracted more peahens and sired more young, passing on their
genes for this outlandish ornament.
but as i argued briefly in six names of beauty , this approach gets you less than nowhere as an evolutionary approach to beauty. surely if you're going to take natural selection as a kind of global explanation, you must now grapple with the problem of why characteristics that make an animal more vulnerable to predation would exercise a sexual allure. that they sometimes do is not under argument, but is also not compatible with a "rationalistic" or "proper function" or "teleological" conception of natural selection; indeed it's pretty obvious that enough of this will lead a species, via sexual ecstasy, to extinction..
overall this piece is deeply silly. bayle's argument that our popular culture is ubiquitous and interpreted as disgusting all over the world is of course more or less right, and a serious factor in a religious backlash against modernity, abroad but also here. on the other hand the idea that you address this by beefing up government propaganda stations is just asinine: first because of course this does not stem the tide of the real stuff, and second because only idiots don't know that radio sawa or whatever is the merest american propaganda campaign. it's like addressing the rot of the soviet economy with a positive article in tass.
pretty great coda piece by former washpost rock critic david segal. he was one of the best writers on pop music, and i miss his writing. but the sense of burnout, which in a way he denies even as he manifests it, is extremely familiar. i reviewed shows and albums by the hundreds through the eighties, for the washington star, baltimore city paper, record, high fidelity, melody maker, richmond times-dispatch etc, and it actually finally almost killed live music for me; i almost don't care, still, if i see any more music, though i'm not incapable of enjoying a concert. in the late nineties etc i listened to hundreds or thousands of country/alt country/bluegrass albums for my "farm report" column in the nypress. i *still* am not back to country. i think maybe the right approach is: write about music occasionally.
i guess the washpost finally got hold of the whole "race traitor" tradition. i've been thinking about it for some reason in terms of reggae lately, and thinking: how could a white reggae artist connect themselves to the themes of slavery/oppression/black in babylon of marley or roots in general. this would have to be made interesting and not mere self-flagelation, but i think it should go like this: make the socratic realization that it is as great a misfortune to do as to suffer injustice: "we" tore people from their homes, forced them to live in servitude: can jah redeem us? we art babylon: how can we escape/destroy/transcend our own power etc?
in honor of the new stones tour/album, here's a column i wrote for the philly inquirer in 1997:
IT'S ONLY ROCK AND ROLL, AND I LIKE IT
By Crispin Sartwell
October 6, 1997
The Rolling Stones are the best band in the history of rock music. I submit that this can be proven
with mathematical rigor and now propose to do so. Follow this closely.
Sartwell's First Law: The quality of a rock band is inversely proportional to its pretentiousness.
Corollary to Sartwell's First Law: The pretentiousness of a rock band can be expressed as a ratio
of its artistic ambition to its artistic accomplishment. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, the
artistic ambition of the band Yes equals 9, its artistic accomplishment 1. This yields a
pretentiousness ratio of 9:1, one of the very worst in rock history.
The evaluation of rock music is no longer an impressionistic expression of opinion, but rather a
precise, quantitative science. Anyone who disagrees with me from now on is simply irrational.
Some quick applications: The Ramones (1:8) are better than the Talking Heads (7:7). Nirvana
(3:9) is exactly as good as Pearl Jam (9:3) is bad. The worst music ever made (literally) is art
rock: King Crimson (10:1), for example. Early U2 and early Springsteen, who took what were
fundamentally fairly simple ditties and mounted them with an elaborateness usually reserved for
Wagnerian opera, are almost unbelievably overrated.
And finally, the Rolling Stones are much better than the Beatles.
Now admittedly this Stones vs. Beatles thing is decades old. But it rages on.
Both the Stones and the Beatles started out as interpreters of rhythm and blues. They cleaned up
African American music and sold it to the world, a tried and true commercial strategy for white
folks throughout the century, from Benny Goodman to Elvis Presley to Vanilla Ice.
Which brings me to:
Sartwell's Second Law: The quality of a rock song varies inversely as the square of its distance
from the blues. The bluesier the better.
The world's popular music is African American music because African American music is
extremely intense and powerful. If you're playing music in a European tonal framework, you're
not a rock band at all.
The history of rock is the continuation of the history of the blues, both in the way it is made and in
the way it is received (by dancing in bars).
The two laws are connected: When was the last time you saw a pretentious blues band? Rock is a
traditional, as opposed to an avant-garde, art form. The authenticity of a work of traditional art is
measured by the way it venerates and explores the tradition. The authenticity of a work of
avant-garde art is measured by the way it destroys or transcends the past. Avant-garde rockers
have profoundly misunderstood their form.
Something awful happened to the Beatles about 30 years ago, something that happens to most
young rock musicians who achieve extreme success: They mistook themselves for avant-garde
artistes. They made, for example, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a truly bad album. They
lost the blues and, to paraphrase Chuck Berry, started sounding like a symphony, a vapid
symphony. They went baroque.
Now that was exactly what the Stones never did (though there was one scary moment: Their
Satanic Majesties Request). They have remained, for much longer than anybody else, a
knockdown, straight-ahead basic blues and rock band. Mick Jagger never mistook himself for
Pavarotti or T.S. Eliot. Keith Richard never tried to do anything but make great little riffs.
Think about how hard this must have been: You can do anything you want, and instead of making
a statement for the ages demonstrating what a profound puppy you really are, you just write
another great, simple rock song: ``Beast of Burden,'' say, or ``Between a Rock and a Hard Place,''
or, from the excellent current disk, ``Flip the Switch.''
When Bach (10:10) made profound statements for the ages, they stuck. When Emerson, Lake and
Palmer (10:1) made profound statements for the ages, they were dated before they were released.
``Twist and Shout'' and other early Beatles songs sound like they were recorded yesterday. But
``For the Benefit of Mr. Kite!'' sounds like the relic of an extinct, incomprehensible culture.
Everything the Stones have ever done, with the exception of some very early work recorded
before they could sing and play competently, holds up beautifully: It's the rock of ages. Albums
like The Rolling Stones, Now! (1964), It's Only Rock 'n Roll (1974), and Undercover (1983)
sound perfectly fresh. There's a very simple reason for that: They are excellent examples of
Sartwell's laws, completely unpretentious and always undergirded by the blues.
The accomplishment of the Stones never exceeds their grasp; they know exactly what they play
well, and they just keep on playing it. Do that successfully for a year and, if you're lucky, you've
got a good recording and a concert tour to show for it. Do it for 35 years, and you're the only
rockers who ever have.
So there you have it: perfectly irrefragable proof that if you go see the Stones, you'll be seeing the
greatest freaking rock band in history. Anybody got an extra ticket?
i've been reading harper's ; there are two pretty interesting pieces in the sept issue (not available online as far as i can see) about the supreme court, the constitution, and the roberts nomination: lewis lapham's "notebook" and a piece on original intent by cass sunstein. the pieces seem in deep tension, for one thing in tone. lapham's is so overthetop tendentious that it descends to mere screed and renders "judicial conservatism" over into a pure straw man. sunstein's is carefully reasoned and documented, a good summary of familiar arguments against what sunstein terms (rather tendentiously himself) "fundamentalism." but cutting to the heart of the arguments, lapham declares himself opposed to judicial conservatism on the grounds that it is hostile to civil liberties, and he says that the conservatives oppose anyone who's read their karl marx or john stuart mill. this is of course a bizarre pairing. then suntein essentially argues that fundamentalism would dismantle the entire regulatory and social-engineering aspects of the federal government, and is unacceptable on those grounds. it is worth pointing out to lapham that mill countenances absolutely none of those functions for the state. none. what the pair of articles shows is precisely this: neither judicial conservatives nor their opponents are consistent advocates of liberty. liberals are ready to countenance an incredible machinery of regulation, an ever-growing public health regime etc: they have indeed read their marx, though of course they're mild in comparison. conservatives will wipe out church-state separations, privacy rights etc on the supposed grounds of original intent. by the standards of someone like mill or me, both these positions are cobbled-together congeries of inconsistency, mere laundry-lists of preferences and prejudices. none of these people can swallow the bill of rights whole. lapham himself ought to go back and read his mill, while scalia &co need to remind themselves that the intent of the founders was above all liberty. if only there were a single advocate of freedom on the supreme court, she would display in every decision, by contrast, the incoherence of every other justice now serving, to say nothing of lapham, who has ranted his way into a beautiful transcendence of rationality. it's not that he isn't right that the scalia/thomas school is opposed to basic liberties in many cases, but it's only too obvious that they are the bastion of other liberties. it's just that lapham doesn't value those liberties.
item from this morning's international herald tribune, and i'm sure everyone else. the artist formerly known a p diddy etc changes essence again: he will be known merely as "diddy." diddy "is a little more personal. i've let down my guard....we are entering the age of diddy."
as i've said since day one: we're going to have to wake up and smell the partition. it's obvious, and iraq is a highly artificial construct to begin with. of course this doesn't solve all the problems: kirkuk, for example. but it is inevitable. and why exactly should we regard it as unacceptable?
living like a starving (well, not quite) artist in paris is serving as rubber cement for my disintegrating personality. meanwhile i forgot to link to my last creators column, howling again at the bush admin.
one thing that puzzles me about the coverage of john garang's death: why in the world is everyone, includingn the media, assuming it was an accident? possibly because the government of the sudan would never kill anyone?
hey i'm blogging from paris. just wanted to mention that as i rode in from de gaulle on the train, i saw: like, an african man dressed maybe junior executive with scarifications, a woman in full-dresss african-queen regalia, a woman reading a novel in hebrew, a buddhist monk examining a parchment sutra and checking his cell phone. down here in the 14th arondissement - where we're staying with famous ex-pat freak jim haynes - most of the folks seem to be descended from frenchpersons. it's the maturity of a process going on, for example, in my hometown of dc: minorities and immigrants to the suburbs; re-settlement of inner city by the still-dominant groups.
my feminists for life piece, with a better (lighter) edit is in the christian science monitor today. sorry for light blogging. i'm an emotional wreck (it's been a hell of a summer that way) and am gearing up for three weeks in paris starting wednesday. i'll try to do this and that before i go. besides, watcha gonna say about king fahd's recess appointment to hell and john bolton's timely death? you know one thing we should really think about about bolton: if there's someone who knows that plamethrower leads everywhere, through a thousand repressions and manufactures of info, it is john bolton. i think in a way he had a recess appointment previously as the person fixing information and manufacturing facts. however, this is not to say that the un doesn't deserve him.